So I’ve been thinking about it, and I think we’re going to die 😊. How’s that for a click baity first sentence. I was actually lying in the first sentence – I actually think we might die. Definitely not guaranteed. I’m def not tryna bool on out as Thomas Malthus’s reincarnation, but it’s actually a legitimate concern.
I suppose I should probably explain what I mean. Well, as with most of my posts, I’d like to first talk about why humanity has made it this far to begin with. Am I about to talk about Stable structures? You betcha!
Ok, so humanity is fairly miraculous, specifically given our dynamic stability within the context of everything else we can perceive. If you’ve even taken cursory biology, you know what I’m talking about is true. If you’re not convinced, go look up our best understanding of the human ear. It’s literally buck wild. It’s so unbelievably complex, it’s difficult to even conceive that it literally doesn’t fall apart in a second. Let’s just say, you’d be forgiven if you researched the human body and came away believing in the existence of a Creator.
Anyway, if we assume intelligent design isn’t actually a thing (for sake of argument – don’t get your panties in a wad), there still is totally a mechanism that would allow for something as complex as Homo Sapien to come about. Let’s talk about it.
Definitely beating a dead horse if you’ve read some of my other stuff, but I’m gonna talk briefly about Stability again. Basically, according to our perceptions of the world, it’s fairly obvious that some things are more stable than others. If, for example, you built your house out of granite, it’s going to last longer than if you built the boi with thousands of slices of Swiss cheese (an inferior cheese, IMHO).
So within the context of stability, some things just “work” better than others. And by “work,” I mean “possess some Characteristic that allows it to survive in its present form for a greater duration than other Entities.” Not too bad, right?
Ok, in past posts I’ve gone on at length about why some Entity might be more Stable than others (ie it’s better at contending with threats, etc.), but right now, let’s talk about how Entities even come into existence in the first place.
As I think you can intuitively agree, complex stability just doesn’t manifest arbitrarily. In other words, a Big Mac isn’t going to just appear at the center of the milky way. Well, it could, but that would be an incredibly low probability event.
This idea of complexity just appearing out of nowhere is something that people have been thinking about for a while. There’s a thought experiment about something called a Boltzmann Brain, which basically looks at whether a fully conscious brain could just come together arbitrarily in the middle of space. If you think about it, a brain is just some matter that’s organized in a particular way, so there’s isn’t a reason why a bunch of matter couldn’t randomly form a brain in the middle of space.
However, just to continue the Boltzmann Brain thought experiment further than it’s typically taken, let me ask you this: Even if matter randomly came together to form a brain in the middle of space, what then? I’ll tell you what then. The brain would immediately die due to the lack of blook flow, the low temperature, a lack of nutrients, and generally a lack of a body to support it. The same could be said of effectively any biological entity, in that it would immediately perish if it were to arbitrarily form in the middle of space.
So then, it’s not just our biology that makes us humans incredibly interesting, it’s also the context that allows humans to exist in the first place. And it’s this context that gives us a clue into how something as complex as a human could even come into existence in the first place.
Ok, let’s talk about subatomic particles. Not because of their actual physics, but rather because most people think of them as a fundamental building block of reality. Whether that’s actually true is neither here nor there for the present argument. Bear with me.
So if you had a super big puddle of subatomic particles (like in the early universe), what would happen? If you don’t believe a supernatural figure had anything to do with our universe, then you probably tacitly believe that the puddle of particles would eventually become people, houses, monkeys, whatnot. But how do we get from the chaotic puddle of subatomic particles to structures are complex as monkeys? Let’s dig in.
Basically, the only thing you need to know about subatomic particles is that they interact with one another in interesting, but relatively predictable ways. Basically, what typically happens is that particles will either attract each other or repel each other in different ways.
The really interesting thing though is that some configurations of particles are way more stable than others. The configurations that are most important to us humans are atoms. And if you think about it, it’s not too difficult to see how atoms formed from particles. As a quick recap, atoms basically have a bunch of electrons (small, negative bois) swirling around a bunch of protons and neutrons (large, positive or neutral bois).
Basically, in order for atoms to come about, all you need is an area of space where a bunch of particles are interacting. Chances are (ie, it’s a fairly probable event) that an electron and a proton are going to come together to form a hydrogen atom, and then boom, all of a sudden you have a very stable structure. So basically, it’s reasonably probable that particles create hydrogen atoms, and then stay in that configuration due to its stability.
Just to be clear, hydrogen is special. If you throw two electrons together, the resulting configuration is highly unstable. The same thing can be said for a huge array of other possible configurations of particles. Without needing to know the details, there’s something about hydrogen that just makes it work, where other things don’t.
Ok, so now we have hydrogen. Luckily for us, hydrogen is both highly stable, and it also interacts in interesting ways with different atoms. Thus we can apply the same line of thinking to atoms that we did with particles. And basically, the story there is that some configurations of atoms just work (are inherently more stable), than others, and you get molecules.
You can basically continue this line of thinking until you start getting biological Entities, and whoopie! We have humans. However, as you’ll probably intuitively agree, it can’t just be that easy. And, blessed reader, your intuition is correct. It isn’t.
Basically in order to reliably get situations where lower forms of complexity can create higher forms of complexity (ie molecules to biological cells), you need something I call a Sandbox. (That’s by no means an original term, and you probably know where I’m going with this).
Here’s how I define a Sandbox. First of all, you need some structures (like particles) that interact with each other in interesting ways. More specifically, the situation has to allow for the Entities to interact with each other in many different ways. For example, if all subatomic particles were spread out across the universe, they wouldn’t be able to interact and form atoms. In order to get atoms, you need particles to be in the same general vicinity to increase the probability of atom formation. To make a somewhat shaky analogy, nature has to be able to run a bunch of “experiments” in order to find the structures that are the most stable. So you need a situation where random interactions are fairly probable.
On the flip side, you can’t have a situation that’s too chaotic. If you stuffed all the particles in the universe into a tiny box, you’d probably get atoms pretty quickly, but they’d probably be blown to pieces by all the chaos around them. Essentially, the Sandbox can’t be too unstable or the structures that do form won’t be able to survive the threats to their existence.
Lol. If you’ve read my stuff where I pontificate about Order and Chaos, this is a slightly less philosophical treatment of the subject: progress occurs at the order between the Light (order) and the Chaos.
Just as a quick side note, can I quickly vent a little bit? Some people have been getting really caught up in how “fined-tuned” the universe is for human life. They say things like “if some fundamental physics constant was slightly different, life wouldn’t be possible.” Duh! But you sons of goats are looking at it wrong! Life and consciousness are obviously really cool, but they aren’t necessarily the end-all-be-all of the universe. From my perspective it seems fairly obvious that life and consciousness are both phenomenon that make total sense within the context of reality because they’re simply mechanisms that lead to higher structural stability.
While life and consciousness are obviously incredibly, unbelievably complex, they aren’t super surprising, in that it makes sense that they would manifest in a reality with temporal consistency, given that such a reality places high priority on temporal stability. What would be way more surprising is if life and consciousness didn’t give rise to higher Stability. If that were the case, I would be way more likely to believe in an intelligent creator because complexity basically doesn’t come around unless it has a competitive advantage.
Ok, back to my original tangent. Why do humans exist? Well, we’re basically the product of a ton of Sandboxes. What I mean is that in going from atoms to molecules, molecules to cells, cells to organ, organs to organisms, each step of the way there’s been a Sandbox that allows the universe to “experiment” with many different structures and find the structure that works the best.
Now then, you might be wondering, wouldn’t Sandboxes themselves be really, really rare? If so, then humanity’s existence would seem more mysterious. However, if you read my post on Explosive Continuity, you’ll see that certain particularly stable structures naturally give rise to Sandboxes (low threat areas where “experimentation” is possible). I won’t go into that too much, but if you’re interested, send me an email and I’d love to discuss this.
Anyway, let’s go back to the very first paragraph. Why do I think humanity’s in real trouble? Well, we’ve been banking off some great Sandboxes for the last millions of years, and now we’re in a position where we could destroy our current Sandbox. Why? Because humanity’s too powerful, which makes it very unstable.
One critical aspect of a Sandbox that allows it to function is that if one experiment fails, it doesn’t destroy the Sandbox. So two electrons being close to each other isn’t going to threaten the electron and proton to form hydrogen, which is why we get atoms.
If a failed experiment can lead to the destruction of a Sandbox, then you’re basically dealing with a situation that’s too chaotic to be a Sandbox. And that’s specifically what’s happening with humanity.
Scientific progress is really neat, but it has drastically increased the power individual people yield. And just like any other situation, certain aspects of humanity are more unstable than others. As you probably agree, it’s not great if the unstable parts of the system can wreak a huge amount of havoc.
To look into this, let’s consider the age-old phenomenon of someone losing hope, going crazy, and killing a bunch of people. In the old days (like cave man era), if you decided to go on a killing spree, resulting in your own suicide, you could probably only kill a couple of people before you were taken down.
Now a days, with ARs and bombs, if someone really wants to kill a lot of people, they can kill a lot of people. We typically focus on the positive aspects of empowering people with technology, but the same technologies that “make the world a better place” also allow people to cause a greater amount of destruction, if that’s their goal.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention! (JK) Scientific progress naturally accelerates if left to its own devices, which … um … might just kill us. Let’s just say that if General AI is widely available to your average Joe Shmo, it’s time to head for the fracking hills.
So what do we do about this? Well we could either try to dampen scientific progress, which, historically speaking, would probably be a total disaster, or we need to increase the size of our own Sandbox drastically so that when Joe Shmo decides to ‘splode the Earth with his pocket nuke, we don’t all die.
And how do we do that? Well, we’d need to increase our domain beyond the boundary of destruction, which probably means that we need to get to space, and we need to get there like now. Frankly, spreading to space probably wouldn’t save us from malicious AI, but at least we might be safe from some nukes.
Hmm, a small group of humans would probably have to sneak off in a totally untraceable manner to escape malicious AI. That’d be interesting.
Ok, well I imagine you all catch my drift. However, I should note that Malthus’ error lay in underestimating human ingenuity to solve the problems he thought would bring humanity to its knees. While I’m arguing that humanity’s ability to constantly progress may in fact be our downfall, I certainly don’t want to make Malthus’ mistake and discount the problem-solving abilities of generations to come.
However, if the trend of the last several thousand years stays true, then the coming developments of humanity will likely be well beyond or entirely different from what we presently conceive, bringing its own opportunities and threat.
Eh, whatever. Just stay on your toes, bois.