The Number of Life
Optics & Photonics Focus
Volume 15 Story 8 - 14/12/2011

A trillion monkeys

Even though life is obviously not impossible — after all we do exist —, it is certainly highly improbable in a Universe picked at random from the Multiverse. We can draw inspiration from Luis Borges and perform an imaginary experiment. Take a trillion monkeys and let each of them create a Universe with a random set of physical constants of their choice every single day. How long would it take for them to create a Universe sufficiently similar to ours, in which we could comfortably live? About a trillion years, maybe? Thatís a pretty a long time — about 50 times longer than the current age of the Universe. However, it is still far too short. If we believe the current form of string theory, it would take our monkeys the literally cosmic time of almost 10500 years. Some scientists have started looking into other possibilities. Could it be that c, e, h, α and all their relatives were not that constant after all? Could it be that their combination of values is just one possibility more amongst a plethora of other possibilities?
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A trillion monkeys. Even though life is obviously not impossible — after all we do exist —, it is certainly highly improbable in a Universe picked at random from the Multiverse. We can draw inspiration from Luis Borges and perform an imaginary experiment. Take a trillion monkeys and let each of them create a Universe with a random set of physical constants of their choice every single day. How long would it take for them to create a Universe sufficiently similar to ours, in which we could comfortably live? About a trillion years, maybe? Thatís a pretty a long time — about 50 times longer than the current age of the Universe. However, it is still far too short. If we believe the current form of string theory, it would take our monkeys the literally cosmic time of almost 10<sup>500</sup> years. Some scientists have started looking into other possibilities. Could it be that <i>c</i>, <i>e</i>, <i>h</i>, α and all their relatives were not <i>that</i> constant after all? Could it be that their combination of values is just one possibility more amongst a plethora of other possibilities?