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.

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Comment by Atheist Exile on February 8, 2012 at 9:55pm

At Jim DePaulo,

I'm editing the O.P. to replace deGrasse's quote with Einstein's.


I've already edited it to replace the word "purpose" with "reason".

Comment by Atheist Exile on February 8, 2012 at 9:53pm

@Glen Rosenberg,

I agree. It doesn't really mean anything definite. But it's fun to contemplate because it's so suggestive. My worry isn't that it's a hard argument (from theists) to counter . . . but that it might be irresistible to them and used like I.D. or the fine-tuned-universe. And as we've seen from these older arguments, they're resistant to reason.

Comment by Atheist Exile on February 8, 2012 at 9:45pm

deGrasse definitely plagiarized his quote from Einstein.

Comment by Atheist Exile on February 8, 2012 at 9:41pm

Hi Jim DePaulo,

Would you believe I actually searched for Einstein's version? I used the wrong key word ("perimeter") and it didn't turn up. I ended up using deGrasse's quote instead.

Comment by Jim DePaulo on February 8, 2012 at 5:58pm

I've always given attribution to Einstein. “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."

But then some obscure Greek philosopher could have spouted it circa 450 BCE.  I always thought it to be a great metaphor for how we progress as intelligent beings.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on February 8, 2012 at 10:33am

Exile, I was pointing out how intellectually dishonest creationists are. They will seize on any "missing link". Quantum information can be utilized by just about any theistic creed.

As for the significance of information and intelligence who or what can say. Scientific discoveries and speculation get curiouser and curiouser. Would information have to be programmed before the bang or was it forged in hot soup? Was it inevitable? Was there a suspension of cause and effect? Can we even assert with confidence that the finite is capable of understanding the infinite?

Comment by Atheist Exile on February 8, 2012 at 1:56am

You have a magical way with words, Glen.

The links between: information as an integral part of physics; consciousness; and intelligence; seem to me like pretty obvious ones to make. They beg the question, "Why?"

To me, it's more reminiscent of the "fine-tuned universe" than I.D. They're both unfalsifiable. Instead of suggesting that the laws of nature are fine-tuned for life, the information/intelligence link suggests the laws of nature are fine-tuned for intelligence. And since (I assume) intelligence first requires life, the notion is more an adjunct of the fine-tuned-universe idea.

The anthropic principle is the standard response to the fine-tuned-universe argument and could be paraphrased as a response to information/intelligence: "Physical law must be compatible with intelligence because, if it weren't, nobody would know it and thus, we wouldn't be discussing it."

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on February 6, 2012 at 11:22am

Exile, it is a nice little adjunct to intelligent design: The Intelligent Dump in which gawd shat the universe in his image. Doubtless the creationists ever eager to cull "science" for evidence of their position will readily engage their pooper scoopers and shovel their catch in front of the credulous crowd.

Comment by Atheist Exile on February 6, 2012 at 9:08am

Hi Loren,

My line of reasoning (which is purely speculative, just for the fun of it) is about the nature of a universe with information "built in" to it. Of course, coverage for theists is dubious. That wasn't my point. My point was that they would/could usurp the idea for their own purposes.

And, within the context of this speculation, pantheism fits best (if one insists on God) because of information as a fundamental property of everything in the universe.

NO explanation for the supernatural is logical or satisfying. But the idea that intelligence seems inevitable or even omnipresent is a tempting argument for believers because it can be attributed (right or wrong) to quantum theory.

Comment by Loren Miller on February 6, 2012 at 7:48am

"Purpose" is a misleading term as it comes to the interactivity of the non-conscious universe. Remember that, at least as it comes to living things on this planet at least, 99.9% of them are no longer around. The rest may exist only because they have evolved into a temporary homeostasis with the rest of the planet, and even that is subject to change as conditions on the planet continue to change. This doesn't even mention the REST of the universe and its uncountable cubic light-years of volume.

"Coverage for theists" remains wishful thinking, so far as I'm concerned. Their god remains without unique objective referent and the laws of physics continue to be able to describe the vast majority if not the totality of reality as we know it. I for one am seriously dubious that any any form of supernatural mechanism is going to emerge out of future research, and even if some new such process were discovered, if its workings are subject to study and analysis, then it isn't supernatural any longer, now, is it?

I've mentioned the following a few times around here, but one more won't hurt:

One man's "magic" is another man's engineering. "Supernatural" is a null word.
-- Robert A. Heinlein


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