The Galaxy Insight: 'The Universe is in Some Deep Sense Tied to Homo Sapiens'

RJM Corbet

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This seems to suit my own philosophy. Is this of interest to anyone else? Anyway, it seems to be an interesting channel.

The Galaxy Insight –“The Universe is in Some Deep Sense Tied to Homo Sapiens”
Posted on Jun 30, 2020 in Astrophysics, Cosmology, Physics, Science, Universe

“Today I think we are beginning to suspect that man is not a tiny cog that doesn’t really make much difference to the running of the huge machine, but rather that there is a much more intimate tie between man and the universe than we heretofore suspected. The physical world is in some deep sense tied to the human being. Being homo sapiens, we live on an island –the universe–surrounded by a sea of ignorance. As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance. But, of all obstacles to a thoroughly penetrating account of existence, none looms up more dismayingly than ‘time.’

“Explain time? Not without explaining existence. Explain existence? Not without explaining time. To uncover the deep and hidden connection between time and existence, to close on itself our quartet of questions, is a task for the future.

“Is the very mechanism for the universe to come into being meaningless or unworkable, or both unless the universe is guaranteed to produce life, consciousness and observership somewhere and for some little time in its history-to-be? The quantum principle shows that there is a sense in which what the observer will do in the future defines what happens in the past—even in a past so remote that life did not then exist, and shows even more, that ‘observership’ is a prerequisite for any useful version of ‘reality’. The universe is a totality in which what happens ‘now’ gives reality to what happened ‘then,’ perhaps even determines what happened then.”

–Quantum physicist John Archibald Wheeler, who originated a novel approach to the unified field theory and popularized the term black hole. Near the end of his life, in his memoir —Geons, Black Holes and Quantum Foam — Wheeler suggested that when we finally unravel the secret of the universe, of human existence, we will be astounded by its simplicity.

Sources: -Geons, Black Holes and Quantum Foam –A Life in Physics ; quoted by Ken Wilber in Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the World’s Great Physicists; Scientific American; “Hermann Weyl and the Unity of Knowledge”, American Scientist; Paul Davies, Other Worlds.
 
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Ursa major

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Even if the underlying idea held water --and I'm rather of the opinion that it doesn't -- is there any reason why, in all the universe, our species would be the one that wasn't just a small cog (which itself is greatly overstating our place in the scheme of things, IMO) but instead is the one to which the universe has an intimate tie?
 

Extollager

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Ursa, you seem to be assuming there are other “species” than human beings. (I don’t think, by “species” in this context, you mean species on Earth including, say, spotted owls and maidenhair ferns.) Extraterrestrial species remain unknown to us, so, “in all the universe,” we may be it; we are it, so far as the evidence shows. This returns us to Wheeler.
 

Justin Swanton

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“Is the very mechanism for the universe to come into being meaningless or unworkable, or both unless the universe is guaranteed to produce life, consciousness and observership somewhere and for some little time in its history-to-be? The quantum principle shows that there is a sense in which what the observer will do in the future defines what happens in the past—even in a past so remote that life did not then exist, and shows even more, that ‘observership’ is a prerequisite for any useful version of ‘reality’. The universe is a totality in which what happens ‘now’ gives reality to what happened ‘then,’ perhaps even determines what happened then.”

Myself, I wonder what he's smoking. Time travels in one direction and there is no way present events can influence the past, which by definition only exists as images of 'observership' - i.e. as memories. Time travel is a fun exercise of imagination but that's as far as it goes. Making 'reality' depend on 'observership' sounds a lot like Hegelianism (the entire universe is a product of my mind). It's the other way round: reality creates observership, i.e. gives the observer something to observe. And no, the 'now' doesn't give reality to the 'then'. It is the 'then' that gives reality to the 'now'. No egg, no chicken. But the current existence of the 'now' doesn't depend on the 'then' (which by definition no longer exists).

Scientists need a 101 course in common sense.
 

Ursa major

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Ursa, you seem to be assuming there are other “species” than human beings. (I don’t think, by “species” in this context, you mean species on Earth including, say, spotted owls and maidenhair ferns.) Extraterrestrial species remain unknown to us, so, “in all the universe,” we may be it; we are it, so far as the evidence shows. This returns us to Wheeler.
I think, rather, it is the proponent of the idea that "there is a much more intimate tie between man and the universe than we heretofore suspected" that is making an unsupported and unsupportable assumption here and their assumption is that we are somehow unique (and not just in terms of our own existence, but in a universe-tying way).

We know that the universe is capable of creating an organism that is conscious, because we exist; we do not know of any mechanism by which the universe would be restricted, for the entire length of its existence, to producing just one such organism. So we cannot assume that we are unique in that sense (even if that turned out to be the case in reality). And if we cannot assume that, what is it that makes our conscious nature somehow more fundamental than the conscious nature of another organism? Do we even know enough about our consciousness to make even minor claims about its impact on anything outside our own solar system (where "impact" includes the literal impact of our devices on other bodies orbiting the sun?)


One might make similar arguments, to that of the author of the idea we're discussing, about cats. Why did humans develop crop-based agriculture? Obviously, it is so that cats could eventually live lives of luxury, where they had to do no more than exist in order to be fed, to be comfortable, to be loved and to be worshipped... and, indeed, loved and worhipped not just in spite of their many and various examples of bad behaviour and selfishness, but because of them. And taking this a step further, might one offer the suggestion that "there is a much more intimate tie between the domestic cat and the universe than we heretofore suspected"?
 

Justin Swanton

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We know that the universe is capable of creating an organism that is conscious, because we exist; we do not know of any mechanism by which the universe would be restricted, for the entire length of its existence, to producing just one such organism. So we cannot assume that we are unique in that sense (even if that turned out to be the case in reality). And if we cannot assume that, what is it that makes our conscious nature somehow more fundamental than the conscious nature of another organism? Do we even know enough about our consciousness to make even minor claims about its impact on anything outside our own solar system (where "impact" includes the literal impact of our devices on other bodies orbiting the sun?)
I really don't know what to say to this in a way that won't get the post removed. There are a number of assumptions made here that rest on rickety foundations (at best). Namely:

1. All life in the universe arises from natural processes: random organisation of matter with certain external factors that influence that organisation in a certain direction.

2. Intelligence, i.e. consciousness, is a function of biology and arises by the same processes that produce life.

3. Intelligence in man is not radically different from the consciousness in other sentient species. Man's capacity to think and reason is the same in animals, if perhaps a little more developed in humans.

If all this is true then obviously the universe is teeming with life - millions of different species have appeared just on Earth, each through a process of random/conditioned mutation, so clearly the universe is very good at producing living organisms. And plenty of those organisms are 'intelligent'.

But if I question any of these assumptions or examine the facts put forward to support them then....

PS: I'm very fond of cats.
 

Justin Swanton

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The Anthropic Principle.
Strong or weak?
It seems a bit of a non-sequitur argument (strong or weak): the universe must be able to produce life because life exists that can observe it.

But we don't know anything about whether life can exist anywhere off our planet (every planet about which we know something in detail demonstrably cannot support life) and how that life came to be. The only thing we can prove is that planet Earth is suitable to sustain life because life exists on it. Which is a tautology.
 

Ursa major

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1. All life in the universe arises from natural processes: random organisation of matter with certain external factors that influence that organisation in a certain direction.

2. Intelligence, i.e. consciousness, is a function of biology and arises by the same processes that produce life.

3. Intelligence in man is not radically different from the consciousness in other sentient species. Man's capacity to think and reason is the same in animals, if perhaps a little more developed in humans.
I am not making the assumptions you say I am; indeed, I am arguing against the assumptions being made in the text quoted in the OP.

Regarding (1), you are assuming that I am imposing some sort of limit on the meaning of "natural"; I am not.

Given that, your (2) is patently false: I am not assuming any particular process by which consciousness -- I never mentioned intelligence (whatever that might be) -- might arise.

And given that I never mentioned intelligence, (or have been making the assumptions you're assuming I have been), I have not -- and cannot have -- made any assumptions regarding what intelligence does or doesn't mean or what forms it may come in, so (3) does not hold water.

But apart from statements (1), (2) and (3), and all of the others you have made in your post, you may be correct.
 

Justin Swanton

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I am not making the assumptions you say I am; indeed, I am arguing against the assumptions being made in the text quoted in the OP.

Regarding (1), you are assuming that I am imposing some sort of limit on the meaning of "natural"; I am not.

Given that, your (2) is patently false: I am not assuming any particular process by which consciousness -- I never mentioned intelligence (whatever that might be) -- might arise.

And given that I never mentioned intelligence, (or have been making the assumptions you're assuming I have been), I have not -- and cannot have -- made any assumptions regarding what intelligence does or doesn't mean or what forms it may come in, so (3) does not hold water.

But apart from statements (1), (2) and (3), and all of the others you have made in your post, you may be correct.
That's fine. Apologies if I got you wrong. ✌

Do you want clarify the ground covered by 1 and 2? (forget 3) I'm all ears.

1. The universe creating an organism. Is there any process besides natural selection or its derivatives that could plausibly account for that?

2. The universe creating an organism that is conscious. What is meant by consciousness in humans? Wheeler connects it with knowledge (in opposition to ignorance) and observership. But that obviously isn't a definition. What produces consciousness? Is it a function of biology or is it separate from biology? I reproduced the common understanding of consciousness as any sort of awareness of one's surroundings. I also made intelligence a function of consciousness which seems to be the common understanding of it as well (I think intelligence is radically different from a simple awareness but that's getting off-topic).

3. Sorry. I assumed you attributed consciousness to animals. The bit about the conscious nature of another organism followed by the digression on cats threw me. So OK, we can leave animals out of it.
 
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RJM Corbet

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Our perceptions of the universe are limited to what our human senses can perceive. Our science and x-ray telescopes and colliders etc, are extensions of our human senses.

If our 'homo sapiens' perception of the universe is limited to what our senses can perceive, does that mean the universe is limited to/by our limited perception?

Does it matter if there is more to the universe than what we can ever possibly hope even in theory to perceive, if we cannot hope to ever be able to perceive it? Anything beyond what directly concerns us may as well not exist? We will never be able to learn anything about it?

But this thread may already be straying into territory not included in the Chrons remit. So mods please feel free to remove it.
 
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Astro Pen

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Our perceptions of the universe are limited to what our human senses can perceive. Our science and x-ray telescopes and colliders etc, are extensions of our human senses....
If our 'homo sapiens' perception of the universe is limited to what our senses can perceive, does that mean the universe is limited to/by our limited perception?
This also applies to astrophysics descriptions generally.
The adding of anthropic values. 'Extremely cold', 'unimaginably hot',' incredibly dense','deadly radiation' etc'.
Values in astrophysics and astronomy are just 'what they are' and habitable zones on earth are not the centre of that scale from which the dramatic universe dares to depart.
Conditions on a spring day in Lisbon are extremely rare out there and certainly in no way a centre point of values.
 

RJM Corbet

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This also applies to astrophysics descriptions generally.
The adding of anthropic values. 'Extremely cold', 'unimaginably hot',' incredibly dense','deadly radiation' etc'.
Values in astrophysics and astronomy are just 'what they are' and habitable zones on earth are not the centre of that scale from which the dramatic universe dares to depart.
Conditions on a spring day in Lisbon are extremely rare out there and certainly in no way a centre point of values.
Correct. The fact we are able to perceive the universe is because the part of the universe that 'reveals' itself to us, is all the universe we ever will be able to perceive -- even in theory.

But that does not limit the universe to our measurement/perception? There are paradoxes around time etc, that concern our ability to perceive?

No I don't think that's what's happening here. It is not woo to suggest that reality must not be limited to what homo sapiens and his instruments can even in theory ever be able to perceive or measure.

It is wrong to insist there cannot be dimensions, vibrations and entities outside homo sapiens direct natural senses. Imo

It cannot be discounted.
 
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