Fantasy Physics and the Genesis of Mind

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Physics rests on the “causal closure principle” (CCP). The CCP has three legs:

CCP(1): Physics comes only from physics.
CCP(2): Physics produces only physics.

Together these say the physical effects we observe come only from prior physics, and physical causes (using cause in its common language sense) produce only physical effects.

CCP(3): There is no teleology in physical mechanism, no goal-directedness. CCP(3) is something of a corrollary of the first two legs. Physical relations and interactions are either determinate or indeterminate, but either way they are not “before the fact” directed at particular outcomes.

If God does not exist, the only philosophy of mind (PoM) consistent with all three legs of the CCP is eliminative materialism. Every other nontheistic PoM that rejects eliminative materialism and accepts that mind cannot be logically reduced to physics, violates the CCP in one or more ways.

PoM theories that claim mind exists in some sense of that word, that mind is real and emerges from ordinary physics without anything “in principle undetectable” (QM aside) added to physics to make it happen violate CCP(2) but not CCP(3).  They assert, plainly enough, that physics results in something that is in some sense non-physical, but mind’s emergence is just as accidental (contingent) as all other [physical] emergent phenomena (from stars to liquid water to life).

PoMs claiming that physics is incomplete, that something else must be added to ordinary (measurable) physics to make mind emerge (dual-aspect monism and panpsychism of various sorts) violate both CCP(2) and CCP(3).

Only theism can both accept all the CCP while accommodating mind’s reality (and for that matter libertarian free will). Theism also grounds our conviction of agency which nontheistic theories universally deride. I write about theism extensively but my purpose in this essay is to show that the [supposed] problems with theism for physics and PoM are no worse than those of nontheistic PoMs. This is to say both suffer from equally serious metaphysical and epistemological problems.

Being inaccessible to empirical (or for that matter logical) demonstration (or falsification), a “God hypothesis” is a speculative solution, a curve drawn arbitrarily to fit points (mechanistic nature of the universe joined with free will for example). Other speculative solutions, so it is claimed, are equally possible and equally impossible to confirm or deny. In fact however it is more difficult than it seems to come up with these alternative solutions. Speculative solutions that fit all the points (the mind-independent world and everything in experience) and remain logically coherent are difficult to invent. Many have tried. Like theism, atheistic attempts at solving the mind problem are also data-free speculative solutions because the data, mind emerging from brains, cannot be observed!

Physicists are often eliminative materialists (nothing emerges strictly speaking) or reductive-materialists (only an epiphenomenon emerges).  Only eliminative materialism is fully compliant with the CCP and logically coherent, but it is also the solution that is most prima fascia absurd from the subjective viewpoint it denies exists! Reductive-materialism either violates CCP(2) if epiphenomenal-mind is taken to be something real or it is logically incoherent! Physics causes the external conditions of a mirage, but the illusion that is the mirage happens only in a mind. An illusion presumes a subjective experience in which the illusion occurs.

The view that a non-material mind emerges from ordinary physics violates CCP(2)! The idea is coherent because mind is not taken to be an illusion. The problem is that no physicist has ever seen a physical phenomenon emerging into (or as) a nonphysical one. We see physics emerging from physics all over the universe from galaxies and stars to liquid water to life, but all of what comes of these events (causes and effects) is physical! The retort from physics is that we do not see any other non-physical emergence because the one such thing that has happened in the universe is the very mind we are trying to explain. Mind is the evidence that physics can produce mind. Surely this argument is circular? It plainly begs the question to say that the evidence physics alone can explain the appearance of mind is mind!

There are a few philosophers who follow the physicists here (John Searle, Bob Dole among others), but many philosophers see problems in this approach. First there is the circularity already mentioned, but in addition, this solution (whether it includes a role for quantum mechanics commonly cited by both physicists and philosophers) entails that mind’s appearance is contingent. Not only might it not have appeared in the universe, something every materialist accepts, but its appearance is mysterious. The mystery applies to mind in general, and individual minds in particular. Why is consciousness ubiquitous in animals with complex nervous systems?

Troubled by these problems, materialist philosophers seek solutions that remain [purportedly] physical while, at the same time, channeling universe evolution towards consciousness and by doing so taking its mystery away. But every one of these solutions violates CCP(2) and CCP(3)! The idea that universe evolution is directed is plainly teleological! This is what prompts philosophers (and some physicists) to grasp the straw of quantum mechanics,  but this (I will argue) doesn’t help them.

To explain genuine mind in a Godless universe there are dual-aspect monisms (Henry Stapp, Donald Davidson, Thomas Nagel) and panpsychisms (David Chalmers, Philip Goff, John Leslie). Under normal circumstances both of these theories would count as metaphysical, that is not physical theories at all! They are physical not logically, but merely by ancestry. Purportedly they remain physical (or physics grounded) because their novel (never specified) qualities can only have originated in the big bang!

Dual-aspect monisms make the claim that physics is incomplete in the sense that there are additional fundamental properties in micro-physics not yet (and perhaps never to be) discovered. The physical in this view includes the mental in a proto-property form. This undiscovered addition is not conscious; atoms are not aware. Nevertheless the qualities of this extra-physics direct event unfolding towards that which yields consciousness. Working backwards from consciousness, this channeling must also encompass the preconscious stages of life’s evolution and the origin life throughout the universe. To our empirical experience, only life, some life, becomes conscious, and that only as it gains the right sort of complexity following millions of years of evolution.

If dual-aspect monism of any sort was true however, we would expect its effect to show up in the equations describing the regularity of physical evolution. There is no such term in the equations of macro physics so to say that this extra aspect of the physical is a part of physics surely begs the question.

This is why I think so many philosophers grasp at quantum dynamics to locate proto-mental qualities. We cannot directly measure quantum phenomena until they interact with the macro physical world, and quantum phenomena, technically, are not random but indetermined. Perhaps (so they speculate) we can locate the proto-mental in the difference between ‘random’ and ‘indeterminate’, in effect shielding teleology from possible detection? But surely a proto-mental is not the only possibility accounting for the restriction from random to indeterminate (see note on this distinction at end of essay).

Furthermore no one (physicist or philosopher) has been able to say what properties the proto-mental has, how they restrict random to indeterminate, or how the indeterminateness of the quantum phenomena we know push the macro universe towards consciousness. Even Henry Stapp’s “Quantum Zeno Effect” addresses only the narrow interface between brain and the human type of consciousness. Even if this speculative connection turns out to be a measurable phenomenon, no one has suggested how the physical world accommodates it. They all seem to agree that the proto-mental cannot be conscious in the sense that we experience it, but that tells us nothing of what properties it does, or even might, have and how they work!

What all of these theories entail however is that the mental (the proto-mental at least) must be antecedent to the physical! If it has a downward influence on the physical, which these views entail, it has to be ontologically real! Where does it come from? If the foundation of the universe is physical, what is it in or of the physical that grounds the proto-mental? The idea of a proto-mental here is not incoherent by any means. But it’s coherence largely depends on there being something about the fundamental ontology of the universe that isn’t physical! Moreover something that directs with intention!  Teleology is here introduced something the more honest of the philosophers admit they cannot seem to avoid.

For these reasons, dual-aspect monisms violate CCP(2) but they also violate CCP(3) because whatever else the extra might be it is clearly teleological. Instead of the universe ending in one state or another driven only by contingent process, the extra-physics channels evolution toward a specific outcome! It is therefore purposeful in the sense of being goal-directed.

Panpsychism is the converse of dual-aspect monism. It isn’t that mind builds up particle by particle thanks to some undiscovered property of particle physics, but rather it is the universe taken as a whole that comes to embody the extra physical qualities. Philip Goff (in a paper) neatly distinguishes two forms of panpsychism, micro and cosmo versions. Micropanpsychism is much like dual-aspect monism. The mental is attached to physics at the particle level but it isn’t effective except as contributor to a totalizing affect of the cosmos. Micropanpsychism has dual-aspect monism as a foundation but asserts that its impact is felt only in relation to the whole universe. You might think of this like neurons and brains. Every neuron in your brain is a foundation of brain functionality. But mind doesn’t show itself other than at the level of the whole brain, or at least large parts of it. In Micropanpsychism, the properties of the whole emerge from properties of the parts.

Cosmopanpychism abandons the dual-aspect foundation and asserts it is only the universe as a whole that reveals proto-mental properties. This view needs no micro-alteration to physics. Mind emerges from brains the way stars emerge from gas clouds because special properties of the totality, properties described by laws parallel to those of physics, are able to invoke it. Somehow, the entire universe acquires properties (usually not taken to be conscious as such) that come to direct physical evolution, and then biological evolution, towards consciousness.

This idea clearly violates CCP(3) (it is teleological) but is precisely an attempt to avoid violating CCP(2).  It is unsuccessful because the panpsychist claim is essentially that from the total state of the universe there emerges a parallel collection of qualities (properties and laws) that evoke mind from brains!  At one level or another, physics results in non-physics and so violates CCP(2). Besides Goff, David Chalmers is a proponent of this view.

For the cosmopanpsychists the “mental qualities” do not (typically) amount to the emergence of a literal Cosmic Mind, a “thinking universe”. Such a view would amount to substance dualism at the level of biological mind! But the philosophers who assert this do not, with one exception that I know of, specify what any of these properties are. As is the case with all the other theories, none of the qualities that supposedly effect the transformation nor any part of the mechanics of their interaction with the other-than-mental are anywhere given.

The exception here is John Leslie who asserts the property or quality characterizing this emergence is goodness. We normally think of goodness as a quality of the character of persons and so, by extension, of their minds. Emerging with the big bang is not only purposeless physical mechanism, but a parallel quality of goodness. A universe pushed in that direction is so pushed because goodness is a quality of it from the beginning, and mind is good!

To get the job done, any of these extras must, necessarily, be effective. It does no good to say that something besides the physics we know, something that is nevertheless physical (or quasi-physical), might or might not push cosmological evolution towards life and life towards consciousness. If the operation of these extras is itself contingent then what would be their point? To do the job they must not only have the necessary power, but that power must result in their goal-directed effect. The extra-in-physics, its goal-directedness, must be logically antecedent to the physics we measure that does not, in any aspect, appear goal-directed.

Where does antecedence come from? Since all of these philosophers are materialists, it must originate, with everything else, in the big bang. But there is nothing in the physics of the big bang that contains anything of the mental, anything of this extra there, and certainly nothing to which we can point that bears value; goodness. The big bang is a quintessentially physical event. What is  the proto-mental property in physics? How does it arise from within an other-than-mental physics and yet be logically antecedent to physics?

The extra-in-physics, under any of these approaches, hangs, metaphysically, on literally nothing! In John Leslie’s view, not only is universal mechanism goal directed, it is also moral! For him, morality happens to pop into the universe with the big bang and it is this quality that underlies drift towards the mental. How, presumably in the absence of any mind, has this direction become good? Even if it is, how does goodness effect the direction of physical contingency?

Does physics itself have an analogous problem with this last point? Where does the physical universe come from? Why is there any physics at all? Physicists have an out. They have the quantum vacuum which, while purportedly physical, cannot in principle be directly probed. This boundary layer between physics and nothing insulates physics. As concerns physics itself, and anything it gleans of quantum phenomena, the CCP is not violated. It is for this reason, I think, that so many philosophers reach for the quantum straw. We have already seen that this move is ad hoc. Moreover it goes against that which we have discovered about quantum behavior. No “mental term” is needed in the equations of quantum mechanics any more than in macrophysical equations, and goal-directedness is not implied by any of our multiple quantum interpretations.

To be fair, many of the philosophers who propose the solutions outlined above recognize that these suggestions violate the CCP. All claim (often citing Occam’s Razor) that violating the CCP is less onerous than supposing there is, for example, a God who knows the trick of making all of this work out the way it has. Working out a way, that is, for purposeless physical mechanism, mind, and even libertarian free will, to coexist in the universe. What troubles me about these philosophers is their refusal to admit that these problems (what brings about cosmological mental properties. How precisely do they interact with physics) are in some respects more mysterious than God! At least God can be supposed to “know the trick”.

Perhaps in the greatest twist of irony,  many of these minds have thrown up their hands and returned to idealism, abandoning the CCP entirely! Not only is the mental logically antecedent to physics, it is ontologically prior! The above mysteries are resolved because mind causes physics and not the other way around! The irony is that, in essence, this is what theism has claimed all along! I should not need to point out that in God’s absence, the metaphysical ground, prior to physics, of the mental is unfathomably mysterious!

How does a “God hypothesis” avoid violating CCP(1) with particular regard to free will? Doesn’t a genuinely (libertarian) free will entail (as Sean Carroll has put it in “The Big Picture”) that “mind causes physics”? In a narrow sense yes, theism violates CCP(1) but theism has an out. Mind is presupposed after all and constitutes the one exception to CCP(1) in the universe! The Theist is free to change CCP(1) to read: “physics comes only from physics and mind”. This move doesn’t help the physicalist because for her, the issue is the emergence of mind from physics without presupposing mind. They can, of course, say that mind is the only exception to CCP(1), but that surely begs the question, there not being any other evidence that physics can do this.

The change to CCP(1) is not circular in Theism. Yes mind is an exception. It is in truth a cause of physics. But here mind is presupposed. CCP(1) is not violated because mind doesn’t emerge only from physics. The exception, that part that evokes subjective experience from brain activity, comes not from physics but by some indirect route from God. It must be indirect (I do not believe God personally manages emerging individual minds) because God is changeless while mind, individual mind, changes with time. Mind’s direct source (besides brains) must be inside time.

Theism does not violate CCP(2) because physical mechanism still produces only physics. The result of mind-producing-physics, say the movement of my arm, remains physical. Theism does not violate CCP(3) because physical mechanism remains perfectly purposeless. Purpose as such remains entirely in mind. Notice that CCP(3) does not say that the physical universe has no purpose, only that the local operation of its mechanism (macro and micro)  is purposeless.

The goal of this essay has been to argue that nontheistic notions of mind’s emergence (or lack of existence) have problems equal to or exceeding the problematic aspects of theism. Let’s review.

God is a fantastical being. Positing his existence demands at the least an addition to what physicists take to be the only ontology of the universe; the physical. A God hypothesis demands that this entity has the power and knows the trick to producing the physical as well as causing minds to arise from the physical work of brains and interact downward with the material world. This mystery cries out for a physical explanation; at least a suggestion of what it is about the physical that makes that connection. Theism does not supply this physical answer, but nor does physicalism or any of the extra-physical theories covered above.

On first blush, the extra-physical ideas demand less addition to our fundamental ontology. The physicalist theories demand, if not technically an addition to ontology, at least that the physical can do that which no observation, no experiment, has seen it do; bring about something nonphysical. The extra-physical theories do demand a new, non-material addition to ontology. It isn’t God, but yet it must have the power to bring life and then mind about. Not only must it have this power, it must surely succeed. If the emergence of consciousness remained contingent and might not have happened the extra-physical qualities of the universe would be redundant. Further, any direction, anything other than absolute contingency, implies a teleology that has to be antecedent to the physics it influences!

The atheist philosophers who hold such theories recognize that they do move partway towards God (at least a Deistic version of him). In effect they are a “functional God”. But if there is no real God, then in what, metaphysically speaking, do any of these properties cohere? If you add to this stand-in the property of “having purpose”, and to backstop an infinite chain of prior cause, being first (and so uncaused) cause, you pretty much have gone all the way to God. In the end, the purely physicalist theories are nonsensical because mind is both prima facia obvious and non-physical. The extra-physical theories, if they do not need all the qualities of an “Abrahamic God”, require enough of these properties (non-materiality, purpose, antecedent cause) to be equally fantastical! When, in addition, you accommodate the problem of these mysterious properties emerging, literally from nothing, you end at a full-blown God concept that is at least deistic if not fully theistic.

Updated Dec. 2018


Note on the distinction between ‘random’ and ‘indeterminate’

The distinction is important in quantum mechanics (I believe) because quantum phenomena come out in a well known and repeatable probability distribution even though there is no reason, no cause that we know of, why they should not be actually random. An electron could, theoretically be anywhere in the universe but there is a 99.9% probability that it will be found in bounded range of locations.

Here is a mundane macrophysical example I hope captures the idea. Imagine a fair six-sided die. Any face from 1 to 6 can come up with equal probability. The die is random within the confines of possibility (even an electron cannot be outside the universe). Now suppose you have a heavily-loaded die in which two sides, 1 or 6 are likely (and repeatedly) to come up on 90% of the throws, but within that 90% a 1 or a 6 are equally likely. That die is no longer random, but it is indeterminate.

 

Review: Deacon “Incomplete Nature”

The book here is 6 years old but only recently reviewed by me. Somehow it escaped my attention until now. This is one of those books that no short review could do justice. I said so much in the review, but I will stand for now on what I wrote in it albeit I emphasize that it is summary, oversimplified, and confusing because terms like “teleodynamic” are not defined (in the review) not to mention a half dozen other terms that Deacon creates for the sake of necessary abstractions with which to continue the narrative. In the book, every one of these new terms is carefully explained, defined, and justified.

In this commentary, I’m not going to expand on or further clarify the review but rather say something about what “isn’t there”, something I think Dr. Deacon will appreciate. In “Singular Universe and the Reality of Time” the authors build a case that amounts to saying what is important about the way the universe turned out is the particular historical path followed by its events. At different points of the universe’s history different things might have happened, but what should be informing present science, theories about origins and destinies, is what actually happened. The material world is contingent; things might have happened otherwise, but they happened to happen the way they did and that way was not only perfectly compatible with the regularities of physics but just as likely to have happened as any other outcome compatible with those regularities. The question of why things went one way rather than another can be asked, but not answered (if even then) until after the fact.

This view is perfectly compatible with Deacon’s account of the rise of life and consciousness but Deacon emphasizes what Unger and Smolin leave out. As goes life and mind what didn’t happen, that is what was excluded and made impossible (or improbable) by what did happen, is the real key to understanding how the particular path that is history came out as it did. As in “Singular Universe”, from any given temporal viewpoint, we can no more predict what exactly will be excluded in the future than we can predict what will happen. Why certain possible histories were precluded can, again, be answered only after the fact. While this viewpoint may make it possible to more fully understand the relation between basic physics, the origin of life, and the nature (and causal efficacy) of consciousness (a case Deacon makes well), it doesn’t in the slightest demonstrate that the path actually taken was accidental.

Since historical outcomes (and exclusions) were just as possible as alternatives that “might have been”, if in fact such outcomes were not literally accidental, there would be no way to tell. To put it another way, if God wanted to make physics do the maximum possible work (sans intervention) to result in life and consciousness, the possibility of this pathway, this set of exclusions (emergent constraints resulting in emergent attractors), perfectly lawful and equally likely, would be the very sort of process involved. Because the information bearing nature of the final outcome is the result of possibilities subtracted away from the infinite possibilities present at earlier stages it stands out only after the fact. Rather than there being no evidence for teleology added up-front, there couldn’t be (evidence) by presupposition because what happened was always one possibility among others.

Deacon is a materialist and insists that his theory at least suggests how life and consciousness could arise out of nothing more than the regularities of physics. He insists that his theory explains these phenomena without resort to anything but physics and he is right, in a way it does. But the theory relies on the fact that the “telos” of the physical process appears only after-the-fact and that renders anything non-accidental (provided it does not violate the regularities of physics) occurring before-the-fact completely invisible.

But perhaps this is a superficial criticism. It can be applied to any purely physical theory whatsoever. Deacon has a bigger problem. Truly an absence, a hole for example, is not a material thing; neither substance nor process. So we have an easy route from physics to non-materiality. It is less clear how absences are causes, formal or efficient (the two levels Deacon relies upon). Surely they can contribute to efficient causes (contributory cause) by being one of a combination of circumstances that together are a cause. They can also be a component of formal causes, of the form of a thing that determines its causal efficacy. But I cannot think of an example where absence qua absence is the sole, single, cause of anything efficient or formal.

Further, consciousness, at least as I experience it, while it might emerge as a result of constraints resulting in an important non-material absence, an attractor (surely these do have a role to play) in association with other causes, is not itself an absence, but a positive; a presence. It is the most present phenomenon to my experience because it is my experience, my subjective perspective. But nowhere in Deacon’s book does he manage to explain how a causally efficacious non-material presence (not absence) emerges. This is merely another way of saying “the way our experience is and not some other way”, but either way you phrase it, Deacon doesn’t arrive at it. In Deacon’s view, consciousness has to emerge from a constraint that emerges in an attractor. But attractors are empty, while consciousness, that is subjectivity, is not.

Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (2011)

This is a great book! For years now I’ve read books by scientists and philosophers addressing the origins of life and consciousness. Many often point to “self organizing” phenomena in the universe (a simple example, simmering water in a pot organizing itself into columns of bubbles, or the way in which water flow in a chaotic rapid can here and there form stable whirlpools) and claim that life’s origin, and eventually even consciousness, are nothing more than complex examples of this process. But none of them make the attempt to cross the divide between these simple regularities and the far more complex nature of life and mind.

In this long book Dr. Deacon uses every page to meticulously build argument upon argument and example upon example in an effort to show exactly how this might be possible both for life and consciousness. His key insight, carefully crafted and expanded all the way along the narrative, is that it isn’t what is present in any particular material organization that matters, but rather what is absent; what the structure of any given complexifying phenomenon constrains away. It isn’t what happens that matters so much as what the evolving structures (structure here should be understood as both stuff and process) prevent from happening. To take a simple and non-dynamical example, a house functions as a home not because it has a certain structure but because that structure precludes it being something else, a boat, a bridge, or a pile of rubble.

Deacon begins by setting a very high bar. He insists that any theory of life and its origins respect its extraordinary complexity and the near impossibility of the dynamic relations between its parts falling together accidentally. Similarly with consciousness he insists that any theory of mind takes into account its patently dualistic nature and causal efficacy. Mind cannot be illusory or epiphenomenal. Life and mind are both teleological (purposeful, end-directed) by nature and he insists that the appearance of teleology in life and mind be accommodated in any theory of its origins and functions. But he also insists that all of this be accounted for by the laws of physics and in particular, the second law of thermodynamics. He spends a chapter explicating and rejecting a generalized theory of homunculi, that is solutions requiring anything, structure, process, or information, imposed from the outside. Somehow, we have to get from physics to mind while recognizing that mind is not physics. Instead, in his view, the solution amounts to a foreground/background reversal. It isn’t the physical stuff or process that results in life or mind, but rather what physical evolution (non-living, then living, then mental) constrains out of possibility.

Deacon carefully crafts his argument focusing on the physical concept of work and the logic of attractors. In physics, work is possible only when there is a thermodynamic gradient. In unbounded (having no formal boundary like a cell wall) physical dynamics, thermodynamic gradients, under the right conditions, can become morphodynamic; taking on a shape (the self-organizing process) that serves to increase the efficiency of thermodynamic dissipation. But in bounded systems (in the first instance boundaries formed by natural conditions having nothing to do with life) a new type of dynamic becomes possible, one that reduces dissipation internally in exchange for increased dissipation between the bounded system an the outside. This is the beginning of teleodynamic organization. He is careful to note that “telos” here is not something imposed from the outside, but rather the appearance of end-directedness stemming from the emergence of the constraints against dissipation on the inside. Once a teleodynamic emerges, other teleodynamic constraints can emerge from it compounding constraint upon constraint which, when viewed after the fact, amount to a compounding of information.

This then is the core of his theory which he then traces up from proto-life to life and from life, via Darwinian evolution (which never adds information, but rather selects out information emerging in compounded teleodynamics relevant to the [then] present environment) to mind. In each step it isn’t what happens or what exists that matters so much as what is progressively constrained or prevented from happening. I want to emphasize that this statement is a highly simplified summary of Deacon’s far more complex but clearly enunciated argument. In the end, mind has causal efficacy because it is itself a hole, an attractor, and by disturbing the metaphorical shape of its own attractor (constraint on constraint on constraint) affects the underlying (metaphorical) shape of the attractors (now neurological) that support it.

This is a book to which no short review can do justice. It is well argued and written for a general audience with a basic grasp of physical principles. Readers with a grasp of high school physics will do fine. But does he succeed? In his last chapter he notes that even the emergence of human social systems, government, economics, even values, amount to further constraints that operate to reduce entropic dissipation in the social system that bounds them. All of this makes perfect sense in the context of his fundamental insight, but he never explains why it all should come out as the experience of subjectivity that we have and not something else with equal capacity to dynamically constrain. This however is not a shortcoming in the basic argument. The emergence of all these constraints (and thus the attractors they manifest) can only be recognized after the fact. Before the fact there are always other possibilities. In short, Deacon goes farther than anyone else in crafting a pathway leading from physics to mind.

Information, Life, and the Big Bang

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In 2014 William Dembski published “Being as Communion: A Metaphysics of Information” what he calls (in the introduction) a capstone on a trilogy that began with “The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities” (1998) and continued with “No Free Lunch: Why Specified Complexity Cannot Be Purchased Without Intelligence” (2001). In the first two books Dembski spends his time building an argument about the unlikelihood of even simple life’s “information content” assembling itself accidentally on the Earth of some 3 to 4 billion years past.

Considering the Earth could only have supported any conceivable life as recently as 4 billion years ago, life appeared rather soon after supportive conditions developed. Dembski concludes (and you can read the books to follow the math) the probability of that much information assembling itself in that little time is about 1 x 10^-150. The same basic principles hold true for life’s evolution to its present forms adding an extraordinary amount of extra information along the way. Dembski understands Darwinian mechanisms. He carefully evaluates their capacity to assemble such an information pyramid by accident given the possible range of chemical interactions that occur among all the molecules of the nascent biological Earth on up to the present day. He shows again that it is incredibly unlikely for evolution to have been nothing but an accidental combination of mutation and selection.

In his third book Dembski goes on the offensive and focuses not on the unlikelihood of accidental life and evolution to present forms, but its impossibility. He does this by adding to his previous analysis a principle understood and accepted by today’s physics community; “Conservation of Information”. The concept is simple enough. A given system of mass-energy with boundary conditions (including energy flow) cannot express more information than was put into it somewhere.

To see how this all plays out over the history of the universe is the purpose of this essay. Dembski misses something important by leaving open when exactly the information needed to specify life (and next evolution) is added. Dembski happens to believe in a Christian God so he has no problem with the idea of information added to the world at life’s origin. But he leaves open the possibility the information comes not from God, but perhaps aliens. Also open is the notion the necessary information was there at the beginning, at the big bang, leading to a panpsychism, or for that matter that we are living in a computer simulation (another version of aliens) adding information as the code grinds on.

What Dembski misses (or fails to appreciate properly) is that the fundamental discoveries of physics point to a late introduction of the information needed to assemble genuine life. It is my aim here to fill in that gap. Beyond this, Dembski goes on to note that our only experience of information-creation or addition to the world is our own intelligent designs. If information is conserved, and its only source is intelligence, the universe’s initial information must come from some intelligence somewhere. Again this leaves open the possibility of super-aliens, computer simulation, or God. If Dembski is right that information is conserved, then either the universe’s information originates in some intelligence or it was all there from its beginning. If it was there from the beginning, if it was a part of the physical universe at the big bang, where in physics is it found? Does what physics finds at the beginning provide for everything from stars to conscious observers?

Information as understood by physics is of three types, Shannon information, Kolmogorov information, and semantic information. I review these more extensively in my books. A brief summary will do here. Information in all these forms is exclusionary. A hypothetically information-less collection of matter energy, displaying no behavioral regularities, contains within itself a well-nigh infinite potential of future possible states. But there is no such collection because the nature  of matter-energy and the regularities we observe depend on information. Information, beginning with its first expression in “natural law”, restricts present potentials and future possibilities. Our universe, its fundamental material regularities, allows everything from black holes to consciousness, but the possible future states of a present state anywhere in the universe, or for the whole universe, are not infinite.

On a cosmic scale, the specific history of our universe cannot have been much different than it was given its initial information. A stable universe of undifferentiated energy, mint-jelly, or Boltzman brains is ruled out of genuinely possible histories. Information configures matter-energy in some way. This is an important characteristic or property of information, more particularly its causal effect on matter-energy, and is understood and accepted by modern physics.

Claude Shannon developed formula for computing the quantity of information that could be unambiguously (clearly received) over a communication channel having a certain bit rate (number of detectable state changes per second) and some amount of noise. No information channel is noise free in the real world thanks to the second law of thermodynamics. Shannon information isn’t about any particular message, but about how much message a channel can carry. Capacity might be measured over time as it is in digital communications and radios, or in some other measure, for example the length of a DNA segment or a chromosome. The exclusion principle comes in trivially here. A particular message on a channel excludes other messages on that same channel at the same time or in the same place.

Kolmogorov information is about the complexity of a message. The message BBBBBBB is less complex than the message BCADFGE. We can re-write the first as 7B while the second requires all 7 characters in the correct order. Notice that the message FGCBAED is a different message but has exactly the same complexity as BCADFGE. Something like CCCABBF is intermediate in complexity because 3CA2BF requires only 6 characters to specify a 7 character message. Again we note the exclusivity property. Any one message of any complexity excludes all others.

Semantic information concerns what a message (information) means. Normally associated with human mind semantic information is plausibly characteristic of consciousness in general. Life, even without consciousness, displays metaphorical meaning. This meaning is metaphorical because life doesn’t apprehend it. Rather meaning is imputed to life by consciousness, and seemingly always by human consciousness. Importantly to physics, there is no semantic meaning, metaphorical or otherwise, in nonliving, material process. The purposelessness of material mechanism reflects its lack of semantic meaning. “Purposeless mechanism” and “absence of semantic meaning” are two sides of the same coin.

Information expresses itself, one way or another by configuring matter-energy whether the flow of electrons on a wire, persisting patterns, or a recognition of significance (meaning) of a configuration to consciousness. We are now in a position to understand the connection between information, life, and the big bang.

Information, the potential-reducing patterning of some chunk of matter-energy, expresses itself differently depending on boundary conditions, and energy flows. Boundary conditions reflect information in the wider chunk of matter-energy that has causal input on expression in the bounded chunk. Theoretically that would be everything in the past light cone of the inner most bounded chunk, but this is often so vast a space and time that we ignore most of it. The word ‘chunk’ here refers to the matter-energy of some particular region of space and through some bounded time. Every expansion of view to wider and wider spacetime chunks encompasses more matter-energy configured by information whose expression is in turn influenced by even wider chunks. ‘Causal effect’ is a function of forces, fields, with which matter-energy both brings about and with which it interacts. For my purposes, it matters not whether we view matter-energy as the product of fields (as in quantum field theory) or fields as a product of more fundamental matter (charged particles). Both views rest on the same fundamental information.

The first boundary conditions of our universe are the particular qualities of the forces describable in information theoretic terms. These forces restrict what can happen at any given “next instant”. When we gaze into the heavens what we see, the stars, galaxies, clusters, clusters of clusters, interlocking streams of clusters going on as far as our telescopes can peer. At the largest scales, distribution of these substructures appears random, but just inside the largest scale, there is clearly an expressed arrangement. The matter-energy of the universe is not distributed randomly at all scales. Our particular arrangement, can be described as a measure of complexity; Kolmogorov information. That state, any given “state of the universe”, changes into new states. The entire universe has a capacity, a limit, at which the evolving information expression advances. There is a limit to the rate at which change in the universe takes place. The universe has a Shannon information limit.

Cosmologists and physicists have long recognized the structures of the universe are, over-all, a natural outworking of a tension between positive energy expressed as temperature and pressure and negative energy known by its more common name, gravity. A cold cloud of hydrogen gas and dust floating around in space has more entropy than the star which eventually forms from it. It is gravity (negative energy) that reduces entropy in the gas cloud by consolidating it, restricting the freedom of its individual atoms to be anywhere in the much larger region of space that was the cold cloud. At cosmic scales, gravity is the great reducer of entropy. It does this by folding space around mass. Mass migrates inward (falls) toward the center of the folding which happens to be always what we call the “center of gravity”.

Taking entropy out of a system like this makes it more difficult for photons to escape it. Folding space compresses electromagnetic forces (constraining photons) heating the contracting gas producing more rapid particle motion, raising temperature, and increasing pressure. Eventually the gas heats up enough that fusion occurs and the resulting release of positive energy balances ever-present negative gravitational energy. But why does the balancing out occur here at this point? Why isn’t gravity strong enough to overcome fusion and keep folding space until a black hole forms more or less immediately?

The balance occurs at fusion, and gravity and pressure combine to make all the structures of the physical universe, thanks to the cosmological settings. The causal regularities we call “natural law” rest on the settings. The settings (there are some 20 of these seemingly arbitrary values among them the “cosmological constant”, the value of the “Higgs field”, the “fine structure constant”, and the “proton-electron mass ratio”) limit the ways in which matter-energy can interact. The particular interactions that occur are a reflection of the settings under boundary conditions holding at any given place and time. The settings are the minimal information present at or shortly after the big bang.

The star balanced at fusion expresses the same information as the cold gas cloud from which it formed. Both are deterministic expressions, patterning in behavior, of the same settings. At the opposite end of the size scale from stars, at the building blocks of matter (the fundamental particles of the present Standard Model) to molecules the same settings restrict behavior. At the small scales the important forces are the electromagnetic (molecular scale), and the strong/weak forces (nuclear scale). The same settings pattern matter on a different scale from the cosmological under differently relevant, microscopic, boundary conditions.

When mass-energy at a macroscopic scale is somewhere in thermodynamic equilibrium its state expresses the information present in the settings under that equilibrium. For the expression to change, to evolve, boundary conditions must change. That change rests causally on the flow of energy through the system. Change is also inextricably bound up with time. The seemingly simple notion of time is anything but simple. Is time something fundamental, perhaps even more fundamental than space (Unger/Smolin “The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time” 2014), or does it emerge from (and amount to) an averaging (as temperature is an averaging of molecular velocity) of the change in the quanta of space (Carlo Rovelli “Things Are Not as they Seem” 2016)? Does time exist at all, perhaps being nothing more than a meaning (semantic information) consciousness associates with measuring the rate of change (Julian Barbour “The End of Time” 1999). For purposes of this essay, nothing depends on this controversy. Time, one way or another, is an ingredient of every boundary condition and energy flow throughout the universe at all scales.

Significantly, when change occurs ordered patterns emerge. A star is ordered in this way compared with a gas cloud We note the same phenomena in columns of bubbles rising in the simmering water in a pot. The ordering in all of these cases is the result of a coupling between the settings, the boundary conditions, and energy flow. For my purposes below, I lump energy flow into the boundary conditions but the reader should always be aware that if changes in information expression are occurring, energy is somewhere flowing through the system. There are a few scientists who claim this emergence of order is enough to explain the eventual appearance of life, but this cannot be true. As I discuss below, life exhibits a new kind of ordering that never appears in non-living phenomena; and ordering requiring information not present in the settings directly though of course it remains consistent with them.

All the phenomena of the universe from the layout of the galaxies and down to the behavior of atoms in crystals and amino acids directly express cosmological settings under different boundary conditions, and these in turn also rest on the settings. The settings are the information present at (or within a second) of the big bang. They are information because they do what information does, they restrict or exclude possibilities by constraining what they pattern. The behavior of quarks, protons, neutrons, electrons, or the effect of gravity, isn’t random. The settings restrict the values of the forces and those constrain the behavior of everything else from quarks to superclusters.

The limits, patterns of behavior, vary as conditions change, the changes themselves “caused” (some would prefer “unfold into”) by those same regularities. Two seconds after the big bang all the settings were already in place. The strong, weak, and electrostatic forces had to exist as they now do for there to come into existence protons, neutrons, electrons, and a few nuclei of helium and lithium. Given the enormous pressures and tempretures of the environment (boundary) of the big bang in its first seconds, the building block particles where the expression of the settings. Given 14 billion years of evolution, we have the universe of today, an expression of the same settings. Up to a point.

If the Conservation of Information theorem is correct the information respresented by cosmological structure or molecules had to be put into the universe as it has evolved over time, or it had to be there at its beginning. Cosmologists today mostly believe that this information was in fact all present from the beginning, or at least within a few microseconds of the big bang. Physics and cosmology has convincingly shown the settings plus gravity explain the present structure of the cooled down universe. Granting that all of this information was present at or near the beginning from where did it come?

At first cosmologists thought perhaps the values had to be what they now are; not arbitrary but rather forced out of the boundary condition of the big bang. But a hundred years of theoretical effort to derive them has failed to prove the necessity of these particular values. The now fashionable answer is the values sprang (quickly evolved) into their values purely by accident, by sheer coincidence. Recognizing the improbability of this, cosmology and physics have spawned many theories of multiuniverses (Max Tegmark “Our Mathematical Universe” 2014) in which the settings take on all manner of random values. The idea is that given billions of such universes, it is not inconceivable that one would occur in which the settings took the values we observe. That they did so here makes the eventual appearance of observers possible and it should not be surprising that observers find themselves existing in such an unlikely universe. This idea, called the “Anthropic Principle” (Brandon Carter Krakow symposium 1973, Barrow and Tipler “The Anthropic Cosmological Principle” 1987), must be at least trivially true. Since we exist, it must be possible for us to exist within the constraints (remember information restricts possibilities) of the cosmological settings.

Of course there are plausible “intelligent alternatives”. God might have constrained the settings to obtain the physical universe we occupy, a physical universe supporting eventual life and consciousness. A few honest physicists have noted the unlikeliness of the settings would not be surprising if there is a God. Besides God, the intelligent alternatives coming from science have tended to pure science fiction speculation of super-aliens (effectively demigods) or perhaps computer simulations (also implying super-aliens). Such speculative alternatives all involve beings like ourselves only having far advanced cognitive abilities and technology. Such beings either live with us in our universe or inhabit their own universe outside our own. Either way, all the cosmological origin questions remain. But multiuniverse theories require only more physics; perhaps other physical universes of some sort. This is why the science community prefers such otherwise unverifiable speculations. But they are not better explanations. They do not, for example, extend to consciousness very well.

There is something more to notice about information re-expression based solely on the settings and evolving boundary conditions. All of these expressions, that is everything governed primarily by gravity as the source of negative energy, electromagnetism, or nuclear forces are repeating structures. Every proton is identical to every other proton, and all the galaxies, while differing widely in specific shape and size are gravitationally bound rotating collections of stars very often influenced by a large central black hole (dark matter is a part of the boundary conditions forming and maintaining these structures). If you consider any given cubic meter of a star’s interior at some distance between its center and periphery, it is much like any other cubic meter of that same star at the same distance from the center.

At almost the opposite end of universal size scales, the most informationally complex structures are homogeneous crystals and relatively simple organic molecules like amino acids which themselvs will form crystal structures under the right boundary conditions. There is a large negative entropy difference between a freely floating gas of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, and an amino-acid composed of those same elements. But that reduction, purchased in the molecular case with the energy of electrostatic bonds, is nothing more than a structure that arises automatically thanks to the settings under particular boundary conditions. From the crystallization of water (ice) to the formation of amino-acids, as with gravity, entropy reduction is associated only with the production of regular repeating structures whose variation depends solely on the nature of the settings and boundary conditions which are themselves the result of the setting and their own larger-scale boundary conditions.

This situation changes dramatically when we look at life. Galaxy formation, stars, and amino acids are an immediate response to entropy reduction caused directly by gravity or electrostatic forces under specific conditions. Once any of these arise they become stable. Only changing boundary conditions alter their stable states. Even dynamic but presently stable stars are in a stable equilibrium condition with pressure balancing gravity.

But living systems differ from any nonliving information expressions in several ways. Their stability is never merely a simple equilibrium, but rather the product of many interactions dynamically reducing entropy in the living organism over all. Of course living processes cause entropy increase in the environment, the boundary within which life operates, and there are living processes that spend heat in support of neg-entropic mechanism. Life exhibits a persistent battle against entropy and is never in internal equilibrium. If a living organism comes to complete equilibrium, or its entropic activity dominates, the organism dies. More importantly, life’s neg-entropy mechanisms achieve their effect not by the simple surrender to the consequences of the settings but rather to active mechanisms that map or translate information from one form into another. Living systems are filled with little engines that map information from one form into another reducing entropy in the system over all as a by-product. No comparable mechanisms exist in the nonliving cosmos.

The most familiar of these living mechanisms is the multistep interaction chain, associated with many intermediate structures themselves built up out of the same process, of mapping information in DNA to proteins. Obedient to the Conservation of Information theorem, this creates no new information. Rather, information is mapped from one expression to another. But the mechanism itself, a mapping engine, is new. None of this works apart from the limits imposed by the settings. But unlike stars, life’s entropy reduction is not a direct outcome of the settings, but of an entropy reducing transfer of information from one form to another.

The complexity of life frames a further limit on the space of possibility within the restriction imposed by the settings. It amounts to new information besides the settings alone. A protein’s biological functionality is not merely the result of its electostatic forces, but also its physical shape. True, the shape is the result of electrostatic forces, but an identically force-balanced molecule of a different shape will not work. Many differently shaped molecules might have identical force balances. The biological activity of a particular shape is a restriction not found in the settings alone. Life’s information is a restriction on top of a restriction and that demands more information. Where did this more come from?

Once again science, this time biology down through chemistry to physics, declares that it was all, like the settings, a lucky accident. Yes, they admit, unlikely, but not impossible and if it hadn’t happend on Earth, we would not be around to comment on it. In his first two books, Dembski explains just how unlikely such an accidental assembly is; thousands of different translations, hundreds of thousands of molecular arrangements, functioning as an integrated system, a living organism. In his third book Dembski argues that the information difference between nonliving processes and the simplest conceivable life (simpler than anything we find on Earth today) could not possibly come to exist accidentally. If life’s arrangement cannot be a direct product of the settings alone (the only information present in the big bang and throughout the evolution of the nonliving cosmos) its accidental appearance would be a violation of the Conservation of Information principle. What Dembski misses (at least I do not remember him mentioning it) is that life’s entropy reduction mechanism, complexity translation, is nowhere else exhibited in the interactions of the nonliving cosmos. From intergalactic clusters to amino acids none of the accumulated information is carried through translation mechanisms. It is all the immediate expressions of the settings under specific conditions.

For science to declare the one “life origin” event we know of is an accidental product of the settings plus boundary conditions directly is question begging and most scientists know this. “Accidental” is not a valid generalization from a single observation. Even if life on Earth originated on Mars (some cosmologists do assert this is a possibility), the question of how Mars’ life began still stands. Plausibly however, life-harboring planets around other stars are effectively isolated from one another. Life on such worlds originates and evolves independently.

What a discovery of genuine life on the planets of other stars would mean depends on what we find. Finding something indisputably alive but much simpler than the simplest life on Earth, would lend credence to the view that initial assembly might be accidental. Perhaps some life is so simple (something true also of long vanished early life on Earth) that it is not so unlikely after all. But if what we find on one or even dozens of other worlds is that all life is complex, different perhaps but on the same order of complexity as the simplest life on Earth, the hypothesis of “accidental appearance” gets all the more problematic. If, as Dembski claims, the chance of life springing into being accidentally on Earth is 1 x 10^-150, it is half as likely to have happened twice, let alone multiple times.

The rest of Dembski’s argument is straightforward. Human beings, observers in the universe, know of (that is experience and observe) only one source of new information in the universe; intelligent agency. For materialists to claim that this too, that is what we experience subjectively as intelligent agency, is nothing more than an outcome of the settings and boundary conditions, begs the same question as regards life. The “only example one has” of anything cannot be the ground of a valid inductive generalization. If the only life we ever find is complex enough to be highly unlikely there are only three possibilities. The absurdly unlikely happened, there is something fundamental that we are missing in physics, or life’s information came from the outside, from intelligent agency. In all my writing including this essay I have taken for granted there is not something fundamental missing in physics.

Physics may not be finished thanks to the problem of unifying gravity and quantum mechanics, but it has nailed a few fundamentals. It has adequately dispensed with the idea there is an “invisible force” that pushes physical regularity toward the assembly of living information. We find nothing of this in classical physics or quantum mechanics. If physics is correct as concerns its own causal closure, then life’s information had to be added at a place and time when boundary conditions were supportive. If some intelligent agency acted at life’s origin (perhaps on many worlds) then the same agency’s action, to fix the settings, at the big bang would not be at all surprising. The settings are fixed as they are in support of [eventual] developing boundary conditions conducive to life’s origination.

This notion must also apply to life’s evolution on Earth to the point of emerging consciousness, and in particular a personal consciousness (discussed at length in other essays on the blog). Over a mere 3 billion years an amazing quantity of new information (Kolmogorov complexity) assembles from primitive cells to organisms having subjective experience. Subjectivity at least begins with the higher animals, but it makes the transition into “observer status” only in human beings. Animals observe their environment in the sense of integrating sensory experience in a subjective gestalt. But being an OBSERVER implies more than mere observation, it implies recognition of meaning implicit in observation but not of the observation as such. This brings me to final consideration of semantic information.

Semantic information, taken most broadly, is prelinguistic, but not preconscious. A lion easily distinguishes between a zebra and the tree next to it. It grasps the zebra is potential food and the tree is not. The discrimination between zebra and tree has meaning to lion consciousness. Given memory and subjective experience an association links ‘zebra’ to the relief of hunger. Semantic information is transferred not by translation from one physical carrier to another, but from some such physical state to a subject. Meaning is meaning to a subject. Compared to biological information, semantic information is one step further removed from the settings. Many discrete sets of biophysical states ground a particular persisting consciousness, while different conscious experiences follow from similar biophysical states. Semantic information is largely independent of the physics underlying it and exists only to consciousness.

The uncoupling of semantic information from physical information continues in human consciousness. A zebra means [potential] food to a lion whether it is hungry at the moment or not. Both lions and humans apprehend meanings in this way, we are after all animals. But human beings not only apprehend meanings, they also abstract and evaluate them. Abstraction and evaluation combine to suggest meanings not immediately apprehended. This (and our volitional power to control our bodies) underlies our capacity to put new information into the world, literally to pattern matter-energy restricting its future potentials. Humans alone are capable of adding information, arising in subjective abstractions, to the world. Lions are not. We create art, and airplanes. Flying airplanes are like biological activity in the outcomes of information mapping engines. A successful mapping creates not only a biologically active molecule, but one that functions in a role specified by biological demands. A flying airplane signals a successful combination of semantic information and physics (purposeless mechanisms resting on the settings) whose proper role is specified by subjective intent to build a flying machine.

In a living cell there is nothing in the chain of events from DNA to a shaped protein that relies on anything other than the basic forces whose fundamental information, present at the big bang, is the settings. In this case, the electrostatic forces are dominant, but everything has its effect on the outcome. There does not appear to be anything in life that originates outside the physical world. As with the settings, once information is put in somewhere, life’s day-to-day operation exhibits nothing but outcomes explained by the forces (settings), and boundaries now including life, that cell, itself. But life’s delicately balanced self-maintenance does not address the issue of how its information originates. If the Conservation of Information theorem is true, then not only was its accidental assembly unlikely, it is impossible.

Individuals are free, of course, to believe life’s origin and evolution was accidental. But the argument that they were nothing of the kind is clearly plausible, even reasonable compared with much speculation from materialists. When we arrive at human beings, a new power springs from life through consciousness. Not only is there a mapping from some physical “state of affairs” to a meaning apprehended in consciousness, but uniquely, humans can map abstract meanings from consciousness to the world. Abstraction capable language marks the final separation between information and the settings.

The word ‘palo’ in Spanish means ‘tree’ in English. Either might refer to some particular tree or to the class or kind ‘tree’, and both are equally compatible with the settings and boundary conditions up through all of biology. All human languages are of course compatible with human biology everywhere on Earth. Expressing a single abstract meaning in different languages demonstrates the complete decoupling of semantic meaning from the settings. Completing the decoupling begun with life and continued in animal consciousness grounds both human free will and our power to create information.

This capacity, the free-willed intelligent creation (by arrangement of matter-energy) of new information, demands new information. If everything that happens in the universe expresses information, such novel power rests on information not previously present; information added not to matter-energy directly, but to consciousness. I go into what this implies in more detail in my books and the blog essay “Why Personality?”

All the information from the settings to life, supposing they come from outside physics, might conceivably (however implausibly) be the work of aliens, or perhaps we live in a computer simulation. Consciousness poses a special problem because unlike the universe and life, it is plausibly both real and nonmaterial. A corollary of life’s physical nature is that living process isn’t intrinsically conscious. Nothing about biology, however complex, suggests an emergence of subjective experience. It isn’t clear that any subjectivity can emerge from a causally closed physics; not even accidentally given infinite time! Human consciousness poses an additional problem. Even the highest animal consciousness does not display an ability to configure the world in novel ways based on new meanings conceived first (and not merely apprehended) in consciousness!

Human beings can shape the world based on thoughts whose origin has little direct connection to immediate sensory experience or memory. Of course our creative thinking includes apprehended meaning. But human creativity goes beyond experience to first postulate new, associative meanings, and then test their validity (truth content) by configuring physical subsystems that function (like shaped proteins) in their intended roles. Art, philosophy, and technology are all predicated on the validity of meanings originating in consciousness.

If aliens did this, from life (at least) to subjectivity capable of original creation, directly or in a computer simulation, they would stand in relation to us much as religion’s claims for God. Not entirely, for it is not an entailment of the alien hypothesis that aliens be for example omnipotent. If however we live in the matrix, a computer simulation, then omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence within the context of the program are reasonable inferences.

If the aliens are a product of this universe, the matter of the settings, and how the alien life started and evolved, appears. The alien hypothesis settles no philosophical issues. If aliens created the universe itself, and it is not a simulation then their universe must be something outside, apart from the physical as we see it from inside our universe. Even if one insists this outside is physical it cannot be “our physical”. There must, in this view, still be something outside our universe. But none of this matters because if any of these speculations are even remotely true, then something or someone added information, at least beginning with life if not the big bang, to the universe, our universe! It doesn’t matter if the agency is divine or not or if the information came from aliens inside or outside the universe. It isn’t necessary to assume that this agency must be purposefully intelligent. But evidence at least suggests that it exhibits all the characteristics of purposeful intelligence as we observers experience it.

If any of this speculation is true, physics must still give up the idea that “no such information came from anywhere”. There is some irony here. The speculation taken most seriously by the materialist community is that all we know as our world was genuinely an accident; precisely the “no information from anywhere” hypothesis. The irony is that this hypothesis is the one least supported by all the evidence, even the purely material evidence of life. Life is the first, partial decoupling from the settings. That decoupling depends on information not present in the settings. If the Conservation of Information theorem is true, life’s information had to come from somewhere other than physics.

There is nothing in physics, nothing in the strict causal closure of the physical that is incompatible with information coming in from the outside. Purposeless mechanism (a valid insight of physics) and purposeful information added by an intelligent, at least intelligent seeming, source are not incompatible. This is almost a trivial truth as concerns human experience. We configure purposeless mechanism (mechanism of the physical world) with our own purposes all the time. Our entire technological history not to mention art, science, and philosophy begin with that ability. If physics and intelligent agency get along as we experience them, and if our universe is everywhere basically the same, there is no reason to insist that agency characteristic of intelligence did not add information to the universe possibly starting with the big bang. Only an agency outside the universe explains everything, where all the information came from, including the universe, the settings. Physics cannot address itself to the nature of that agency because whether it is physical or not, it is not a part of our universe.