Re: poly: ESS for HPLD

From: Damien Broderick <>
Date: Tue Dec 09 1997 - 07:03:05 PST

At 09:18 AM 12/8/97 -0800, Hal wrote:

>As a more extreme view, consider that as the universe has expanded,
>it has passed through various epochs. The earliest ones lasted only a
>fraction of a second by our standards.

>We tend to think of the earlier epochs as being uniform and uninteresting,
>just waiting for things to cool so that the important stuff could get
>going (namely, ourselves and the universe we see). But maybe there was
>more to it than this, and perhaps some of the earlier epochs could support
>replication. It could even be the case that the activities of the
>replicators produced structure which remained in later epochs.

Here's a relevant chunk from THE SPIKE (sorry for the free-floating endnote

If the prospect of the post-Spike condition sketched in this book is
correct - awesome, truly godlike powers wielded by Powers - then in another
billion years our descendants will surely have plaited the stars into
braids of their own design, if they wish to.108 Tipler, as we've seen,
argues that an AI deity might, even must, emerge in the final nanoseconds
of the Big Crunch after its predecessors have redesigned the dying cosmos.
By reverse engineering, can we gaze outward now and see that the stars
already bear the marks of cosmic engineering?

Here's an even more startling conjecture. Let's call it the Very Fast
Evolution Machine.109 Might life of some quite different ilk have
crystallised in the strange, terrible epochs before our kind of matter
settled out in the inflation rush of the expanding cosmos?110 In the
earliest zillionths of the Big Bang eruption, with time effectively
multiplied to infinite speeds but slowing fast that is, inconceivably
vast numbers of exchanges occurring almost instantly in a densely compacted
and connected spacetime where the four forces only `slowly' decoupled
might not there be effectively time enough for a superintelligence to
evolve from scratch? Even a whole batch of them, but perhaps they would
inevitably remain merged until the cosmos was big enough for light
transmission delays to disrupt module communication...

Rather Gnostic, put that way. Demiurges tumbling from the furnace of the
Big Bang, cast out into the freezing dark. Perhaps placing their impress
upon the new regimes of matter and light. Yes, now there is a god... But
that was then. What of today? Would such `angels' still have any impact
on the universe?111 Would their works persist in the fabric of spacetime?
Might the colossal strings of galaxies and dark bubbled gaps that puzzle
cosmologists be some design of theirs? More to the point, is their
evolution remotely possible in the light of current physics?

Here is the key postulate: that just as the Tipler Eschaton, plunging into
the forever of infinite compression, has an effectively infinite number of
discrete clock ticks within which a `god' may Do All Things, so too does
the initial Hawking smeared 10-43 of a second. Could anything structured
emerge under such appallingly volatile conditions, however many virtual
steps or epochs it contains? It's one thing to persist into the Big
Crunch, using shear energy (the gravitational ebbs and flows of shockingly
twisted spacetime). Presumably it's quite another for complex `life' to
bootstrap into existence under the same conditions. Or is it?

Mitchell Porter has observed that the main barrier to Big Bang
superintelligences is `the absence of structure in the "ylem", the
primordial plasma. But conceivably there may have been epochs of structure
in the course of the many phase transitions which are part of modern
cosmological models of the early universe, and perhaps things were evolving
rapidly enough for replicators to evolve.' That catches it exactly.
Charles Stross, a British writer and software specialist, notes similarly
that in Tipler's scenario the pre-Omega entity sets up oscillations in the
collapsing universe, extracting usable energy. But did the Big Bang have
equivalent energy gradients, available to drive such computational
processes? The cosmos shortly after the Bang is a homogeneous soup of
radiation looking the same in all directions, Stross notes. `On the other
hand, there are those background ripples that COBE spotted...' These, we
recall, are the enduring traces of lumpiness left in the pervasive
radiation residue from the Big Bang. Recent data suggests that they are,
indeed, fractal in nature, ripples within wrinkles - perhaps enough to
provide the gradients necessary to jump-start a primordial replicator.

Jonathan Burns, a La Trobe University computer scientist, suggests with a
certain whimsy that the opening fractions of a second in this universe
contained ample variety. `GUT Age, Quark Age, Hadron Age, Nucleosynthetic
Age, Plasma Age, Fireball... You'd think the blindest watchmaker would have
had opportunity enough.' He adds:

        What are the odds for an intelligent ontology? On Darwinian grounds one
seems to need:

        (1) A substrate stable enough for some Selfish Form to persist and
multiply in competitive variation.
        (2) A phenomenon which can be coded, and decoded, into a genotype which
replicates the code.
        (3) Time for enough iterations that the code space can be explored by the
population, long enough to find the breakthrough points to higher
        (4) Time enough for the higher organization to explore its environment,
and exploit the opportunities for technological enhancement.
        (5) A radically uncertain measure of good luck.

And Burns took up the idea of ancient demiurges with a poetic burst of his
own: `The Benefactors... skating the contours of zero tidal force... their
wingtips deep in blazing quicksand...'

Could such a selfish code-string persist though the fires of the Big Bang,
and in the cooling cosmos left as its ashes? For a selfish signal to
survive in a sea of noise, Burns observes, it has to perform its own noise
reduction. Emergent exotica might stabilise briefly vortices, frequency
bands, phase boundaries to form a first substrate. Efficient signal self
replication would use digital encoding, the simplest possible, but
sufficiently rich to do the job. After all, we know that populations of
data structures inside computers can already evolve, exploring
combinational spaces efficiently, turning combinational complexity to
advantage. Is this kind of digital evolution plausible for the primordial
universe? `The bulk properties of Grand Unified Theory plasmas are
speculative, to say the least,' Burns notes. `Electromagnetic plasmas,
yes, there are stable structures, Alfven waves, in the right conditions.
And in cold bulk matter, we get quantized magnetic flux tubes, and
liquid-helium quantized vortices.'

Physics has only vague ideas of how quark-gluon plasmas might behave. `One
place to look for a clawhold might be at the point where the quark-gluon
plasma is breaking into clusters. In the "big bag" of the plasma, one gets
incursions of vacuum, which acts as a superconductor for colour charge.
For a sufficient epoch, just maybe the plasma is riddled with quantized
chromodynamic flux tubes in bunches. Asymmetry. Structure. Bistability.
Gates and switches. Chemistry. New tubes being generated all the time,
those which don't match our patterns discarded, the rest assembled into new

Similarly with a conjectural breakup of the GUT plasma, or the
compactification of the hidden dimensions. Emergent exotica, as Nobel
laureate Ilya Prigogine argues, are often found at phase boundaries where
energy is being exported into the environment. But we wouldn't expect to
find an infinite number of successive phase changes from the Bang to very
shortly afterward, the sort required for a Tipler scenario, because at the
Planck length, we find quantum everything-at-once, space and time smeared
and unquantifable.

What legacy might such demiurges leave for us to find? It could range from
the very large, such as cosmological gravitational waves, or the very
small, such as strange matter in pulsars. `If the angels broke through to
the mid range, they could build just about any material structure,' Burns
notes. But is there anything in our environment that can't be accounted
for by available science? Well, there remain those mysterious cosmological
features, the vast empty voids, and the so-called Great Attractor that
appears to be dragging all the local galaxies toward a particular place in
the heavens. And dark matter remains an open question.

`If I were an angel,' Burns remarks wryly, `I'd be inclined to look out for
my own skin. Maybe I could replicate myself on the cooler, rarer strata of
the heat death. But in my epoch, the alternative of forming exotic black
holes and maybe impressing myself on a new universe, if that's possible,
would seem a lot more practical than it does to us atom-age relics.'

Still more delightfully bizarre is a conjecture based on Tipler's
cosmological deity, advanced by Anders Sandberg:

        life evolves towards the Omega Point, but in the vicinity of the final
moment `angels', life based on back-propagating causality (which Tipler's
theory seems to imply) are created and move backwards through time. They
are unobservable in the present, since they are acausal from our
perspective... and probably very thinly spread (possibly `extinct').
Eventually conditions become better and better for them, they spread across
the universe and use the shear energy to create the Alpha Point - which is
isomorphic to the Omega Point and creates `angels' moving forward in time.
Note that if the backwards-moving beings use shear energy from the
`collapse' of the universe they see, this may explain the homogeneity and
isotropy of the universe despite the chaos of the Big Bang - from our
perspective they smoothed the universe!

Improbable as this entire arabesqued line of thought is (and strictly
unnecessary, since cosmology is not lacking in more modest explanations for
its outstanding conundrums), it does bear a piquant resemblance to the
issues that might arise when Powers in a post-Spike history start to reform
their virtual and real environments.


Stanislaw Lem made a similar suggestion in his delightful collection of
reviews of non-existent books, A Perfect Vacuum.112 Why do we not find all
those archaic galactic civilisations?

        ...because they are already everywhere... A billion-year-old civilization
employs [no instrumental technologies]. Its tools are what we call the
Laws of Nature. The present Universe no longer is the field of play of
forces chemical, pristine, blindly giving birth to and destroying suns and
their systems... In the Universe it is no longer possible to distinguish
what is `natural' (original) from what is `artificial' (transformed).113

The primordial cosmos, Lem's invented authority proposes, might possess
different laws in different regions (a notion common to current claims by
Hoyle and Linde). If so, only in certain remote patches might life arise.
Attempting to stabilise its environment, each Spiked culture would have
jiggled the local laws of physics to its taste, until in their expansion
for Lebensraum they began to encroach upon each other's territories. Vast
wars would follow: `The fronts of their clashes made gigantic eruptions and
fires, for prodigious amounts of energy were released by annihilation and
transformations of various kinds... collisions so powerful that their echo
reverberates to this day' - in the form of the 2.7 degree Kelvin background
radiation, mistakenly assumed to be a residue of the Big Bang. It is a
charming cosmogony - an explanation for the birth and shape of the observed
universe - and it fits so neatly with the colossal intergalactic filaments
and voids first detected years after Lem published his jape...

This universe of Lem's, torn asunder in conflict over its very architecture
by titanic Exes and Powers, is saved from utter ruin by the laws of
game-theory, which ensure that the former combatants must henceforth remain
in strict isolation from each other. The chosen laws of physics that
prevail, as a result, are those damnably restrictive rules we chafe under
today: a limited speed of light, an expanding spacetime (good fences make
good neighbours, don't you know). We live upon a scratchy board abandoned
by the Gamers:
Science currently sees the Universe as a palimpsest of Games, Games endowed
with a memory reaching beyond the memory of any one Player. This memory is
the harmony of the Laws of Nature, which hold the Universe in a homogeneity
of motion. We look upon the Universe, then, as upon a field of
multibillion-year labours, stratified one on the other over the eons,
tending to goals of which the closest and most minute fragments are
fragmentarily perceptible to us.114

Need I stress that this lovely logic was not a bid by the distinctly
atheistic Stanislaw Lem to reinstate a religious perspective in his
then-communist country (something that the triumphant revival of
Catholicism has done in the meantime, all too successfully, no doubt to
Lem's chagrin)? Nor am I doing the same. My intention is to portray the
kind of universe we can expect this one to become, following the human
Spike - and long after its advent, of course, perhaps millions or even
billions of years later. On the other hand, it's bracing, I suspect, to
acknowledge in due humility that, for all we know, actually there are other
Powers in the cosmos, right now, who have passed through the veil of the
Spike. And perhaps they do move upon us, vast, heedless Paracletes, as
fire moves across the tops of a field of cropped and stubbled wheat...115

Damien Broderick
Received on Tue Dec 9 04:02:57 1997

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