HUMAN DESTINY – PART XVI – THE FATE OF THE UNIVERSE (CONT’D)

Life as we know it becomes increasingly improbable in the third age, the Degenerate Era (decades 15 through 39), when stars are no more, and brown and white dwarfs dominate a colder, darker, more diffuse universe. But even then  small stars, some with planets, may form as a result of rare collisions of red dwarfs. Because of their small size these will last trillions of years allowing sufficient time for life to evolve.

Another intriguing possibility for life might be in the atmosphere of white dwarfs. These Earth-sized bodies will maintain a steady state by feeding off dark matter for perhaps 20 cosmological decades. Their outer layer, heated from below and exposed to the radiation of low energy photons should be able to sustain chemical reactions that permit life although at a slower pace (1/500th) than on Earth.A third opportunity for life in the Degenerate Era depends on an advanced civilization creating a spherical shell around a white dwarf to intercept its radiative energy.5

In the end all stars, star remnants, and rogue planets will wane as protons and neutrons finally decay into “a diffuse sea of radiation, mostly photons and neutrinos, with a small admixture of positrons and electrons” by cosmological decade 40.6

Intelligent organic life will be impossible in the fourth age, the Black Hole Era (decades 40-100), when the only stellar-like objects are black holes and all matter has decayed. Adams and Laughlin  entertain the potential of black holes themselves becoming life-like or computer-like by virtue of their interactions across vast stretches of space and time. They estimate black hole consciousness would be 1030 slower than that in man, but viable if black holes somehow are configure like protons, electrons, and neutrons are in organic life.7 Nevertheless black holes will  evaporate eventually by virtue of quantum effects known as Hawking radiation over 10 million, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion years. The largest black holes will last the longest, but all will eventually explode creating radiation and mostly short-lived (< 1 second) heavy particles.8

In the final age, the Dark Era, only subatomic particles remain in an immense cold. While it is possible the universe will slow to a stop  known as heat death, Adams and Laughlin favor the alternative of particle annihilation continuing as long as the universe lasts, a situation called by Paul Davies, a “universe of eternal death.”9 The also offer a more optimistic future where quantum tunneling of a vacuum energy  phase transition result in a new universe with novel characteristics.

Adams and Laughlin briefly discuss the competing view of an eventual collapse of the universe known as the big crunch in some 50 billion years, which appears likely should the universe be curved or closed rather than flat. Last in considering the enigma of how our universe happens to be so finely tuned to allow galaxies, stars, planets, and life; they espouse the theory of the multiverse. wherein there are an uncountable number of universes,  and of course we find ourselves in one allowing life simply because otherwise we wouldn’t be here to ask the question. Such a multiverse might offer hope that intelligent beings can escape our future degenerate universe, perhaps by creating a new one.

Whatever the future, they note: “The most consistent characteristic of our ever-evolving universe is change…we must seize the present cosmological epoch, the present year, and even the present day. Each moment in the unfolding history of the cosmos represents a unique opportunity, a chance for greatness, an adventure to undertake.”10 Don’t waste it!

1Adams, Fred and Laughlin, Greg, The Five Ages of the Universe. The Free Press, New York, 1999. ISBN 0-684-85422-8

2Adams and Laughlin discuss the extremely unlikely event (about 1 in 100,000) of the Earth being torn out of its orbit by a passing stellar object in which case the surface becomes uninhabitable due to the opposite problem of frigid cold once Earth escapes the solar system (pages 50-53).

3Ibid. Pages 67-70.

4Ibid. Pages 94-97.

5Ibid. Pages 97-98.

6Ibid. Page 106.

7Ibid. Pages 139-150.

8Ibid. Page 149.

9Ibid. Page 168.

10Ibid. Page 205.

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HUMAN DESTINY – PART XVI – THE FATE OF THE UNIVERSE

“This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.” – T.S. Eliot

 

 

The final area  in  our consideration of human destiny is the astrophysicist’s chronology of the future of the universe. In their 1999 book, The Five Ages of the Universe,1 which grew out of a University of Michigan ‘theme semester’ called Death, Extinction, and the Future of Humanity, Fred Adams and Greg Laughlin look out as far as 150 ‘cosmologic decades’ (that is 10150 years; the number of the cosmologic decade is n for any age of the universe of about 10n years – placing us in the 10th cosmological decade at about 10-15 billion years). They admit upfront that as they move further out in time their theory involves speculative elements, but all is based on the best science of our time.

It turns out we missed the Primoridal Era, the first 5 decades (before 10,000 years) when radiation was dominant, some lighter elements appeared, and eventually fluctuations in the density of matter led to astrophysiologic objects. Rather we live in the second age, the Stelliferous Era (the age of stars – decades 6 through 14 – which will last for about another hundred trillion years).

Our solar system will not make it out of the 10th decade (larger stars burn out more quickly). The Sun will shine for another 6 billion years, although during that time it will get brighter and make the Earth prohibitively hotter (due to a runaway greenhouse effect much as exists on Venus). In a few billion years, the additional heat will evaporate Earth’s liquid water and make organic life here impossible. Moreover towards the end of the Sun’s life, it will expand as a red giant and consume Mercury, Venus, and finally the Earth. However this allows plenty of time for a human diaspora into the remainder of the solar system, especially to a warmer and more hospitable Mars.2 To survive after the Sun’s death, humans will likely need to move to other solar systems.

Speaking of moving into the galaxy, Adams and Laughlin do some calculations on the time required to fully colonize the Milky Way. They estimate a chance galactic colonization would require about 3 trillion years, but one driven by intelligence would take only about a billion years. Since no other civilization has come in contact with us to date, we can assume either no capable intelligence has existed for that long or that such a civilization finds it impractical or at least not economically advantageous.3

(continued next post)

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HUMAN DESTINY – PART XV – TECHNOLOGY – ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (cont’d)

But what will our destiny be if AI is viewed more benignly. Some scientists like to speculate on how intelligence may evolve when it sheds mortal biology in a remote future – what John Horgan calls a ‘scientific theology.’5 J.D. Bernal speculated that while genetic engineering might be the early course, man’s consciousness may be etherealized allowing communication through space by radiation and possibly light. Hans Moravec, a robotics engineer, proposes the next step is ‘mind children’ or intelligent machines we raise and educate and then release to incredible feats. Such robots will perform the work humans have done until now, then expand into space enlarging the effective universe although under the Darwinian law of competition. He and other futurists such as Freeman Dyson imagine intelligence spreading “through the entire universe, transforming it into one great mind,”6 a virtual deity. Edward Fredkin sees a more cooperative relationship between super-intelligent machines that will develop their own science.

Frank Tipler takes this to the ultimate; the entire universe transformed into a single, all-powerful, all-knowing computer – an Omega point (a term borrowed from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin7). Such a computer could “recreate – or resurrect – everyone who had ever lived for eternal bliss.”8 Alternatively viewed, the goal of science then is “constructing Heaven.”9 But most stunning of all, Tipler suggests the Omega point constructed /will construct our universe – i.e. the past need not lead to the future from the standpoint of the universe. This mixture of science fiction and mysticism takes us as far as possible down the road of human or universal destiny.

But the end result of these speculations on technology is that the destiny of mankind (as of all human actions) will be the one we choose. As a member of humanity, the reader is one of billions of the moving parts that will participate in that future, which also means every human life has the potential for extended if not eternal meaning. Think about it.

1Kaku, Michio, The Future of Humanity, Anchor Books, New York, 2018. ISBN 978-0-525-43454-2, page 125.

2Hawking, Stephen, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Bantam Books, New York, 2018. ISBN 9781984819192, page 188.

3Kaku, Michio, The Future of Humanity, Anchor Books, New York, 2018. ISBN 978-0-525-43454-2, page 313.

4Hawking, Stephen, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Bantam Books, New York, 2018. ISBN 9781984819192, page 196.

5Horgan, John, The End of Science, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., Reading, Massachusetts, 1996. ISBN 0-201-62679-9, page 247.

6Ibid. Page 254.

7See my blog dated October 4 2019 on this site.

8Horgan, John, The End of Science, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., Reading, Massachusetts, 1996. ISBN 0-201-62679-9, page 257.

9Ibid. Page 258.

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HUMAN DESTINY – PART XV – TECHNOLOGY – ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

“We are ourselves creating our own successors. Man will become to the machine what the horse and the dog are to man” – Sam Butler, 19th century novelist. 1

 

Artificial intelligence (AI) is so frequently discussed nowadays that it hardly needs an introduction, but for our purposes, AI will mean machine learning (as opposed to programmed knowledge). We have all heard of the amazing feats of computers such as Deep Blue defeating world chess champion Gary Kasparov in 1996, but it is unclear if this fits our definition. Voice and facial recognition, self-driving vehicles, and the like may be simple contemporary examples of AI. But the unsettling quantum leap will be when computers can develop completely new knowledge beyond their programming or develop a will of their own, in which case in theory they could become a threat to humanity. Think of some popular science fiction movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Terminator, and I Robot. This fear is immanent enough that some leading technology pioneers are researching AI’s potential impact on humans.2  Michio Kaku believes that AI represents existential risk to humans only when machines become self-aware, which he anticipates by the end of this century “giving us time to prepare.”

Stephen Hawking offers us the following advice, “When we invented fire, we messed up repeatedly, then invented the fire extinguisher. With more powerful technology…we should instead plan ahead and aim to get things right the first time, because it may be the only chance we get. Our future is a race between the growing power of our technology and the wisdom with which we use it. Let’s make sure that wisdom wins.”4

(continued next post)

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HUMAN DESTINY – PART XIV – TECHNOLOGY – SUPERHUMANS

“It’s easier to create the future than to predict it.” – Joseph Traub

After looking at human destiny from scientific, historical, and theological vantage points, we can widen our investigation to possible technological futures of mankind. This can take two basic forms: genetically modified or hybrid humans, and artificial intelligence.

Within the destinies discussed in the scientific fields I alluded to man’s potential to expedite human evolution by externally modifying our genes. The science is already tantalizingly close (CRISPR), but ethical issues have slowed this approach. However some scientists, such as Stephen Hawking2  believe it is inevitable despite ethical concerns since in the absence of global deterrence, someone is likely to begin what will then become an irreversible progression. Nonetheless others suggest humans will “abandon the bodies bequeathed to us by natural selection for more efficient designs.”3 Still others think genetic engineering may be deployed on other organisms perhaps even creating future spacecraft. 4 Michio Kaku entertains the possibility of these technologies enhancing man’s ability to live on other worlds, but also worries about the ethical significance of potentially creating new genetic branches of the human race.5

A second possibility is the hybrid human, by which is meant the incorporation of technology into the human body to create superior or ultra-human capabilities essentially transforming a person into a cyborg. This does not include most current prosthetics like artificial limbs, cochlear implants, or pacemakers which simply restore normal function. On the other hand a current and simple example is the springy blade leg prosthetic design used by some para-athletes. Future possibilities include chips or other technology inserted into the body or brain that enhance function, sensation, or intelligence or which allow direct connection with a freestanding computer.

The implication of both of these futuristic technologies is clear, human destiny would involve new abilities that allow us to achieve greater physical and mental feats that expedite human progress but do not essentially change the long term picture, particularly man’s expansion beyond the planet earth. In other words, they are the means rather than the determinants of human destiny. But, combined with an evolved ethic, perhaps our descendants could realize the vision of Nietzsche’s uberman.

Next time we will look at artificial intelligence as the ultimate means to a combined destiny for humanity and the universe.

 

1Horgan, John, The End of Science, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., Reading, Massachusetts, 1996. ISBN 0-201-62679-9, page 240.

2Hawking, Stephen, Brief Answers to the Big Questions, Bantam Books, New York, 2018. ISBN 9781984819192, pages 160.

3Horgan, John, The End of Science, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc., Reading, Massachusetts, 1996. ISBN 0-201-62679-9, page 247.

4Ibid. Page 253.

5Kaku, Michio, The Future of Humanity, Anchor Books, New York, 2018. ISBN 978-0-525-43454-2, page 216.

6Gimbel, Steven, Quantum Consciousness, in Redefining Reality: The Intellectual Implications of Modern Science, Steven Gimbel, The Teaching Company, 2015, Lecture 33.

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HUMAN DESTINY – PART XIII – TEILHARD de CHARDIN

“Humanity is but a transitory phase of the evolution of the eternal substance, a particular phenomenal form of matter and energy, the true proportions of which we soon perceive when we set it in the background of infinite space and eternal time.” – Ernest Haick.

Western theology allows for a human destiny other than biblical eschatology. As an alternative I offer the analysis of the French Jesuit, self-described geobiologist, who played a major role in the discovery of Peking man, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Last century he wrote a group of theses based on his belief that the world is the outcome of a progressive genesis of the universe through evolution,1  but that  morphological change in life slowed at precisely the moment Thought appeared on earth suggesting evolution proceeded in the direction of the largest brain. According to him, “we know of many forms that have disappeared since the Oligocene, but of no genuinely new species other than the anthropoids.”

Instead we see biological value in moral action and individual relationship implying evolution in the ‘sphere of consciousness’ (the Noosphere). Humans are “serving, like intelligent atoms, the work proceeding in the universe,”3  and “it is mankind as a whole, collective humanity, which is called upon to perform the definitive act whereby the total force of terrestrial evolution will be released and flourish.” 4  This will occur through education as “mankind …is organically inseparable from that which has been slowly added to it…” 5  and socialization, “the forging our multiplicity into a whole.” 6  The forces of isolation and repulsion in mankind will be overcome by external compression due to growth in numbers and mutual attraction via love for one’s neighbor. Common vision and action will lead to a ‘single being.’ The first hominization of life was man’s individual self-consciousness; the second will be Mankind’s total reflexive consciousness upon itself.7 What will follow is convergence, loss of egoism, the ‘Sense of Evolution’ wherein “the terrestrial future matters more than the present.”

This ‘super-humanization’ will lead to a ‘planetized spirit.’ He thinks it is unlikely man will escape through space arguing “if journeying between celestial bodies were practicable, it is hard to see why we ourselves have not been invaded.”9 Rather he believes there will be convergence on a  divine center or ‘omega point’ already identified by the mystics but which will be available to all in the future. “Mankind at the end of totalization will detach from earth and join the omega point.”10 Exactly what Teilhard de Chardin means by this is unclear, but he predicts a ‘super-state of psychic tension… not a gradual darkening but a sudden blaze of brilliance, an explosion in which Thought carried to the extreme, is volatized upon itself …how I would depict the ultimate phase of a vitalized star.”11  In the end, human destiny is a “Translation or dematerialization, to another sphere of the Universe: not an ending of the ultra-human but its accession to some sort of trans-humanity at the ultimate heart of things.”12 297

If this sounds fantastic or the speculations of science fiction, you will be stunned by the subject of the next blog, the future of humanity as its technological destiny.

1Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre, The Future of Man, Harper & Row , Publishers, New York, 1964. Page 13.

2Ibid. Page 15.

3Ibid. Page 17.

4Ibid. Page 21

4Ibid. Page 31

6Ibid. Page 40

7Ibid. Page 133.

8Ibid. Page 137.

9Ibid. Page 122.

10Ibid. Page 122-123.

11Ibid. Page 295.

12Ibid. Page 297.

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HUMAN DESTINY – PART XII – THE BOOK OF REVELATION

“I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer (thought by the ‘father of the atomic bomb’ on seeing the first thermonuclear explosion; from Hindu scriptures).

 

The most famous eschatology is the New Testament book of Revelation. The Old Testament included significant end of the world prophesies within Isaiah and Daniel, and in fact Jesus as Messiah was believed by his early followers to be the fulfillment of these prophesies. However as time passed without  the Apocalypse, and after the Roman Empire tightened its grip on the chaotic province of Israel, there appeared the last book of the New Testament, Revelation, as recorded by John of Patmos (not the apostle John).

In this curious scripture, John says he heard a “great voice as of a trumpet saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last…” (Rev. 1:10-11). John is invited into heaven to witness the future where he sees are 24 elders, 4 beasts, tens of millions of angels, and a book with seven seals. Behind these seals are the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, Christian martyrs, a great earthquake, the blackened sun, the blood moon, the falling of stars to earth, 144,000 righteous members of the Tribes of Israel, seven angels who sound trumpets bringing scourges, and an army of 200,000,000 vengeful horsemen to destroy unrepentant sinners.

Victory is delayed when three beasts appear – one from a pit in the earht (Satan), the second a great red dragon in heaven, and a third from the sea. The hosts of the beast carry a mark, the number, 666. After the appearance of 144,000 virgins and the fall of Babylon, the ‘Son of man’ appears on a white cloud followed by seven plagues and the final battle of Armageddon. God is installed on his throne and Satan is cast into a bottomless pit for 1000 years. Some men are saved immediately, but after the 1000 years, the rest of humanity is resurrected.  A final conflict occurs after Satan is released, but this time Satan is cast into a lake of fire for eternity as are the men judged unworthy by God reading from the ‘book of life.’ The chosen then enter a new eternal paradise ruled by God.

The book of Revelation has been the most controversial part of the New Testament for nearly two millennia and outlasted efforts to discard it. Why does it endure and what is its metaphorical lesson? Spiritual readers including Augustine see it as the internal battle within each of us to overcome evil and achieve ethical perfection in pursuit of heaven. But for this post, we are interested in it as a myth of the destiny of man. From that standpoint Revelation appears very optimistic. The worst evils of the world are caused by free agents which for us means mankind. Highly talented but malevolent humans symbolize Satan, and destructive technology (for example atomic weapons) the beasts. We live in the period of Tribulation – the conflict of good and evil – and although it is likely evil will proliferate further, Revelation tells us the good in man will overcome his evil. If God is the origin of the universe or the universe itself, the allegorical divine paradise may be a peaceful world filled with virtuous, flourishing men.

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