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For a century, scientists have questioned whether the physical constants in our universe are finely tuned to allow for the emergence of life. Fine-tuning arguments tend to hinge on the idea that intelligent life could not have arisen in a universe with slightly different physical properties. But is this truly the case, or could life have theoretically arisen in a different kind of universe?

A new research paper produced by the Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi) and written by science journalist Miriam Frankel explores the complex field of fine-tuning research. Frankel contextualizes the field of study by first explaining the connection between fine-tuning principles and the very existence of life in our universe. She says, “By probing the universe’s physical laws and precisely pinning down the values of physical constants, such as the masses of elementary particles, physicists have discovered that surprisingly small variations in these values could have prevented the formation of bio-friendly elements, planets, stars, and galaxies — rendering the cosmos lifeless.”

Frankel’s 48-page whitepaper is divided up into five chapters. She begins by answering the question “what is fine-tuning?”, and then continues in Chapters 2 — 5 to discuss key questions within the field of fine-tuning research, including the ingredients or specific quantities that appear to be fine-tuned for life, possible explanations for fine-tuning — including the anthropic principle, string theory, and the multiverse, and various testing explanations for fine-tuning. Frankel concludes with a summation of significant developments in the field of research and circles back to the original question — is the universe ultimately finely tuned for life?

To learn more about fine-tuning, visit the landing page or read the full research review by Miriam Frankel.

Read more from FQXi

This research review on Fine-Tuning is the final installment in a four-part series of research reviews produced by FQXi and the John Templeton Foundation. Read them all:

Time by Kate Becker

Emergence by George Musser

Cosmological Origins by Mitchell Waldrop