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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Our Existence May Depend on Undiscovered Cosmic Layers

Let us imagine a very young child who is given one of those little Android tablets, a special one that has a simplified touch-screen interface to make it easy to use by small children. Let us also suppose that the parents are too busy or distracted to teach the child about how to use the device, or how it works. The child may experiment with the device for quite a while, with frustrating results. But then finally he might figure out how to get some functionality by touching different parts of the screen.

The child might tell himself something like this:

Now I know it all real well! When I touch this part of the screen, I get my funnest web site. When I touch this part, I get my animal game. When I touch this part, I get my racing game. When I touch this part, I get my TV shows.

The child really understands only one part of the system: the external hardware interface that he uses when he touches the screen. But this is only one layer in the system. For it to work, many other layers must also work. Here I am using the term “layers” as it is used in the computer industry, to mean a particular aspect of the overall functionality.

The child knows nothing of other layers such as these: a software layer on the tablet device that makes it work effectively; an internal hardware layer inside the machine; a WI-FI layer that allows the device to access the internet; an internet hardware layer needed for external servers to work, like the one that hosts the child's games and web sites; a database layer that allows the internet to store user's data; an internet software layer needed for programs to run on those external servers; a television production layer needed to produce the TV programs; and a television network layer needed to distribute the TV programs.

All of these complicated things are needed for the child to experience what he experiences. But blissfully ignorant of such complications, the child thinks it's all real simple – you just press a particular part of the screen, and you get some cool thing like a game, a TV show, or a web site.

I suspect that many of our modern scientists are very much like this little child. They are guilty of the same mistake, one of the easiest mistakes to make – the mistake of requirements underestimation. Requirements underestimation comes when one assumes that something that requires many layers can be explained by assuming only one or two known layers.

The modern scientist knows of basically two layers that help make possible a habitable universe in which conscious self-aware beings like us exist. Those layers are a particle layer (consisting mainly of protons, neutrons, electrons, and photons), and a particle force layer (consisting mainly of the four fundamental forces including electromagnetism and gravitation). In a gigantic example of requirements underestimation, the modern scientist assumes that these two layers are sufficient to explain marvelous things such as the origin of cosmic structure, the origin of life and the origin of self-conscious creatures such as humans.

I saw an example of this thinking the other day on one of those science shows on cable TV. I don't have the exact quote, but some astronomer or physics professor was saying something like this: “It's amazing to consider that all of the infinite complexity of human civilization and the human mind all come merely from the simple interactions of a few basic particles and forces.” The next time you hear someone spouting a quote like that, remember that it's not science, but philosophy – a very dubious philosophy called reductionist materialism. 

Contrary to such reductionist claims, we have every reason to suspect that the existence of self-conscious creatures such as us requires that numerous layers of cosmic functionality be working in just the right way. There may be many layers of cosmic functionality that are completely undiscovered by us. Such layers may be as necessary for our existence as a software layer and a database layer are necessary for an internet.

One of those currently unknown layers may have been involved when the universe escaped the incredibly density, heat, and chaos of the Big Bang, and began improbably forming into beautiful orderly galaxies. Another currently unknown layer may have been involved when there first occurred the formation of the genetic code and self-replicating molecules. Our current story of the origin of those two things – the mere chance combination of chemicals – is laughably inadequate. Another layer may have been involved when self-aware beings with all the higher human qualities arose long ago, with many advanced capabilities (such as wonder, spirituality, morality, and esthetic appreciation) that are hard to explain through natural selection alone.

These undiscovered layers may be mainly physical; or perhaps one or more of them may be information layers as suggested here; or perhaps one or more of them may be some kind of spiritual layers. But the latter thought is taboo to the modern physicist, who unreasonably is quite willing to warmly discuss speculative theories of an infinity of other completely unknown and hidden physical realities, but absolutely refuses to entertain the idea of even one hidden spiritual reality.