A Universe Conscious of Itself

Modern cosmology has rediscovered the ancient covenant between humanity and the cosmos. Humans are the children of stars, the siblings of wild animals, and the cousins of plants and flowers; we are all star dust. Astrophysics teaches us that the emergence of life from the primordial soup depended on an extremely delicate adjustment of the laws of Nature and the initial conditions of the universe. A minute change in the intensity of the fundamental forces, and we would not be around to talk about it. The stars would not have formed and started their marvelous nuclear alchemy. None of the heavy elements that constitute the basis of life would have seen the light of day. The precision of the fine-tuning of the physical constants and of the initial conditions is astonishing. It is similar to the precision that a marksman has to exercise in order to put a bullet through a square target of 1 cm on a side located at the edge of the observable universe some 15 billion light-years away. This fine-tuning is at the basis of what is called the "anthropic principle", from the Greek "anthropos" which means "man."
The laws of physics are special from an even more subtle point of view. Not only did they permit humanity to step on the stage, but they also conferred on us the ability to be conscious and understand the world in which we live. The fact that humans do not simply and blindly endure the laws of Nature without understanding them is highly significant. Darwinian selection certainly played a role in fashioning our brain to help us cope with the many challenges of life, but the ability to ask questions about the universe and understand the mathematical laws governing it is not necessary and seems to have come as a bonus. Does this mean that humanity has reclaimed a central place in the universe? Hardly! The physical and chemical processes that unfolded on Earth and led to life and consciousness are probably not unique to our planet. An extraterrestrial intelligence endowed with scientific and mathematical knowledge would be just as suitable to give the universe a meaning.