- Lots of Pennies -

According to simple arithmetic you can do yourself, there are about 3 million pennies in one cubic yard.  So, if the surface area of the earth is about 200 million square miles, which is 600 trillion square yards, then one trillion-trillion pennies will cover the earth to a depth of about 1500 feet – roughly a ¼-mile, the height of one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world, or three stacked 50-story buildings of the kind you probably have in a city near you.

            Our solar system has 9 planets (or 8), but let’s keep the math simple and say it has 10 (perhaps the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter used to be a planet but their ex-civilization had some serious trouble with a particle accelerator experiment gone wrong).  Our Milky Way galaxy has, the experts say, about 100 billion stars.  Let’s suppose that every star in the galaxy has a system of 10 planets.  Given what we know about the stars, this may seem an extravagant claim (there must be violent stars with no planets at all), but in this example we are going to make every planet earth-sized, and we know that many planets are much larger, so if many stars do not have 10 planets (which is very likely the case), perhaps our simple arithmetic here will find the roughly correct amount of real estate if we say that there are about 1 trillion earth-sized planets in the galaxy (100 billion stars X 10 planets each).  This means that we could cover every planet in the entire galaxy, to a depth of 1500 feet, with about one trillion-trillion-trillion pennies.

            The experts also say that there are about 100 billion such galaxies in the universe, but let us flagrantly err on the side of caution and assume that we have missed most of them.  Let us say that there are ten times that many, or one trillion galaxies in the cosmos.  This means we could cover every planet in the entire universe, to a depth of 1500 feet, with about one trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion pennies.  One quindecillion (one followed by 48 zeros) sounds like a pretty big number.  But not nearly big enough.

            What if I said that we’re going to pile up that many pennies on each and every one of the trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion atoms in the universe?  That would be one trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion-trillion pennies - the whole universe filled to the edges and overflowing with pennies.  And what if just one of them had a unique mark on it?  And what if I blindfolded you and asked you to stick your hand somewhere into this universe-sized jar of pennies and pick out just that one penny with the mark on it?  And what if I also said, if you pick the one right penny, the universe will continue on just as it always has, but if you select any of the other novemtrigintillion (one followed by 120 zeros) pennies, existence will suddenly vanish in a puff of nothingness?  Could you do it?

            What is the point of all this ridiculous penny-nonsense you are surely asking?  I’m glad you asked.  Any explanation of the cosmos must explain why the physical constants of nature are what they are because, it just so happens, these constants seem fantastically fine-tuned to permit the kind of cosmos we actually see - one with galaxies and stars, worlds and life (what science expects of nature is the opposite, random-tuning, and so any apparent fine-tuning needs an explanation).  Values such as the relative strengths of the four fundamental forces (electro-magnetism, the strong and weak nuclear forces, and gravity), or the energy of the excited state of the carbon 12 nucleus (a tricky stage in stellar nulceosynthesis that allows for the creation of all heavier elements), must be very accurate and nothing other than what they are if we hope to see elements, molecules, and a living cosmos.  One of the most important of these fine-tunings is the vacuum-energy of the universe, known as the cosmological constant (which can be thought of, crudely, as a measure of the viscosity of the cosmos).  When the universe exploded into creation roughly 14 billion years ago, that Big Bang explosion had to finesse a mind-bogglingly accurate rate of growth: if the expansion had occurred too quickly, if the cosmos was insufficiently viscous, then clouds of hydrogen could never have accreted under their own mass into stars and galactic clusters of stars thus permitting the creation of the elements necessary for life; and on the other hand, if the expansion had occurred to slowly, if the cosmos was too viscous, then the whole universe would have collapsed into itself long before the first stars could evolve through even a single stellar cycle of elemental creation.  Unless the vacuum-energy of the cosmos has a certain, very specific value, the universe experiences runaway exponential inflation or sudden inexorable collapse.  According to Nobel laureate physicist Steven Weinberg, the precision required for the exact negation of all contributions to the vacuum-energy must be accurate to 120 decimal places.  That is, the cosmological constant must be set with an accuracy that cannot deviate by more than one part in 10 to the 120th power (10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 – one novemtrigintillion) or the universe as we see it is impossible. That kind of beyond-mind-boggling exact fine-tuning of the “natural processes” of the cosmos deeply troubles clever Nobel-winning people who ponder this stuff for a living.

            The vacuum-energy of the cosmos must be set randomly because if it is not, we must invoke the existence of some external, vacuum-energy value-setter.  So there you have it in a nutshell: find the one marked penny in one novemtrigintillion, or accept the existence of some mysterious cosmic Con-Artist who's rigged the game in our favour…

The Entrance Foyer to
The Goddess Art of Jonathon Earl Bowser