I think the next revolution in scientific thinking is upon us, and it’s coming from the fields of computer science and neuroscience. Every article on artificial intelligence gets us closer. Every article on the neurology of consciousness builds tension, in much the same way tension builds along a fault line prior to an earthquake.
Upshot: the laws of thermodynamics are going to be rewritten. They need to be taken up a notch.
The laws were originally written back in the 19th century. They refer to the behavior of energy in a closed system.
When I hear the words “closed system,” I feel compelled to ask a question my freshman chemistry professor pounded into my head: relative to what? What’s outside the closed system?
Answer: the World, of course. Call it the Universe, if you like. Or reality. You know what I mean.
Well, back in the 19th century I would have known what that meant. But things changed dramatically in 1905, when Einstein introduced the theory of general relativity. Note, he was not using the term “general” ironically. His point was, everything is relative. Space, time, matter, energy. Everything. Inasmuch as space, time, matter and energy define “the Universe” or “reality” as it was known to 19th century engineers, Einstein could have called his theory “Relativity of Reality.”
At the time, it was basically an admission that we know nothing. We’ve been slowly recovering from that sucker-punch since then. We now understand that reality can be appreciated on several different levels, relative to the human perspective. On one level, we each live in our own unique universe. On another level, we live in a shared reality with the people who are close to us. In the modern internet-connected era, we could say that the shared reality includes everyone in the world. The visible universe is another layer of reality. Every inhabited planet out there has its own unique shared reality, but we are neighbors in a sense. And we know there is at least one layer of reality above that. We’ve been able to prove that gravity doesn’t arise in the visible universe; it crosses over from somewhere else. Beyond that, we don’t know. There could be umpteen other layers of reality out there that we can’t begin to appreciate.
At any rate, the problem with the laws of thermodynamics is that they don’t go far enough up the food chain. They only work up to the level of “visible universe.” Which was fine up until recently. But once you start using the laws of thermodynamics to explain the evolution of intelligence — artificial or certified organic — the system starts to break down. You have to either ignore, or account for the information implied in the structure of the devices (artificial or organic) that are purportedly intelligent. I say, let’s account for it.
Let’s kick it up a level, and say:
For any closed universe:
1. Information can neither be created nor destroyed.
2. Complexity approaches the attractor.
3. Any information space is an attractor that defines a configuration of time, space, matter, and energy.
First, we are assuming “a universe” is a subset of “everything.” Our visible universe is “a universe.” A universe consists of time, space, matter, and energy; and an information space that defines its configuration. We are ignoring for a moment the possibility that information might come in from the outside.
The notion of an attractor is substituted for the notion of entropy. So the theory is, systems in any universe are evolving toward an end-state that represents a perfect expression of the information space that resulted in its creation. So in other words, the information that came flying out of the Big Bang was sort of a blueprint, and with every passing eon, the universe looks more and more like the blueprint.
“Complexity” refers to the process of splitting the information space that started the whole shebang into smaller information spaces. Sometimes, complexity is the best way to get the job done. Joshua Slocum, the first guy to sail around the world solo, built his boat in the backyard. That’s an example of keeping it simple. Neil Armstrong couldn’t do that; he needed thousands of engineers, working in teams, to build The Eagle. In the matter of sailing to the moon, complexity is the best way to get ‘er done. “Complexification” will only happen if it pulls the space-time-matter-energy configuration closer to the attractor. Which will usually be the case.
This is really nothing more than a restatement of the laws of thermodynamics, putting information first. It should make total sense to computer scientists researching artificial intelligence. It won’t make much sense to evolutionary biologists or neuroscientists until it becomes clear that their theories on the evolution of intelligence are approaching an absurdity.
Don’t blame my references for these three laws; I made ’em up. If it turns out I’m wrong, forget I said it. If I’m right, remember where you read it. I don’t feel too bad about my chances. Right about now, I wouldn’t want to be the guy saying, “Assume time, space, matter and energy exist.” Because they don’t.