Marcelo Gleiser: Life is fundamentally asymmetric
“Look into a mirror and you’ll simultaneously see the familiar and the alien: an image of you, but with left and right reversed. Left-right inequality has significance far beyond that of mirror images, touching on the heart of existence itself. From subatomic physics to life, nature prefers asymmetry to symmetry. (…) Life is fundamentally asymmetric. (…)
Somehow, during its infancy, the cosmos selected matter over antimatter. This imperfection is the single most important factor dictating our existence. (…) It is not symmetry and perfection that should be our guiding principle, as it has been for millennia. (…)
The science we create is just that, our creation. Wonderful as it is, it is always limited, it is always constrained by what we know of the world. […] The notion that there is a well-defined hypermathematical structure that determines all there is in the cosmos is a Platonic delusion with no relationship to physical reality. (…)
The critics of this idea miss the fact that a meaningless cosmos that produced humans (and possibly other intelligences) will never be meaningless to them (or to the other intelligences). To exist in a purposeless Universe is even more meaningful than to exist as the result of some kind of mysterious cosmic plan. Why? Because it elevates the emergence of life and mind to a rare event, as opposed to a ubiquitous and premeditated one. (…)
Unified theories, life principles, and self-aware universes are all expressions of our need to find a connection between who we are and the world we live in. I do not question the extreme importance of understanding the connection between man and the cosmos. But I do question that it has to derive from unifying principles. (…)
For a clever fish, water is “just right“ for it to swim in. Had it been too cold, it would freeze; too hot, it would boil. Surely the water temperature had to be just right for the fish to exist. “I’m very important. My existence cannot be an accident,” the proud fish would conclude. Well, he is not very important. He is just a clever fish. The ocean temperature is not being controlled with the purpose of making it possible for it to exist. Quite the opposite: the fish is fragile. A sudden or gradual temperature swing would kill it, as any trout fisherman knows. We so crave for meaningful connections that we see them even when they are not there. (…) The gravest mistake we can make is to think that the cosmos has plans for us, that we are somehow special from a cosmic perspective.