April 8, 2006

The anthropic principle does not imply future gain

A growing suspicion is coalescing among some transhumanists, futurists and cosmologists about how the finely tuned aspects of the universe seem to implying that something great awaits humanity in the future. The sense of there being a cosmologically prescribed mission for intelligences is derived from the eerie results coming out of virtually all the sciences which show how absurdly specific the laws of the universe actually are. Further, technosociological observations like Moore's Law make it appear as if even humanity's inventions are part of some cosmologically divined plan.

I blogged about this idea a few weeks ago, and noted how such thinkers as Ray Kurzweil, John Smart, John Wheeler, and James N. Gardner suspect that intelligence plays a pivotal role in the life cycle of the universe. Essentially, using Gardner's terminology, they argue that advanced intelligences act as Von Neumann controllers within the universe which is a Von Neumann duplicator. In other words, intelligences help the universe to replicate.

Of course, the only evidence for this is purely conjectural and based exclusively on the circumstantial cosmological parameters that we observe.

I say circumstantial because the anthropic principle is in effect only insofar as it tautologically "explains" how observers have come to exist only at this particular place and time. The anthropic principle and the fine tuning argument do not imply or guarantee future gain. It explains the here and now and makes no predictions about our ongoing presence into the future.

Because of the growing feeling that humanity has a built-in modus operandi for the future, a certain aloofness has arisen among some futurists and intellectuals about our existential chances in the coming decades. Should the idea that we are a 'chosen species' disseminate into public opinion, we may run the risk of becoming even more complacent and unconcerned in the face of catastrophic risks than we already are.

And worse, the trouble with this theory, it would seem, is that it is likely wrong.

I would argue that we are already in possession of a data point that offers counter-evidence to the claim that humanity is cosmologically ordained for a higher purpose: our acquisition of apocalyptic weapons. We have been living on borrowed time since 1945. With the Cold War quickly becoming an historical curiosity, the sense of there being a looming and viable apocalyptic threat has waned considerably. The truth of the matter is that our civilization could have very easily destroyed itself many times over by now.

The idea that all-out nuclear war is impossible in consideration of the presence of rational self-preserving actors is tenuous at best (the old mutually assured destruction (MAD) theory). It has been a sheer fluke of history that an erratic leader or error hasn't ended it all.

For example, Richard Nixon was dissuaded by Kissinger to use the nuclear bomb to end the war in Vietnam (oh, what a row that would have created with the Soviets), and he even used the threat of nuclear war as a ploy against the Soviets to end the war in Vietnam. Che Guevara, who was instrumental in instigating the Cuban Missile Crisis, admitted that if the missiles had been under Cuban control, they would have fired them against major U.S. cities (not quite the sweetheart he's portrayed to be in pop culture, right?). In recent times, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has openly admitted that he wants to "wipe Israel off the map." And then there's Korea.

Moreover, there's no reason to believe that a global ideological rift couldn't once again emerge resulting in a geopolitically stratified planet and a renewed cold war (or even all-out war).

These situations are set to get worse as more and more state actors come into possession of nuclear weapons. The primary problem with nuclear weapons proliferation is that the bombs will most assuredly be used in the event that conventional war breaks out between two nuclear capable nations. Rather than capitulate, the side that starts to find itself irrevocably losing will resort to nuclear warfare. Consequently, the onset of conventional war between two diverse powers will almost assuredly end with globally catastrophic, if not apocalyptic, results.

So, this is our fine tuned universe, one in which the Doomsday Clock sits at 7 minutes to midnight?

To my mind, a finely tuned universe in which advanced intelligences play an integral cosmological role would preclude the intelligences from becoming self-destructive before their mission was safely under way. If some sort of cosmological eschatology were in effect in which we are responsible for spawning baby universes, we would be in a place right now where our ongoing existence would not be hanging by a thread and getting worse by the minute (mature nanotechnology, SAI and advanced bioweapons come to mind).

Consequently, those who argue that we are headed for cosmological greatness are welcome to keep making their case, but not at the expense of perpetuating the sense that humanity is invincible.

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Unknown said...

I remember that for 100 years they have sent their armies to destroy us, and after a century of war I remember that which matters most... We are still here!

I say circumstantial because the anthropic principle is in effect only insofar as it tautologically "explains" how observers have come to exist only at this particular place and time.

And I say that you don't know what you're talking about bla. bla. bla... because the ecobalanced nature of the anthropic coincidences indicates that there are natural checks and balances in place that will prevent us from killing ourselves before we accomplish our goal.

"the sky is falling, the sky is falling"
-chicken george

Anonymous said...

It's not unlikely that if carbonic life was unable to develop due to one of the constants being slighty different, that another form of life would have risen to take it's place.

Unknown said...

Except that there is a cumulative runaway effect, like a runaway greenhouse effect, that occurs if there is any sustained deviation. This would send conditions so far away from your wildest dreams for what constitutes "life as we know it" that it would make your head swim. For example, the universe, would blow itself apart or collapse back in on itself without any chance at all for anybody's craziest ideas about what constitutes life to develop, if it were not near-exactly fixed to the *eco-balance* that is observed to occur between the mentioned, diametrically opposing runaway tendencies.

This is true for all of the anthropic coincidences, so the implication for specialness increases exponentially by orders of magnitude with each additional anthropic/cosmic-coincidence.

Problem is... people reject the AP without bothering to take a good look, or they wouldn't be so quick to reject it as "cosmological creationism".

Here's a prediction that I can make with a 99.9% confidence level, from what I've learned from studying the AP for the last three years:

The ToE will not be found until Einstein is vindicated and the anthropic principle is determined to be the most accurate cosmological principle.

I'd reccommend my website to anybody that wants to learn about it without the ideological or geocentric preconceptions that every other source harbors.