The Misanthropic Principle

V. Gates, M. Roachcock, E. Kangaroo, and W.C. Gall

Anthropillogical Institute of New York

ABSTRACT: Recently the Anthropic Principle has been misapplied, telling more about the people who try to apply it than its supposed application to the rest of the world.


This paper is very short, yet not as short as some people's attention spans, so we include a Table of Contents to take you directly to whatever section you're interested in. It also allows us to make the paper a little longer.
1. Contentsyou're already there
2. Introductionlook down a little
3. Misdirectionjust a page away
4. String theoryOK, click on the link, lazy
5. Cosmologythe link is on the left
6. Concussionsno, your other left
7. Glossaryat the end, obviously
This paper is so famous, it needs no


There is some confusion1 about the definition of the Anthropic Principle. Basically, it's the observation that certain properties of our "immediate" environment follow from our very existence.2 The most primitive example would be Descartes' famous

I think, therefore I am.3

Recently this principle has been applied to astronomy. A proper example is

  1. There's lots of water on Earth.
  2. There isn't a whole lot of water on any other planet I've seen (or star, for that matter).
  3. Therefore, the fact that I see water on Earth is just because I wouldn't want to live here otherwise, as the real estate values would be too low.
An inappropriate use of this principle would be
  1. Water is wet on Earth.
  2. On some planet I can't possibly ever see, water is not wet.
  3. Therefore, the fact that I find water on Earth to be wet is just because I wouldn't be able to wash otherwise.
Or as Descartes might put it,

I think, therefore I am wet.


Of course, the latter type of argument carries a hidden assumption. Much worse than that, it actually carries a hidden argument. This hidden argument we call4 the Misanthropic Principle. It goes something like this5:
  1. I can't solve this problem.
  2. Therefore, you can't solve this problem.
  3. Hence, this problem can't be solved.
  4. So, it's got to be just dumb luck.
The basic idea is clearly, "How dare you try to tell me that my theory has been unsuccessful in predicting this experimental result, when the fact that my theory doesn't imply this result obviously proves it can't be predicted!" Some time in the past, a similar widely accepted idea was the Anthropocentric Principle, which led to the idea that the Earth must be the center of the Universe (geocentrism), since that's where people are. Eventually this was disproven by monkeys living on the Sun.

Interestingly, the Misanthropic Principle can be applied to experiment as well as to theory:

  1. I can't see anything reasonable, just this highly unlikely coincidence.
  2. We couldn't have made any systematic errors, we just made the same assumptions everybody's been making all along.
  3. So, it's got to be just dumb luck.
For example, astronomers once concluded that the Milky Way was the center of the Universe, since it was 10 times larger than all the other galaxies, until Hubble realized he was missing a "0".

String theory

Originally6 it was thought that there were 5 string theories. Then it was realized that there is only 1 M theory. However, there appeared to be an infinite number of compactifications to 4 dimensions. Later, a more careful estimate gave only 10500. Recently it was realized, based on the (mis)anthropic principle, that only 1 billionth of these can accomodate the Standard SuperModel. This reduces the number of relevant compactifications to a mere 10491.

This application of the misanthropic principle is called the Landscape. The landscape is almost infinite, but it is also rather barren (except for a few gerbes), so if you are nearsighted enough it may seem that there are not too many possibilities around.


Cosmology is the opposite of string theory: Instead of starting with 10 or 11 dimensions, and compactifying most of them, you start with no dimensions (except time), and the Big Bang uncompactifies 3 of them. The major problems are then:
  1. When are the other 6 or 7 going to come out, too?
  2. If they aren't, then why did the original 3 in the first place?
Of course, string theory has the same problem, but at least in string theory, when you compactify a dimension, it stays compactified. So you can try combining string theory with cosmology, hoping their problems will cancel each other out. But instead they combine into one big problem, namely,

What made me think this was a good idea in the first place?

Now it's time to apply the misanthropic principle. There has been some work in this area7, trying to prove people can't exist in 2 spatial dimensions; unfortunately, it seems they can, even if they are a bit disgusting8. And there is no proof people can't exist in more than 3 spatial dimensions.


Finally, we would like to summarize our results, but all of this9 has given us a headache10. We'll come back to it after we finish teaching:

1st Chern class9:35-10:30
2nd Chern class10:40-11:35


Most of these terms have already been defined in the text, but we provide all their homographic definitions here for purposes of variety.