Learning to Chill (Synopsis)

The heat death of the Universe is the idea that increasing entropy will eventually cause the Universe to arrive at a uniformly, maximally disordered state. Every piece of evidence we have points towards our unfortunate, inevitable trending towards that end, with every burning star, every gravitational merger, and even every breath we, ourselves, take.

Image credit: the Carnot Cycle, courtesy of NASA. Image credit: the Carnot Cycle, courtesy of NASA.

Yet even while we head towards this fate, it may be possible for intelligence in an artificial form to continue in the Universe for an extraordinarily long time: possibly for as long as a googol years, but not quite indefinitely. Eventually, it all must end.

Image credit: Courtesy of http://science.dodlive.mil/. Image credit: Courtesy of http://science.dodlive.mil/.

Paul Halpern has the sobering, but fascinating story.


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I've always wondered though. Fundamentally, 2LOT is a statistical law. In the cold, maximal entropy universe, the state is simply a matter of the utterly, completely, overwhelmingly, vanishingly small probability of particles arranging themselves in some other way through their interactions. But, with an infinite (presumably) amount of time, such a spontaneous arrangement would certainly eventually occur. Now, if protons decay, space expands such that these particles no longer even have neighboring particles with which to interact, I guess that wouldn't happen. I suppose that the distance (whatever that means in such an era) between these photons, gravitons, and electrons would tend to infinity. I don't know, it's rather baffling...

First of all, this statement: "...humans and other possible intelligent beings in the universe might elect to transfer their conscious awareness to artificial storage and processing units — presuming that artificial intelligence (AI) is possible," is pseudoscientific nonsense.

Transhumanism is religion, not science. The statement that humans or our biological descendants might "...transfer their conscious awareness to artificial storage and processing units" is isomorphic with the statement that they might transfer their minds to their astral bodies and merge with the Akashic records (Wikipedia, "Akashic records", "Edgar Cayce," etc.). That is NOT science.

Current neuroscience holds that minds are produced by brains, in which case no such "transfer" (also known as "upload") is possible, any more than it's possible for two people to induce out-of-body experiences and swap their minds into each others' bodies. If someone wants to hold those beliefs as a matter of religion, fine, whatever, but please let's not promote them in a context that makes them appear to be endorsed by current science.

Halpern has committed the common error of going outside of his field and falling on his face with that one. Physicists are not neuroscientists and vice-versa.


As far as the current scientific consensus is concerned, the entropic heat-death of the known universe, as with the individual death each of us faces, is a final end. We might hold beliefs to the contrary purely as a matter of faith, and those beliefs might motivate us in various ways. For example an individual who believes in conventional religion might hold that their moral character during life will determine their outcome in a hereafter, and this belief might serve as a motive to act morally.

A cosmic civilization might hold a belief, as a matter of faith, that the universe will eventually recycle and be reborn in some way. But I am not aware of any such scenario in which any existing configuration of matter or energy is preserved: in other words, all stored information will be lost in the transition. It would be entirely futile for any such civilization to seek to embody its collected knowledge in any physical form for possible use in the next "incarnation" of the universe.

Those who are terrified of final ends, would be well advised to contemplate the subject of nothingness until it ceases to provoke fear.

Between now and 100 trillion years from now, we have a cosmos to explore and much new knowledge to gain. Compared to the usable lifespan of stars, the human species is a newborn infant, a fraction of a second from the moment of birth. We have an entire cosmic lifespan ahead of us if we choose. During that time we may discover that some kind of hereafter exists or that it does not exist, whether for individuals or for universes. But the prospect of the absence of a hereafter is not a rationale to give up on living the life that one has.

100 trillion years are close enough to eternity, and knowledge of the cosmos is its own reward.

“Ultimately, humans and other possible intelligent beings in the universe might elect to transfer their conscious awareness to artificial storage and processing units …”

Like, is that like The Cloud, or somethin’?
Will we get, like, roll over minutes if we don’t transfer a lot in one month?

“As the universe continued to cool, our AI descendants would need to take action. Unlike Asimov, Dyson does not suggest a mechanism for reversing the growth of entropy. Rather, he imagines a gradual slowing down of thinking processes. Only necessary thoughts would transpire and these would happen at an increasingly snail-like pace. Between thoughts, the AI devices would hibernate to conserve vital, usable energy. By spacing out thoughts more and more, Dyson argues, intelligent existence could persist almost indefinitely, although the number of total thoughts would still be finite.”

Slowing down? Snail-like pace? Dude, they better not screw with my down load speeds.
Conserve vital, usable energy? Whoa! What about battery life?

Look, all I want to know, like, is like, well… I’ll still be able to use my iPhone, right?
Uh, wait, I gotta take this text.
Whoa! Dude!

By See Noevo (not verified) on 29 May 2015 #permalink

I find the idea of there being a finite amount of thoughts that can occur in the universe to be a serious weight. Some really stupid things can occupy my thoughts. To think I am wasting one of the universes finite thought count on American Ninja Warrior is... awesome. After thinking about it, I'm not conserving anything. Go Jessie Graff!! You guys need to stop wasting the universes' thoughts on your stupid stuff.

But, with an infinite (presumably) amount of time, such a spontaneous arrangement would certainly eventually occur.

Except you can NEVER reach infinity in time. Therefore such an event would never occur.

Other problems are that the state evolves. It's not that every piece must move to one specific location (which exponentiates with each particle and definition of coordinate), but that it must go there and STAY there long enough to get everyone else into position. Which exponentiates the exponential again.

In short, even in infinite time, such an event would never happen.

There are higher orders of infinity. And your state is one of them.

Maths. Especially infinity, is hella useful, hella hard to keep straight.

To think I am wasting one of the universes finite thought count on American Ninja Warrior is… awesome.

It's only a waste if you wanted to do something else.

First of all, this statement: ... is pseudoscientific nonsense.

No it isn't. Definitely not for any of the reasons you gave for your assertion.

Transhumanism is religion, not science.

So you say. I say it isn't.

How do we tell who has it right? Your argument is failing to Hitchen's Razor.

transfer their conscious awareness to artificial storage and processing units” is isomorphic with the statement that they might transfer their minds to their astral bodies and merge with the Akashic records

Only because you're assuming Cartesian duality is inferred.

There is no need to do so.

This, I believe, is the source of your problems with the statements made.

Re-assess them.

Very interesting article. One thought. At some distant future point where mostly black holes exist would it not be possible to harvest reasonable amounts of energy from going into orbit and harvesting from the extremely strong magnetic fields? Or will Black Holes have "spun down" on those timescales? Presumably if it were possible, then proximity to the BH would mean that anyone doing this would be thinking "slowly" compared to a distant observer, but as far as they were concerned, locally, the "speed of thought" would be pretty fast due to the significant amounts of energy they can harvest..?

Also. In relation to some of the comments above. As I understand it whether of not a region of the universe is able to "wander" back into a state of high entropy is highly dependent on things like expansion rate and curvature. Timescales involved are huge (if it is possible) plank array recurrence seems to ring a bell.

Relevant link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-Qcowga0uE

I wouldn't lose sleep over the current theories about the ultimate fate of the universe, when our whole species is only about 400-500 years into knowing that there even *is* a universe beyond the blue sky.

Still, even if this turns out to be an accurate depiction of the universe's end, there's still time for a few more baths.

By Pittsburgh Mike (not verified) on 31 May 2015 #permalink

Re. Wow @7:

I am not assuming Cartesian dualism. I am assuming material monism as the present scientific consensus, which holds that minds are solely and only the product of brains. There are a couple of areas of anomalies that suggest otherwise, but they are highly controversial and generally treated with skepticism.

If you want to argue that "upload" is possible, you will need to cite evidence to support the claim. Otherwise it's merely an assertion. Not much different than if I asserted that I'm a psychedelic zebra who has the power to confer enlightenment on any mortal human by licking him or her on the cheek.

Really: let's see some evidence. Otherwise, a golden goose egg is still a goose egg.

"I am not assuming Cartesian dualism."

You mistake. Your claim I quoted could ONLY be true if you believed that mind and self were separate entities, as per Descarte.

That to MAKE that claim you'd have to accept Cartesian duality.

Because there's 100% no reason why my mind, as embedded in the conformations of my brain, which is what you're saying you accept, cannot be replicated in silicon form as a computer program.

Therefore YOU are asserting THEY must be dualists so that you can make the claim that downloading your mind is "isomorphic with the statement that they might transfer their minds to their astral bodies and merge with the Akashic records".

In other words, you may not believe in cartesian duality, but your assertion can ONLY be true if *they* do, and that you are insistent that they must by your assertion.

Or TLDR, your claim only applies if you believe in cartesian duality. If you believe in material monism, then it's entirely INCORRECT to claim as you do.

On what Altman would do if he were President Obama: “If I were Barack Obama, I would commit maybe $100 billion to R&D of AI safety initiatives.” Altman shared that he recently invested in a company doing "AI safety research" to investigate the potential risks of artificial intelligence.
Sam Altman

By Ragtag Media (not verified) on 04 Jun 2015 #permalink

Yeah, more terrorised blather from Rag.

Hysterics because there's a black man in the White House.

Probably against the ten commandments or some shit, 'cos everyone knows JC was a white guy...