Monthly Archives: August 2004

The Anthropic Principle


 Imagine…. You want to buy a car. You have Toyota Collola in mind. You desirea red colored Toyota Corolla. One day go to a party. The party has been going on for hours. But nothing interesting has happened before you reached.  Just when you reach there a game of lottery is arranged. A lottery ticket costs 54 Rs. You look in your pocket and you find exactly 54 rupees! People line up to buy tickets. When you reach the person selling the ticket he has the last one and he gives that to you.

The lottern is drawn and you win the first prize.  And the first prize is a red colored Toyota Corolla. Would you not be surprized? There have been a string of very improbable coincidences which led to your winning. There almost seems to be a design here. It is almost that you were designed to win.


  Scientists find themselves in a similar situation. When we look at the laws of nature and the constants of nature we find that they seem to be so finely tuned with one another that would enable intelligent life to exist.

Let me elaborate with some examples:

a) The universe is expanding at a rate. If it were expanding a little slower than it is now it would not have reached a stage that we are at now. It would have collapsed much before stars and planets were formed. If it expanded at a little faster then the density would be too less for masses to collect together and form stars and planets. SO it is expanding  at just the right rate.


b)  If the coupling constant for electromagnetic interactions was greater than what it is now then chemical reactions would be so violent that large molecules( like proteins, DNA, RNA) would not be stable. If the coupling constant were less then chemical reactions would be so slow that complex molecules would never form.


c) The relative strength of the em force and the nuclear forces is just about right to allow large atoms to form. If nuclear forces were stronger then the universe would only contain neutrons. If weaker then only hydrogen would exist.

 So we see tha there have been a series of remerkable coincidences that have resulted in us existing. There almost seems to be a design here. And this is the Anthropic principle. There are two forms of the anthropic principle:


a) Life( and hence intelligent life) is forbidden in any universe except for a very narrow range of values of Physics laws and fundamental constants. So if a universe is created at random with random values of physical constants and laws of nature then life will not exist. So our universe is a very special case: it is just the right one. This is the weak form of Anthropic principle.

b) The strong form of the Anthropic principle states that in a Universe the laws of Physics and fundamental constants will be restricted to those ranges which make intelligent life possible. In short: we are inevitable.


     Most scientists believe that the weak form of Anthropic principle is true. But they disagree with the strong form.

    But even the weak anthropic principle is pretty amazing if you think about it. There are three possiblilities:


1) Our Universe is one of the many that exist( or have existed). Nearly all are/were lifeless. But our universe which has just the right physical laws and physical constants supports life. So we are a special case amongst the millions of lifeless universes.

2) There is a creator who has designed this universe to be just about right to support life. He has pulled the right knobs of physical laws and physical constants.


3) Our universe is the only one but it is a remarkable coincidence that it can support life.


     I personally dont know. But it does make me wonder. Is there a meaning to all this? 

     Even if I assume that the universe was designed to support life then it would lead me to question if an individual has a purpose in this grand design. Surely we cannot be content by saying that the purpose of our life is to eat, drink and be happy. There has to be a deeper reason! Or is our purpose to fight with our neighbouring countries over pieces of matter(land). Surely not.


      Personally I think that if we assume the possiblity that there is a reason why intelligent life exists then there seems only one purpose for that intelligent life: to understand, to ask questions like “why do I exist, why does this world exist, what is this universe, what are its secrets”. And there seem to be only two ways to ask and answer these questions: the way of faith-religion and the way of thought-science. What is your way?






  Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:                 

  Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:                 

  Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,                          

  Correct old time and regulate the Sun;                             


Mysteries of the Brain Part – 11 – EPILEPSY

This Post was written on Thu, 5 Aug 2004.


This part is inspired by a program I saw on BBC. A lot of material has come from the book “Phantoms of the Brain” by V.S Ramachandran which Harindranath Parameswaran gave me to read and also from the website

  Epilepsy is an electrical storm in the brain. It may involve the whole brain or just a part of it. Epilepsy of the temporal lobe in the brain causes some very mysterious effects. Lets look at some people in history who had epilepsy of the temporal lobe : Vincent Van Gogh, Dostoevsky( the great writer), Ellen White( of the seventh day adventist church) , Joan of Arc, Moses, Paul( New testament) , Blake, Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha. Of course all these people have not been clinically tested for temporal lobe epilepsy but events in their lives show strong signs of this condition.


       Now the list above is a list of some great artistic geniuses, great writers or religious founders. How are such exalted faculties of the mind related to temporal lobe epilepsy?

       Lets look at some characteristics of people with temporal lobe epilepsy. One characteristic is that they have a greater love for color than normal people. For them colors appear more vivid and colors form a more important part in their lives than normal people. This characteristic is obvious in Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings. Vincent Van Gogh was obsessed with colors in his life. See how much yellow he used in his paintings. The sun, the sunflower and the yellow fields figured so much in his paintings.

Painting of Van Gogh


       Another characteristic of people with temporal lobe epilepsy is hypergraphia: an intense desire to write or express through some medium.
One person who suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy wrote more than a thousand pages in a few weeks. Dostoevsky suffered from siezures caused by temporal lobe epilepsy from the age of 9 years. He was a prolific writer and gave epilepsy to more than 30 characters he created. Van Gogh can also be attributed with hypergraphia: he painted hundreds of paintings and wrote thousands of letters to his brother Theo. Lewis Carrol also suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy. The sensation of falling down a hole which he gave Alice is something that several epileptics have experienced during seizures.

       But the most interesting effect of temporal lobe epilepsy is an obsession with religion and God. A lot of people with this kind of epilepsy have experienced visions of “God”. The visions of “God” come at the time when the epileptic experiences seizures but after that the epileptic person develops a permanent obsession with God and religious symbols. So even at times when the person experiences no seizures the obsession with God exists. Indeed Van Gogh showed extreme religious emotions: long before he became a painter he was a Protestant missionary who was fired from his post for “excess of zeal bordering on scandalous”.

Joan of Arc :


       laboratory electrical simulations of the temporal lobes have produced similar God visions in otherwise normal people.

       Ramachandran did an experiment. He took two types of people: the normal people and the people with known temporal lobe epilepsy.
He showed them both three sets of visual symbols : simple symbols( car, wheel), sexually explicit symbols and pictures , and religious symbols
and pictures. He measured the responses to these visual stimulus using electrodes. Normal people did not show any electrical excitement on
seeing the simple symbols or religious symbols. But when they saw the sexual symbols a strong response was seen. The people with temporal
lobe epilepsy showed no response on seeing simple symbols and on seeing the sexually explicit symbols! But on seeing religious symbols the
electrodes fired like hell. SO these people experience some sort of religious ectacy!

       So we have discovered the “God spot” in the human brain.

       Several people who suffer from temporal lobe epilepsy become obsessed with themselves.

       Now imagine this : an intelligent person gets an epileptic fit of the temporal lobe lasting 15-20 minutes in which he “experiences God”. This fit changes his temporal lobe permamently and after the fit he becomes obsessed with religion and God. He also gets an intense desire to write and to preach. He preaches all sorts of things which “God” has told him ( or tells him whenever he has a fit). He also becomes obsessed with his own self and preaches the superiority of himself over all previous prophets. Dont you see how a new religion may arise???? Is this the beginning of all known religions?

       Friends, I do not believe in God so the way I interpret these medical facts is that religion and God are only illusions created by the temporal lobe. And religious leaders were probably just people having an epilepsy of this part of the brain.

       But if you believe in God you may interpret this evidence in a different way: How can one imagine or get an “illusion” of God if it does not exist. Maybe God actually visits these individuals by creating a storm in their brains.

       So what we know is the process which gives rise to religious feelings. We still do not know God. And we still dont know much about the mysterious brain: what would an animal experiencing a temporal lobe epilepsy see? Can a person who has never been told about religion or God invent God after a seizure? What evolutionary process created this religious feeling and a place for this feeling in the brain?????

               For who would loose, though full of pain
               This intellectual being
               THose thoughts that wander through eternity
                       to be swallowed up and lost
               In the wide womb of uncreated night
                                       ( Milton)




 Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:
 Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:
 Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
 Correct old time and regulate the Sun;