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"We humans are the species that makes things."
- Lee Smolin, Three Roads to Quantum Gravity

The Intelligent Universe

On the previous Living in the Matrix page we considered the possibility that we might be living in a computer simulation generated by an advanced civilisation. This possibility emerged when we considered how rapidly our own computer technology has advanced in the last 50 years. On this page we will consider a different conclusion from this rapid technological progress: the idea that an advanced civilisation might be able to create a real universe.

Some physicists now believe that an advanced civilisation would possess the technology to create a new "universe in a laboratory". This conclusion is based on the work of MIT's Edward Farhi, Alan Guth, and Jemal Guven who have produced a recipe for producing a universe: it basically involves compressing a 10-kilogram sphere of mass to an extremely high density. The ball would implode usually forming just a black hole. Occasionally, though, it would branch off by quantum tunnelling to create a baby universe hidden inside the black hole. This branch could grow to a large size without interfering with the laboratory (see this New Scientist article). Edward R. Harrison, a cosmologist at the University of Massachusetts, has also considered the possibility of an advanced civilisation would have the capability to create a universe (see this Smithsonian article).

"Hydrogen is a light, odourless gas, which, given enough time, turns into people." - Edward R. Harrison, Cosmologist

Physics has never afforded any special significance to intelligence: the human brain, for example, is considered as nothing more than an uninteresting collection of atoms. But the theory that intelligence can create universes suggests that physics can no longer ignore this emergent phenomenon of intelligence. Intelligence should be afforded an elevated status in physics, because areas of the universe which contain intelligent entities can spawn new universes.

David Deutsch, in his book The Fabric of Reality, also emphasizes the importance of intelligence in the universe when he considers how human beings in the future might be able to modify the Sun to prevent the extinction of the Earth: "Life is significant in the gross physical development of the universe". Deutsch contrasts this view with the reductionist view stated by Stephen Hawking: "The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting round a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies".

Once we start considering emergent properties, we find the role of human intelligence might be far from "average".

Reductionism vs. Emergence

If we are now considering the idea that intelligence has a special significance in the universe then that would pose a radical new challenge for physics, because intelligence is an example of an emergent phenomenon.

In general, science takes an essentially reductionist approach (the opposite of "emergent") to understanding the world. This means that science operates on the principle that we can understand things by breaking them down - and analyzing - their smallest constituent parts. As an example, particle physics attempts to discover the smallest particles and the most basic forces. The belief is that the smaller the particle, the better your understanding of the physical world.

For many simple applications this approach works well. For example, analyzing the large-scale properties of materials on the basis of their particle chemistry (finding the strength of materials, the temperature at which they melt, etc.). However, for more complex applications this approach proves woefully inadequate. This is because many large-scale phenomena which result from the complex interaction of billions of particles could never be predicted purely by analyzing the properties of a single particle. Paul Davies describes this principle of emergence succinctly in his paper Emergent Biological Principles and the Computational Properties of the Universe as: "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts".

As an example of emergence, the Game of Life, which was featured on the Is the Universe a Computer? page, shows how small cells on a square grid following very simple rules can combine together with extraordinary results which you would never realise existed if you just examined the simple rules. As Stephen Wolfram has said: "Even programs with some of the simplest possible rules yield highly complex behaviour, while programs with fairly complicated rules often yield only rather simple behaviour. If one just looks at a rule in its raw form, it is usually impossible to tell much about the overall behaviour it will produce." (quote taken from A New Kind of Science).

One classic example of an emergent phenomenon is intelligence. You could never realise that such an extraordinary phenomenon could arise if you followed the reductionist approach of analyzing only a single brain neuron.

A single neuron (just a simple switch, basically). It would be impossible to understand high-level brain function (such as intelligence) by considering just one neuron.

So if we are considering that intelligence has a special significance in the universe then our current reductionist approach to physical science (exemplified by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC)) will never stand a chance of revealing the real key to understanding the universe.

The LHC. A cathedral to reductionism?

As David Deutsch says in his book "The Fabric of Reality" when considering the so-called "Theory of Everything" in particle physics: "It cannot be expected to explain much more than existing theories do, except for a few phenomena that are dominated by the nuances of subatomic interactions, such as collisions inside particle accelerators. What motivates the use of the term 'Theory of Everything' for such a narrow piece of knowledge? It is a view of the nature of science that science is essentially reductionist. That is to say, science explains things reductively - by analyzing them into components."

If emergent properties are essential to achieving a complete understanding of the universe then this would represent a massive setback for science as the alternative approach - the study of complexity and emergent phenomena - is in its infancy. In his paper Emergent Biological Principles and the Computational Properties of the Universe, Paul Davies shows that in order to analyze some emergent biological phenomena it would require more than the information processing capacity of the entire universe.

George Ellis of the University of Cape Town has studied complexity and emergence in living organisms on his website The Universe Around Us in the section called "Reductionist Explanation" at the bottom of the page: "It should be commented that when it comes to complex systems, the principle of bottom-up explanation of higher level behaviour rapidly fails in practice; and indeed the way higher levels behave is apparently largely independent of the lower level structure so that one cannot even in principle determine the higher level from the lower level behaviour."

The Intelligent Universe

So we have now seen how a super-advanced civilisation could (according to David Deutsch) affect the "gross physical development of the universe", and might even be able to create new universes. But how likely is it that any civilisation would ever achieve this power? And might even the lowly human race one day evolve into an advanced civilisation such as this?

Several authors have suggested that this advanced civilisation might actually be some form of "super computer intelligence" which has been created by in the future by highly-evolved human civilisation. The rationale for this suggestion comes from examining the rapid growth in computer intelligence over the last few decades. It has been suggested that computers could even start creating and improving other computers, thus achieving exponential growth in their intelligence! The point at which computer intelligence overtakes human intelligence has been called the technological singularity. This theory has been popularised by Ray Kurzweil in his book The Singularity is Near.

It has been suggested that it will be the internet which will grow into this super-intelligence - see page 4 of Kevin Kelly's fascinating Wired article We are the Web: "This planet-sized computer is comparable in complexity to a human brain. Both the brain and the Web have hundreds of billions of neurons (or Web pages). Each biological neuron sprouts synaptic links to thousands of other neurons, while each Web page branches into dozens of hyperlinks. That adds up to a trillion "synapses" between the static pages on the Web. The human brain has about 100 times that number - but brains are not doubling in size every few years. The Machine is. It will become our memory. Then it will become our identity." Kelly continues: "In total, it harnesses a quintillion transistors, expanding its complexity beyond that of a biological brain. It has already surpassed the 20-petahertz threshold for potential intelligence as calculated by Ray Kurzweil. For this reason some researchers pursuing artificial intelligence have switched their bets to the Net as the computer most likely to think first."

It has been suggested that this computer super-intelligence could spread from planet to planet, eventually engulfing the entire universe! Hence, the universe becomes some sort of "giant brain", a cosmic intelligence. This relatively seamless shift in intelligence from human beings to planet-sized computers emphasizes the point that human beings are not individual points of intelligence, isolated from the rest of the universe. Rather, human beings are all part of the "one universe". The human race is just a sector of the universe that has developed enough complexity to produce intelligence, and that intelligence is now capable of spreading throughout the universe.

Seth Lloyd expresses this idea in his book "Programming the Universe": "There is nothing wrong with thinking of the universe itself as some kind of gigantic intelligent organism. But what are the thoughts of the universe? Some of the information processing the universe performs is indeed thought - human thought. But the vast majority of the information processing in the universe lies in the collision of atoms, in the slight motions of matter and light. Compared with what is normally called thought, such universal 'thoughts' are humble."

Fred Hoyle considers the possibility of an advanced intelligence in the future controlling the development of the universe in his book The Intelligent Universe. For an extract, see here. Also see John Stewart's paper The Meaning of Life in a Developing Universe which considers how life may spread throughout the universe, and create new fine-tuned universes.

But the first time this theory of a super-intelligent universe was proposed was in a science fiction story by Isaac Asimov: The Last Question. I won't spoilt the plot by revealing the ending - you can read the entire script here.

However, I consider the most important work in this area is by Frank Tipler in his book, The Physics of Immortality. Tipler proposes that in the final days of the universe, when the universe collapses in on itself (the "Big Crunch"), the computational capacity of the universe will become infinite. He calls this the Omega Point. Tipler then suggests that this all-powerful intelligence will recreate previous civilisations in virtual reality simulations. As Tipler describes: "Science has concerned itself with what the universe is like now and what it was like in the past. But the universe has existed for only 20 billion years, whereas the universe will continue for at least another 100 billion years. In other words, almost all of space and time lies in the future. By focusing attention only on the past and present, science has ignored almost all of reality. Since the domain of scientific study is the whole of reality, it is about time science decided to study the future evolution of the universe."

Tipler continues: "Almost all physicists have ignored the future of the physical universe". This would seem to be extremely unwise when, as Tipler states: "The future is just as real as the present" (as we have already seen on the Time and the Block Universe page).

"Darwinian" Evolution of the Universe

Many different proposals have been presented to explain the apparent "life-friendly" fine-tuning of the universe (see the page on The Anthropic Principle). One of the most intriguing recent ideas was that of cosmological natural selection, proposed by Lee Smolin.

Smolin suggested that when a universe forms a black hole, another "baby" universe is formed on the other side of the black hole. So universes can effectively give birth to new universes. Within the universe which is created, other black holes (and, hence, other universes) can emerge. The end result is a "family tree" of universes:

In a process which resembles Darwinian evolution, the most numerous and the most successful universes will be the ones which form the most black holes (hence, giving birth to the most "baby" universes). As black holes form when a star collapses, the most successful universe will therefore by those which contain the most stars. And stars are essential for forming the building block elements of life, such as carbon. So Smolin's proposal would appear to be an explanation of anthropic fine-tuning: why our "life-friendly" star-filled universe has emerged.

A variation of Smolin's theory, called the Meduso-Anthropic principle, was presented by Louis Crane and (independently) by Edward Harrison. Crane and Harrison realised how important the role of advanced intelligence will be in the future evolution of the universe. Future civilisations will be able to create black holes - and hence universes - within the laboratory. Some of those created universes would go on to develop advanced civilisations within themselves, and those civilisations would go on to create new universes. The most numerous universes would therefore be the ones more amenable to the production of intelligent life. Once again, there appears to be an explanation for the anthropic fine-tuning of our universe, and this time the solution involves the emergence of intelligence.

I'm impressed by the Meduso-Anthropic principle, mainly because it appreciates the importance of the role which intelligence will play in the future evolution of the universe. However, I feel the principle falls short in two key ways:

  1. The principle does not provide an reason as to why advanced civilisations would necessarily feel the need to create these "universes in a laboratory".
  2. The principle does not explain how the first universe - the root of the family tree - came to be created. This is the so-called problem of "First Cause".

However, the hypothesis which will be described on this page provides a solution to both these problems. We will see that the advanced civilisation will HAVE to create a universe if they want to exist, and in doing so they provide an explanation so the problem of the "first cause" is avoided: they create the universe which creates themselves!

This is what we will consider next ...

Causal Loop Theories
(or ... "How the universe could have created itself")

On the basis of our previous conclusions, we are now in a position to make a proposal as to how was the universe created, and why it takes the form it does. We are going to consider a solution by which an intelligent universe could have caused itself to come into existence. This is possible through a mechanism known as a causal loop.

An example of a causal loop is presented in the movie The Terminator. In that movie, a robotic killing machine (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is sent back in time to kill a rebel's mother before the rebel is born. The terminator is defeated, but some of his advanced technological body parts are retained, and it is the technological advances which result from examining those body parts which allow future scientists to construct the Terminator. So nobody actually invented the technology used to construct the Terminator! (I'm convinced this is the technique Apple used to develop the amazing new touch-screen iPods!). An object such as this which is "invented out of nothing" by a causal loop is called a jinn.

As strange as this may sound, there is no logical inconsistency here. There is nothing in physics to say this is not allowed: nothing both happens and doesn't happen. And if the technique can produce something as complex as the Terminator from nothing then maybe it could also produce a universe from nothing. But how might this happen?

Well, we have also seen that intelligence should be afforded an elevated status in physics because of its ability to affect the gross physical development of the universe - and even create new universes. So maybe we could imagine an advanced (human?) civilisation in the future being able to travel back in time to create the universe which they knew would evolve themselves into existence. This would represent the ultimate causal loop.

Key point: Such a process would explain anthropic fine-tuning because they would have to set the parameters very precisely to ensure their particular civilisation and its inhabitants would result.

This theory also answers another puzzling question: why are we able to understand the workings of the universe, i.e., why are humans capable of deciphering the laws of physics of the universe. Paul Davies explains the question in his book "The Mind of God": "What is remarkable is that human beings have the necessary intellectual equipment for us to unlock the secrets of nature. We could imagine another world in which either there were no regularities, or the regularities were so well hidden, so subtle, that the cosmic code would require vastly more brainpower than humans possess. But instead we find a situation in which the difficulty of the cosmic code seems almost to be attuned to human capabilities. The mystery in all this is that human intellectual powers are presumably determined by biological evolution, and have absolutely no connection with doing science. Our brains have evolved in response to environmental pressures, such as the ability to hunt, avoid predators, etc. What has this got to do with discovering the laws of electromagnetism or the structure of the atom?" Or, as Einstein said: "The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible". Well, if our current universe actually created by an advanced human civilisation then the answer to this puzzle becomes very clear: the universe is based on an advanced form of our current technology! No wonder we are capable of understanding it!

I feel this model also solves a problem which was made clear in Frank Tipler's Omega Point theory, namely providing a compelling motive for the advanced civilisation to produce our present-day civilisation. In Tipler's theory it is suggested that this is done out of altruism on the part of the advanced civilisation, that it would be a "kind thing to do". However, I prefer the idea I proposed above in which an advanced civilisation travels to the past to create the universe. In that case, our universe emerges naturally as a "by-product": a stepping-stone on the path of the evolution of the advanced civilisation (see "Right here, right now" on the diagram above). In that case, no altruism would be required.

Also, we appear to live in a closed universe, so any solution for the existence of the universe would have to come from within the universe itself. Throughout this website we have been working with the principle that "There is nothing outside the universe", with a lack of any external, absolute axes of time or position. This would result in relativistic behaviour, and this is precisely how the universe appears to behave (see the discussion on the Time and the Block Universe page). We would also expect the energy of the closed universe to be zero, with a very clear explanation of this zero-energy universe being presented by Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler on page 457 of their book Gravitation: "There is no such thing as the energy (or angular momentum, or charge) of a closed universe, according to general relativity, and this for a simple reason. To weigh something one needs a platform on which to stand to do the weighing" (see here). An explanation for this zero-energy universe is provided here. Curtis Menning has even done the arithmetic showing how the positive and negative energy in the universe cancels to leave a total energy of nothing (see here). So if the universe is a completely closed, self-contained object, it will inevitably have zero energy.

As the universe does indeed appear to be completely self-contained, any reason for its existence should come from within the universe. As Lee Smolin says in Three Roads to Quantum Gravity: "This first principle means that we take the universe to be, by definition, a closed system. It means that the explanation for anything in the universe can involve only other things that also exist in the universe". So it would seem that any solution for the existence of the universe would have to come from within the universe itself, and this is precisely what this proposed "advanced civilisation" theory suggests. This must make it a likely solution for our existence.

We will now consider how an advanced civilisation would go about creating this universe.

How might an advanced civilisation create the universe?

You might think we could not possibly know anything about the technology of a advanced civilisation. However, you might be surprised at the extent of our ability to deduce how such a civilisation would go about travelling back in time to create this universe. For a start, we have full access to an object created by their civilisation - that object being the universe around us. By "reverse-engineering" this universe we should be able to understand much of their future engineering techniques.

Einstein's theory of general relativity, for example, is a classic example of "reverse-engineering" the universe in order to reveal the structure of spacetime. In order to understand the structure of spacetime, and in particular to explain how a causal loop could be created, let's start by considering how causality works within the universe.

We say that an event, X, causes another event, Y, if X is necessary for Y to occur. Putting it another way, if X does not occur then Y cannot occur. This is indicated by the following diagram in which each event is indicated by a letter, and each arrow represents a causal relation:

a) Event X is a cause of event Y.
b) Both events X and Z are causes of event Z: unless both events X and Z occur, event Y will not occur.

We know that nothing can travel faster than light, so an event can only cause another event if that second event is positioned within the future light cone of the first event (an event could not cause an event outside the light cone to occur as that would require information to be transmitted faster than light):

Event X can only cause event Y if the direction of event Y is within the future light cone of event X.

In theory, it is possible for spacetime to be curved (by the effect of gravity, for example) so that the light cones tilt over. It is even theoretically possible for the curvature of spacetime to be so extreme that the light cones can tilt right round so as to loop back on themselves. Hence, an object could move around this loop and return to the same place and time that it started without ever breaking out of its own future light cone. The resultant curved spacetime is called a closed timelike curve:

If lightcones tilt right round, they can form a closed timelike curve in spacetime.

Time travel in general relativity is generally said to be possible by travelling along one of these curves in spacetime, travelling to the past through a wormhole:

A closed timelike curve (featuring a wormhole) (based on a diagram from New Scientist).

Richard Gott has suggested a method for a universe to create itself if it formed a causal loop in spacetime (see here). He suggested that a branch of the universe might circle back around and grow up to become the trunk of the main universe (see diagram below). This is a model where the universe is its own mother:

The details of this technique are explained in detail on page 37 of his paper with Li-Xin Li Can the Universe Create Itself?. Gott considers an advanced civilisation capable of creating baby universes (using the method of Farhi, Guth, and Guven which was discussed earlier): "Now suppose one of these open bubble universes simply turns out to be the original open universe where that advanced civilization made the baby universe in the first place". In that case, the universe would indeed be its own mother.

This method described by Gott implies that some random process of black hole creation might result in the production of our own universe. Somehow the wormhole which is produced manages to connect with the Big Bang of our own universe. No further explanation is provided by Gott as to how this highly-unlikely scenario occurs. What seems more likely is that the advanced civilisation will have acquired knowledge of quantum gravity and spacetime engineering which greatly exceeds the current state of our knowledge, and a more delicate "sculpting" of spacetime will be required to link the future world to the Big Bang. Additional expertise would be required to set the fundamental constants to the necessary values.

The difficulty involved in achieving this goal shows the importance of advanced intelligence - this isn't going to happen by chance.

A Solution to the "First Cause" problem

The argument of First Cause has long been a problem for physicists. The argument of First Cause states that every effect within the universe must have had a cause, but as we trace time back to the origin of the universe we would appear to find an initial effect without a cause. Various theories have been presented to avoid the need for a first cause.

A method for avoiding the need for a first cause was presented by the No Boundary theory of Stephen Hawking and James Hartle. When we travel back in time in the No Boundary universe we find time itself curving round so that spacetime forms a smooth surface, instead of coming to a point singularity:

The No Boundary proposal is a compelling theory because it takes seriously all the implications of the block universe model. Firstly, the block universe model is based on the principle there is no "clock outside the universe" (hence, there can be no moving "now") so time is a property defined within the universe only. So in the No Boundary proposal, there is no time before the Big Bang: time itself began with the Big Bang. Asking what came before the Big Bang is - in Hawking's words - like asking what lies south of the South Pole. The answer is nothing. And the question "what happened before the Big Bang?" is meaningless. Here's a quote from Hawking's book A Brief History of Time: "If the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be."

So the No Boundary proposal avoids the First Cause argument by saying that the argument is flawed. According to the No Boundary proposal, there is no time before the start of the universe, so it is meaningless to say that the first effect requires a cause (causes would occur at earlier times, but no cause could have occurred before the start of the universe).

The causal loop theory proposed by Richard Gott (which we considered earlier) is an alternative approach for avoiding the problem of First Cause. Gott considered how spacetime at the start of the universe could loop round in a circular fashion so that every effect would always have a cause. In the introduction of his paper with Li-Xin Li Can the Universe Create Itself?, Gott constrasts his theory's approach to the first cause with that of the No Boundary proposal: "Often, the beginning of the universe, as in Vilenkin's tunneling model and Hartle and Hawking's No Boundary model, is pictured as being like the South Pole of the Earth and it is usually said that asking what happened before that is like asking what is south of the South Pole. But, suppose the early universe contains a region of closed timelike curves. Then, asking what was the earliest point might be like asking what is the easternmost point on the Earth. You can keep going east around and around the Earth - there is no eastern-most point. In such a model every event in the early universe would have events that preceded it."


The hypothesis has been presented that our universe is the result of an advanced civilisation travelling back in time to create a universe which will evolve themselves. This theory seems to solve the problems present in many other similar theories:

  • The mysterious "life-friendly" fine-tuning of our universe is explained: the civilisation would set the constants of the universe to values which would evolve their civilisation.
  • The theory provides an in-built motivation as to why the civilisation should create the universe: they will HAVE to do it if they want to exist themselves.
  • The theory satisfies the constraint that, as the universe appears to be completely self-contained, any reason for its existence should come from within the universe. So many alternative theories - such as multiverse theories - fail to satisfy this constraint.
  • The theory answers the question as to why we are able to understand the workings of the universe: when we do physics we are merely analysing an advanced version of our own current technology!
  • The problem of First Cause is solved: there is no first cause in a causal loop.

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Comments are now closed on this page.

Well done Andrew, once again.

A question: Have you ever read the short short by Issac Asimov: "The Last Question" ? Ask anyone in Physics aged 45-65, they'll smile and encourage you to read it, if you haven't. It fits in perfectly with the subject of this your Chapter 13, and Asimov along with Arthur C. Clarke are the twin Titans of Sci-Fi based on actual Science. Those two men most certainly factored into their decision to become scientists, as further generations were inspired by Larry Niven, Greg Baer, and Orson Scott Card, and further yet and now by Iain M. Banks, Alistair Reynolds, and Greg Egan.

You seem to have great admiration for David Deutsch. So do I, but his embrace of Atheism is a bit odd don't you think, when you consider that Science is truly Agnostic?

In any event, his work rocks, and I thoroughly enjoyed this page. Look forward to more of the same. Fare well. - Greg Sivco, 23rd February 2009
Thanks very much for that, Greg. I actually added a link to "The Last Question" yesterday, so that was a coincidence. I wish I had read more science fiction - I'll have to check out some of those authors you mention. Book recommendations are welcome.

I don't really see this as a battle between atheists and believers, I just see it as a search for "truth". Traditional atheism is really just a reaction to traditional religion. I think we are now in a position where we can move on from the old arguments, I think this is new territory.

I think there's something in this for both atheists and believers. For atheists, this removes the idea of the traditional entity outside the universe. For believers, the idea of intelligence shaping the universe is maintained. So you might think of this as a synthesis of the two ideas, but really it is new territory: the old arguments have no relevance. With this principle of this being "new territory" in mind, I think this article by Amanda Gefter in the New Scientist is relevant (especially the last paragraph) "Why it's not as simple as God vs. the multiverse":

So this is a synthesis, and, as such, I think it has a better chance of being a correct theory (after all, why should 50% of the entire earth's population be wrong - wouldn't it be more likely that *both* sides of the argument are correct?)

So thanks a lot, Greg. - Andrew Thomas, 24th February 2009
Half the time I think Religion and Science should be kept as far away from each other as possible, and the other half I define the situation as "Science is Man's attempt to reach God, and Religion is God's attempt to reach Man." Whatever, IF he exists, he certainly likes puzzles. he's given us quite a bit, eh?

For me, "Emergence" begins with the wonderful book, "A New Kind of Science" by Peter Wolfram. Absolutely amazing that right there, on your computer, you can derive Ordered Complication from Simplicity.

That is NOT good news for the extremist "Designed Intelligence" camp, but my study of this field is too new for me to draw strong opinions, let alone conclusions, as of yet. - Greg Sivco, 25th February 2009
Hi Greg, thanks for all your contributions and encouragement. - Andrew Thomas, 26th February 2009
No Problem. The Block Universe seems to make the most sense, but if Quantum Physics teaches us anything, it tells us that just because something makes sense doesn't necessarily mean it is true. Police detectives know what that means on a daily basis.

However IF Block is true, then we can wave Free Will goodbye and embrace Karma, thus proving ...

George Harrison of the Beatles is one of the greatest Physicists ever as he promoted this in the 1960's.

Awesome decade, btw, I miss it, but thank God for Austin Powers who allows us to reminisce. :-) - Greg Sivco, 26th February 2009
Btw, I see you list Ray Kurzweil's book: "The Singularity is Near" on this page.

Your readers may be interested in reading the latest copy of Rolling Stone Magazine, the one with Sean Penn on the cover, that has the most recent interview with Ray.

The Singularity according to him should happen around the year 2034. I should live so long. - Greg Sivco, 26th February 2009
Thanks, Greg. I have been down the shop and bought it - it's very good. I'll post something from it at some point. - Andrew Thomas, 26th February 2009
In your analysis of the block universe and ways to avoid the first cause you don't consider the idea that the universe bounced at the Big Bang. So if we go back before the Big Bang we find the universe expanding again. This then becomes a way of avoiding the first cause: time stretches to infinity in both directions, so effects always have a cause because the cause/effect sequence continues forever. - Brendon, 3rd March 2009
Hi Brendon, yes, you're absolutely correct and I should have mentioned the "oscillating universe" theory:

I see Richard Gott considers it in his excellent "Can the Universe Create Itself?" paper:

Gott says: "A Big Crunch singularity might be avoided as the closed closed universe bounced and began a Big Bang all over again. This bouncing model avoids the first-cause problem. The answer to what caused our universe in this model is 'the collapse of the previous universe', and so on."

But, even though this solves the First Cause problem, it does not answer the question "Why does the universe exist instead of not existing?" (as explained in the main article, this is an entirely different question from the First Cause question). John Barrow considers this problem about a universe which extends to infinity in the backward time direction in his book "The Book of Nothing": "At first, the absence of a beginning appears to be an advantage to the scientific approach. There are no awkward starting conditions to deduce or explain. But this is an illusion. We still have to explain why the universe took on particular properties - its rate of expansion, density, and so forth - at an *infinite* time in the past." - Andrew Thomas, 3rd March 2009
"Why does the universe exist instead of not existing?" is an advanced question that is a bit ahead of the big immediate questions, like do the Higgs Boson or Graviton exist, and what the heck is Dark Matter and Dark Energy?

Ahead, but obviously a good question to ask, prematurity aside.

Bigger question: What about The Big Rip? Because if this old block universe of ours keeps expanding, atoms will not hold together according to The Big Rip Theory.

At that point Block Universe ceases to become viable, because there won't be any including sentinents to perceive it, or The Big Rip itself .... thanks to The Big Rip.

Existence will simply come to an end.

On a less cheerful note, I still get depressed at America's Public Education system to teach this stuff properly, that I had to through random internetting to have the good fortune to luck into coming to this website, where this stuff starts to make sense. - Greg Sivco, 3rd March 2009
The idea of 3D physical space cannot be what is happening. A 3D space is a mathematical notion. An empty volume can be drawn out on paper, but made from nothingness? That would be illogical (what holds it up, what defines its boundary - its empty).
But information can easily create a 3D space. thats what information does best in fact. Look at any 3D computer game - computers love 3D - sweeping arrays control them quickly.
So the most likely scenario for the universe is that its made from information that exists outside space time and this information actually creates spacetime itself and everything in it.

I cannot understand why this view is not taken seriously.

Data has no mass, and it needs no space. Therefore from nothingness (in our view of nothingness) a universe.

Who did it? Probably a team of clever engineers like us. Where is it? No idea - could be another quantum computer. Or maybe it bootstraps itself.

If the universe ended, then intelligence would seed (design) another universe as the only way back. No life forms could escape the demise of information because they are themselves made of information.
- P764RDS, 7th May 2009
Excellent. Thanks for that, P764RDS. But the idea that the universe is created out of information IS being given serious consideration by scientists. See - Andrew Thomas, 7th May 2009
Hans Christian von Baeyer wrote that 2001 New Scientist article on Anton Zeilinger and Q-bit theory. Has he written anything on the subject since?

I also believe the world is made of information. Well, that, and some "thing" to hold it in/rent temporarily, whatever.

Finding out the "thing", aye, that's the stuff we're working on.

But given a holder and a bit, lots of them, information will eventually be forced somewhere that resists. That will create waves. Waves will then create mass and with it, gravity. Not sure that's 100% correct but I'm trying to use Occam's Razor here. Works very well in the rest of my life.
- Steven Colyer, 27th May 2009
Even if the universe does not have a beginning, the laws governing the universe cannot spontaneously appear.. because then something has to govern its existence.. and something else has to govern that something... The very structure of the universe has a reason, whether or not one believes in a beginning, and naturally science cannot answer that for anyone. - LWQ, 23rd June 2009
Well, yes, then you seem to be thinking along the same lines as Leibniz (who I refer to in the text): "Why is there something rather than nothing?", even if the universe does not have a beginning, why does it exist at all? - Andrew Thomas, 23rd June 2009
Hi Andrew. I really appreciate a lot your interesting website and I hope you will continue to keep it up to date; so please indulge me if I cannot resist the temptation. You write

Physics has never afforded any special significance to intelligence: the human brain, for example, is considered as nothing more than an uninteresting collection of atoms. But the theory that intelligence can create universes suggests that physics can no longer ignore this emergent phenomenon of intelligence. Intelligence should be afforded an elevated status in physics, because areas of the universe which contain intelligent entities can spawn new universes.

Glad that the scientific community is starting to take seriously this issue 20 years (at least 20 years) after Sir Fred Hoyle did it! I wonder why not to pay a little mention to old Fred ? Best Regards Gabriel
- Gabriel, 30th June 2009
Hi Gabriel, Fred Hoyle has some rather peculiar ideas so I'm not too surprised that he was not taken too seriously. - Andrew Thomas, 30th June 2009
"Peculiar" you say? Please define "Peculiar"! You mean clever ideas built with little prejudice and deep physical insight? To me the whole universe appears "Peculiar" so maybe that Hoyle was in a position of vantage in promoting "peculiar" ideas ... Oh well, I suppose that this is not the right place to go on around this subject? Thank you for your kind reply and if you allow me, I post here in the replies of your "The intelligent Universe" section the on-line link to the last chapter of his book "The Intelligent universe" - Gabriel, 30th June 2009
Thanks very much for that interesting link, Gabriel. I just meant that Hoyle had some very peculiar ideas about denying Darwinism. However, his idea about an advanced civilisation in the future controlling the development of the universe is certainly in line with what I have suggested here, so I have added that link to the main page. Thanks again. - Andrew Thomas, 30th June 2009
"Why is there something rather than nothing?", even if the universe does not have a beginning, why does it exist at all? - Andrew Thomas, 23rd June 2009

The answer, in my humble opinion, is that we are the "rose" in the garden of quantum delights. Everything else is that which was or is a necessary precondition for the emergence of awareness.

Or, to put it another way, conscious awareness is absolutely essential and a precondition for existence; the reason there is something rather than nothing. We are "matter contemplating itself" - the very essence of being.

But since matter is apparently popping in and out of a quantum foam of collapsing waveforms, one is forced to conclude that reality is simply Qbits or holographic information.

So as Pogo would say, "we have met the reason there is something rather than nothing and it is us". But unfortunately Pogo, there is no "us". It's all just an illusion conjured out of an implicate order of pure data.

The good news in all of this? "Anything is possible in this universe and elsewhere!" We just have to 'wake up' to this 'reality'. - Mel, 1st August 2009
"So fundamentally the question we have to answer is Why does the universe exist instead of not existing?"

Cosmologist Alan Guth of Inflation fame claims that Something (us, our Universe) is created out of nothing, thanks to .... quantum fluctuations.

Hum, ur, what?! If our Universe came from nothing, then how can there be "something" at that source, i.e. "fluctuations", quantum or otherwise, hmm?

Heck if I know! Guth has a Ph.D. in Physics, not me. I think this is why George Carlin said "Theoretical Physicists are nucking futz." (Not his exact words, but they rhyme.)

Lee Smolin doesn't even consider Cosmology a real science, and I agree. WAY too much speculation out there. Stick to Astronomy. Know what we know. Plenty of work to do. It kills me how many seers get stupid rich people to give them money for speculating.

Hmm, maybe I should get some of those $$$. Er, no, I'm too moral, dammit. Shoot. Thanks, Mom. - Greg Sivco, 1st August 2009
Hi Greg, yes, I agree, this idea that the universe (the "sum total of everything that exists") could have emerged from a quantum fluctuation in "something else" is apparently nonsensical. I can quote Richard Gott on this from his book "Time Travel in Einstein's Universe": "Making the universe out of literally 'nothing' seems difficult. How does 'nothing' know about the laws of physics? After all, any tunnelling-from-nothing model starts out with a quantum state obeying all the laws of physics - and that is not nothing. Indeed, trying to make the universe out of nothing may be considered odd, since, 'nothing' is something that, by definition, would appear not to exist. Perhaps asking how the universe was created from nothing is the wrong question." - Andrew Thomas, 1st August 2009
Hello Andrew,
Brilliant and informative site! Have you ever considered the possibility that Consciousness is primary rather than emergent. Physicist Thomas Campbell's "My Big Toe" is very persuasive in this respect. Basically, our universe is one of many virtual realities and an evolving Consciousness is the programmer. It's aim is to "lower its entropy", ie to become more organised. Greater organisation is subjectively experienced by individuated units of consciousness (iuocs) as more loving. Each IUOC that raises it's consciousness helps to raise the whole. - vzam, 14th August 2009
Hi, thanks Vzam. I'll have to have a look at Thomas Campbell's work at some point. It sounds interesting, though I'm not generally impressed by theories which concentrate on the importance of consciousness. A good starting point for these type of theories would appear to be to define just what consciousness actually *is*! I've never seen a clear and unequivocal definition. - Andrew Thomas, 14th August 2009
Hi Andrew, I am just beginning to work my way through what looks like a wonderful site. I very much appreciate what seems to be your attitude in articles and comments, if I may say very smart but also very receptive and patient. Me like mucho.

Wanting to comment on your response to vzam just above, I don't think I'm familiar with Thos. Campbell either, and I too don't find much traction in theories of physics which emphasize consciousness, no more than in theories about mind that emphasize physics. And we're far too ignorant, I think, to pretend we're able to link the two except in fun, speculative ways.

But it does often seem consciousness could/should be thought of as 'primary' in the sense that it's irreducible in some way-- i.e. it does seem futile (and arrogant) for scientists to expect to 'account for' consciousness, reduce it to biomolecular states, etc.

If we're doing science, we're already using intentional/aimed/purposive consciousness and meaning, and we can't in any sense get 'behind' them that I see; they are/it is as 'primary' in that sense as energy: part of the system of reality that we're given.

So, we'd be eternally unable to say what consciousness 'is' any more than we can say what light ?is'--though it would be good to negotiate operational definitions--e.g. what I see you do when I see you see me???

And as to the similarity between those two questions--what IS light and what IS consciousness--maybe opposite 'ends' of one, um, 'reality'? Illuminating and illuminated? (Though which is which...)

Sorry to wax so philosophical and perhaps dull. Again, many expressions of gratitude are due your labors and sweet (graceful, honeyed and nutritious) mind.
- deWitt, 2nd October 2009
Dear Andrew, This article is very good. For the first time i have seen so many graphs and diagrams being used to explain the concept in a simple way. Else its usually theory which goes above the head. I have a question.

In the Casual Loop concept of the Universe how do we understand who created the loop in the first place? Else, wont it become a chicken and egg situation as to whether the universe came first or the advanced civilization and the answer would be that one created the other without a starting point. - Deepak, 4th November 2009
Hi Deepak, thanks. That's a good question. It is quite amazing but the causal loop actually avoids the "chicken and egg" scenario precisely because it forms a loop in time rather than a straight line in time. If you want to know the cause - chicken or egg - you just loop round again. So we can get a situation as in the Terminator movie when a chip from the Terminator travels back in time and is used to invent the Terminator. As strange as these ideas might appear, they do not contradict general relativity. In other words, physics says it could happen.

But, yes, as you suggest there are major unanswered questions remaining as to how the universe might be created this way. - Andrew Thomas, 4th November 2009
Well done on a thought-provoking and genuinely educational site. It is an excellent example of providing a bridge for the person who is scientifically educated, but has not studied post-graduate mathematics or physics, into the world of "big-picture" cosmology. I might also say that, as much as I respect Penrose and his book Road to Reality, your own site serves as an example in how to teach, in a way his aforementioned book does not. Using concrete examples and simple metaphors and diagrams to ease people into the mathematics and abstractions is very important. Unfortunately, Sir Roger Penrose tries to give a pure mathematics course from senior high school to post-graduate level, brimming with abstractions upon abstractions and littered with notations, before coming to the applications in the real world almost 400 pages in. A pedagogical nightmare. However, the fact that I am a senior college physics teacher (as well as a priest) colours my view to some extent.

Allow me to make few critical comments regarding the site as a whole, since this appears to be the concluding page. First, your presentation on various topics exuded a certainty not reflective of the present state of the science. Second, your presentation on decoherence elided the fact that without an overarching Many Worlds Interpretation, QM decoherence does not really solve the problem of why particular events are observed and not others also permitted by the unitary and deterministic wave-mechanical formalism. As I understand it, the reason we see, for example, Schrodinger's Cat as alive and not as dead cannot be simply because the "dead cat" state existed, interacted and decohered with the environment in a way incompatible or unable to interfere with our observer-state as part of that environment UNLESS the "dead cat" entanglement (?) with the surroundings is given equal ontological weight. If it is not, then all decoherence may have done is explain why we see only one thing at a time. But it may not have even done that. Which brings me to my third criticism. Given that the mathematics of QM *on their own* give us no "preferred basis" for eigenstates, the separation out into classical-compatible and "discrete-state-consciousness"-compatible solutions involves importing artificially this neat breakdown into normality. This "begging of the question", or explaining the transition to classical solutions by using classical assumptions in part is made even clearer when it is remembered that decoherence gets its nice answers by distinguishing the system being investigated and its environment and applying subtly different approaches to each. But since the Universe as a whole, if QM decoherence advocates are right about the lack of necessity for "collapsing" wave functions at any point, is described by a QM wave-mechanical formalism and can have no external environment by definition, then there is no opportunity for any decoherence at all and Penrose's "omnium" is all there is. - Fr Matthew Kirby, 23rd November 2009
In that case, there seems little room for explaining our consciousness being "singular" or "non-superposed" in its experiences without Everett's consistent history, many worlds/minds approach. But the latter does not really explain why each consciousness-state is quite strictly experientally or subjectively separated when the underlying omnium-reality is a continuous whole.

Regarding this final page, I see two huge problems. One, you have taken FAP speculations into your system with almost no skepticism or acknowledgement of just how speculative and fact-free they are. There is, in fact, no empirical evidence that the laws of Physics allow us to create universes at whatever technological level we may reach, and there are serious apparent theoretical barriers which you have only hinted at above. Two, you have treated energy as the effective equivalent of Aristotle's "Prime Matter" at the end of this page, the fundamental "stuff" of the physical universe. This is unscientific and philosophically naive. Energy is one property of the material universe. Not everything is reducible to it. For example, charge is another thing in our universe conserved (even more strictly than energy it would seem) and probably having equal amounts of the postive and negative sort. However, negative charge is no more anti-something or anti-existence than negative energy is, so these arithmetic sums to zero are not the same as "nothing" in the absolute sense. A state-of-affairs consisting of multiple entities with particular properties does not become "nothing" just because certain of those properties are numerical/measurable and add to zero over the ensemble. Also, the various Big Bang theories assume a kind of substratum of spatial or QM "structure" obeying the T.O.E. laws even though the energy sum is zero, and this is obviously not absolute nothingness either. So, your explanation of why there is something rather than nothing fails. It's a bit like saying that if I borrow $200,000 to buy a $200,000 house, and have no other possessions, since my debts and assets perfectly cancel out, amounting to no net value, neither the house nor the bank exists.

On a relatively minor point, you have simplified the Thomist First Cause Argument and made it equivalent to the Kalaam Cosmological Argument, which does necessarily depend on a real beginning to time and a linear, flowing picture of it. Aquinas said his argument would work just as well for a universe of infinite age, without a beginning. This is because he had a trans-temporal, "continuously acting" conception of the First Cause. So, with small adjustment it would do the same for a "block-universe" model, though it may well then become identical with the argument from contingency. Neo-Thomists have tended towards that approach anyway for quite some time. - Fr Matthew Kirby, 23rd November 2009
P.S. Some of my own reflections from a theological perspective on these questions can be found under section A at

Please note that these were not written for a scientific audience! - Fr M. Kirby, 23rd November 2009
Hi Matthew, thanks very much for your comments. Your kind comments about my site are appreciated. Yes, Roger Penrose's "Road To Reality" is a bit hard-going, but it's a wonderful achievement. I am fortunate enough to have a mathematical background so I was able to dodge those first 400 pages. I simply cannot imagine someone without maths being able to start at page one and work their way through it, as Penrose intended. That was just never going to happen.

I was heavily influenced by that book in putting this site together. I do hope this site is mildly more accessible.

I have tried to only state things with certainty when there is experimental evidence to support my case. You raise the case of Schrodinger's cat and that is a good example - physics has moved on in the last 20 years and we now have a much better idea how the process works:

This gives the theory of decoherence the experimental backing that Many Worlds will forever lack. An electric current can be made to flow in both directions *in this universe*. If Many Worlds was correct, we would never see that (it would flow in one direction in this universe, and in the other direction in another universe).

The Many Worlds interpretation was proposed in the 50s when these experimental results were simply not available. Yeah, it's easy to jump to say "this solution requires a parallel universe" when you do not yet have a full understanding of the underlying mechanism. We're seeing that approach in many other areas of physics. I believe it's much more scientific to admit "We don't yet have a solution" and to wait until experiment gives clues. That, I believe, is what they should have done in the 1950s. We now have pointers as to what is really going on.

As to this last page, yes, there's a lot of speculation here, as there has to be with any theory seeking to explain the origin of the universe. You could level the same criticism of "no empirical evidence" at Stephen Hawking's theory, or Neil Turok's theory, or any other cosmological theory. I take on board your interesting point about how the universe is not "nothing", but actually that's not my theory - that's the bit I got from the likes of Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss. Feel free to send them an email!

However, I wouldn't say that "charge" has the same status as matter because charge is just an attribute of matter. If a particle behaves in a certain way then we say it has "positive charge", and if it behaves in the opposite way then we say it has "negative charge". So "charge" is just an *adjective* describing particle behaviour (i.e., it's not real) whereas matter is a *noun* (i.e., a real object). And we are only considering nouns to be "something". There are no particles of "charge". "Charge" is like "Black". We don't need equal amounts of black and white in the universe.

Continued. - Andrew Thomas, 23rd November 2009
You said: "the various Big Bang theories assume a kind of substratum of spatial or QM "structure" obeying the T.O.E. laws even though the energy sum is zero, and this is obviously not absolute nothingness either." If I understand you correctly, I think we're in agreement on that point. That's what I described in my "Technical Note" in the last section. These big bang theories which assume some underlying quantum state are no solution. As I quoted Richard Gott in my Technical Note: "Any tunnelling-from-nothing model starts out with a quantum state obeying all the laws of physics - and that is not nothing." As I state in that note, virtual particle production requires a pre-exisiting universe. What I am suggesting here is *genuine* nothingness - not some quantum state "substratum" (good word - I might use that!).

You say: "It's a bit like saying that if I borrow $200,000 to buy a $200,000 house, and have no other possessions, since my debts and assets perfectly cancel out, amounting to no net value, neither the house nor the bank exists." Well, what I would suggest is the universe is *one object* - this is what QM strongly suggests. So we should really treat the house and the bank loan as *one object*. In which case they do indeed cancel out and the *one object* does indeed not exist.

Regarding your point about the difference between the Thomas Aquinas and Kalaam arguments, I don't think I am simplifying the Thomist argument into the Kalaam argument as you suggest, because I clearly state that Aquinas's argument is distinct from the First Cause argument, and so is not based on the universe having a starting point in time (as in the Kalaam argument). But by-and-large my goal was to avoid these kind of philosophical arguments (which generally never seem to lead anywhere) wherever possible and to take my lead from measured properties of the universe. This measurement of the total energy cancelling to zero just seems too coincidental (did you see the calculation: ) - it must be telling us something profound and important about the existence of the universe. I think it's a vital clue.

Thanks for your great comments. Food for thought indeed.

- Andrew Thomas, 23rd November 2009
Thank you for your quick feedback. I think you may have missed my point about decoherence and the MWI, beacuase I was not sufficiently clear. I agree that the MWI is dead wrong. What I am saying is that the decoherence does not really completely or even fundamentally solve the "measurement problem" either in the "only one macro-reality (usually) observed by conscious entities" aspect or in the more basic "why this indeterminate particular solution if all others have real ontological status in the omnium of the deterministic wave equation" aspect unless MWI is right. Decoherence also gives us classicality in the right circumstances by surreptitiously importing classical assumptions, so it cannot be the fundamental explanation. I agree with Penrose here.

I'm afraid we are going to have to agree to disagree on nothingness. Your statement "the *one object* does indeed not exist" is self-refuting, IMO. And I see no justification for making energy and "matter" as synonymous. Energy is a property of matter, not matter itself. I may even be more appropriate to call it a property of the inter-relationships of matter, rather than of matter itself. otherwise the fact that, for example, the KE of a particular body depends on the frame of reference would make no sense. Yes, energy is interconvertible with mass. But mass is also a property of matter, not matter itself. Indeed, various theories make inertial mass a derivative concept, not a fundamental one, in a sense. - Fr M. Kirby, 24th November 2009
Hi Matthew, yes, I'll admit you did lose me a bit in your comments on decoherence. Yes, I agree with what you have just said. If you look at some of my replies to comments on my page about decoherence you'll see I do mention the preferred basis problem, and other reasons why decoherence does not yet provide a complete solution to the measurement problem:

You make a very interesting point about "matter", treating is as the "stuff" of the universe. I see that Wikipedia is fairly dismissive of 'matter': "As opposed to mass conservation, the principle of matter conservation (in the sense of conservation of particles which are agreed to be 'matter') may be considered as an approximate physical law, that is true only in the classical sense, without consideration of special relativity and quantum mechanics. Another difficulty with the idea of conservation of 'matter', is that 'matter' is not a well-defined word scientifically, and when particles which are considered to be 'matter' (such as electrons and positrons) are annihilated to make photons (which are often not considered matter) then conservation of matter does not take place, even in closed systems."

Yes, I suppose energy is a property of the inter-relationships of matter, as you suggest. But isn't this precisely what we are measuring in those "total energy of the universe is zero" calculations when we consider a particle at the edge of the universe? We're considering energy as a property of the inter-relationships of particles.

Thanks again. It's nice to find someone with such a deep interest in the workings of reality. - Andrew Thomas, 24th November 2009