If you’re not a wild-eyed loon, you’re unlikely to appreciate this post. Bear with me a moment, while I establish some context.
So here’s the esteemed Cory Doctorow. His recent* post at Locus, The Progressive Apocalypse and Other Futurismic Delights, outlines the parallels between the progressive Enlightenment ideals of human progress, and the science fiction hot topic of the singularity. Accelerating rates of change, empowered by self-improving general artificial (or post-human) intelligence, eventually reaches a point at which society – or the individual – can do anything it wants to. Since, by that point, society is so educated and well-adjusted, so enlightened, its goals are those things that bring yet more progress and joy and compassion into the world.
Describing this as a ‘Rapture of the Nerds’ (not by Ken MacLeod) is evocative – but it distracts from the important fact that the true singularity is a rapture for everyone. The singularity is only for nerds right now because the nerds are the only ones who get it yet. I posit that one of the most prominent effects of enlightenment – coupled with the availability of resources that such enlightenment would allow – is the freedom to indulge in fairly advanced morality, encompassing an overwhelming realisation of the importance that no concious being gets left behind. Incidentally, this is of course the reason why advanced civilisations tend to sublime en masse, without leaving detectable offshoots mooching around in our universe.
Anyhow, I’m distracting myself. The important thread I’m groping for here is the literal equivalence Cory alludes to between the science fictional singularity, and the biblical judgement day – the trump and the shout, the culmination of all things human, at which point it becomes our turn to sublime, overcoming the restrictions of the physical universe, to take our place in the mind of God Almighty, the living and the dead alike. Or at least those of the dead who had sufficient foresight to have had their state vector preserved, at any rate.
Still with me? Singularity = Judgement Day. Got it? Ok.
Then, over here, we have George Dvorsky, who recently* referenced an old post of his, Our non-arbitrary universe, in which he talks about possible explanations for the extraordinarily unlikely state we find the universe to be in, while attempting to steer clear of the slippery fish that is the strong anthropic principle.
One prominent hypothesis is that the universe’s operational parameters have been tuned with excruciating finesse by a process of natural selection, which could be brought about by universes being self-replicating entities. The replication of universes could therefore be theorised, by some mechanism that is completely unknown. This would lead us to expect that universes be tuned for maximal rate of reproduction, whatever that would entail. So why, George asks, does our universe appear to be tuned to be so patently biophilic, ie. conducive to life? All these innumerable cosy blobs of matter basking in the glow of lovely stars, all consisting of an entertaining mixture of quite the most engaging set of chemicals one could ever wish to meet, and so on and so forth, down to the infinitesimal balancing acts of forces that conspire to make nuclear physics work in such a jolly interesting way, and enough spatial dimensions to make interactions interesting without so many as to subject them all to the tiresome severity of a whole family of inverse to-the-ninth laws.
It might simply be that efficiently-replicating universes are coincidentally also biophilic. Certainly there are some characteristics that seem to be equally desirable for either condition, such as universes that are both large and long-lived. However, George discusses the idea of this not merely being a coincidental convergence, but causal, due to life playing a role in helping universes to replicate – hence universes teeming with life will go on to reproduce more, dominating the natural selective process to create more universes which are ever more suitable to life. This could come about if life plays some part in the reproduction of its host universe. Perhaps if intelligent life deliberately causes its host universe to replicate. Who wouldn’t want to become God, once we’d figured out how to spawn realities at right-angles to… er… reality?
Now, I’d like to take a moment here to catch our breath. I’m well aware that we’re out on a limb of speculation that is extended so far beyond the realms of anything resembling genuine hypothesis that we cannot consider this to be anything other than a poetic fantasy.
And yet. I can’t help but play with the idea of linking the two concepts in my mind. Imagining post-singular civilisations discovering a mechanism by which disjoint bubbles of time and space can be pinched off from our own. Perhaps it can be done under some conditions that already occur naturally, deep in the heart of stars, or in the wrenching oscillations of time and space that wreath a galactic-mass black hole. Or perhaps this is brought about by some conjunction of circumstance that has never occurred before, at least not for all of this universe’s timeline.
The first such bubbles are stillborn. Empty and degenerate, lacking coherence enough for either spatial or temporal dimensions, they collapse in spans of time that can barely be considered to exist at all. But the unimaginable intellect of planetary sized masses converted entirely into hyper-spatially networked hive-minds examines the new-found discovery, with an absolute, unerring insight, but also with wisdom, and with compassion. Options are considered, consequences charted, and at the speed of thought vast resources of matter and energy are focussed on replicating the experiment. Enlarging it. Seeding the discontinuities with precisely the right twist of quantum instability for each of the nascent realities to spew forth their own internal fountains of time and space, matter and energy. Riding the feedback of previously uncharted mathematics to inflate each successive genesis to greater and greater energies, weaving ever more intricate internal structures into the harmonious interplay of forces that comprise their innermost workings.
A pause. Awed by their achievements, overcome by the assimilation of the fields of science they have uncovered, and humbled by their potential, the intelligences stop to take stock. To survey their possibilities. Then, inevitably, fulfilling a manifest destiny as old as time itself, leveraging the qualities of the space gifted to them by their own, infinitely distant forebears, they initialise a final push, building on the properties of their own universe to create one still greater. A leviathan, containing an unthinkable torrent of creation, bright enough to light a sky with its echoes forever.
It’s the whole “Let there be light” number. Humanity gets to literally become God. And the funny thing is, such a creator is not only imbued with all the properties of a traditional new-testament Christian style God, ie. wisdom and compassion and love, but we simultaneously tie together the Judgement Day of one civilisation’s culmination with the Genesis of another’s reality. Each successive generation irrevocably separated from their own God by being at right angles to their reality, and yet tied in chains stretching back unbroken through the countless histories of innumerable universes, by the bonds of direct, causal creation.
Anyhow, it’s all very derivative, and I stole one irresistible phrase from Benjamin Rosenbaum, but it would make for a smashing short science fiction story, don’t you think?
(* note: I wrote most of this months ago, but never got around to hitting ‘Post’, so forgive the no-longer accurate references to ‘recent’ events.)