My brain does something very strange. It asks “why’s that?” after literally anything is perceived by it. The universe has unraveled itself somewhat for me over the course of this strange existence, but with every unraveling comes more questions. Most perplexing to me is the fact that so many things are in fact unknown. We live in a perpetual mystery… but what could be more engaging than a mystery? Here are some questions which I think are incredibly important for our species to try and understand, but which have no answers currently. Following the questions I posit my layman, wannabe science-philosopher’s speculation on the subject. Disclaimer: my thoughts are very free flowing and unspecific here, as well as extremely speculative and poetic… my wish is not to say I’m right, but to present some interesting patterns and general concepts I see coming up over and over again in the world.
- Why are the laws of physics ‘finely tuned’ in our universe to allow complex, novel structure?
Our universe contains specific properties, such as the speed of light or the strong electromagnetic force. It turns out, if you changed these forces very much, complex structures would not form, at least in the same way; matter, or suns, or solar systems, or people, wouldn’t be able to form. So why do we find these perfect numbers in our world? I think evolution can be the only answer. We’re used to thinking about evolution in terms of biology, but I believe that no other process in nature besides “trial and error” can explain the complexity and flexibility of the physics in our universe. I think, as humans, our notions of time are completely small-minded. We barely just got our heads around the universe being around 14 BILLION years old, but I believe, more and more, that we must be the result of possibly TRILLIONS of years of physical evolution – perhaps we are one in a series of universes. Why not? Another explanation could be a god or designer, of course… but those aren’t even explanations in any sense, and seem more and more unlikely and uninteresting to me. Lee Smolin has an interesting theory on cosmological evolution, of universes that “reproduce” in a sense through black holes. I don’t believe in a quantum multiverse theory anymore either, with every possible quantum configuration existing somewhere. It seems too magical and convenient to me lately. We live in a physical world, not some ghosty infinity of overlaying quantum worlds. Whatever the specifics though, it seems clear to me that no other reason besides some kind of evolution, or selection process, or trial and error can explain the complex “finely tuned” physics we see around us. We must come from a long line of evolving physics. We must, this is something I feel more and more certain of.
- Is there a God?
I just threw this one in to clarify the previous question, because I think we do have the answer to this. Unless I hear otherwise, I see no reason to assume any kind of creator or god at this point in my life. I think, with evolving physics, we don’t need to have a creator involved. Why couldn’t we have just come into being over bazillions of years of trial and error? We see that happened with biology on earth. Why is it a stretch at all to imagine the rule applies over everything? I started life as a question-asker believing mightily in a god. In fact, it took me twenty years to get over the fact that god isn’t needed in the equation. Life is most probably very strange, and without reason, and without design by a certain being or collection of beings. But it IS in fact the “design” of trial and error – a much more beautiful, mysterious, and interesting concept. The world is the product of self-design – physics evolve, become more dynamic, evolve some more, create new ways of expressing themselves, evolve some more. Nature is evolution – and so the future is unknown, and unknowable. This is why everything is made of unique variations! Nature is the randomness of throwing different crazy physics together, mixed with the conforming properties of the same physics, until something exciting happens. Look at the planets in our galaxy – all different, novel, unique, beautiful for different reasons…. how amazing. Interesting mash-ups – when crazy physics and chemicals meet overall constraints such as gravity. Things self-organize, until they can self-organize on a new level of complexity – heavy elements, galaxies, life, human cultures.
Can we get rid of this god question already? I hate to offend. But why is it offensive? I used to be offended by disbelievers… but I can’t even remember why. I guess I’m saying, life is a bit dark and temporary, and that’s a hard pill to swallow. I can see that. But can’t we be courageous enough to face the reality of our bizarre, grim situation? Because here’s the thing; as soon as we do, we will be able to make life more livable, more enjoyable, more interesting than we can even imagine. Our superstitions and social jousting mostly bring us to hurt ourselves! I mean it!
- Has life evolved elsewhere in the universe? And how rare are we really, as reasoning sentient beings?
I suspect we are exceedingly rare, and completely unique, but not completely alone. It’s become trendy to assume life is all around us in the galaxy, just waiting for us to make first contact. I dunno. It seems so strange to me that we have absolutely no evidence yet. The universe is beyond ancient. If life was hanging around, it is likely to have been around for ages before we humans came on the scene. There would be some trace, somewhere. However…. we observe nothing but silence and cold physical reality for billions of light years in every direction.
But also, when I look at evolution on our planet, I can’t help but notice this seeming motivation of physics to self-organize. Very near the beginning of our planet, life got started. If it was really that difficult to create life on a planet, wouldn’t earth have been barren for a couple billion years first? Life survived mass extinctions. It evolved to be multi cellular. It experimented with body plans, got smarter, and has taken millions of forms. (Humans have even evolved reasoning and science – we are the sentience of the universe. We are the eyes and ears and minds of the universe itself!) So it seems like life is at the very least possible, and at the most, it could represent an underlying motivation of the universe to self-organize.
With complexity, and limitations, comes organization. Is it a system’s limitations which force the need for it to organize itself? For example, the gases on Jupiter have different densities and layers, and are forced to self-organize into columns of air movement, creating cyclones and other interesting structures. Human roads are a local example which struck me the other day driving – with the limitations of resources and space on the 2D surface of our planet, we tend to self-organize our transportation into systems of efficiency – roads and highways. (By the way, these systems rarely prove to be completely efficient due to feedback mechanisms… once a river has eroded a track in the earth, it’s less likely to change course. Hmm…..)
So anyway – the point is this. It seems that there is in fact some kind of impetus for the universe to self-organize. Paul Davies in his book “The Eerie Silence” claims that he thinks we are the only sentient life in our observable universe… and remember, this guy like, runs SETI, and has been dreaming of ET his whole life. And he still regretfully concludes that we’re IT. So it’s hard for me to argue with such a smart guy, but I would argue the following: if we are indeed hyper-rare, why are we seeing lots of stable, unique, beautiful solar systems with projects like the Kepler telescope? If we were in fact one-in-a-trillion, wouldn’t we expect stable solar systems be more rare? I don’t think it takes complex chemicals too much, on a universal space/time scale, to self-organize in interesting ways. I would expect at least unicellular life to have formed on the surface of at least a handful of planets in our galaxy – and with simple life, eventually comes more complex life. Reasoning beings? Science? Perhaps those are different matters entirely…. but I expect we will find evidence for life of some sort on another planet. It will have similarities (probably carbon-based) but will have evolved along its own unique and beautiful path.
- What the hell is going through other people’s heads? What is the brain and the mind?
It has become popular to assume that artificial intelligence is right around the corner. I find this philosophy to be unfortunate and self-delusional. The human mind is far, far from being understood. Kurzweil’s AI predictions are too oversimplified.
We may create intelligence artificially at some point. I’m not against this idea for any inherent reason. But far from being unemotional and logical, I suspect eventual AI will be emotional, unique, and creative. Our notions of creativity and intellect are completely off base, and the notion of the sci-fi android, a la Data from Star Trek, will seem silly and crude in ages to come. The world around us isn’t some math equation which our brains hap-haphazardly interact with and interpret – our minds are a collection of concepts, like bubbles in a glass of beer. They overlap and come together and engulf each other. They work WITH the universe, they ARE the universe.
A person is their philosophy of the world.
Each person is unique, individual, and creatively painting a conceptual picture of the world in their own minds. The world cannot be represented by a series of numbers and equations, as I thought for many years, and many people hold to be true (this error in philosophy is the downfall of our current computer-obsessed culture – the world has no intrinsic math…. that’s just the god deception framed in a different way). In actuality, our minds create a picture of reality which is grossly abstracted, far from a digital image, and instead a series of overlapping concepts. Our memories are crap, but our conceptual abilities are extraordinary.
Artificial intelligence will need to be similar; dynamic and changing, updating its concepts. Creative in its interpretations. Feedback mechanisms to self-organize its own abstraction of itself and the world around it. Emotions, far from the weaknesses they are popularly perceived as, are in fact highly complex symbolism taking place in our minds. The process of learning and growing, like the universe evolving new modes of physical abilities, is each person learning new concepts which allow for higher and higher levels of understanding: also known as wisdom.
Sure, there are animal elements left over from the brutality of biological evolution. But emotion produces, or perhaps is a name for, updated and highly complex concepts.
Computers do not follow the same laws the universe does. Our universe is entropic and dynamic. Computers are static. They are an illusion of a word created by tricks of computation – so each computer must release entropy in the form of heat. The illusion of a world created by math is so absurd that to construct such an illusion gives off lots and lots of heat. My laptop is burning my lap as we speak. This is the universe getting its allotment of entropy one way or another.
Artificial intelligence, in our current day and age, is far less interesting to me than human intelligence, as it should be to everyone. Human intelligence is beyond amazing. We should be obsessed with it. Humanism please. I suspect lately that our minds are more like musical instruments, pulling information from various neurons like notes into different interacting webs of concepts, like chords. Far from the notion that MRIs can show where in the brain certain things take place, I find it more likely that the whole of the brain is working together with each concept we have, like notes on a guitar working together to create chords. In fact, I believe this similarity in music, the web of context and relationships which represent a piece of music, is what makes music so pleasurable and natural to human minds. (If I had to bet, I would say artificial intelligence will intrinsically love music.)
- What exactly is space and distance?
I think space is merely an abstraction or an organization of some deeper process. I think it has to do with limitations on a quantum level. With limitations comes self-organization, and power to create novelty. I bet something on the quantum level is limited in its interactions, which forces this illusion of space. Perhaps that is even part of the process of the Big Bang – when the Universe became transparent to radiation in the recombination Epoch, perhaps in a sense this was also space as we know it being created as matter became decoupled with photons.
Well…. as usual, I started ranting much more than expected.
These are just the first unanswered questions which popped in my head – I shall try to list more in the future.
Thanks for all the get-well wishes – Lyme totally sucks, but I have encouraging IV antibiotics ahead, which many people say cured them. I’m hopeful this will work wonders, and I’ll be back to living my life in a few months hopefully.
Don’t pray for me. Instead, just spend a few moments reading about Lyme disease. We need to get smarter and start living without pathogenic killers! The first step is better detection for bugs inside of us!