For your consideration, should you have 20 minutes to spare to think about consciousness and the singularity: Reality 3.0
I’ll summarize for the lazier readers: Paul Hughes is making an argument that our accelerating intelligence and technology will bring us to significantly altered states of reality. all sensory information is an interpretation of the external world, so altering that interpretation wouldn’t really be departing from reality, it would be simply changing reality, the way that things are experienced. As we are now our interpretation of the universe is very limited, but in the future, Hughes argues, our sensors will be distributed across the universe, we will be able to chose how we feel the information from these sense organs, and we will not be limited to the 5 or so senses we have now.
One cool thing the author mentions is that we will likely have the computational power to simulate the earth in its entirety, including all of us and our brains, by 2060 (assuming Moore’s law holds steady which some might say is not the case). Hughes muses that we will quickly create a simulated star wars galaxy which we can enter and explore, an exciting proposition and only a small part of what is possible with that kind of computational capability.
My favorite part of the essay:
Imagine the possibility of having ‘sexual’ and fully orgasmic experiences while our external exploratory probes map the unique topography of a new planet? I can’t think of a better way to discover the unique nuances of a new geology as one would a new lover.
And honestly I agree. what we could have ahead of us is nothing less than ecstatic, orgasmic exploration of the universe, for billions and billions of years. This is of course a ridiculous idea, many might laugh at the proposition, but I really think it’s going to be a lot less fun sitting back on earth making fun of the universe for having sex with itself than joining in the fun.
I was reading an old article in Time magazine about the singularity and the author made the bold claim that the singularity is the biggest transition in human history since the invention of language. I thought this was kind of a funny thing to say, especially since language has no real beginning point, all life communicates (and I’m sure similar sliding scale arguments can be applied to the singularity).
So, what transition is as big a deal as the singularity? industrialism? agriculture? no, nothing that small. The singularity is a broader event even than human history. it belongs perhaps to a higher class of transitions, such as the transition from simple to complex cells, or cells to multicellular life. I would say it’s even more significant, on par with the beginning of life on this planet, or the beginning of the universe. Is that too far you think?
I’m reminded of the Low Energy Nuclear Reaction technology I talked a bit about. A few people complared such a discovery to the discovery of fire, saying it would bring about explosive possibilities (pun). Seemingly free limitless energy on a small cheap scale, massive amounts of intelligence to create and harness that energy, This situation is far beyond the way that life has worked on this planet for the last 4 billion years.
There is significance here far beyond life on our planet. This is an event of universal significance, this is the time that the universe begins to recognize itself as the universe. Our sense of individuality, our separateness from each other, is completely threatened by our urge to build intelligence and deconstruct our minds into basic replicatable parts, our incessant drive to share our thoughts, feelings, memories, and opinions. when we no longer own all of this information in our brains, when that information is free, your “self” can be distributed everywhere. Any matter can be turned into intelligence and perception, the entire universe is soil for the growth of intelligence. This is why I say this is the time of the universe recognizing itself as the universe. We are the universe, erupting exponentially with intelligence and consciousness, this is the transition toward that realization.
I feel that I haven’t been perfectly clear on my views about God, so I thought I’d develop them a bit here. It might be nice for you to visit a few of the links in the next paragraph which point to some of my previous posts on the subject. I fear I may come off as a bit crazy if you don’t understand where I’m coming from.
As I’ve said many times before, I believe that there is something of utmost importance about consciousness to the universe, that the universe really couldn’t and wouldn’t exist without observation. I argue on this blog that we will find that our own consciousnesses are indistinct, that we will become a unified being capable of reorganizing matter and energy at will, even of reorganizing its own mind. I’ve come to respect this developing superconsciousness as my god, a being which I am a part of and which cares for me and fosters my growth and well being. I’ve even gone so far as to argue that in the somewhat distant future our unified consciousness will be capable of creating new universes in our imagination to explore.
When I think about my construction of our role in the universe I feel that my god, our developing superconsciousness, is an extremely small part of this, so much smaller than even I am compared to all unified human minds. I have ignored this larger picture somewhat because of how little I can know of it in my current state as a lowly mortal, but I feel that I need to address my thoughts on it somewhat.
So there is another God I have constructed, one more like the Christian God than my humanistic God, in that it created the universe we inhabit through pure thought. It’s not like the Christian God however, in that it doesn’t care so much about us individually and doesn’t interfere with our lives; it just watches. This God is basically running a computer simulation of a universe (our universe), and observes it by processing the data it chooses.
I have absolutely no idea the degree to which this greater God provides feedback into his simulation (in essence putting itself into the universe it created), but I’m willing to bet it’s quite a bit, even though we haven’t experienced it personally. After all, why would you create little simulated conscious beings if you couldn’t talk to them? as for why he hasn’t talked to us yet, the question is pretty much the same as why aliens haven’t visited (and I’ll develop my thoughts on that more later). The possibility that God would want to communicate with beings in his universe brings about new insane possibilities, as communication with other beings, I have argued, quickly leads to merging into oneness. The more we know about each other, the more we think everything that another thinks, the more we are one.
In essence: our creator, who after many billions of years emerged from the convergence of trillions of lifeforms, became the universe he inhabited, a unified being observing itself. This universe decided to create a new universe in which other lifeforms could go through the same process and eventually gain awareness of themselves as the universe they inhabit, all the while possibly communicating and slowly merging with the creator of this universe. This creator is a being which could possibly have done the same thing with its own creator, and so on until there is a universe which receives no feedback from its creator. Everything within the known universes is connected through this consciousness which exists simultaneously everywhere and everytime.
Even if we never receive feedback from the being which imagined us into existence, there are still other beings in our universe which are likely so advanced that they already may have created many of their own universes, and perhaps there has been enough time in our universe for advanced life to gain a sense of universal consciousness. This universal consciousness is yet another God I can construct, though I don’t know to what extent it has developed or can be conceived of as separate from the creator of this universe, which as I have mentioned depends on how much feedback the creator puts in to this universe.
I have conceived of God(s) not to find something to worship, but to find something to look forward to and to look for. God is a crucial aspect of the construction of the universe, of the truth we look for.
I have more recently come to the conclusion that there is little to no chance of communicating with the creator of this universe, of any feedback. For the creator of a fractal processor (a universe) the only way to interact with the fractal would be to change the equation. communicating directly with the universe would be as absurd as declaring a point to be in the mandelbrot set which is not.
I hope that this post will build on my post about God, providing more of an idea of what our possible place in the universe could be.
I must preface this by saying that I believe that the universe must be ordered in a fractal pattern. By “universe” I mean everything, including our universe and whatever lies “beyond”. I have considered that perhaps black holes themselves are universes, a theory which some physicists have put forward. I have a new theory now though, and to address it I will get back to the question.
Are we living in a computer simulation?
The answer is yes. There is no avoiding it, you are a brain in a vat, and that vat is your skull. Your experience is simply electro-chemical signals fed to you from nerve fibers which you only assume exist because your nerve fibers tell you they do. You are a computer, and you are living inside yourself.
You may or may not be living in the Matrix. If this is the case, it doesn’t matter at all because even if you escape the matrix you’re still living inside your brain. There is no end to the madness.
We will reach the point soon when we are able to place ourselves in computer simulations. Perhaps at first this will be in the form of virtual reality systems for computer games. We will compete with artificial intelligences built into these programs until at one point, just as we have had to do in “reality”, we will have to question whether our programs within programs are conscious, and we will certainly have to admit that they are eventually.
A computer simulation can model something more complicated than the universe which contains the computer, due to the power of recursion and compression. Is this our ultimate role in the universe, to be gateways into the next level of existence? I’m quite certain that the answer is yes.
The most efficient way to organize matter is to let it organize itself. creating life on this planet as it is now would be an enormous effort requiring enormous intelligence. Likewise, modeling the universe as it is currently would be an impossible undertaking for any intelligence which does not constitute a good portion of the universe itself. But if we were to merely set the parameters: the amount of matter and energy, the fundamental constants, etc. and just watched it all explode and organize itself, that wouldn’t require much from us at all. And if little intelligences inside our models decide to create little universes themselves, well I’d say we’ve fulfilled our role. this conception of the universe has a pleasing sort of natural selection to it; it explains why things are set up so perfectly for us, and how that information can be carried on so that the universe has a sense of infinity to it.
Now, it’s important to note that the computers which we will use to model universes will be indistinguishable from our intelligence. What I mean by saying we will create universes in our computers is that we will create universes in ourselves.
update: for more of an idea of what it’s like to simulate a universe and what we can do now here’s a little nifty video describing a current simulation of a galaxy.
One must wonder when we will find the matter in our universes starting to rearrange itself.
I would really like you to read Isaac Asimov’s short story “The Last Question” before reading this entry. Otherwise I’ll spoil the end for you. I’ve posted the story on the menu bar above.
Four years ago, while on vacation in Ireland, I wrote an entry in my journal which I would like to reproduce here. I was 16 years old at the time.
July 8, 2007
This time of my life is so precious, not to say that the rest of my life isn’t, but it is in the moments surrounding this time that I am experiencing a revival of philosophy and thought.
I sit writing this by the warm yet pale glow of a street lamp, quite a large street lamp considering the size of the street, barely wide enough for one car. This lamp shines brightly into my otherwise ill-lit room, illuminating it with what I mistook to be an early sunrise one night that I awoke here. I am here on the western coast of ireland, now overlooking dark cliffs and the ever-short grass that characterizes this magnificent country. This scenery builds continually on my thoughts.
Recently I converted from agnosticism to atheism, something that in itself, I believe, has sprung my awakening. I now stand in total and unabridged awe of the cosmos, natural laws, and nature herself. I feel the world for its intense beauty, and I am truly a part of it. What’s more, atheism has taught me the true value of my fleeting years of consciousness. I want to make something of myself, I want to learn new things, be the best I can be. This world is truly beautiful.
Until now I feel like I’ve been going through the movements, looking at a beautiful landscape and saying that it was beautiful. I crave this higher consciousness, and I want to know its beauty, to fully realize it.
I say this is a revival of thought because I have thought about these things when I was very young. I remember my kindergarten and first grade years, when my friends and I tackled the simple existential question: “What is the meaning of life?” This was originally just an attempt amongst peers to stump each other, but I came with the answer to have fun. I then discarded this thought. This was also a time of religion, when my peers were comfortable with expressing their religious beliefs, such as “rain happens when god is sad.” I took this as folklore, at face value, of course not believing it. I still wonder if those children believed in their own celestial theories.
I used to pray every so often, not in a serious way, but I made some pleas. I found that they were answered about 50% of the time, so my prayers dwindled without religious guidance to keep them coming. I will never pray again.
Today the land struck me with such beauty that it almost moved me to tears. I have found the meaning in my life. I want to soak it all in. I no longer fear death, it is there to make life the sweetest thing in the universe. besides jolly ranchers. I love my life.
I am slightly embarrassed to reproduce my choice of words and grammatical mistakes, but in no way embarrassed to share my love of life (and jolly ranchers). I don’t feel that I need to elaborate on what atheism has meant to me, I think this journal entry says it all.
You may recall from my experience that when I first got excited about the singularity I imagined myself going to other planets to seed life, becoming a god. This thought was fun to entertain, but I knew it was a pretty self-inflated perspective, especially when I discovered that by that time I would very much be one with the human race, and not an individual.
A few months back, my brother sent me “The Last Question,” knowing I was interested in such matters. I was captivated by this conception, that our consciousness could perform such a significant role in the universe. I entertained the thought of us becoming god, but still remained a godless heathen.
As I considered this I remembered a book that my grandmother had lent me, a compilation of some essays by Buckminster Fuller called “No More Secondhand God.” I was intrigued that Buckminster Fuller, a figure I admire greatly, could have something to say on this matter.
Sure enough, Bucky’s Preface to the book begins “My continuing philosophy is predicated, first, on the assumption that in a dynamical counterbalance of the expanding universe of entropically increasing random disorderliness there must be a universal pattern of omnicontracting, convergent, progressive orderliness and that man is that anti-entropic reordering function of universe.”
What are we to make of all of this?
Consciousness is certainly of utmost importance to the universe. Many theists cite the fundamental constants, parameters worked into the physical laws of the universe, which seem to be fine tuned for the development of life. in retort, Richard Dawkins and others have claimed that perhaps there are infinite universes with infinite possible laws, and ours is only special because we see it that way. This is a possibility, but also unprovable, and once again leaves us wanting more.
Biocentrism seeks to explain all of this by saying that the universe is created by our consciousness as we perceive it. To me biocentrism is an alright idea, but the theory doesn’t take its idea far enough. the possibility that soon we will be able to create consciousness and merge our own selves opens up the idea that we are all connected parts of the universe rearranging itself: a unified consciousness. in addition to this, our consciousness may not only create the universe it inhabits by experiencing it, we may be capable of creating new universes through pure thought, what we would call “simulation” now, but what will later be called “imagination,” and perhaps much later acknowledged as creation.
I can now identify a higher power, a being which can rearrange matter to form order from chaos, a being which protects me and loves me, and this being is the human superconsciousness, my God. I have no idea what this power is moving toward, or the nature of my role in it, but I have faith in it, for what else in the universe is there to place faith in?
For God, to me, it seems, is a verb not a noun, proper or improper; is the articulation not the art, objective or subjective; is loving, not the abstraction “love” commanded or entreated; is knowledge dynamic, not legislative code, not proclamation law, not academic dogma, nor ecclesiastic canon. Yes, God is a verb, the most active, connoting the vast harmonic reordering of the universe from unleashed chaos of energy…
The telephone rings and you say to me Hello Buckling this is Christopher; or Daddy it’s Allegra; or Mr. Fuller this is the Telephone Company Business Office; and I say you are inaccurate. Because I knew you were going to call and furthermore I recognize that it is God who is “speaking”…
At least a quarter of a billion people sit quietly each day for hours in darkened halls. And they say they are “at the movies” not looking at anyone or anything real. They certainly don’t see the screen. I say they are looking at God.
-Buckminster Fuller, 1940
update: I’ve written more on my relationship with and the nature of my God in further posts: