Meeting Information

Reflections on the Anthropic Principle

May 16, 2007
American Center for Physics
College Park, MD

Dr. Alan N. Bunner
Former Science Program Director
Structure & Evolution of the Universe
Office of Space Science


A few years ago, the Anthropic Principle - the idea that the Universe is to some degree designed around us as a huge selection effect - was only discussed in hushed voices, a topic of some embarrassment among physicists, in part because the idea seemed to be either an empty tautology, or, at least, completely untestable.

Today, however, you will find this listing in the indexes of many reputable physics and cosmology texts. What has led to this aura of semi- respectability? Should this "principle" be locked away in the cupboard as a hypothesis of last resort, trotted out only when physics can offer no better explanation? Or are there serious implications that deserve more thorough consideration? I offer a light-hearted opportunity to explore the arguments, the bits of evidence, and the implications that we might live in a universe dominated by anthropic selection effects, a universe in which we have perhaps unwittingly survived a minefield of improbable escapes in order to be here today.


Until he retired in September 2001, Dr. Alan Bunner was Science Program Director, Structure & Evolution of the Universe, Office of Space Science, NASA Headquarters, with responsibility for the science discipline areas of high energy astrophysics, extreme ultraviolet astronomy, submillimeter and radio astronomy, relativistic astrophysics, fundamental physics, cosmic ray physics, and general relativity. He was also a member of the Board of Directors, Office of Space Science.

Dr. Bunner previously served as Chief of the High Energy Astrophysics Branch at NASA Headquarters. His duties have included Program Scientist responsibilities for the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, Astro-E, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory. He came to NASA Headquarters in 1985 after holding the position of Principal Scientist at the Perkin-Elmer Corporation, where he led a variety of research programs and studies.

From 1967 to 1979, Bunner was an Associate Scientist at the University of Wisconsin, specializing in x-ray astronomy research.

Dr. Bunner received his B.A. in mathematics and physics from the University of Toronto in 1960 and his PhD in physics from Cornell University in 1967.

Since retiring, Bunner is enjoying life with traveling, some consulting, writing, singing, and family history research. He lives in Alexandria. Virginia.