What is happening to our country, and our universities? It sometimes seems that everything is coming apart. To understand why, I have found it helpful to think about an idea from cosmology called “the fine-tuned universe.” There are around 20 fundamental constants in physics—things like the speed of light, Newton’s gravitational constant, and the charge of an electron. In the weird world of cosmology, these are constants throughout our universe, but it is thought that some of them could be set to different values in other universes. As physicists have begun to understand our universe, they have noticed that many of these physical constants seem to be set just right to allow matter to condense and life to get started.
For a few of these constants, if they were just one or two percent higher or lower, matter would have never condensed after the big bang. There would have been no stars, no planets, no life. As Stephen Hawking put it, “the remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.”