Is Physical Law an Alien Intelligence?

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sciborg2

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« on: August 10, 2019, 11:39:49 am »
Is Physical Law an Alien Intelligence?

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For example, if machines continue to grow exponentially in speed and sophistication, they will one day be able to decode the staggering complexity of the living world, from its atoms and molecules all the way up to entire planetary biomes. Presumably life doesn’t have to be made of atoms and molecules, but could be assembled from any set of building blocks with the requisite complexity. If so, a civilization could then transcribe itself and its entire physical realm into new forms. Indeed, perhaps our universe is one of the new forms into which some other civilization transcribed its world.

These possibilities might seem wholly untestable, because part of the conceit is that sufficiently advanced life will not just be unrecognizable as such, but will blend completely into the fabric of what we’ve thought of as nature. But viewed through the warped bottom of a beer glass, we can pick out a few cosmic phenomena that—at crazy as it sounds—might fit the requirements.

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In that case, dark matter could contain real complexity, and perhaps it is where all technologically advanced life ends up or where most life has always been. What better way to escape the nasty vagaries of supernova and gamma-ray bursts than to adopt a form that is immune to electromagnetic radiation? Upload your world to the huge amount of real estate on the dark side and be done with it.

If you’re a civilization that has learned how to encode living systems in different substrates, all you need to do is build a normal-matter-to-dark-matter data-transfer system: a dark-matter 3D printer. Perhaps the mismatch of astronomical models and observations is evidence not just of self-interacting dark matter, but of dark matter that is being artificially manipulated.

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Or to take this a step further, perhaps the behavior of normal cosmic matter that we attribute to dark matter is brought on by something else altogether: a living state that manipulates luminous matter for its own purposes. Consider that at present we have neither identified the dark-matter particles nor come up with a compelling alternative to our laws of physics that would account for the behavior of galaxies and clusters of galaxies. Would an explanation in terms of life be any less plausible than a failure of established laws?

 The universe does other funky and unexpected stuff. Notably, it began to expand at an accelerated rate about 5 billion years ago. This acceleration is conventionally chalked up to dark energy. But cosmologists don’t know why the cosmic acceleration began when it did. In fact, one explanation with a modicum of traction is that the timing has to do with life—an anthropic argument. The dark energy didn’t become significant until enough time had gone by for life to take hold on Earth. For many cosmologists, that means our universe must be part of a vast multiverse where the strength of dark energy varies from place to place. We live in one of the places suitable for life like us. Elsewhere, dark energy is stronger and blows the universe apart too quickly for cosmic structures to form and life to take root.

But perhaps there is another reason for the timing coincidence: that dark energy is related to the activities of living things. After all, any very early life in the universe would have already experienced 8 billion years of evolutionary time by the time expansion began to accelerate. It’s a stretch, but maybe there’s something about life itself that affects the cosmos, or maybe those well-evolved denizens decided to tinker with the expansion.

There are even possible motivations for that action...

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A species can mitigate risk by spreading, decentralizing, and seeding as much real estate as possible. In this context, hyper-advanced life is going to look for ways to get rid of physical locality and to maximize redundancy and flexibility. The quantum realm offers good options. The cosmos is already packed with electromagnetic energy. Today, at any instant, about 400 photons of cosmic microwave radiation are streaming through any cubic centimeter of free space. They collectively have less energy than ordinary particles such as protons and electrons, but vastly outnumber them. That’s a lot of potential data carriers. Furthermore, we could imagine that these photons are cleverly quantum-mechanically entangled to help with error control.

By storing its essential data in photons, life could give itself a distributed backup system...

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Toward the end of Carl Sagan’s 1985 science-fiction novel Contact, the protagonist follows the suggestion of an extraterrestrial to study transcendental numbers. After computing to 1020 places, she finds a clearly artificial message embedded in the digits of this fundamental number. In other words, part of the fabric of the universe is a product of intelligence or is perhaps even life itself.

It’s a great mind-bending twist for a book. Perhaps hyper-advanced life isn’t just external. Perhaps it’s already all around. It is embedded in what we perceive to be physics itself, from the root behavior of particles and fields to the phenomena of complexity and emergence.

In other words, life might not just be in the equations. It might be the equations.
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Francis Buck

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« Reply #1 on: August 10, 2019, 10:37:39 pm »
[edited for clarity]

This is my new favorite conspiracy theory. Though in all honesty, and in spite of realizing the limitations in our ability to test such things, I've long considered the lack of accounting for life or life-like systems when attempting to formulate a coherent cosmology whatsoever to be kinda...naive? Short sighted? Not sure what the right word is, likely a combination of both and more.

The issue I take with it primarily has to do with social and more importantly scientific norms, I think. The vast majority of what most would consider credible scientists are, for example, pretty forthcoming about their belief in intelligent alien life existing, in spite of a complete and total lack of evidence for such a thing whatsoever (besides, ya know, us). But comparatively little attention is given to the notion that life could potentially have -- let alone if it already has had -- a profound effect on the cosmos. Especially since that might actually be something we could test, assuming the right people take it seriously enough for that kind of work to even get started.

If you think that extra-terrestial life is a possibility, and if you also think that same life could be intelligent, than you should probably assume there is life considerably and perhaps immeasurably more intelligent than we are (lest ye be accused of anthropentricism).

And if you think all of that is within the scope of reasonable speculation, then you should also probably humor the idea that the universe has already allowed for an almost comical amount of time for such life to evolve well beyond our own cognitive and technological capacity. Considering how much humanity has altered the universe in roughly 10,000 years (albeit limited to our own planet), to then disregard the potential influence an alien lifeform might have on a more cosmic scale if they got, oh, let's just say a 1,000,000 year* head start...well, like I said, it seems just a bit short sighted not to at least entertain these ideas.

If we're going to take the idea of non-Earth life seriously at all, then it probably wouldn't hurt to at least semi-seriously consider what advanced life might do and/or have already done in terms of altering the universe to better suit its ideal environment.

P.S.

Just wanted to let you know Sci, these threads you've been posting here semi-recently are ridiculously useful for me personally, and are really interesting just in general -- hopefully some day I will have the time to actually engage in some more genuine discourse on the topics!
« Last Edit: August 15, 2019, 03:03:23 am by Francis Buck »

TLEILAXU

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« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2019, 01:18:25 am »
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There are even possible motivations for that action. Life absorbs low-entropy energy (such as visible light from the sun), does useful work with that energy, and dumps higher-entropy energy back into the universe as waste heat. But if the surrounding universe ever got too warm—too filled with thermal refuse—things would stagnate. Luckily we live in an expanding and constantly cooling cosmos. What better long-term investment by some hypothetical life 5 billion years ago than to get the universe to cool even faster? To be sure, it may come to rue its decision: Hundreds of billions of years later the accelerating expansion would dilute matter so quickly that civilizations would run out of fresh sources of energy. Also, an accelerating universe does not cool forever, but eventually approaches a floor in temperature.
I don't think this is correct. Things stagnate when energy is used, the universe expanding shouldn't change this.
I like the main idea though (except for the parts where he goes too far down the rabbit-hole), i.e. that life could take on strange forms and that advanced lifeforms could be hard to spot because they're so unlike anything we'd imagine. Instead of focusing on e.g. finding water or whatever, people should pay more attention to finding anomalies.
« Last Edit: August 11, 2019, 01:20:55 am by TLEILAXU »

sciborg2

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« Reply #3 on: August 12, 2019, 01:31:44 pm »
Just wanted to let you know Sci, these threads you've been posting here semi-recently are ridiculously useful for me personally, and are really interesting just in general -- hopefully some day I will have the time to actually engage in some more genuine discourse on the topics!

Good to hear, I assume you mean useful to your writing?

I've recently begun to wonder about "immaterialist" sci-fi...a thread for another time...

Instead of focusing on e.g. finding water or whatever, people should pay more attention to finding anomalies.

That's a good take away - anomalies in general seem like a good thing to try and find to help us understand reality so it's interesting to try and detect life that has "Sublimed".
« Last Edit: August 12, 2019, 01:44:34 pm by sciborg2 »
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Wilshire

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« Reply #4 on: August 12, 2019, 01:57:20 pm »
Instead of focusing on e.g. finding water or whatever, people should pay more attention to finding anomalies.

That's a good take away - anomalies in general seem like a good thing to try and find to help us understand reality so it's interesting to try and detect life that has "Sublimed".

It would undoubtedly be more interesting to find a Dyson Sphere, or whatever large scale project visible/detectable from earth, than yet another exoplanet in the habitable zone.

"Sublimed" is an amazing way to describe physical transcendence of a species lol.
One of the other conditions of possibility.

sciborg2

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« Reply #5 on: August 12, 2019, 02:29:23 pm »
"Sublimed" is an amazing way to describe physical transcendence of a species lol.

Heh, Iain Banks used that in his novels, figured it was the best word as a catch-all for all these options.
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themerchant

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« Reply #6 on: August 15, 2019, 05:20:41 pm »
SCi keep posting these sort of things, just starting to sit down to read a couple, always interesting always challenging. The good shit!