“Coming Attractions” –Alien Intelligence as Physics (Weekend Feature)


Alien Life


“Imagination is everything,” observed Albert Einstein. “It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

“One day we shall meet our equals, or our masters, among the stars” wrote Arthur C. Clark in 2001. “But men,” he added, “have been slow to face this prospect; some still hope that it may never become reality. Increasing numbers, however, are asking: ‘Why have such meetings not occurred already, since we ourselves are about to venture into space?” The truth we eventually discover, Clarke suggests, will be far stranger.

Enter Columbia University’s intrepid astrophysicist, Caleb Scharf. What, asks Scharf, riffing beyond Clarke with a mind-boggling preview, if alien life is so strange, that it appears like physics? “After all,’ Scharf observes, ” if the cosmos holds other life, and if some of that life has evolved beyond our own waypoints of complexity and technology, we should be considering some very extreme possibilities. Today’s futurists and believers in a machine “singularity” predict that life and its technological baggage might end up so beyond our ken that we wouldn’t even realize we were staring at it. That’s quite a claim, yet it would neatly explain why we have yet to see advanced intelligence in the cosmos around us, despite the sheer number of planets it could have arisen on—the so-called Fermi Paradox.”

Scharf is echoed by Paul Davies in The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence — “Thinking about advanced alien life requires us, he writes, ” to abandon all our presuppositions about the nature of life, mind, civilization, technology and community destiny. In short, it means thinking the unthinkable. Five hundred years ago the very concept of a device manipulating information, or software, would have been incomprehensible. Might there be a still higher level, as yet outside all human experience?”

The Galaxy Insight –“In Each of Us Lies a Message, Its Beginnings Lost in the Mists of Time”

Could an alien civilization be so advanced that it could recode itself and upload its entire physical realm into new forms blending itself completely into the fabric of what we’ve thought of as nature. Perhaps this new “form” being the very universe we inhabit? Or, stranger yet, Scharf imagines, migrate to the 27% of the universe we call dark matter, some component of which may comprise particles that interact with one another via long-range forces. “It may seem dark to us,” Scharf suggests, “but have its own version of light that our eyes cannot see.”

All they would need to do speculates our intrepid astronomer, “If you’re a civilization that has learned how to encode living systems in different substrates, is build a normal-matter-to-dark-matter data-transfer system: a dark-matter 3D printer. Perhaps the mismatch of astronomical models and observations is evidence not just of self-interacting dark matter, but of dark matter that is being artificially manipulated.”

But perhaps what we speculate is dark matter is brought on by something else altogether: “a living state that manipulates luminous matter for its own purposes. Consider that at present we have neither identified the dark-matter particles nor come up with a compelling alternative to our laws of physics that would account for the behavior of galaxies and clusters of galaxies. Would an explanation in terms of life be any less plausible than a failure of established laws?”

In short, part of the fabric of the universe is a product of intelligence or is perhaps even life itself. Perhaps, Scharf concludes. “hyper-advanced life isn’t just external. Perhaps it’s already all around. It is embedded in what we perceive to be physics itself, from the root behavior of particles and fields to the phenomena of complexity and emergence. In other words, life might not just be in the equations. It might be the equations.”

Impossible? Far fetched? Perhaps not, said the great quantum physicist, Princeton’s John Archibald Wheeler, who, near the end of his life, suggested that when we finally unravel the secret of the universe, of human existence, we will be astounded by its simplicity.

In his memoir Geons, Black Holes and Quantum Foam, Wheeler wrote: “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.”

The Daily Galaxy, Max Goldberg, via Nautil.us and Paul Davies, The Eerie Silence (Kindle Edition)

Image credit: Shutterstock license