Mediocrity principle

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The mediocrity principle is the philosophical notion that "if an item is drawn at random from one of several sets or categories, it's likelier to come from the most numerous category than from any one of the less numerous categories".[1] The principle has been taken to suggest that there is nothing very unusual about the evolution of the Solar System, Earth's history, the evolution of biological complexity, human evolution, or any one nation. It is a heuristic in the vein of the Copernican principle, and is sometimes used as a philosophical statement about the place of humanity. The idea is to assume mediocrity, rather than starting with the assumption that a phenomenon is special, privileged, exceptional, or even superior.[2][3]

Extraterrestrial life[edit]

Life is ubiquitous on Earth, but does it exist elsewhere?

The mediocrity principle suggests, given the existence of life on Earth, that life typically exists on Earth-like planets throughout the universe.[4]

Comparison with other approaches[edit]

The mediocrity principle is in contrast with the anthropic principle, which asserts that the presence of an intelligent observer (humans) limits the circumstances to bounds under which intelligent life can be observed to exist, no matter how improbable.[5] Both stand in contrast to the fine-tuning hypothesis, which asserts that the natural conditions for intelligent life are implausibly rare.

The mediocrity principle implies that Earth-like environments are necessarily common, based in part on the evidence of any happening at all, whereas the anthropic principle suggests that no assertion can be made about the probability of intelligent life based on a sample set of one (self-described) example, who are necessarily capable of making such an assertion about themselves.

Other uses of the heuristic[edit]

David Deutsch argues that the mediocrity principle is not actually correct from a physical point of view, either in reference to our part of the universe or to our species. Deutsch refers to Stephen Hawking's quote that "The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies", writing that our neighborhood in the universe is not typical (80% of the universe's matter is dark matter) and that a concentration of mass such as the Solar System is an "isolated, uncommon phenomenon". He also argues with Richard Dawkins' opinion that humans, as result of natural evolution, are limited to the capabilities of our species — Deutsch responds that even though evolution did not give humans the ability to detect neutrinos, scientists can currently detect them, significantly expanding their capabilities beyond what is available as a result of evolution.[6][clarification needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kukla, A. (2009). Extraterrestrials: A Philosophical Perspective. Lexington Books. p. 20. ISBN 9780739142455. LCCN 2009032272. 
  2. ^ "principle of mediocrity - astrobiology". 
  3. ^ "THE WORLD QUESTION CENTER 2011 — Page 12". 
  4. ^ Chaisson, Eric, and Steve McMillan. Astronomy: A Beginner’s Guide to the Universe [1]. Ed. Nancy Whilton. San Francisco: Pearson, 2010.[page needed]
  5. ^ Anthropic Principle
  6. ^ David Deutsch (2011). The Beginning of Infinity. ISBN 978-0-14-196969-5. 


External links[edit]