I'm certainly no physicist. But I do find physics fascinating. I probably don’t understand quantum physics well enough to hazard a comment about it, but hey, that’s what blogs are for! I’m sure somebody will set me straight. Anyway, it’s my understanding that modern physics includes information as a fundamental property of (subatomic) matter and also acknowledges a role for consciousness in physical reality. Combined, these 2 points seem curious to me. Why would physics have ANY role for information and consciousness unless there is (or was) an intelligence to receive and make use of them?
The laws of physics, as we know them, were set within the first second of cosmological inflation (or after the Big Bang). From there, it probably took 150 million years for the first stars to form, then many millions more years before they died and coughed up the essential elements of life. That means it took hundreds of millions, perhaps a billion, years before life (as we know it) could possibly have appeared anywhere in the universe. It would then have to evolve intelligence, which, on Earth, took billions of years after life first appeared. So, if we take an optimistic scenario, we might admit intelligent life arose – somewhere in the universe – within the first billion years.
But the laws of physics – including information as a fundamental property – were set in the first second of the universe’s existence. Information versus intelligence: one second versus one billion years. That’s just plain damn strange.
Or maybe intelligence arose in the universe BECAUSE information is structured into existence. Maybe, because of information, matter itself evolves. From a plasma of subatomic particles, to elementary atoms, to chemical compounds, to RNA and DNA: the double-helix code of life. All made possible because information is part and parcel of everything. Perhaps intelligence is an inevitable property of the universe. Given enough time, it will – it must -- arise. When you think about it, information is what’s responsible for animate life emerging from inanimate matter: the double-helix code of DNA.
Of course, there’s also an alternative possibility: maybe intelligence PRECEDED the universe. After all, information was structured into the universe from the beginning – not a billion years later. Could there have been an intelligence preceding the universe? If so, what (if anything) distinguishes such an intelligence from God?
Everything in nature seems to have a reason. Cause and effect. What reason could information and consciousness have in nature? As an atheist, this question bothers me because it seems to give traction to, at least, a pantheistic view of reality . . . and provides some coverage for deists and, even, theists.
We’re still at square one. As Albert Einstein has pointed out: “Knowledge is a sphere of light in a universe of darkness – the greater the sphere of light grows, the greater will be the periphery of darkness."
What do you think?
Wikipedia: Neil deGrasse Tyson is an American astrophysicist and science communicator. →