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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hypothetical Configurations of a Programmed Cosmos

In some previous posts (here, here,  and here) I have advanced the theory that the universe has a cosmic computation layer: a kind of primordial programming that has existed since the known beginning of the universe (the Big Bang). I argued that we need to assume such a layer to account for how the universe manages to fulfill so ably all of its near-infinite computation needs. I also argued that we need to postulate such a computation layer to help explain the astonishing evolution of the universe, the appearance of galaxies, life, and eventually Mind from a universe that began in a superdense state. The theory I have suggested is that our universe is quite real (not a simulation), but that it has been somehow programmed for success from the beginning. To anyone reading my previous post on 18 anthropic requirements that must be met for civilizations such as ours to exist (some of which are most unlikely to occur by chance), such a theory of cosmic programming may seem like a good idea.

Upon hearing such a theory of a cosmic computation layer, some readers no doubt must have objected: we can't believe such a thing, because we can't imagine how such a thing might work; we can form no idea of what type of configuration such a computation layer might have.

My purpose in this post is to rebut such an objection. I will argue that there are hypothetical configurations we can imagine that might allow such a computation layer to exist. My aim is not to show that any one of these configurations is likely, but merely to show that we can imagine various hypothetical configurations for a cosmic computation layer, none of which violates any known findings. I will ask the reader to allow me to engage in some speculation, which may at times get rather exotic. Before dismissing such speculation, please remember a quote from the famous physicist Niels Bohr: “Your theory is crazy, but it's not crazy enough to be true” (a reminder that nature often ends up favoring some pretty mind-bending exotic realities).

First, let me comment on the use of the term “layer.” By speaking of a computation layer, I am not speaking of anything very similar to the layer of a cake. I use the term layer in the same way that software architects use the term, to mean a certain type of functionality that exists in a system, regardless of its physical location (in the same way that such architects speak of an abstraction layer). Computer people might talk of a hardware layer, a driver layer, and a software layer, but they don't actually mean things that are lying on top of each other horizontally like the layers of a cake. The term layer is simply used to mean some particular aspect of the overall functionality, regardless of where it is located. Do a Google image search for “software layer” and you will see many examples.

When I depicted a diagram (in this post) showing a computation layer underneath a mass-energy layer, I stated that the two layers are intermingled or intertwined (and certainly did not mean that one layer was vertically floating over the other).

So what type of arrangement or configuration might allow for such a computation layer to exist? At this stage of our ignorance, we can only speculate. But it is possible to imagine some reasonable configurations that would allow for such a thing.

The Possibility of Invisible Computation Particles

One possibility we can imagine is that the universe may have two types of particles: primary particles such as protons, neutrons, electrons, and photons, and also what we may call computation particles. The purpose of the computation particles might be to facilitate computation related to the primary particles, and to make sure that the universe's programming is followed. There could be at least one computation particle for every primary particle, and there might be many computation particles for each primary particle. The computation particles might somehow shadow or surround the primary particles. Each computation particle might be able to store many bits of information.

The immediate objection one could make is: such particles couldn't possibly exist, because we would have already detected them. But this objection isn't valid in light of current theories about dark matter. Currently physicists say that we are all surrounded by invisible dark matter. They say that we can't see dark matter because it does not interact with electromagnetism (and thus far there have been no unambiguous detections of dark matter). If such a thing is possible, it is possible that there are other types of invisible particles that do not interact with any of the four fundamental forces of our universe, and that are completely undetectable to us through direct observation.

We are not 100% sure that dark matter really exists, but we are absolutely sure that a particle called the neutrino exists. The neutrino has been called the ghost particle. A neutrino has either no mass or very little mass. Neutrinos are emitted by the sun. Scientists say that every second countless neutrinos are passing through your body. Given the reality of such particles, there is nothing implausible about the idea that our bodies and other objects might be intermingled with countless trillions of computation particles we can't see or detect.

We know of one other thing that pervades all of space: the cosmic background radiation, believed to be the faint afterglow of the Big Bang. All of outdoor space is bathed in this faint radiation, which was only detected around 1965. Stand outside and you will be surrounded by the tiny particles of the cosmic background radiation. Then there is also dark energy, which scientists say now makes up about 68% of the universe's mass-energy. It seems that as time passes, scientists are finding more and more cases of where we can say, “We are surrounded by a type of invisible matter or energy we were not aware of previously.” So there is nothing implausible about the idea that we might also be surrounded by (and intermingled with) computation particles we can't see.

The computation particles I am postulating could either be some type of invisible particle different from dark matter or dark energy, or the computation particles might actually be dark matter or dark energy (or part of either of them). Since we know nothing about how massive or complex dark matter particles might be, we can't rule out that they may be computation particles (or that they may partially be computation particles). We can say the same thing about the dark energy particles postulated by scientists – some of those particles may be computation particles. 

invisible particles
The Possibility of Emergence Clouds

The term emergence has been used for the tendency of nature to create units that are more than the sum of their parts. One example of emergence is the appearance of life. First you have mere chemicals, and then later there develops a microscopic living thing that is much more than just a combination of chemicals. Another example of emergence is the appearance of conscious Mind. First you have a collection of cells, and then you have a self-aware consciousness that is much more than just a collection of cells.

If we imagine some type of computation particles as previously imagined, we can imagine some of them grouping together in clusters, related to the emergence of some particular thing that is more than just the sum of its parts. Every atom might be associated with an emergence cloud that handles computation related to that particular atom. Every molecule might be associated with its own emergence cloud. There might also be emergence clouds associated with the origin of life, the origin of Mind, and the origin of galaxies.

Your mind might itself be an emergence cloud, a cluster of computation particles that stays together in order for your consciousness to exist. Such an emergence cloud may or may not dissipate when you die.

In this hypothetical configuration, small emergence clouds can exist within larger emergence clouds. The smallest emergence clouds might be the size of atoms or molecules, and the largest emergence clouds might be the size of galaxies or clusters of galaxies.

The Possibility of Hyperluminal Computational Communication

Physicists say that known physical particles such as protons exchange photons as part of the electromagnetic force, with one particle having an influence on another particle. Thinking in a similar vein, we can imagine that computation particles might be able to somehow communicate with other computation particles.

Would such communication be limited by the speed of light? Not necessarily. The speed of light is the speed of all electromagnetic radiation. But the communication between computation particles might use some different type of radiation or energy that is not limited by the speed of light.

Physicists say that known physical particles such as protons both send and receive virtual particles that act as agents of force exchange. So it is therefore not implausible to imagine that if computation particles exist, they might be both senders and receivers of computation-related messages. Under such a scenario, we can imagine each such particle as being rather like a radio receiver and a radio transmitter.

Given a sufficient number of such computation particles scattered around space, communicating with each other at a speed that is perhaps greater than the speed of light, and perhaps instantaneous, you have all the requirements for a computing system of basically unlimited power.

Would There Be Room for Such Particles?

Let's consider: are there any spatial reasons why it would be implausible to assume that there might be one or many computation particles for each material particle? Could it be that things would be too crowded if such particles existed? Certainly not. Scientists tell us that solid matter is almost entirely empty space. You often see schematic diagrams showing electrons as being a substantial fraction of the size of an atom, but such schematic diagrams are very misleading in their spatial depictions. In reality, according to this site the ratio of the radius of an atom to the radius of a proton, neutron, or electron is between 10,000 and 100,000. An atom is almost entirely empty space. So there is a huge amount of empty space within atoms in which computation particles might exist. There might be 1000 computation particles for every proton in an atom, and there still would be enough space within an atom.

The Possibility of a Computation Field

Another possibility is the possibility of a kind of universal computation field, something perhaps rather comparable to the Higgs field. Scientists say the Higgs field is a field that pervades all of space. So we can imagine a computation field that might pervade all of space, helping the universe to satisfy its computation needs. Such a field might act somewhat like a wi-fi network, but might extend to every bit of space.

Just as some physicists depict the creation of a particle as being a kind of disturbance or flicker in a field such as the Higgs field, we might imagine that each computation event in the universe's computation might be a kind of disturbance, flicker or blip in a universe-wide computation field, with the field having innumerable such blips, like a bubbling, boiling ocean.

In the visual below we can imagine the purple grid as being this computation field, with the green grid below it being space that is warped by the presence of matter. However, if such a computation field existed it might better be depicted as pervading all of space.

computation field

Computation Threads in the Fabric of Space?

Still another possibility is the possibility that computation functionality is somehow embedded in the fabric of space. Think of space as being a kind of fabric (a way it is often described). Imagine that this fabric is built from tiny units we may call threads. It could be that every nth thread (every hundredth, every thousandth, every millionth, or some other fraction) is what we might call a computation thread – a unit that helps the universe perform its computation activities. Each such thread might be of a vast length, perhaps stretching for trillions of miles.

Would we be able to detect such a thread as we passed through space? Probably not, largely because ordinary solid matter is something like 99.999% empty space. Astronomers say that stars as big as the sun are sometime crunched into the densest possible state (short of a black hole), and that when the star reaches such a state (called a neutron star), every teaspoon of matter weighs 100 million tons. This shows how empty ordinary matter is. So ordinary matter could pass through space that partially consisted of computation threads. The chance of a collision between such a thread and a material particle would be very low, and a collision might only produce a tiny deflection which would be very hard to detect. Or perhaps a particle of solid matter might be able to pass through such a computation thread without any deflection at all, like a person moving through air.

computation thread

Where Might the Universe's Software be Stored?

So we have imagined how a computation layer could exist, either (a) in the form of computation particles which might cluster into emergence clouds, and which might communicate between each other, perhaps at speeds greater than the speed of light, or (b) a computation field that pervades all of space, or (c) embedded as threads within the fabric of spacetime. But what about the software that would be a vital element of any cosmic computation layer—where might that be located?

I can imagine several possibilities. One is the possibility that such software might somehow be stored as information content within a universal computation field, something similar to the Higgs field. The second possibilitiy is that the software might somehow be lurking within the cosmic background radiation that pervades all of the universe, or within some similar all-pervading radiation that dates from the time of the Big Bang. The photons that we can detect from the Big Bang are microwave photons. But space might also be pervaded by equally ancient particles of some other type, which somehow store the universe's software or some important part of it. If such particles can travel through any solid matter in the same way that neutrinos can, then any particle could “query” the universe's software just by taking a read of this background radiation (in rather the same way that your GPS device gets your current position partially by taking a read from a GPS satellite).

Another possibility is that the software might somehow be stored within the previously imagined computation threads embedded in the fabric of space.

One other mind-bending possibility is suggested by DNA biology. When a human is conceived, an organism does not get the blueprint for a human being from some non-human external source. Instead it reads the blueprint of a human being stored in every tiny little DNA molecule. Every drop of your blood or saliva is teeming with such molecules. In your cells are trillions of copies of the blueprint for how to make a human. This suggests the following possibility: perhaps the software of the universe (or some vital kernal or core of it) is stored in every computation particle (or perhaps every known subatomic particle). In such a case a proton (or a computation particle) might have no need to query any external source for a guideline on how to behave in accordance with the universe's programming. It might merely retrieve the information from itself.

Just as every cell in your body contains DNA that stores the plan and blueprint of a human being, your body might have within it countless trillions of computation particles that each is storing the plan and blueprint of the universe--and perhaps programming that will assure the glorious future pinnacles of cosmic destiny.


It is far too soon to draw any exact conclusions about the details of a cosmic computation layer. In this regard we have a situation similar to the situation biology was in during the middle of the 19th century. At that time someone might have reasoned that there must be some information system that allows the blueprint of a human to be passed on during conception. But at that time it would have been impossible to have figured out the details of how such a system worked. We only learned the details with the discovery of DNA in the twentieth century. Similarly we can make compelling arguments that we need to assume that some cosmic computation layer exists, but we cannot say at this time what the exact configuration of a cosmic computation layer might be. We can merely speculate.

But I think the type of speculations made here show that we can easily imagine ways in which a cosmic computation layer might plausibly exist. So the idea that the universe has a computation layer is quite possible, and cannot be excluded because of any “we can't think of any way that could work” type of reasoning. We can indeed think of quite a few ways in which it might work, and I have described some of those possible configurations, as rough as those ideas may be.

Of course, a mere possibility does not show a likelihood. But I think the likelihood of the universe having a computation layer can be shown based on the need to satisfy the enormous computation demands of the universe (as I have argued here), and on the need to postulate a teleological principle to explain the universe's remarkable evolution from infinite density to galaxies to life and finally to Mind (as I argued here). Many a modern physicist recognizes that the universe seems to have a high degree of fine-tuning, for reasons discussed here and here. Some of these physicists have tried to explain fine-tuning by imagining a multiverse (a collection of a vast number of universes). But we can explain the fine-tuning much more simply and economically with the hypothesis that our material universe has been programmed for success from the beginning.