After All




I find it as difficult to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science. Wernher von Braun

 

God is dead.” This is a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche, the famous 19th century German philosopher. In spite of many different interpretations of the quotation, Nietzsche meant it in a figurative sense in that the Age of Enlightenment or Science had “killed” the belief in God or gods of the past. Others have taken the simple quotation to new heights and claimed that Nietzsche was actually saying that God, though existing in the past, has ceased to exist altogether. Has the mysticism of religion been replaced by scientific theory? Have we outgrown God? At first glance, as technology advances at a breathtaking pace and as church and other religious institutional attendance is dropping, this would appear to be the case. However, further investigation shows that the opposite is actually true. Nietzsche’s assertion may have been wrong. Many more people today believe in the supernatural including God (not necessarily only a Christian God but a Supreme Creator). It appears that society is moving so quickly forward that people are overwhelmed and seek solace in things that are only understandable to those who have faith.

Many scientists have looked at the universe around us and made the claim that since all the factors that make our presence in the universe a reality occurring together in the right combination is of such low probability that a Creator would have to be required. Other scientists, as they delve more and more into the weird world of quantum physics, though, seem to have come up with the idea that you can get something from nothing; in other words nothing equals something and there is no need for a Creator. Both thoughts appear to be rooted in faith of one sort or another, one in the idea of a supernatural omnipresent being and the other in the intricacies of mathematical equations.

A basis of all religions is to answer the question of what happens to us after we die? Most claim an afterlife of a sort while others speak of reincarnation to live life on Earth again; that is, our essence, consciousness or soul lives on. Is it possible that our soul evolves with us as we grow? As we grow, our brain has experiences. With each experience, the brain develops response patterns which in turn develops your personality, in other words, you. Is it possible that in some future realm, that we will be able to incorporate our personality into a machine so that our personality, our soul, if you will, becomes immortal?

It is thought by many computer scientists that by scanning the biological brain and then copying and storing the information in a computer system, we can preserve the mind. The brain likely would not survive this copying process, however. In turn, though, this computer-stored mind copy could be placed inside a robot or other biological body. The process could occur over and over again, in effect, achieving immortality. Therefore, it is conceivable to separate the personality from the body, at least theoretically.

Many science fiction authors have broached this possibility. The earliest example probably is a short story, Intelligence Undying, by Edmond Hamilton that was published in a 1936 edition of Amazing Stories. The protagonist, a scientist, explains that when humans are born, their minds are blank slates. He devises a way to scan his brain and build it onto the blank mind of a baby. He will die from the scan, but the baby will live on with his memories.

Walter M. Miller Jr., of A Canticle for Leibowitz fame, wrote the short story, entitled Izzard and the Membrane, about human minds being replicated in a computer. In The Altered Ego, by Jerry Sohl, a person’s mind is recorded and used as the template for restoration after death. When a person dies, the body is repaired and brought back to life; the mind is restored to the last recording. Frederick Pohl, in his story, The Tunnel Under the World, human minds can be uploaded into robotic bodies.

Instead of robots, some authors have looked at other options for the uploading of human minds. John Sladek in his The Muller-Fokker Effect, the human mind is recorded on cassettes and then imprinted on a human body via engineered viruses. Kiln People by David Brin describes a future where people create duplicates of themselves out of clay with all memories up to that moment, intact. Perhaps the most bizarre uploading option was in Roger MacBride Allen’s The Modular Man, which describes a man that is uploaded into a robot which is then charged with murder, murder of himself. The legal repercussions to be recognized as a legal person is the basis of the story.

Robert Silverberg put a little different twist on mind uploading. In his novel To Live Again, the rich have the ability to upload experiences of others who have died. In effect, you can relive the experiences of a person who has passed away. Larry Niven dealt with transferred minds extensively in a number of his early short stories where the minds of humans who are cryogenically frozen, known as corpsicles, are transferred to mindwiped criminals.

Instead of uploading into other humans or even machines, other authors have looked at the possibility of inserting a new personality directly into one’s own brain. The Integrated Man, by Michael Berlyn, describes a technology in which a human mind or any part of it is encoded on a chip and placed into a special section of the brain. In Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, a cortical stack is implanted into the base of the skull which records all memories and experiences in real time. When one dies, the implant is simply placed into another body. Greg Egan, in his novels, Permutation City, Diaspora and Zendegi, describes somewhat of a hybrid of machine and biological uploading. In the novels, minds are uploaded into a small computer which is inserted at the base of the skull; the organic brain is then removed.

Other authors have looked at the ethical concerns of mind uploading. Vernor Vinge wrote The Cookie Monster which looks at mind uploads where the person is not aware of the upload. Robert Sawyer did an interesting turn on the issue of mind transfer in Mindscan. The story deals with the uploading of the protagonist and is told from the perspective of the original person as well as the uploaded individual. Janet Asimov, wife of the late Isaac Asimov, wrote her own tale, Mind Transfer, about the transfer of human consciousness into an android. The story looks at a number of ethical and moral issues associated with the concept. A bit of a twist on the ethics of mind uploading can be found in Robert Heinlein’s classic Time Enough for Love. In the story, an artificial intelligence computer, transfers its mind into a genetically engineered human.

We can see that mind transfer may be possible at least theoretically. How about separating the personality or soul from the human body and all other forms of matter; in effect, becoming a spirit?

The late Robert Forward, science fiction writer and physicist, came up with an interesting explanation of the human soul. According to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, matter shapes space and time around it; in other words, Earth does not, in effect, exert gravity, rather it shapes the space around it. It is possible that the matter that is patterned in our brain may be impressed upon space and time. Could an ethereal copy that is impressed on spacetime be our soul?

The first question to arise with Forward’s idea is how can our brain, small by comparison with a planet or star, have such a profound effect on spacetime? The fact is at the surface of an atomic nucleus, the curvature of spacetime is greatest, up to fifteen trillion times than that exerted by a mass such as the Earth. All of the tiny curvatures which form the atomic nuclei of our brains could form a complex pattern in spacetime that is a replica of our intellect or personality.

Some scientists have claimed that the concept of a soul is in contradiction with quantum field theory which is the bringing together of all physical concepts such as classical Newtonian physics, special relativity and quantum mechanics used to construct models of subatomic particles. Alternatively, there is another concept known as quantum indeterminism which states that it is impossible to completely describe a physical system; that is, everything, such as the position of an electron, for example, is probable and never certain. So the jury is out as to whether or not the soul can be explained by science. Such ambiguity has not deterred science fiction writers though from exploring the afterlife or the idea of a spiritual self.

Perhaps the best known science fiction story or collection of stories and novels regarding what happens to us in the afterlife is Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld series. Through a multiple number of stories and novels, people and even pre-humans who have died, find themselves, on a world with an enormous river. In Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, a company allows for a consciousness to be preserved in a sort of half-life, able to communicate with the living.

What about the idea of God? How does one reconcile the idea of God (or other Supreme Being depending on one’s personal religious beliefs) with science? Physicist Frank Tipler and cosmologist John Barrow believe that you can. They even claim to have the mathematics to prove it. They have expanded the work of Brandon Carter, a physicist better known for his work on black holes. Carter came up with the Weak Anthropic Principle.

The Weak Anthropic Principle states that the basic features of the universe must be observed to be of a type that allows for the evolution of the observers, for if intelligent life did not evolve in that universe, no one would be around to observe it. This sounds a lot like the philosophical question that if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it actually make a sound?

Tipler and Barrow came up with the next three anthropic principles to explain the universe. The Strong Anthropic Principle states that the universe must have properties which allow intelligence to develop at some point in its history. The Final Anthropic Principle requires that intelligent information processing must come into existence in the universe and that, once it has come into existence, it will never die out. The Participatory Anthropic Principle states that once life is created, it will change the universe in a way that assures its immortality.

When this final stage is reached, life will have gained control of all matter and forces not only in a single universe but in all of them; life will have spread into all spatial regions of all possible universes that together store an infinite amount of information. This end is known as the Omega Point, a singularity of space and time corresponding to the eternity described in religions. Everything and everyone that ever existed will converge on this final point.

Tipler, who went on in his scientific exploration of God without Barrow, wrote The Physics of Immortality. In the book he states that humans will be, in the distant future, the only life in the universe and that we will have spread everywhere. If information processing continues along its evolution, states Tipler, the supercomputers with uploaded humans will replace all biological life. When the universe collapses, the supercomputers with their human components will utilize the energy of the universe’s collapse to recreate every human who ever lived, a kind of resurrection.

Tipler fails to explain what will happen if the universe does not collapse as theorized by many cosmologists, that it will continue to expand forever, or if science does not progress to the level he envisioned in his thesis. What memories or traits will be recorded for resurrection? Everything of a select few? What about the false memories that are being exposed in some high-profile criminal investigations? Will they live on?

Other scientists such as Amit Goswami, a theoretical quantum physicist, insist that in order to find God, we must view the universe itself as a colossal consciousness; he states that to explain many of the phenomena associated with quantum physics, this is essential. He reasons that in a conscious universe, all information is a property and that the universe is the set of all properties. The word “property” can be interchanged with the word “concept,” in the language of mathematics. A concept explains why something happens in a certain way. The characteristic concept of the universe is existence itself. Nothing can exist temporally prior to existence, that it is the first thing that existed in the universe or the property of the first thing. Sounds a bit convoluted but perhaps this function of the universe, existence, is God. Robert Sawyer, in his Calculating God, describes an alien society that provides humankind with mathematical proof of God.

Other physicists and cosmologists have other explanations for the origin of the universe, where God is not necessary. The late Stephen Hawking summarized the mathematics against the idea of God in his latest book, The Grand Design. He states that due to gravity, that the universe can and will create itself out of nothing. A problem that one might foresee with this idea, however, is Einstein’s theory of general relativity which states that gravity is a function of mass. How then can we have gravity without mass? Hawking has the answer stating that it is found in the elegant mathematics of String Theory.

Without going into the complexities of the mathematics of string theory, it predicts that our universe is merely one of many. String theorists suggest we look at our universe as the surface of a soap bubble that is continuing to grow and that it is merely one among many such bubbles which may collide with other bubbles to begin new universes. The Big Bang may have been the result of just such a collision. In addition, these universes could also sprout new baby bubbles, in other words, new universes.

Though a multiverse is predicted by string theory and may explain the creation of new universes, it still does not truly explain the origin of a universe out of nothing. Creating something out of nothing seems to violate an essential law of physics, the conservation of matter and energy which states that matter cannot be created or destroyed but only changed in form. Energy, too, cannot be destroyed nor created but merely transformed into one form or another. Stephen Hawking used string theory or its latest incarnation called M-theory, to mathematically show that a universe could be created out of nothing. In the theory, matter has positive energy and gravity, negative energy. The mathematics therefore demonstrates that the sum total of matter in the universe can cancel the sum total of gravity’s negative energy, the result being a universe with zero net matter and energy. Simply stated, universes exist for free; it does not require any energy or matter for a universe to be created.

Though science fiction is filled with tales of parallel universes, most are written just to alter the setting of the story. For example, alternate histories are just that, tales that take place in an alternate timeline essentially a parallel world or universe.

Less prevalent are tales of the multiverse. Michael Crichton’s Timeline, at first, appears to be a standard time travel story where a group of historians travel back to the Middle Ages. Crichton, though, added the mechanism that allowed this time travel to happen, which included the idea of a multiverse. Greg Egan’s Diaspora, follows sentient software that is able to traverse the multiverse. Isaac Asimov, in The Gods Themselves, describes scientists from our own universe who discover a way to import matter from another, with many unforeseen costs. David Gerrold, in his The Man Who Folded Himself, describes a time traveller who through his journeys creates multiple new universes.

Other writers have looked at universes where the physical laws are different from our own. The Perry Rhodan series which began in 1961 and continues to this day, sometimes looked at alternate universes where physical laws were slightly different than our own. In David Brin’s The Practice Effect, a researcher finds himself stranded in a universe where the laws of physics allows objects to actually become improved as they age, rather than deteriorate. Stephen Baxter turned his short story, The Raft, into his first novel of the same name. A group of human explorers find themselves in an alternate universe where gravity is much stronger than it is in our universe, a least a billion times more. As a result, there are no planets and stars are short-lived tiny objects in the sky. There is something known as gravitic chemistry, where gravity is a dominant force on an atomic scale, not the strong or weak nuclear forces that we have in our universe 

What about a God who is really a supercomputer and we are a supercomputer simulation? Could we have been made by a supercomputer or could we be a part of a computer simulation created by a higher intelligence? It comes down to the basic question about whether we and the entire universe are real. This hypothesis probably has been best dramatized in the Matrix movie franchise. The idea is not entirely out of the realm of possibilities either. Not only is it a question that is pondered by philosophers but also by physicists, cosmologists and even engineers, including several high profile individuals such as Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX. Musk has stated that the odds are one in a billion against us living in a real world; in other words, we live in a simulation. Google’s Ray Kurzwell has hypothesized that our universe is nothing more than a science project by a student in another universe.

We find that as computer technology becomes more advanced, especially with the potential of the quantum computer, computing power will become almost infinite. As a result, simulations will become more and more complex. Instead of the “if…then” principles of computer program models, especially with the advances of artificial intelligence, it will be possible to have programs that mimic our brain. Is it not possible that some intelligence in the universe has already reached this point of computational power?

Philosopher Nick Bostrum of University of Oxford has explored this possibility. He has stated that there are three possible outcomes for advanced intelligence. One is that the civilization never reaches the point where they can make the simulations; in other words, they experience an extinction event, whether self-made like a nuclear war or natural like an asteroid strike. Secondly they could reach the stage but decide against running these simulations. Thirdly, we are likely living in a simulation.

Nobel prize winning George Smoot, an astrophysicist at University of California, Berkley, has expanded on Bostrum’s idea and suggested the likely path that our civilization is taking. Option one, though a possibility, is not necessarily the end of humanity. The second possibility is also unlikely since we currently use computer simulations to make our lives better; rarely do we consider the consequences of our actions. That leaves the third possibility. How do we test this idea?

All computer programs have “bugs,” flaws in their algorithms or set of instructions. Every iteration of a new computer program whether it be a new operating system or even a new game, is plagued by bugs that are patched over by their developers as the use of the program becomes more commonplace.

The universe as a computer simulation would be no exception. The universe would also follow a set of rules which is what one would expect from a computer program. Things happen in a predictable way in our universe. The planets circle the Sun in prescribed patterns, stars grow and die, everything on the macroscale of the universe appears to follow precise patterns. It is when we look at smaller and smaller things, at the quantum level, things are not so clear. Is this where the flaws of the program may be found? There is a fuzziness when we look at the universe at this level; everything is a probability rather than a guarantee. Some scientists who study subatomic particles state that the mathematics to describe the behavior of the particles appears to resemble computer codes.

Alan Guth, a cosmologist of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has suggested though that our universe is real, it could still be an experiment of a higher intelligence, not unlike our scientists growing microbes in a petri dish. This idea changes nothing other than the idea that although we are all born out of an experiment, we are real and not just a simulation.

However there are other physicists have refuted the idea of the universe as nothing more than a superintelligence computer simulation, that indeed, we may be anthropomorphizing our observations.

In Isaac Asimov’s short story, The Last Question, a supercomputer is asked how the net amount of entropy in the universe can be decreased; in other words, can we “put off” the eventual collapse of the universe? Insufficient data is the answer. The story moves to future generations of the computer which answers the same way. In the final scene, the answer is found and that is “Let there be Light.”

Much along the same line is Arthur C. Clarke’s short story, The Nine Billion Names of God, a group of Tibetan monks, using a computer, seek to find all nine billion names of God, believing that is the purpose of the universe and that the universe will end once the task is completed. At the end of the story, the stars are described as beginning to flicker out.

Other writers have also explored the idea of the universe as a computer simulation. Iain Banks, in his The Algabraist, created an entire religion which sees the universe as being virtual and not real. C. J. Choi goes a step further in his story, Ant Farm: God and His Computer Simulation by creating a God who is really a teenage computer programmer who creates the Earth in a pre-made Universe simulation. In Robert Charles Wilson’s Darwinia, we find a world that appears at first to be a jungle-like planet. Only at the end do we find that it is set beyond the end of the Universe and all of the consciousness that ever existed is preserved in a computer-like simulation. Ken MacLeod’s The Restoration Game, a error in a program leads characters to find that they are living in a simulation, which in turn exists in another simulation. Crystal Nights by Greg Egan tells the tale of scientists who create a computer simulation to explore evolution of society. In their simulation they reveal themselves to the inhabitants of the simulation and are in turn, treated as gods.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote a short story The Star, not about God directly, but a story about the workings of God. In the story human astronauts, amongst whom there is a Jesuit priest, explore a star system that has gone supernova, only to also find the remnants of a civilization not unlike that of the Earth. When calculations of the space and time of the supernova event are completed, the priest finds that the star that exploded is the same one that heralded the birth of Jesus Christ.

Other writers have envisioned God as a superintelligent being rather than a supercomputer. Perhaps the strangest vision of God in science fiction may also be looked as a surreal journey through the mind of a man, Philip K. Dick, suffering from a mental illness (Dick suffered from psychosis, schizophrenia and drug addiction), in the form of a semi-autobiographical series. VALIS, is the title of the first novel of a trilogy by Philip K. Dick; the title is actually an acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System. The second novel of the series is The Divine Invasion. The third novel is The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. The series is actually a journey of Philip K. Dick’s communication with God, which he saw as being VALIS.

Olaf Stapleton’s classic Star Maker, describes God, also called the Star Maker, continually evolving through the creation of more and more universes, each more complicated than the other. Another writer, Greg Bear, wrote of a universe one hundred trillion years from now. In his City at the End of Time, an inexplicable entity is breaking down the laws of physics. Stephen Baxter’s Manifold: Time, describes a time when the physical universe has collapsed but that a form of intelligence survives. This intelligence decides that this should not be the fate of the universe and goes back in time to make alterations to prevent it from happening.

James Morrow wrote the Godhead trilogy which describes God as a literal being. In the series, the two mile long corpse of God is found floating in the ocean. Though the scene is quite graphic and unexpected, the series really deals with the fallout that would potentially happen if God were to actually die.

Science and science fiction both offer many explanations for a Supreme Intelligence or God. Either way you look at it, the mathematics is complex and arguments are credible on both sides. One thing that we cannot deny, however, is that our universe is an amazing creation and is so perfect that it allowed us to arise. If any of the basic forces of our universe were out by a fraction, our universe may never have come to be. One cosmologist, Paul Davies, even calculated the odds of our universe being created so perfectly to be one in 10³⁹. Impressive odds to say the least. The choice is yours.





Further Reading:

Almond, Philip. 2015. Afterlife: A History of Life After Death. I. B. Tauris

Barrow, John. 2001. The Book of Nothing: Vacuums, Voids and the Latest Ideas about the Origins of the Universe. Vintage Books.

Barrow, John and Tipler, Frank. 1988. The Anthropic Cosmological Principle. Oxford University Press.

Bostrum, N. 2003. Are You Living in a Computer Simulation? The Philosophical Quarterly. 53(211):243-255..

Carter, B. 1968. Hamilton-Jacobi and Schrodinger separable solutions of Einstein’s equations. Communications in Mathematical Physics. 10(4):280-310.

Clarke, P. 2014. Neuroscience, Quantum Indeterminism and the Cartesian Soul. Brain and Cognition. 84(1):109-17.

Collins, Francis. 2007. The Language of God. Simon and Schuster.

Dainton, B. 2012. On singularities and simulations. Journal of Consciousness Studies. 19(1-2):42-85.

Davies, P. and William, C. 2004. Multiverse cosmological models. Modern Physics Letters A. 19(10):727-743.

Dawkins, Richard. 2008. The God Delusion. Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt.

Farah, M. and Murphy, N. 2009. Neuroscience and the Soul. Science. 323(5918):1168.

Geortzel, Ben. 2007. Human-level artificial general intelligence and the possibility of a technological singularity: a reaction to Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near, and McDermott’s critique of Kurzweil. Artificial Intelligence. 171(18):1161-1173.

Goswami, Amit. 2012. God is Not Dead. Hampton Roads.

Goswami, Amit. 2013. The Physics of the Soul: The Quantum Guide of Living, Dying, Reincarnation, and Immortality. Hampton Roads.

Goswami, Amit. 1995. The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World. Tarcher Perigee.

Guth, Alan. 1998. The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins. Vintage.

Hanson, R. 2001. How to live in a simulation. Journal of Evolution and Technology. 7(1).

Hawking, Stephen and Mlodinow, Leonard. 2012. The Grand Design. Bantam.

Kurzweil, Ray. 2000. Live Forever-Uploading The Human Brain…Closer Than You Think. Psychology Today.

Lombard, Jay. 2017. Search for the Soul. Harmony.

MacDougall, D. 1907. The Soul: Hypothesis Concerning Soul Substance Together with Experimental Evidence of the Existence of Such Substance. American Medicine. 2:240-43.

McGraw, John. 2004. Brain and Belief: An Exploration of the Human Soul. Aegis Press.

Milbourne, Christopher. 1979. Search for the Soul: An Insider’s Report on the Continuing Quest by Psychics and Scientists for Evidence of Life After Death. Thomas Crowell.

Moreman, Christopher. 2010. Beyond the Threshold: Afterlife Beliefs and Experiences in World Religions. Rowman and Littlefield.

Morey, Robert. 1984. Death and the Afterlife. Bethany House.

Musolino, Julien. 2015. The Soul Fallacy: What Science Shows We Gain from Letting Go of Our Soul Beliefs. Prometheus Books.

Park, Robert. 2008. Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science. Princeton University Press.

Penrose, Roger. 2006. The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe. Vintage Books.

Penrose, Roger. 2011. Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the Universe. Vintage Books.

Penrose, Roger. 2016. Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe. Princeton University Press.

Pereira, V. et al. 2012. Immortality of the Soul as an Intuitive Idea: Towards a Psychological Explanation of the Origins of Afterlife Beliefs. Journal of Cognition and Culture. 12(1-2):101-121.

Pickover, Cliff. 2001. The Paradox of God and the Science of Omniscience. Palgrave Macmillan.

Pickover, Cliff. 2015. Death and the Afterlife: A Chronological Journey from Cremation to Quantum Resurrection. Sterling.

Roach, Mary. 2006. Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. W. W. Norton. 

Sagan, Carl. 1996. The Demon Haunted World. Ballantine.

Schuster, G. 2011. Conceptions of the Afterlife in Early Civilizations: Universalism, Constructivism and Near-Death Experience. Bloomsbury Academic.

Segal, Alan. 2004. Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion. Doubleday.

Smoot, George and Davidson, Keay. 1994. Wrinkles in Time: Witness to the Birth of the Universe. Harper Perennial.

Tipler, Frank. 2003. The Physics of Immortality. Anchor.

Weatherson, Brian. 2003. Are You a Sim? The Philosophical Quarterly. 53(212):425-431.

Wiley, Keith. 2014. A Taxonomy and Metaphysics of Mind-Uploading. Alataun Press.

Yoonsuck, C. et al. 2012. Time, Consciousness, and Mind Uploading. International Journal of Machine Consciousness. 04(1):257-274.

Zukav, Gary. 1979. The Dancing Wu Li Masters. William Morrow.

Zukav, Gary. 1989. The Seat of the Soul. Simon and Schuster.





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