Best anthropicism contest

I arrived this morning in Prague for the 2006 Complexity conference. Soon I’ll have the photos to prove it. For now, though, I wish to blog neither about the breathtakingly beautiful city in which I find myself, nor about the meaty, succulent topic alluded to in my previous post, but instead about anthropicisms.

Inspired by Peter Woit’s almost-daily anti-anthropic broadsides, and in the spirit of my earlier Best Umeshism Contest, I hereby announce a new contest for Best Application of the Anthropic Principle. Here are a few samples to get the self-selected tautological ball rolling, not that it could do otherwise than roll:

Why do so many people seem to care about being remembered after they die? Because we only remember the ones who cared about being remembered.

Academics comprise only a tiny portion of humanity, so what are the chances of being an academic as opposed to someone else? Conditioned on asking such a question in the first place, pretty high.

Why is the moon round? Because if it were square, you wouldn’t be you — you would instead be a being extremely similar to you, except that he or she lives in a universe with a square moon.

Why am I a blogger? Because if I weren’t, you wouldn’t be reading this.

The rules are similar to the Best Umeshism Contest: up to three entries per person. Please include a name — despite the nature of the contest, “He Who Posted This” doesn’t count. Entries must be in by July 22nd. The winner (as chosen by me) gets to ask any question and have me answer it here.

57 Responses to “Best anthropicism contest”

  1. wolfgang Says:

    If the moon would be square, I would not write this comment on this blog about how silly the example of the square moon is.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Anthropomorphism violates causality so it goes against physics. String theorists believe in anthropomorphism.


  3. Alejandro Says:

    Why is the Anthropic Priciple silly? Because if it weren’t, I wouldn’t be writing this comment making fun of it.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Okay, I now see that what I wrote is not really an anthropicism, just a plain old contradiction. How about,

    Why do string physicists believe that the TOE is Anthropic? Because if the TOE were non-Anthropic, they would not exist.


  5. Osias Says:

    Why won’t I join this contest?

  6. Osias Says:

    This post has been removed by the author.

  7. wolfgang Says:

    Let me try again with the moon for my 2nd try: ‘I learned about General Relativity and this fact allows me to calculate the size of the moon‘.

  8. wolfgang Says:

    and my 3rd entry: “Applying the principle of mediocrity I have to conclude that it is unlikely that I will win this contest.”

  9. Eldar Says:

    I am, therefore I think.

  10. Simone Severini Says:

    “Anthropomorphism violates causality.” (rrtucci)

    Indeed this is true.

    I would add that gynomorphism violates causality even more.

    My apologies for this sexist post, but I could not resist the temptations.


  11. island Says:

    If the forces of the univeres were not fixed to produce a vast array of the most unlikely ecobalances that you could possibly imagine in your wildest dreams, then we would not be here:

    The cosmos seems to be balanced on a knife edge.
    -Stephen Hawking

    If there weren’t direct observational support for the implication of specialness, then the people on this blog might have a point:

    …we live in one universe, so we’re a sample of one. With a sample of one, you have what is called a large sample variance. And maybe this just means we’re lucky, that we just happen to live in a universe where the number’s smaller than you’d predict. But when you look at CMB map, you also see that the structure that is observed, is in fact, in a weird way, correlated with the plane of the earth around the sun. Is this Copernicus coming back to haunt us? That’s crazy. We’re looking out at the whole universe. There’s no way there should be a correlation of structure with our motion of the earth around the sun — the plane of the earth around the sun — the ecliptic. That would say we are truly the center of the universe.

    The new results are either telling us that all of science is wrong and we’re the center of the universe, or maybe the data is imply incorrect, or maybe it’s telling us there’s something weird about the microwave background results and that maybe, maybe there’s something wrong with our theories on the larger scales. And of course as a theorist I’m certainly hoping it’s the latter, because I want theory to be wrong, not right, because if it’s wrong there’s still work left for the rest of us.
    -Lawrence Krauss

    Oh thank god… anthropic dogma and a SUPER-Copernican Cosmolgical Principle will save us from having to face the AP for what it is really telling us.

  12. Ivo Says:

    Why p? If ~p, then ~(Why p?). QED.

  13. Ivo Says:

    If and only if p -> (Why p?) of course.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    I can’t claim credit for this one, but how about: “I think therefore I am.”

    Of all the places in the huge volume of the Solar System, why do we happen to be on Earth, of all places? Because that’s one of the rare places on the Solar System where conditions support liquid water, which life takes great advantage of, so you’d expect life to evolve there. (But is that silly? Sometimes the Anthropic Principle isn’t silly, it’s just a selection effect!)

    Why did the chicken cross the road? Because humans where there to make roads.

    -Rob Knop (

  15. island Says:

    If it weren’t for willful ignorance, then I wouldn’t be here to laugh at them for their unscientific failure to recognize causality, even when it’s written on the wall.

    Anthropic specialness + Evolutionary Theory = A universe that leaps perpetually forward to higher orders of the same basic structure.

    OHHHH NO!! NO! NO!… can you imagine an evolutionary biologist or a creationist making that OBVIOUSLY self-evident connection?

    … much less a physicist that hates the AP because string theorists abuse it, or even a string theorist… who uses it to dodge causality.

    Science is screwed.

  16. Blake Stacey Says:

    Why am I sitting alone on a Friday night, thinking how lonely I am? Because if I weren’t. . . .

  17. michael vassar Says:

    I don’t imagine that I can get credit for Nick Bostrom’s items, such as the cars in the other lane really going faster, nor for the theory of evolution in one of its most general forms (we see those things that tend to persist).

    How about this?

    We don’t know get any good Bayesian evidence that MAD was a good strategy for dealing with nuclear weapons during the cold war because our observation is conditional upon its success given that its success has even a significant probability. (due to the larger populations of observers in the absence of a nuclear war). OTOH, we know that it wasn’t an impossibly bad strategy, or it would not have been used. Likewise, given the hawkish tendencies in John Kennedy’s behavior, anthropic selection may have contributed to the probability of Oswalt’s assasination attempt, causing an a-priori unlikely single gunman assasination to succeed, but anthropic selection probably didn’t contribute much because if Kennedy posed a really large existential risk and the assasination was really unlikely to succeed we would see a different history where Kennedy wasn’t elected or died in an accident or some other better assasination attempt was successful.

  18. island Says:

    Yeah, it’s more probable that Kennedy’s position was as necessary to the ecobalance at the time, as was the drastic counterbalancing measure, at its time.

    Kinda like the way that environmental awareness enables us to slow the runaway greenhouse effect, but only to the point that global warming wards off the long term runaway tendency toward glaciation that is inherent to predictions made by emprically deduced Milankovitch models.

    The anthropic balance exists between diametrically opposing runaway extreme tendencies, in all cases.

  19. Dr. Vector Says:

    I wouldn’t have a big butt if I didn’t sit on it and surf the net and find things like this that make me wonder why my butt’s so big.

    Because I am an anti-anthropicite, I refuse to admit that I am an anti-anthropicite.

    Oh, c’mon! Just give me the prize! If I wasn’t going to win, I’d be living in a different universe where I didn’t win. BUT — I’m not. So give me the prize.

    Matt Wedel

  20. john Says:

    How about my proposal (at Darwiniana) for the Anthropic Anthropic principle: the universe is so designed that no scientist can ever penetrate the noumenal ‘self’.

  21. Dienekes Says:

    (1) There are always new diseases, because doctors discover cures for the old ones, but we still have to die.

    (2) Why do Marathon runners look very tired when they cross the finish line? Because no one sticks around to watch the ones that take it easy.

  22. Anonymous Says:

    Why am I entering this contest? Because if I weren’t, I wouldn’t be me, I would be a being very similar to me living in a universe in which I did not enter this contest.


  23. elad Says:

    Computational problems that are solvable in polynomial time are very rare, as can be seen from standard cardinality arguments. So why do we know so many polynomial-time computable problems?

    Because we tend to only pose problems such that a positive instance has a witness.

    (the missing link that would make this a true anthropicism would be that P=NP)

  24. michael vassar Says:

    As a general rule, we can safely assume that no single simple mutation will give an organism a selective advantage in its normal environment, because over evolutionary time all simple mutations will have occurred numerous times and each time a beneficial mutation occurrs it has a significant chance of becomeing fixed in the population.
    However, the anthropic principle tells us that this rule does not apply to mutations effecting human cognition. It thus suggests that human intelligence may be easier to artificially increase than that of other animals.

  25. elad Says:

    2nd try:

    Why can’t we prove circuit lower bounds?

    Because if we could, we would be able to use the proof itself to get circuit upper bounds.

  26. Scott Says:

    Elad: That’s one of my favorite insights in all of complexity theory! But I do think it strains the meaning of “anthropic” a bit. 🙂

  27. Sockatume Says:

    How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck would?

    As much wood as a woodchuck could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck would, otherwise it wouldn’t be a woodchuck.

    That said, I do think the anthropic princple is a valid idea, if a completely useless one.

  28. Lifewish Says:

    Why aren’t I going to win this contest? Because if I was able to come up with cool witticisms I wouldn’t be sitting reading blogs; I’d be out there earning cold hard cash dammit.

  29. Bram Cohen Says:

    Why have all dates thus far come before January 1. 3000? Because the universe will cease to exist on that day.

  30. Bram Cohen Says:

    Why aren’t there any immortal people? Because the immortal ones are still alive, and thus haven’t been recorded in the death records as having lived an infinite amount of time yet.

    A lot of these examples are breaking my brain. They seem more like bizarre logical non-sequiters than actual arguments. To my mind, a proper anthropic argument is one along the lines of ‘here is a model of the world which proposes several possible values, we observe that the value is x, therefore that’s the correct model variant’. Obviously such reasoning is part of the normal course of science, but if the model is too egregiously overbroad (that is, more complicated than the phenomena it’s supposed to explain) then it gets the normative term ‘anthropic’ slapped on it.

    A lot of these don’t even follow that paradigm though, they’re something incoherent which I have trouble even summarizing.

  31. emtel Says:

    (yet another hofstadter-ish entry…)

    Why is this the best anthropicism? Because if it weren’t, it would constitute self-reference and negation.

  32. emtel Says:

    Why are there computationally complex problems? Because if there weren’t computationally complex problems, we wouldn’t have the concept of computational complexity.

  33. "Q" the Enchanter Says:

    Why does this question pose the question it poses? Because had it not, this answer would be otiose.

  34. Osias Says:

    Why I am not seeing a hot blondes site just now? Why I’m losting my time posting here?

    Because {{anthropicism response}}

  35. Nagesh Adluru Says:

    Why doesn’t good exist without bad? Because one is defined in terms of the other. Otherwise neither would exist.

  36. Nagesh Adluru Says:

    Why is nothing free in this world? Because if something was then we would have been much closer to understanding infinity.

  37. Nagesh Adluru Says:

    Why different people like (give importance to) different things? Because Nature likes to use it’s energy in different ways reducing the risk of disastrous (unchecked) failures!

  38. arakyd Says:

    Why are so many of these comments so insipid?

    Because God rolled the dice for eternity just to get a universe that could produce barely sentient apes, then said fuck it.

  39. Paul Says:

    Why does not have an entry defining anthropicism? Because if it did, it would be the Miriam-Webster.

  40. John Sidles Says:

    “If I hadn’t believed it with my own brain, I never would have seen it.”

  41. Anonymous Says:

    Why does this sentence end in a question mark?

  42. A little night musing Says:

    Oh, I can’t possibly exceed the beauty of arakyd’s contribution. But here goes:

    Why is pi transcendental? Because otherwise, it might be possible to square the circle and then we couldn’t tell the cranks from the good guys.

  43. Tom Buckner Says:

    “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine. Why does she walk into mine? Why, Sam? I’ll tell ya why, Sam. Because if she didn’t walk into my gin joint of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, why would I say ‘Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine?'”
    “Boss, I’m worried about you. You’re starting to rant.”
    “Play it, Sam.”
    “Boss, c’mon. Why do you want me to play it?”
    “Because of all the songs in all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…”

  44. David Says:

    I WON!

    — Why did I win?

    Because, if I didn’t win… you wouldn’t see this comment. Since you have, clearly I won.

  45. logopetria Says:

    Why is the oldest living person so old?

    Because if she were 290 days younger, she would be the second oldest person.

  46. Anonymous Says:

    Gary Larson’s entry

  47. Lev R. Says:

    why aren’t physicists too interested in computational complexity? because if they were, they’d be computer scientists.

  48. John Sidles Says:

    Scott, I’ve adapted my entry to zen-poetic form:

      The Anthropic Haiku-Koan

       Had I not perceived it
       with my own mind …
       never would I have seen it.

  49. Naren Says:

    Why do the fittest survive?
    Because those who didn’t were not fit enough to.

  50. John Sidles Says:

    Inspired by Bassho’s Frog Haiku

    Anthropic Haiku-Koan #2

    A frog’s jump …
    the ancient pond
    reassembles the frog

  51. John Sidles Says:

    Hmmm … Scott’s contest has helped me to appreciate that just about every zen koan has a ready anthropic generalization.

    Anyone can play this game … a good starting point is the first entry from this list of classic koans:


    Every Day Is an Anthropic Day

    Unmon said: “I do not ask you about other universes, but about this universe. Come, say a word about this!” Since none of the string theorists answered, he aked them: “What is the day that is not an anthropic day?”


    Plus, as Dave Berry would say, “Anthropic Day” would be an outstanding name for a rock-and-roll band.

  52. Anonymous Says:

    The Anthropic Removal Theorem

    P = “I think.”
    Q = “I exist.”
    R = “The universe exists (in a certain configuration).”
    S = “Fill-in-the-blank exists.”
    P => Q, by Descartes’ dictum.
    Q => R, by the anthropic principle.
    R => S, by general agreement.

    Therefore, if I stop thinking, fill-in-the-blank will cease to exist by general agreement.


    P.S. The potential commercial applications of this theorem have not escaped my notice.

  53. Anonymous Says:

    I’m trying to come up with some anthropic explanation for “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences”. I don’t think I have one yet, but here is my entry in its unfinished state:

    Living organisms must predict outcomes of physical processes for their survival. The prediction process must in some sense be simpler than the predicted one. (For example, it has to finish faster.) The simpler the prediction process, the higher the chance that a simple evolving organism can find it and use it to its advantage. So Universes with effective prediction processes have an advantage in harboring life. This should explain that building simple models is so successful in making predictions in our Universe.


  54. Bram Cohen Says:

    Why isn’t it possible for nanotechnology to create a self-replicating grey goo which reproduces until it’s consumed the entire world? Because if it were that easy to destroy the world, it would have happened billions of years ago.

    (Truth be known, the earth was destroyed by grey goo billions of years ago. We call the destroyers ‘bacteria’.)

  55. logopetria Says:

    Daniel: There’s probably a more fundamental anthropic argument along the same lines as you propose…

    Q: Why is mathematics so unreasonably effective in the natural sciences?

    A: Because if the universe weren’t regular enough to be effectively described by simple mathematical laws (at least to good approximation), it wouldn’t be regular enough for life to have developed within it.

    Sketch of a proof: What does it even mean for a universe to be so ‘irregular’ as to be undescribable (to approximation) by simple mathematical laws? It would have to be something like “No coarse-grained description of any portion of the universe is, in general, informative in giving a coarse-grained description of any other portion, nor of the same portion at another time”. This in turn would rule out the possibility of stable structures emerging (since they would stand as counter-examples to the above statement), and so no life could develop.

    Of course, as stated this doesn’t put any tight bounds on how effective mathematics would have to be, merely that it can’t be completely ineffective. Producing such a tight bound is left as an exercise for the reader!

  56. Paraphrene Says:

    String theorists are suggesting that people are objects, not that objects are people. Since people are made of the same elements that occur in nature, made by stars and other celestial bodies, then the spark of awareness might not begin or end with conception and death. It might have been around since the beginning of the universe, and it manifests itself within the individual in a limited fashion, while all awareness is distributed among natural objects which take on a certain form, like people, animals, insects, etc. Maybe these aren’t the only forms that embody awareness into a single entity.

  57. Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » The anthropicism that had to win Says:

    […] So, my Best Anthropicism Contest elicited almost 50 submissions. Thanks so much to everyone who entered — if not for you, this tautological tug-of-war would’ve been something other than what it was! […]