We all, I suspect, have words and phrases we repeatedly remember differently from the majority, whether in spelling or meaning. Often, they seem to stem from mere rote, such as my mistyping ‘from’ as ‘form’ but not vice versa because of a slight difference in the speed my fingers move when touch-typing. But sometimes they seem more meaningful.
Take the case of the anthropic principle: a series of philosophical considerations in astrophysics that observations of the physical universe must be compatible with the observer. While both the literature and experts (as far as I know) apply the correct name, I have noticed a significant minority of interested laypeople call it the anthropomorphic principle.
Assuming from context it is not a deliberate reference to a theological term that received some mention in the mid-1800s, it would be easy to dismiss the confusion as stemming from ‘anthropomorphic’ being a much more common word. But there is a difference between ‘anthropomorphic’ being the more common of the two and being in common usage. Is it likely that enough people would have encountered both to produce a noticeable minority?
Or is there a more sinister reason? Language is an expression of thought. Whether or not you accept the more biologically focused parts of Freud’s opus, it seems likely that the Freudian slip is an expression of thoughts we did not intend to speak. Could calling the principle human-shaped rather than human-centric be a revelation of a secret?
Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. To me there is nothing but puerility in a tale in which the human form—and the local human passions and conditions and standards—are depicted as native to other worlds or other universes. To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all.
– HP Lovecraft
There can be little doubt that the universe has to give rise to observers for its conditions to be observed, so it is similarly clear that our seeing the universe conditions of the universe as suitable for our needs is little surprise.
But our perception is limited not just by the need that we must exist to perceive, but also by the distance we can perceive. Beyond the distance at which radiation could have reached the Earth, we can know nothing. But, that limitation is not absolute. Just as time increases the distance from which we can detect data, so moving against the axis of time or outside it could remove the limitation of waiting for information to arrive. A race capable of harnessing tachyons with as little effort as we use a torch might easily have a better picture of the universe.
And were such a race to reach us, where might they interact? It is likely they would not appear human, so would use the internet. Whether seeking possible friends or analysing threats, one key to their understanding of us would be our understanding of the universe. So, lacking the ability to pose as leading physicists, they would congregate in lay discussions of physics. Seeing Earth as a placid island in the midst of black seas of ignorance, what is more likely than that they would unconsciously talk of our cosmology as ‘human-shaped’?
A charming speculation? Perhaps. But consider what other apparent mistakes are seen daily on the internet: aggressive posters who seem to ignore several posts, focusing again and again on the same one; objectionable posts that reopen threads months or years after the debate is spent; convoluted posts that are both illogical and hard to challenge. Which is more likely, that they are the product of a vast number of humans training themselves in being unpleasant and scouring the internet for ancient discussions to reopen for no greater reason than fun, or that a race unbound by time and birthed in an area of the universe where the basic laws are incompatible with our own would miss sections of our time-flow and have valid but inaccessible philosophies?