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I’ve recently had my first philosophy paper published! It appears in the European Journal for Philosophy of Science, and is available online for free here (I think – tell me in the comments if it doesn’t work). [Edit: It doesn’t. Here’s the preprint.] Here’s the abstract:

Fine-tuning in physics and cosmology is often used as evidence that a theory is incomplete. For example, the parameters of the standard model of particle physics are “unnaturally” small (in various technical senses), which has driven much of the search for physics beyond the standard model. Of particular interest is the fine-tuning of the universe for life, which suggests that our universe’s ability to create physical life forms is improbable and in need of explanation, perhaps by a multiverse. This claim has been challenged on the grounds that the relevant probability measure cannot be justified because it cannot be normalized, and so small probabilities cannot be inferred. We show how fine-tuning can be formulated within the context of Bayesian theory testing (or model selection) in the physical sciences. The normalizability problem is seen to be a general problem for testing any theory with free parameters, and not a unique problem for fine-tuning. Physical theories in fact avoid such problems in one of two ways. Dimensional parameters are bounded by the Planck scale, avoiding troublesome infinities, and we are not compelled to assume that dimensionless parameters are distributed uniformly, which avoids non-normalizability.

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Geraint Lewis and I are off to the United Kingdom in October 2017 for a series of blockbuster events! Come and see our double act!

We’re still putting a few details together, so stay tuned – I’ll update this post as appropriate.

Wednesday 11th Oct: Cambridge,England

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time:
 7pm
Address: High Cross
Madingley Road
Cambridge, CB3 0EL
Tickets are free and are available here.

Thursday 12th Oct: York, England

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time: 7pm
Address: St Peter’s School York,
Clifton A19
YO30 6AB
More details here.
Tickets are free and are available here.

Friday 13th Oct: Armagh, Northern Ireland

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time: 7pm
Address: Armagh Planetarium,
College Hill, Armagh
BT61 9DB
Northern Ireland

Monday 16th Oct: Leeds, England

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time: 7pm
Address: Michael Sadler Building, Rupert Beckett Lecture Theatre,
University of Leeds,
Leeds, LS2 9JT
More details here.

Tuesday 17th Oct: The Royal Institution, London, England

Title: A Fortunate Universe
Time: 7 – 8:30pm
Address: The Royal Institution of Great Britain
21 Albemarle Street
London, W1S 4BS
Tickets essential! Book here.

Wednesday 18th Oct: Lancaster, England

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time: 6:30pm
Address: Cavendish Lecture Theatre,
Lancaster University, Bailrigg,
Lancaster, LA1 4YW
More details here.

Thursday 19th Oct: Durham, England

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time: 7pm
Address: James Duff Lecture Theatre (PH8),
Physics Building,
Durham University
More details here.

Friday 20th Oct: Oxford, England

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time: 8pm
Address: Oxford University Space and Astronomy Society
Martin Woods Lecture Theatre
20 Parks Rd,
Oxford OX1 3PU

This isn’t my usual topic on this blog, and I’ll get back to some science shortly, but I’ve got something on my mind.

For me, a good movie is one that I’m still thinking about long after I see it. I’m still trying to work out Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – I’ve even read a philosophy book on it. Well, it’s been a month and I’m still find myself thinking about Whiplash. I need to debrief, so if you haven’t seen it, go watch it on Netflix now. There will be spoilers from here on.

Whiplash tells the story of a young jazz drummer, Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), who is studying at the prestigious Shaffer Conservatory in New York. Despite being a first year, he is chosen for the big band of Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Fletcher is a highly respected tyrant who controls his students with fear and intimidation. Neiman initially jumps through Fletcher’s hoops, but the two eventually clash.

In his commentary on the film in The New Yorker, Richard Brody calls the movie’s “very idea of jazz is a grotesque and ludicrous caricature. … [Neiman’s] life is about pure competitive ambition—the concert band and the exposure it provides—and nothing else. The movie has no music in its soul … “Whiplash” honors neither jazz nor cinema.”

I would like to offer the theory that the movie is not supposed to honour jazz, and the lack of music in its soul is no accident. That’s the point. Brody is close to the mark when he says that “the movie isn’t “about” jazz; it’s “about” abuse of power.” Here’s my case. Continue Reading »

I’ll be speaking around Sydney and Canberra over the next few weeks, so come along and hear about all things astronomy and the universe!

Penrith Observatory – Saturday, 6 May

Time: 7.00pm – 9.00pm
Address: Western Sydney University, Penrith Campus, Great Western Highway, Werrington North. Instructions here. Map.
Cost: $18.00 Adult, $12.00 Child/Concession, $50.00 Family (2 adults + 2 children), Children under 3 years of age free. (Money goes to the upkeep of the observatory, not me.)
More details: here (including registration.)
Topic: The Fine-Tuning of the Universe for Life
If we change the laws of nature just a little bit, our universe would be very different to what we have now. After explaining the science of what happens when you change the way our universe works, we will ask: what does all this mean?
Includes presentation, short 3D movie, tour of the dome area and viewing of the night sky through a range of telescopes (weather permitting).

Narrabeen Baptist Church – Thursday, 11 May

Time: 7.00pm – 8:30pm
Address: 13 Grenfell Avenue, North Narrabeen. Map.
Cost: Free.
More details: here.
Topic: Join us to hear from Sydney University Astrophysicist Dr Luke Barnes and then we’ll open the floor up for a question and answer time when you can draw on Dr Barnes’ knowledge. Please come with all questions you’ve ever wrestled through relating to science. It promises to be a great evening for all inquiring minds.

All are welcome.

Pint of Science, Sydney – Tuesday, 16 May

Time: 7.00pm – 9:30pm
Address: Bar Cleveland 433 Cleveland St, Surry Hills. Map.
Cost: $5.
More details: here, including tickets.
Topic: Three talks, which will aim to change the Laws of Physics. Prof. Jason Twamley will talk about quantum computing and the important of such research. Astrophysicist Dr. George Hobbs will explain what mysterious pulsars are and why their study is so important for physicists. After the break, cosmologist Dr. Luke Barnes will challenge our understanding of the physical constants to demonstrate that we live in a finely-tuned Universe. This event is for those aged 18 years and older.

St Mark’s Lecture – Wednesday, 24 May

Time: 7.30pm
Address: 1 Greenoaks Ave, Darling Point. Map.
Cost: Free.
More details: here.
Topic: Order and Cosmos. This is a new one. I’ll be talking about entropy and order in the universe.

Mount Stromlo Public Astronomy Night – Thursday, 18 August (with Geraint)

Time: 7pm
Address: Mt Stromlo Observatory Visitor Centre, Cotter Road Weston Creek, ACT. Map.
Cost: Gold coin donation. Booking is essential.
More details: here.
Topic: Mount Stromlo Observatory in conjunction with the Canberra Astronomical Society invite the Canberra community to attend our public observing nights of 2017. Come and see the rings of Saturn, the craters of the moon as well as beautiful star clusters and nebulae. On the night attendees will be taken on a ‘tour of the universe’ with talks by astronomers from Mt. Stromlo Observatory and observations on several telescopes.

Geraint Lewis is a Professor of Astrophysics, a cosmologist who studies dark matter, dark energy, and the evolution of the universe. Luke Barnes is a Postdoctoral Researcher who studies galaxy formation and the fine-tuning of the universe for life. They are authors of “A Fortunate Universe: Life in a finely tuned cosmos”, and work at the University of Sydney’s School of Physics.

Warm clothing is recommended. Southern Cross Stromlo will also be open to serve cold and warm drinks, snacks, and hot soup and roll. In the event of cloudy/bad weather, star gazing will be cancelled and the cafe may be closed (the talks will occur regardless of the weather). You can check out the weather at Mt Stromlo using our all sky camera.

 

The Great US Book Tour!

I’ll be touring the USA at the end of February, early March so come along and hear all about the book, fine-tuning, life and the multiverse! Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, Oklahoma, California – come and find me in planetariums, university campuses, a church, and even a pub.

This post will be updated as more events are booked and details added.

Sunday 19 Feb: Bloomington, Indiana

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time:
 6pm
Address: Evangelical Community Church
503 South High Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47401
Link: More details here.

Monday 20 Feb: New Brunswick, New Jersey

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time: 7pm
Address: Hageman Hall, first floor of the Seminary Building
35 Seminary Pl,
New Brunswick, NJ
Link: More details here.

Tuesday 21 Feb: Philosophy Seminar and Panel at Rutger’s University

Not open to the public, sorry, but it will be recorded.
Rutgers University Philosophy Panel discussion, with Alex Pruss (Baylor), Hans Halvorson (Princeton), Adam Elga (Princeton), Tim Maudlin (New York), and Barry Loewer (Rutgers), organised by Dean Zimmerman (Rutgers).
Time: 1pm – 5pm
Address: Hageman Hall, first floor of the Seminary Building
35 Seminary Pl, New Brunswick, NJ
Link: Rutger-ians can sign up here.

Wednesday 22 Feb: Harvard Astronomy Department Seminar

Open to the public. Please come along!
Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos

Time: 4-5PM
Address: Phillips Auditorium
60 Garden St, Cambridge, MA

Thursday 23 Feb: Kutztown, Pennsylvania

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time: 7pm
Address: Kutztown University Planetarium
Grim Science Building, Room 100
Link: More details here. I’m part of the “From Earth to the Universe” planetarium show.

Friday 24 Feb: Dallas, Texas

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time: 7pm
Address: University of Texas at Dallas
SSA Auditorium
Link: More details here.

Saturday 25 Feb: Dallas, Texas

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time: 7pm
Address: University of Texas, Arlington
7pm San Saba/Palo Pinto room in UTA’s University Center
301 W. 1st Street, Arlington, TX 76010
Link: More details here.

Sunday 26 Feb: Dallas, Texas

Title: Debate/Discussion – “Materialism and Theism: Do Fine-Tuning Arguments Succeed?” with Dr. Matthew Titsworth of Collin College.
Time: 6pm
Address: The Door Clubs
2513 Main St, Dallas, Texas
Link: More details here.

Monday 27 Feb: College Station, Texas

Title: Philosophy Seminar
Time: 12:20-1:10pm
Address: Baylor University Philosophy Department
Not open to the public, sorry.

*

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time: 6pm
Address: Texas A&M Rudder Tower 601
401 Joe Routt Blvd, College Station, Texas 77840
Link: More details here and here.

Tuesday 28 Feb: Austin, Texas

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time: 7pm
Address: University of Texas at Austin
Welch Hall, 1.316
The Chemistry building on the corner of 24th and Speedway
Link: More details here.

Wednesday 1 March: Norman, Oklahoma

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time: 9pm
Address: Meacham Auditorium,
Oklahoma Memorial Union
900 Asp Ave #428,
Norman, OK

Thursday 2 March: Texas Tech University

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time: 8:30pm
Address: Hance Chapel
Texas Tech University campus
2511 17th St, Lubbock, TX 79401
Link: More details here.

Friday 3 March

Currently free. Stay Tuned.

Saturday 4 March: Claremont California

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time: 5:30pm
Address: Harvey Mudd College, Claremont California
Hoch-Shanahan Dining Commons,
385 East Platt, Claremont, CA

Sunday 5 March: Orange California

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time: 7:30 pm
Address: Chapman University
Argyros Forum, Room 209
386 N. Center St.
Orange, CA

Monday 6 March: Irvine, California

Title: A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos
Time: 7pm
Address: University of California, Irvine
Link: More details here.

I’ll be speaking in Sydney on Monday 16th January at the Macarthur Astronomy Forum. It’s free and open to everyone. The details:

The Universe for Beginners

Abstract: The night sky might seem to be a random collection of odd objects: stars, planets, asteroids, brown dwarfs, white dwarfs, supernovae remnants, pulsars, galaxies.

Are they just a menagerie, or can we make sense of them? I’ll show how a single question links the night sky’s occupants into a coherent scheme.

Date: 16th January, 2017

Time: 7:30pm

Location: Room 213, Building 30, Western Sydney University, Campbelltown Campus, Goldsmith Drive, CampbelltownMap

Forum Details

Macarthur Astronomy Forum is held in the small lecture theatre in Building 30 (School of Medicine) at Western Sydney University, Campbelltown Campus.

Members of the public are cordially invited to attend. We do not charge admission but your gold coin donation in our black box (at the front of the auditorium) would be very gratefully accepted. We provide self-service coffee, tea and biscuits after the meeting at a charge of $2.00 per head.

 

Gino Segre has kindly reviewed “A Fortunate Universe” for The Wall Street Journal, (Sat/Sun Dec 31, 2016 – Jan 1, 2017). It’s behind a paywall, unfortunately, but here are some highlights.

The astrophysicists Geraint Lewis and Luke Barnes open their charming, intelligent and exceeding well-written book by arguing that we live in “a fortunate universe”. … They then proceed to convincingly show why we should share their belief. This requires a gentle stroll through the details of the Standard Model of particle physics, as well as the Standard Model of cosmology, but they lead us with such a light hand, streak of humor and lack of pedantry that the information is easily absorbed. …

Where does science go from here? Does what has been popularly called a theory of everything exist? Is there a multiverse? Must we be satisfied with an anthropic principle? The authors discuss these questions and more in a final dialogue. As Mr. Barnes states in concluding it: “Irrespective of how many other dead and sterile universes are out there, in this one I have a pair of kids that need a bath.” Life goes on.

Also, Charlie Lineweaver has reviewed our book in The Conversation. Charlie gave the impression that “intelligent design” was the main thesis of the book. It’s a good time to remind everyone that Geraint is, in his own words, “no kind of god botherer”.