Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Brin Classics: Other Intelligent Designs: alternatives to Darwin that merit "equal time"

Part of a series of re-issues of my most-popular online postings, which first appeared as a featured article in SKEPTIC Magazine.  This one about the deep illogic underlying the claims by the fundamentalist community that they "just want students to be exposed to all sides and make up their own minds."


THERE IS RICH IRONY in how the present battle over Creationism v. Darwinism has taken shape, and especially how this round differs from previous episodes. A clue to both the recent success — and the inevitable collapse — of “Intelligent Design” can be found in its name, and in the new tactics that are being used to support its incorporation into school curricula. In what must be taken as sincere flattery, these tactics appear to acknowledge just how deeply the inner lessons of science have pervaded modern culture.

Intelligent Design (ID) pays tribute to its rival, by demanding to be recognized as a direct and “scientific” competitor with the Theory of Evolution. Unlike the Creationists of 20 years ago, proponents of ID no longer refer to biblical passages. Instead, they invoke skepticism and cite alleged faulty evidence as reasons to teach students alternatives to evolution.

True, they produce little or no evidence to support their own position. ID promoters barely try to undermine evolution as a vast and sophisticated model of the world, supported by millions of tested and interlocking facts. At the level that they are fighting, none of that matters. Their target is millions of onlookers and voters, for whom the battle is as emotional and symbolic as it ever was.

11178287-the-creation-of-adamWhat has changed is the armory of symbols and ideas being used. Proponents of Intelligent Design now appeal to notions that are far more a part of the lexicon of science than religion, notably openness to criticismfair play, and respect for the contingent nature of truth.

These concepts proved successful in helping our civilization to thrive, not only in science, but markets, democracy and a myriad other modern processes. Indeed, they have been incorporated into the moral foundations held by average citizens, of all parties and creeds. Hence, the New Creationists have adapted and learned to base their arguments upon these same principles. One might paraphrase the new position, that has been expressed by many, as follows:
What do evolutionists have to fear? Are they so worried about competition and criticism that they must censor what bright students are allowed to hear? Let all sides present their evidence and students will decide for themselves!
EvolutionOne has to appreciate not only irony, but an implied tribute to the scientific enlightenment, when we realize that openness to criticismfair play, and respect for the contingent nature of truth are now the main justifications set forward by those who still do not fully accept science. Some of those promoting a fundamentalist- religious agenda now appeal to principles they once fiercely resisted. (In fairness, some religions helped to promote these concepts.) Perhaps they find it a tactically useful maneuver.

It’s an impressive one. And it has allowed them to steal a march. While scientists and their supporters try to fight back with judicious reasoning and mountains of evidence, a certain fraction of the population perceives only smug professors, battling only to protect their turf — authority figures trying to squelch brave underdogs before they can compete. Image matters. And this self-portrayal — as champions of open debate, standing up to stodgy authorities — has worked well for the proponents of Intelligent Design (ID). For now.

Yet, I believe they have made a mistake. By basing their offensive on core notions of fair play and completeness, ID promoters have employed a clever short-term tactic, but have incurred a long-term strategic liability. Because, their grand conceptual error is in believing that their incantation of Intelligent Design is the only alternative to Darwinian evolution.

But they have laid themselves open to a jiu jitsu move of startling effectiveness.  Simply by responding "all right, then let's have students ALSO discuss alternatives other than Christian creationism If students deserve to weigh ID against natural selection, then why not also expose them to…
1. Guided Evolution
9780316013338_p0_v1_s260x420This is the deist compromise most commonly held by thousands — possibly millions — of very modern people, including many working scientists who want to reconcile science and faith. Yes, the Earth is 4.6 billion years old and our earliest ancestors emerged from a stew of amino acids that also led to crabs, monkeys and slime molds who are all distant relatives. Still, a creative force may have been behind the Big Bang, and especially the selection of some finely tuned physical constants, whose narrow balance appears to make the evolution of life possible, maybe even inevitable. Likewise, such a force may have given frequent or occasional nudges of subtle guidance to evolution, all along, as part of a Divine Plan.

There is one advantage — and drawback — to this notion (depending on your perspective): it is compatible with everything we see around us — all the evidence we’ve accumulated — and it is utterly impossible to prove or disprove. Not only does this let many scientists continue both to pray and do research, but it has allowed the Catholic Church and many other religious organizations to accept (at long last) evolution as fact, with relatively good grace.

To be clear, atheists still have trouble with this alternative.  But if it were included among the "alternatives" offered to young people in school, it would quickly prove far more vexing for those pushing creationism and ID! Biblical literalists would lose far more ground to this competitor than atheism would.

 And let there be no mistake.  If they succeed in dilluting biolgy curricula with "alternatives" to darwinian evolution, this one will be there, whether they like it or not.  We'll make sure it is! Also...
2. Intelligent Design of Intelligent Designers (IDOID)
evolutionMost Judeo-Christian sects dislike speculating about possible origins of the Creator. But not all avoid the topic. Mormons, for example, hold that the God of this universe — who created humanity (or else guided our evolution) — was once Himself a mortal being who was created by a previous God in a prior universe or context.

One can imagine someone applying the very same logic that Intelligent Design promoters have used.
There is no way that such a fantastic entity as God could have simply erupted out of nothing. Such order and magnificence could not possibly have self-organized out of chaos. Only intelligence can truly create order, especially order of such a supreme nature.
Oh, certainly there are theological arguments that have been around since Augustine to try and quell such thoughts, arguing in favor of ex nihilio or timeless pre-existence, or threatening punishment for even asking the question. But that’s the point! Any effort to raise these rebuttals will:
  1. make this a matter of theology (something the ID people have strenuously avoided).
  2. smack as an attempt to quash other ideas, flying against the very same principles of fair play and completeness that ID proponents have used to prop up this whole effort.
IDOID will have to be let in - and Mormons will help push it - or the whole program must collapse under howling derision and accusations of hypocrisy.
3. Evolution of Intelligent Designers
TimeRebornYes, you read me right. Recent advances in cosmology have led some of the world’s leading cosmologists, such as Syracuse University’s Lee Smolin, to suggest that each time a large black hole forms (and our universe contains many) it serves as an “egg” for the creation of an entirely new “baby universe” that detaches from ours completely, beginning an independent existence in some non-causally connected region of false vacuum. Out of this collapsing black hole arises a new cosmos, perhaps with its own subsequent Big Bang and expansion, including the formation of stars, planets, etc. Smolin further posits that our own universe may have come about that way, and so did its “parent” cosmos, and so on, backward through countless cycles of hyper-time.

Moreover, in a leap of highly original logic, Smolin went on to persuasively argue that each new universe might be slightly better adapted than its ancestor. Adapted for what? Why, to create more black holes — the eggs — needed for reproducing more universes.

Up to this point we have a more sophisticated and vastly larger-scale version of what Richard Dawkins called the evolution of evolvability. But Lee Smolin takes it farther still, contending that, zillions of cycles of increasingly sophisticated universes would lead to some that inherit just the right physical constants and boundary conditions.

Conditions that enable life to form. And then intelligence … and then…

Well, now it’s our turn to take things even farther than Smolin did. Any advocate of completeness would have to extend this evolutionary process beyond achieving mere sapience like ours, all the way to producing intelligence so potent that it can then start performing acts of creation on its own, manipulating and using black holes to fashion universes to specific design.

In other words, there might be an intelligent designer of this world … who nevertheless came into being as a result of evolution.

Sound a little newfangled and contrived? So do all innovative ideas! And yet, no one can deny that it covers a legitimate portion of idea space. And since “weighing the evidence” is to be left to students, well, shouldn’t they be exposed to this idea too? Again, the principles now used by proponents of ID — fair play and completeness — may turn around and bite them.  Indeed, I promise that if they get their alternative to Darwin into schools, this one will also be there.  We'll make sure of it.

Which brings us to some of the classics.
4. Cycles of Creation
Perhaps the whole thing does not have a clear-cut beginning or end, but rolls along like a wheel? That certainly would allow enough macro-time for everything and anything to happen. Interestingly, the cyclical notion opens up infinite time for both evolution and intelligent designers … though not of any kind that will please ID promoters. Shall Hindu gurus and Mayan priest kings step up and demand equal time for their theories of creation cycles? How can you stop them, once the principle is established that every hypothesis deserves equal treatment in the schools, allowing students to hear and weigh any notion that claims to explain the world?  They can be presented in "non-religious terms" a gimmick that ID activists pioneered, showing the way.

Be careful what you wish for.
5. Panspermia
PanspermiaThis one is venerable and quite old within the scientific community, which posits that life on Earth may have been seeded from elsewhere in the cosmos. Panspermia was trotted out for the “Scopes II” trial in the 1980s, when Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinge were among the few first-rank scientists to openly disbelieve the standard Origins model — the one that posits life appeared independently out of nonliving chemicals in Earth’s early oceans. Their calculations (since then refuted) suggested that it would take hundreds of oceans and many times the age of the Earth for random chemistry to achieve a workable, living cell.

Alas for the Creationists of that day, Hoyle and Wickramasinge did not turn out to be useful as friendly experts, because their alternative offered no comfort to the biblical Genesis story. They pointed out that our galaxy probably contains a whole lot more than a few hundred Earth oceans. Multiplying the age of the Milky Way times many billions of possible planets — and comets too — they readily conceded that random chance could make successful cells, eventually, on one world or another. (Or, possibly, in the liquid interiors of trillions of newborn comets. See Heart of the Comet!) All it would take then are asteroid impacts ejecting hardy cells into the void for life to then spread gradually throughout the cosmos. Perhaps it might even be done deliberately, once a single lucky source world achieved intelligence through … well … evolution. (Needless to say, Creationists found Hoyle and Wickramasinge big disappointments.)

Why-Darwin-Matters-Shermer-Michael-9780805083064So far, we have amassed quite a list of legitimate competitors … that is, if Intelligent Design is one. Now a cautionary pause. Some alternative theories that I have left out include satirical pseudo-religions, like one recent internet fad attributing creation to something called the “Flying Spaghetti Monster.” These humorous jibes have a place, but their blows do not land on-target. They miss the twin pillars of completeness and fair play, upon which promoters of Intelligent Design have based their attack against secular-modernist science. By erasing all theological details, ID activists hoped to eliminate any vulnerabilities arising from those details. Indeed, since the Spaghetti Monster is purported to be an Intelligent Designer, they can even chuckle and welcome it into the fold, knowing that it will win no real converts.

Not so for the other items listed here. Each of these concepts — adding to idea-space completeness and deserving fair play — implies a dangerous competitor for Intelligent Design, a competitor that may seduce at least a few students into its sphere of influence. This undermines the implicit goal of ID, which is to proselytize a fundamentalist/literalist interpretation of the Christian Bible.

There are other possibilities, and I am sure readers could continue adding to the list, long after I am done, such as…
  • We’re living in a simulation
  • Non-omnipotent others meddled/uplifted us (Chariots of 'gods")
  • We’ve been resurrected at the Omega Point…
  • It’s all in your imagination … and so on.

UNIVERSEFAKEI doubt that the promoters of Intelligent Design really want to see a day come when every biology teacher says: “Okay, you’ve heard from Darwin. Now we’ll spend a week on each of the following: intelligent design, guided evolution, intelligent design of intelligent designers, evolution of intelligent designers, the Hindu cycle of karma, the Mayan yuga cycle, panspermia, the Universe as a simulation…” and so on.

Each of these viewpoints can muster advocacy from philosophers and even some modern physicists, and can gather as much supporting evidence as ID. In any case they are all equally defensible as concepts. And only censoring bullies would prevent students from hearing them and exercising their sovereign right to decide for themselves, right?

Or, perhaps, here's an idea. After enduring weeks of this stuff, the brighter students might even start private sessions after school, to study a quaint science called … biology.

A day may come when the promoters of Intelligent Design wish they had left well enough alone.

magv12n2_sm(Article reprinted from Skeptic Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 2)

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David Brin
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Tom Crowl said...

Using such logic as I possess...

that either is or is not a gift from some sort of a conscious designing force...

that either is or is not standing behind the creation or even mere existence of a universe (which I hope we can agree actually exists) ...

I keep coming up with a conclusion that evolution, physics and science itself are not able to address the question of what, if anything, is behind the physical laws, constants or just plain fundamental forces of the universe...

HOWEVER, any spiritual speculations that assume facts and observations, experiments, etc. ( can be ignored because "God" could fake all that disturbing evidence...

doesn't work for me...

Unless you assume "God" is a rather devilish practical joker...

Or a deity that for some reason believes that 'his' creations aren't worth much unless they're willing to believe horse-pucky.

I'm betting that God (or the personified 'driver' of the universe if you will) would have better things to do.

DavidTC said...

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is not so useful as an evolution argument. But it wasn't constructed as one, and isn't supposed to be. While it was in response to intelligent design, it was intended to present an alternate theory of _carbon dating_.

The theory asserts that whenever a scientist carbon dates something, the FSM changes the _results_. (Not tampering in the actual experiment, mind you. The FSM changes the _results_ of the measurement.)

FSM theory is basically: Science is bogus because _an invisible thing is changing the result of all scientific experiments after they are run_.

It's a reductio ad absurdum of the people who deny science, and not aimed at intelligent design at all.

A lot of people, even those who are pushing to get it taught in schools, miss the point, and misuse it the way you said, as the FSM itself is altering living things. No one has said that. No, the FSM is just making science Wrong in random ways.

If FSMism was really applied to evolution, it would say something like: Evolution isn't true because the FSM is altering the genetic sequences that scientists are looking at under a microscope. Or the FSM is causing people to _think_ apes behave much like people, and they don't really act like that. (I'm not even sure how that would work.)

Basically, I think it would be very funny to try to push *that* theory in schools: There's a god-like entity that just likes to fuck around with us when we do science, and the universe is actually different than science says because of that.

That parody is, I think, a little too much on the nose for Intelligent Design proponents allow to children learn.

adiffer said...

Anyone who has read a bit of Popper's work has a way to draw a clear line between science and metaphysics. ID is metaphysics and doesn't belong in the biology class. Evolution isn't metaphysics, but the Origins theory is. I don't mind philosophy being taught in a science class and considering the historical connection between the fields we probably should, but if we do we should be very clear about the role metaphysics plays in the explanatory foundations for science theories.

While we are at it, though, we should probably be teaching about the different kinds of order too with special attention given to the level of complexity achievable by each. Designed order can be as complex as the mind designing it can imagine. Spontaneous orders can be far more complex or far simpler depending on the rules of the order. Orders of a theological sort tend to assume an entity/agent capable of great imagination in order to enable great complexity, but the greatest thing we've learned from Evolution (and its economic counterpart) is that the assumption is unnecessary. Spontaneous orders can spin up fractals in space and time with no help. Stunning complexity does not require imagination.

Mel Baker said...

As a 12 year old Mormon boy I got into trouble in a Sunday School classroom when the LDS theology "As man now is God once was" was raised. I asked if our God had a God and that God had a God (I was interupted at that point by 'yes Melvin") but I got several more renditions back before saying.. "then why don't we worship that God?"

My parents were called in by the Church leadership and told that young Melvin was asking some inappropriate questions. May father to his great credit said "well was he wrong" to which now one had and answer and the whole thing was dropped and I started paying far more attention to my SciFi books and less to Sunday school.

Robert said...

When I was around that age, I wasn't going to Church but I did have some interesting personal thoughts which would have had me burned at the stake at an earlier period of time. My thought? "Why is it the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost? Why not Mother? Families are comprised of father, mothers, and children, so should not this one?"

In essence, without even knowing about their existence at the time, I summed up a lot of paganism. =^-^=

Anonymous said...

The problem with promoting teaching of all alternatives, is that it still tends to discredit the importance of the scientific approach of focusing on what can be known based on evidence. The ID people might be very happy to have a week spent on every alternative, since it (a) takes time away from evolution, and (b) distracts from evidence based science. After all, they've got lots of places other than school to promote Creationism oops ID.

This flaw might be patched by insisting that, since Biology is a *science* class, the alternatives be taught in increasing order (and time spend) of scientific evidence - i.e. from least worth student's deep consideration to most.

ID wouldn't win, place or show in that ordering, but they could hardly complain about ID being taught before evolution. And it keeps the focus where it belongs - real science.

David Brin said...

This moving dolphin-moment is incredibly and creepily almost exactly taken from a scene in my new novel EXISTENCE.

Read it for free in "Aficionado" - an except available at

David Brin said...

Okay I am looking at my Google plus page and wondering how do people send and receive private messages? I know how in Facebook but am I missing some button to check in G+?

Anonymous said...

My personal approach to proponent of intelligent design is to readily admit that intelligent design is a perfectly valid alternative to evolution... but that this does not disprove evolution in any way.
When they start to look confused, I explain that yes, an intelligent actor (i.e. humans) can design a living organism, and that as nobody was there it may very well be that some alien came down on Earth some bilions or some even some thousand of years ago and made some adjustments.
Like we could do shortly on our Earth or we could do in some far future by going out there and terraforming planets.
But to disprove evolution, you've to show that *every* *single* *step* for *any* lifeform have been carefully orchestrated by some active intelligence.
And by showing even a single example of evolutionary change is sufficient to show that evolution is real.
And I point to those we can do in a lab, or even simply in a computer simulation.
At this point, with me taking the intelligent design at face value and talking about aliens, future humans and so on, they usually start talking aboud god, and their pretense at scientific skepticism have to crumble...

sgs said...

There is also the philosophical construct of "last Tuesdayism". This is the belief that the Universe and everything in it was created last Tuesday, at exactly 10:04 AM, Chicago time. The point is to demonstrate that a) this concept can neither be proved not disproved by any physical evidence whatever, and b) this concept is utterly useless, as it makes no predictions that can be tested.

Even the briefest discussion with an "intelligent design" creationist makes it perfectly clear that the only thing they're interested in is the strict Christian Evangelical version, complete with Noah's ark.

David Brin said...

Which is odd. In order to stay literal, they require:

- that Noah FAILED! Disobeyed and left out every dinosaur. It still woulda taken an ark the size of Manhattan.

- incest after the flood. Anyway, we know DNA drift rates, sorry.

R J Jameson said...

Perhaps the most genuine reason that ID will never go away is that all of those whose lives are supported monetarily and have great power over the susceptible would have to have a real job to survive. Think about all of those Churches, Mosques and of course the snake oil purveyors…

Fear of Death creates an incredible need for a belief system that our brilliant thinking brains (souls) will survive in another place a better place. This gives the masters of creative story telling the opening to keep in place the ideas of a religious dogma which can be neither proven or disproved.

Of course these belief systems provide our leaders with: reasons for war, reasons for cultural mores, reasons for political meddling, and reasons for “Nation Building”, which in turn provide an economic engine for Countries round the world. Pretty interesting system, wonder what kind of Intelligent Design created it?

locumranch said...

Don't dismiss Deism too easily. It unites Science & Theology.

As a corollary of Deism, there is plenty of room for a universal mind, gods, God & Science as evidenced by the question "What is matter?".

And, even though this question preoccupies many theoretical physicists, it is essentially nonsensical because whatever 'Matter is' is the only thing that we humans 'know', can know or can observe.

In fact, all philosophical terms & concepts that we use to imply the counter-intuitive existence of 'immateriality' and/or use to refer to 'reality' (from the Latin term 'res' meaning 'thing') are merely linguistic corruptions of materially observable 'things'.

The problem is that most philosophers, and many scientists, are irrational in this regard:

Arguing that existence (the presence of material things) also implies absence, they look out over 'materiality' (aka 'existence') and conclude that absence (aka 'the absence of a thing') is a material 'thing' that they then call 'nonexistence'.

The Deists resolved this little question very nicely. Bet you can't guess how.

Kudos to adiffer for citing Popper, btw.

adiffer said...

I don't see ID as an alternative to Evolution theory because ID is metaphysics and Evolution isn't. If one expands the possible list of competitors to include metaphysics, one isn't doing science anymore. Science DOES have metaphysics at the roots of its methods, but not way up in the branches where we expect falsifiable hypotheses.

I think a little philosophy taught at the beginning of science courses would be useful, but I suspect our K-12 science teachers aren't up to that... ok... maybe a few of them. 8)

adiffer said...

I came to Popper's work only a couple of years ago. I have 'played' with the distinctions between classical and quantum theories and had to toss out a few ideas I cherished. It is very useful to read a philosopher who points a mirror at us so we have a chance to see ourselves from a different perspective. I wish I had read him 20 years ago.

infanttyrone said...

I recall, perhaps incorrectly, reading an article (maybe was the cover story) in Time or Newsweek about 10 years ago that asked some number of top computer academics if they thought it was *possible* that we are all living in some sort of simulation...and a surprising number of them answered "Yes".
Anyone recall the article, especially with a closer time designator than "about 10 years ago" ??

I never tried to tackle Phil Dick's "Exegesis", but I recall reading a segment of it where he considered that perhaps our (section of the) universe is being administered by a sort of bush-league deity, one far short of omnipotent, light on ethics, and subject to bouts of inattention.
I don't recall if Dick had an opinion as to whether God was getting better or worse, or was just staying about the same.

Anonymous said...

To me truth lies somewhere undiscovered. There are no absolutes and i think evolution and so-called intelligent design are both pieces of the greater puzzle that I suspect we will never know.

Why is their a universe and how was it created? And what is existence? These are big questions far beyond human understanding, and perhaps we don't really want to know the answers because how could we enjoy this infinite debate otherwise?

locumranch said...

The 'Big Secret' about what passes for philosophy is that there are no big secrets.

Questions like "Why is their a universe(?)", "how was it created?" and "what is existence?" are (were) designed to confuse.

Modern Philosophy is a repository of linguistic error, tautology, logical fallacy & wordplay. It is a confidence game that postulates the existence of non-existence. It is much ado about nothing. Literally.

Science (aka 'empiricism') is a subset of Materialism (Epicurean, Stoic, Skeptic, etc); and the appearance of Deism, with it's constitutional, democratic and pro-science agenda, represents an Epicurean revival.

Deism holds these truths to be self-evident:

(1) Everything of importance is materially observable;

(2) The Universe (aka 'Matter') simply is; and

(3) The Rest (destiny, design, purpose, immateriality, mysticism, etc) is Lies & fictions.

Have you guessed how Deism defines matter yet?


Lorraine said...

If sufficiently equipped sentient beings can create both sentient beings and worlds for them to inhabit, conceivably those worlds include "hells." Assuming there is a way to access a universe in this universe's "upline" (and let's face it, this whole scenario looks to me like a big pyramid scheme) might someone "out there" have thought of some human rights (sentient being rights) principles that might include a right of appeal for condemned beings, and maybe even prohibitions against "cruel and unusual punishment" or even an affirmative right to "die?"

Lorraine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Brin said...

Somebody (a big fan!) tell us when the Doctor(s) will be in.

Robert said...

Personally I consider the whole "universe is a simulation" shtick to be another trap. Think of it. If the universe is a simulation, then nothing we do matters. So we can gleefully despoil our planet and treat one another like crap because hey! We're not real! So it doesn't matter! It's as horrific a theory as the Puritan theory of predestination for those who go to Heaven and those who don't - that no matter how decent and wonderful you are, if you're not Chosen then you go to Hell. Maybe not the WORSE Hell... but still Hell. And if you're Chosen then you can be a dick and it doesn't matter! Get Into Heaven Free Card!

Seriously. Is there a difference in perspectives here? Both theories are that humanity doesn't matter because either we're not real or only the Chosen ascend.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Guys I just had a look at my Amazon pages for a number of my books. Some of the same guys have come in and repeatedly trashed my ratings there. And with the paperback coming out soon.

Would any of you care to swing by and do reviews of your own? For Existence and as many others as you feel justified doing? Whatever you want to say. But I know you are all smart and have a clear-eyed sense of story.


locumranch said...

David B,

Don't sweat the small stuff.

Nobody -- and I mean nobody -- can expect to please all the people all the time.

You've earned a truck-load of awards; you do a fine job; and
I've been reading your words for thirty years.

Thousands & thousands will read your published words and, most likely, very few will ever read those few unpublished & unnecessarily critical reviews.


Ian said...

Here's another twist on the Fermi paradox.

If we accept the idea of Cosmological Evolution (i.e. that universes derive from black holes and that universes more likely to produce black holes produce more "offspring") then the emergence of intelligent life is more likely if intelligent life somehow contributes to the reproductive success of their host universe.

Let's suppose that we do so by generating singularities.

Now back up a second, for universes to "evolve", the more fit universes need to transmit their characteristics to their offspring. This implies some way of transmitting data from the parent universe to the child.

Again, maybe that's us.

So, intelligent life makes singularities which evolve into universes which they can then somehow study or even enter. (Study from outside would, of course, require a two-way transmission of data.)

What's more tempting? A single universe where travel is limited by the speed o light, or a countless array of new universes accessible directly from your own solar system?

Now about these Golden Tablets I just found ....

Robert said...

Consider for a moment: in cosmology, the event horizon is the point at which light cannot escape from a black hole's gravitational influence and orbits. If a black hole gains charge or spin then the event horizon shrinks (with spin resulting in the singularity becoming a two-dimensional ring structure).

Now if a black hole is an "egg" from which we can birth new universes, then the only way to view the contents of the new universe is to impart charge and/or spin to the singularity. Consider for a moment two things. First, how does this new material manifest into the new universe? (Might this new matter be dark matter, and the charge be dark energy?)

Second, once a window to the other universe is opened... how does it appear to people in the new universe? Perhaps by a change in certain laws of physics like certain constants.

Thus if we want to see if another universe has opened our black hole event horizon to view the universe within... we need but look for a region of the universe where the laws and constants have changed to some subtle extent.

One last thing to consider: if charge is needed to keep the window open, and the charge manifests as dark energy... and this dark energy is ripping the universe apart... then might not the other civilization eventually realize the damage it is causing and close its window?

Rob H.

Jumper said...

Hey, this is MY simulation; don't say it doesn't matter what happens!

adiffer said...

I never understood the simulation argument. Simulations usually involve a reduced problem in order to be computationally manageable. The more complexity we permit, the more resources are required or the more time it takes to interate the system. At some point, we reach the level where the system IS the simulation because that is the smartest way to handle the computations.

Reducibility requires the existance of macroscopic patterns that act as the rules of the model instead of the rules that make the patterns for the most complex version of the model. Reducing the model, though, is a simulation of an expectation. If the original rules have other possible patterns that don't get written as rules, the two simulation types are different.

I guess I never saw the point for thinking this universe might be a simulation. It looks WAY too complex meaning the fool who wrote it didn't reduce it to something computationally simpler. WE try to do those reductions when we do science, but the universe appears to me to be irreducible. No simpler system could simulate it other than itself.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Lorraine, I am waiting for you to page 'Q' (as in the Star Trek quasi-omnipotent being).

goatsyo: I don't even want to go there

David Brin said...

Ian the concept you described is called Evolution of Universes. John Smart expands upon it here:

Though the idea was first broached 20 years ago by physicist Lee Smolin and elucitated in my story "What Continues and What Fails."

It seems to bear less on the Fermi Paradox than the ANthropic Principle, explaining why we're here... but doesn't appear to help much explaining why we seem to be alone.

atomsmith said...

Relevant Simpsons quote:

Ned Flanders: We want you to teach alternative theories to Darwinian evolution!

Principal Skinner: You mean Lamarckian evolution?

Randy Winn said...

@Mel Baker

Might not your anecdote suggests a similarity between Mormon theology and technological singularity? Each allows individuals to ascend into godhood by the correct application of a sufficiently advanced application of the laws of the universe, whether natural or supernatural.

Not to pick on Mormons alone; Judeo-Christianity in general also "suffers" doctrines of efficacious prayer, that is, the idea that prayer and sacrifice may persuade God to do something (as opposed to prayer that helps the praying person adapt to circumstances) since if the natural act or praying can prompt divine action, then that divine action is not miraculous, but merely a poorly-understood force.

(Perhaps we are only now discovering extrasolar planets because enough SF fans have prayed long enough for their discovery? Teach The Controversy!)

Ian said...

Oddly, few advocates of Intelligent Design in schools think that schools should "teach the controversy" when it comes to drug education or abstinence-only sex ed.

Ian said...

I wish I could find a cartoon I saw once.

On a classroom blackboard, on one side is written evidence for evolution - fossils, microevolution of bacteria observed in the lab and so on.

On the other side is written: "The Bible says so."

Teacher: Now that we've fiuished teaching the controversy..."

Tony Fisk said...

@Ian, Given the Texas GOP platform on critical thinking, I don't think teaching the controversy that way would be acceptable (maybe if the LH was changed to read 'The Bible doesn't say so'... Oh, and change the column heading to 'Wrong', just to ensure that no child is 'left behind')

Wallacian evolutionary theory might cause a bit of a stir, as well.

Meanwhile, in case you haven't seen it, Gavin has done a masterly depiction of Sagan's 'pale blue dot' quote for zenpencil #100

David Brin said...

Randy the Mormon spin-off happened post Galileo and so multiplicity of worlds was a natural leap. Makes em fascinating. Especially since the theology is progressive while the cultural biases tend to be regressive.

Tony Fisk said...

Oh, I see! The Texas GOP is actually against 'outcome based education', rather than critical thinking! Hmm, well, I suppose some forms of critical reasoning do lead to an inescapable conclusion, and it might be tempting to take an outcome based shortcut in those circumstances. So much to learn, why go through the same intricate processes that led Darwin to his conclusions, for instance?

'Claw sharpening' is one reason. Who hasn't had fun railing against the inexorable flow of entropy to come up with a brilliant idea for a perpetual motion machine? And then had more fun finding out why it won't work?

Anyway, the kicker is in the platform justification: "[any programs]... which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority."

paraphrase: "Your outcome based education isn't our outcome based education."

whotys species of owl found roosting in the eaves of tardises

kaleidoscope28 said...

@addifer: Good point. One of the reasons this list is fun is precisely because most of the ideas are equally valid concepts that clearly can't belong in a science class. They would, however, do quite well in a philosophy class. I don't think that it addresses what the ID proponents actually want (in-class refutation to evolution), but I'd have enjoyed a mandatory philosophy class in HS that spent a week or two discussing how we, and the universe, might have come into being.

Robert said...

Looking back at my suggestion that advanced civilizations could gaze into another universe by imparting charge onto the black hole to shrink its event horizon (and that that charge may in fact be Dark Energy while matter "devoured" by the black hole could be dark matter), a question sprung to mind: what would happen should a black hole "devour" a second black hole? If each black hole is a universe... what happens to the two universes?

If each universe is marginally different, then the merger of two black holes and their universes could mean the two universes merge as well. However, seeing that physical constants could be marginally different in the two universes, then you would end up with regions of the universe with differing constants... similar to that observed by some scientists that found differences between the "northern" and "southern" parts of the universe.

There is one other question to consider: what happens prior to the merger of the two black holes and their universes? Once the black holes are inside one another's event horizons... should we not be able to "look" into that other universe but not be able to reach it (assuming that there is a method of traveling faster than the speed of light or around it)? And if so, how would that appear to us?

Rob H.

locumranch said...

Kaliedascope28 & adiffer are spot on: ID falls under the purview of Philosophy rather than Science because Philosphy of modern-type defines itself in terms of reasoned A Priori inquiry regardless of FACT or empiric data-

Problem is that most of what we consider "Science", including theoretical anything (ie. Physics), Quantum theory and Climate Change type simulation, also fall under Philosophy beecause they rely on reasoned argument rather than empiric A Posteriori (aka 'after the fact') evidence.

In absence of Fait Accompli observation, many of our so-called 'Sciences' are built on sand. They are arbitrary philosophical constructs built around a few factually-derived data points. They are mere approximations.


David Brin said...

My point about jiu jitsu allowing all alternatives to Darwin into class was to suggest that it's the last thing in the world the ID proponents want. Their frail hold upon their sons and daughters would be exposed to dozens of other memes. showing that their meme is just a sampling of possibility with nothing more for it to show than stories on paper.

They would fear this and quickly back off, leaving biology class to be about biology.

Robert, I have long wondered about black holes peering into black holes. Don't forget that TIME is all messed up at those event horizons and the collision itself may take billions of years from the point of view of someone at the very edge of a colliding EH.

This is our version of angels dancing on pins

Robert said...

Here's something to consider: what if Shadow People, ghosts, and other manifestations that cannot easily be measured or verified, are in fact glimpses of the other universe with the two universes on the very edges of each other's event horizon? Of course, that also leaves the question of: what happens if one universe has a larger event horizon than the other? Thus you can have one singularity inside the event horizon of a second... but its own event horizon is not encompassing the first (or is just touching). Would the universe that has the intruding Event Horizon be able to detect that intrusion without being able to actually see through it? How would such an event manifest?

Not that we can determine how this would manifest - mathematics break down when talking about naked singularities, and having a naked and an enclosed singularity next to one another would likely be a higher level of mathematics that would cause quantum mathematicians wince and recoil in horror. ^^;;

Rob H.

Robert said...

BTW, any thoughts on dark matter and dark energy being representive of matter and energy/charge absorbed by a black hole after the singularity forms a new universe?

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

Having a week on each non-scientific origin theory/philosophy/religion wouldn't leave many weeks for science. So perhaps a separate class? "Philosophy" sounds a bit... gay, or worse European, for our right-wing science haters, and isn't really the point you were making. So... what about "Creation"? A class that teaches comparative creation theories. 30 or so major classes of creation theories, getting about a week each. With science (and philosophical materialism) and Young Earth Creationism each getting just a week, but each bracketed by the most similar theories, not directly contrasted. By the end of the year, kids should see that YEC is just one small example of just one class of origin stories, and not even a particularly strong example in its class. By the end of several years, kids should be demanding vastly more sophisticated theology from their parents' religions.

But, if you want a Jiu Jitsu move, "Obama pledges to introduce nation wide Creation class to public schools" would have to be pretty unexpected.

Rob H.,
"Personally I consider the whole "universe is a simulation" shtick to be another trap. Think of it. If the universe is a simulation, then nothing we do matters. So we can gleefully despoil our planet and treat one another like crap because hey! We're not real! So it doesn't matter!"

I don't get this argument. It matters to us, the simulated, the race living on the now despoiled simulated planet until They end the program (which is unlikely to happen in our lifetimes, given how quickly the simulation must run to be useful.) It doesn't matter whether our reality is real or simulated, if we are exactly as real or simulated.

Re: Blackholes

It's interesting that the maths of blackholes (whether classical or modern versions like holographic hypersurfaces) seems to always resemble the maths of the universe itself. It's like physics is putting up a big arrow saying "Look Here!"

LarryHart said...


Personally I consider the whole "universe is a simulation" shtick to be another trap. Think of it. If the universe is a simulation, then nothing we do matters. So we can gleefully despoil our planet and treat one another like crap because hey! We're not real! So it doesn't matter!

That was sort of the climax of Kurt Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champions". Dwayne Hoover encounters a sci-fi book which is written as a letter from God to a human being telling that human that he was the only real person, and that everyone else is a robot (essentially a simulation) designed to test the real human.

Dwayne believes the letter from God is written to him, and ends up going on a rampage attacking and maiming people because after all, they're not real.

The concept allows his inner sociopath to run free.

Jumper said...

I hope the Misuse of Capital Letters isn't contagious.


I like your speculations, Robert. Whatever oddities occur in these rare situations, they effectively map the topology of spacetime's knots and tangles. As a pragmatic, I would have to simply accept them. If we could test.

locumrich, sounds like after a vow to not chase your tail, you are falling prey to the exact thing you are faulting the philosophers for. Their constant attempts to prove that reality is "hard" amuse me when they don't make me regret the wasted effort... I'm a committed Feynmanite. If it looks like a duck as far as I can see, and I can prove I will never see any more, it's a duck. And so, okay, what IS the Deist secret of matter?

David Brin said...


Anonymous said...

Here's the best alternative: The Traditional Catholic Doctrine of Creation:

Unknown said...

So here's a fun speculation that proves, perhaps, that I watch too much Doctor Who...

The Universe is a giant stable time loop which essectially created itself. Intelligent life gradually becomes more powerful, pervasive, and unified over billions of years, until, at the end of time, it becomes free of the constraints of linear time and is, for all practical purposes, omnipotent and omniscient. It then retroactively creates the universe, and subsequently incarnates itself to intervene in the affairs of the evolving universe in order to direct its own eventual emergence. It's even trinitarian. You have God the Creator, God the Interventionist, and God Becoming (the emerging intelligences...possibly a manifestation of quantum entanglement). Well, it might make a good story anyway.