People are asking questions about the Universe and why it is; also about Life and Intelligence and Consciousness. Questions like - `why they exist in our universe?' - `are they unusual?' or `are they inevitable?'
The scientists have found that the universe is surprisingly `fine-tuned' - i.e. that the conditions we see around us, the stars and the galaxies and even larger structures, are made possible only by critical balancing acts of the `Constants of Nature' - universal parameters of important ratios of power to matter, of the strengths of the apparent "forces" holding atoms and molecules together, and of `gravity', of course.
(`Apparent' - because they're not actually sure of anything just now, despite assurance from science's book-keepers. ref 01 A new discovery tomorrow could change all their `assumptions' in a flash.)
Importance? Well, science says that if the stars were not as they are now, to within an ludicrously fine degree of accuracy, we could not exist.
We're made of the atoms generated inside stars (except hydrogen and a bit of ancient helium), and generating all those atoms seems to need stars behaving exactly as do the ones we see twinkling in the night sky.
First little controversy - the `Anthropic Principle' - which for a start is a misnomer: it should've been called the `Biological Principle' or some such.
What it says, in the milder of its many forms, is that the universe has to be tuned to produce `life' because we are alive, and we are seeing that universe.
A circle? Yes, it's a circle - and that is why the `anthropic' (human oriented) principle doesn't solve any problems, although it does restate some.
Reason for saying it should've been called `biological' is there is some doubt as to whether human (or even Earth) life is/was as inevitable as other life might be thought to be. ref 02
Second little controversy - the `Principle of Mediocrity' - and no, it doesn't say all scientists are mediocre.
It only says what we've learned from our past mistakes: those earlier fancy theological or human-centered theories of the cosmos which demanded the Sun went round the Earth, or that special angels moved the heavens ref 03 to explain certain things - such as that famous `precession of the equinoxes'.
See precess.html for pictures / diagrams; it turned out to be a whole lot simpler than it sounds.
So that `principle of mediocrity' tries to avoid all those past mistakes by saying we probably don't have any special place in the scheme of things and our immediate surroundings are probably much like any others; we don't need to invent special privileges to explain our existence.
You might think - that on a grand scale those two principles are somewhat in contradiction. After all the first is saying `we are special because we fit the universe' (or vice-versa) while the second more or less says `we shouldn't have to be special to fit anywhere'.
Maybe try that on your local science pundit (or priest) sometime.
things supposed to affect, help or harm `life', `intelligence' and consciousness'
entropy - 2nd Law of Thermodynamics (often quoted by `ars'es *) says `Entropy (dis-organization - death) always increases' - but that's only true in a sealed box in a lab. In reality gravity decreases entropy by organizing matter (protons and then dust) into clouds of organic molecules ref 04 and into stars - which then produce low-entropy energy for life to use.
[Have a feeling that `entropy' is a mis-placed, or misunderstood concept.]
energy - Most Earth-type life is based, directly or indirectly, on the use of Sunlight which is partly composed of (supposedly low-entropy) yellow / green / blue frequencies that plants can use - so creating our oxygen and our food. But some higher frequencies - UV and above - are deadly; our atmosphere (created by plant - animal feedback) protects us from much of it - see below. Maybe that's why some say life needs to be on the edge of chaos - i.e. fertility needs danger (like those farmers on Vesuvius?).
feedback - for a planet to maintain life it seems it must be held in a state of `non-equilibrium' ref 05 - a) its atmosphere must be prevented from doing what ours would do without feedback from plant & animal life:- oxidizing everything, becoming mainly carbon-dioxide and other `burnt' gases; b) its temperature must also be maintained at a `livable' level (Earth would be frozen without atmospheric feedback); c) its atmosphere must be such that it allows usable light energy to reach the surface and prevents lethal hard radiation penetrating. ref 06 (A magnetic field also helps, and that would seem to be mainly a result of a sufficient rotation rate. I.e. that the establishment conclusion of non-iron core for Venus is incorrect.)
stability (Gaia-type ref ?) -
punctuated equilibrium - waves of extinctions (Bak et al, unforeseen by members but predictable)
* - anal-retentive skeptics, usually book-quoters obsessing over `rules' of LWT (last wrong theory). I.e. - because their `rules' are being proved obsolete they want to stop further thought or progress.
Working here - new page (Oct '06)
As you see it's intended to be a very general look at things as they `seem' to stand att.
Some sharp folk will have noticed from the HTML note (at foot of some sci and updating pages), that we might just expect some discoveries to be announced sometime soon - unless NASA etc (or the ever-arrogant politicians) are too nervous.
Maybe try to give some clips from `experts' in due course - in the meantime Wiki leads on Barrow and Smolin links (there might be some more in index page or search page) may be useful.
And, just to muddy the water before trying to define `life', `intelligence' and `consciousness' - here's Lynn Margulis saying `bacteria have all three'.
Here's a separate speculation in mystery territory,