The Cosmic Blueprint


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Paul Davies

The evidence of geology, palaeontology and astronomy suggested that the vast array of forms and structures that populate our world have not always existed, but have emerged over aeons of time. Scientists have recently come to realize that none of the objects and systems that make up the physical world we now perceive existed in the beginning. Somehow, all the variety and complexity of the universe has arisen since its origin in an abrupt outburst called the big bang.

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The modern picture of Genesis is of a cosmos starting out in an utterly featureless state, and then progressing step by step—one may say unfolding—to the present kaleidoscope of organized activity. All apparent change, they asserted, is an illusion. Theirs is a dismally sterile universe, incapable of bringing forth anything fundamentally new. The Bible states explicitly that God created the world, and Christian theologians advance the idea of creation ex nihilo—out of literally nothing.

Only God, it is said, possesses the power to accomplish this. The problem of the ultimate origin of the physical universe lies on the boundary of science. Indeed, many scientists would say it lies beyond the scope of science altogether. Nevertheless, there have recently been serious attempts to understand how the universe could have appeared from nothing without violating any physical laws.

But how can something come into existence uncaused? The key to achieving this seeming miracle is quantum physics. Quantum processes are inherently unpredictable and indeterministic; it is generally impossible to predict from one moment to the next how a quantum system will behave. The law of cause and effect, so solidly rooted in the 4 Blueprint for a Universe ground of daily experience, fails here. In the world of the quantum, spontaneous change is not only permitted, it is unavoidable.

Although quantum effects are normally restricted to the microworld of atoms and their constituents, in principle quantum physics should apply to everything. It has become fashionable to investigate the quantum physics of the entire universe, a subject known as quantum cosmology. These investigations are tentative and extremely speculative, but they lead to a provocative possibility.

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It is no longer entirely absurd to imagine that the universe came into existence spontaneously from nothing as a result of a quantum process. The fact that the nascent cosmos was apparently devoid of form and content greatly eases the problem of its ultimate origin. It is much easier to believe that a state of featureless simplicity appeared spontaneously out of nothing than to believe that the present highly complex state of the universe just popped into existence ready-made.

The amelioration of one problem, however, leads immediately to another. Science is now faced with the task of explaining by what physical processes the organized systems and elaborate activity that surround us today emerged from the primeval blandness of the big bang. Having found a way of permitting the universe to be self-creating we need to attribute to it the capability of being self-organizing. An increasing number of scientists and writers have come to realize that the ability of the physical world to organize itself constitutes a fundamental, and deeply mysterious, property of the universe.

The fact that nature has creative power, and is able to produce a progressively richer variety of complex forms and structures, challenges the very foundation of contemporary science. Structures may disappear, but also they may appear. As in all such endeavours, the finished product could not have been clearly foreseen in the beginning. The impression is gained that the universe was created all at once in the big bang. It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that creation is really a continuing process. The existence of the universe is not explained by the big bang: the primeval explosion merely started things off.

Now we must ask: How can the universe, having come into being, subsequently bring into existence totally new things by following the laws of nature? It will be the central question of this book. The whole and its parts To most people it is obvious that the universe forms a coherent whole.

We recognize that there are a great many components that go together to make up the totality of existence, but they seem to hang together, if not in cooperation, then at least in peaceful coexistence. In short, we find order, unity and harmony in nature where there might have been discord and chaos.


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The Greek philosopher Aristotle constructed a picture of the universe closely in accord with this intuitive feeling of holistic harmony. He supposed that individual objects and systems subordinate their behaviour to an overall plan or destiny. This is especially apparent, he claimed, in living systems, where the component parts function in a cooperative way to achieve a final purpose or end product.

The development and behaviour of living things is thus guided and controlled by the global plan in order that it should successfully approach its designated end.

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Aristotle extended this animistic philosophy to the cosmos as a whole. There exists, he maintained, what we might today term a cosmic blueprint. Aristotelian finalism and teleology later found its way into Christian theology, and even today forms the basis of Western religious thought. In direct opposition to Aristotle were the Greek atomists, such as Democritus, who taught that the world is nothing but atoms moving in a void.

All structures and forms were regarded as merely different arrangements of atoms, and all change and process were thought of as due to the rearrangement of atoms alone. To the atomist, the universe is a machine in which each component atom moves entirely under the action of the blind forces produced by its neighbours. According to this scheme there are no final causes, no overall plan or end-state towards which things evolve. Teleology is dismissed as mystical. The only causes that bring about change are those produced by the shape and movement of other atoms.

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The Cosmic Blueprint

Atomism is not suited to describe, let alone explain, the order and harmony of the world. Consider a living organism. It is hard to resist the impression that the atoms of the organism cooperate so that their collective behaviour constitutes a coherent unity. The organized functioning of biological systems fails to be captured by a description in which each atom is simply pushed or pulled along blindly by its neighbours, without reference to the global pattern.


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There was thus already present in ancient Greece the deep conflict between holism and reductionism which persists to this day. Aristotelian ideas were banished from the physical sciences during the Renaissance. They survived somewhat longer in the biological sciences, if only because living organisms so distinctly display teleological behaviour. Living organisms are today generally regarded as purely complex machines, programmed at the molecular level.

The scientific paradigm in which all physical phenomena are reduced to the mechanical behaviour of their elementary constituents has proved 7 The Cosmic Blueprint extremely successful, and has led to many new and important discoveries. Yet there is a growing dissatisfaction with sweeping reductionism, a feeling that the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. Analysis and reduction will always have a central role to play in science, but many people cannot accept that it is an exclusive role.

Especially in physics, the synthetic or holistic approach is becoming increasingly fashionable in tackling certain types of problem. However, even if one accepts the need to complement reductionism with a holistic account of nature, many scientists would still reject the idea of a cosmic blueprint as too mystical, for it implies that the universe has a purpose and is the product of a metaphysical designer.

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Such beliefs have been taboo for a long time among scientists. Perhaps the apparent unity of the universe is merely an anthropocentric projection. Or maybe the universe behaves as if it is implementing the design of a blueprint, but nevertheless is still evolving in blind conformity with purposeless laws? These deep issues of existence have accompanied the advance of knowledge since the dawn of the scientific era. What makes them so pertinent today is the sweeping nature of recent discoveries in cosmology, fundamental physics and biology.

The statement seems trite, yet it conceals a deep truth. The fact that a bullet will follow a definite path in space from gun to target, and that this path is completely determined by the magnitude and direction of the muzzle velocity, is a clear example of what we might call the dependability of nature. The marksman, confident in the unfailing relationship between cause and effect, can estimate in advance the trajectory of the bullet.

He will know that if the gun is accurately aligned the bullet will hit the target. Its origins stretch back into antiquity; every primitive hunter must have recognized that the flight of a stone from a sling or an arrow from a bow was not a haphazard affair, the main uncertainty being the act of projection itself.

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However, it was not until the seventeenth century, with the work of Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton, that the laws of motion were properly formulated. In his monumental work Principia, published in , Newton expounded his three famous laws that govern the motion of material bodies. In the case of the bullet, the only significant force is the pull of gravity, which causes the path of the bullet to arch slightly into a parabolic curve.

Newton recognized that gravity also curves the paths of the planets around the Sun, in this case into ellipses. It was a great triumph that his laws of motion correctly described not only the shapes but also the periods of the planetary orbits. Thus was it demonstrated that even the heavenly 9 The Cosmic Blueprint bodies comply with universal laws of motion. Newton and his contemporaries were able to give an ever more accurate and detailed account of the workings of the solar system. The astronomer Halley, for example, computed the orbit of his famous comet, and was thereby able to give the date of its reappearance.

As the calculations became progressively more refined and complicated so the positions of planets, comets and asteroids could be predicted with growing precision. If a discrepancy appeared, then it could be traced to the effect of some contributing force that had been overlooked. The planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto were discovered because their gravitational fields produced otherwise unaccountable perturbations in the orbits of the planets.

In spite of the fact that any given calculation could obviously be carried out to a finite accuracy only, there was a general assumption that the motion of every fragment of matter in the universe could in principle be computed to arbitrary precision if all the contributory forces were known. This assumption seemed to be spectacularly validated in astronomy, where gravity is the dominant force. It was much harder, however, to test in the case of smaller bodies subject to a wide range of poorly understood forces.

It came to be realized that a startling conclusion must follow. This arresting inference was made explicit in a famous statement by the French physicist Pierre Laplace:1 Consider an intelligence which, at any instant, could have a knowledge of all forces controlling nature together with the momentary conditions of all the entities of which nature consists. If this intelligence were powerful enough to submit all this data to analysis it would be able to embrace in a single formula the movements of the largest bodies in the universe and those of the lightest atoms; for it nothing would be uncertain; the future and the past would be equally present to its eyes.

The Cosmic Blueprint The Cosmic Blueprint
The Cosmic Blueprint The Cosmic Blueprint
The Cosmic Blueprint The Cosmic Blueprint
The Cosmic Blueprint The Cosmic Blueprint
The Cosmic Blueprint The Cosmic Blueprint
The Cosmic Blueprint The Cosmic Blueprint
The Cosmic Blueprint The Cosmic Blueprint

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