God Near or No Mind Hair

(I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the following argument isn’t original, but I haven’t seen it elsewhere yet.)

If our descendants do not destroy themselves, then over the next trillion years they may become knowledgeable and powerful enough to create new baby universes that expand to look much like the universe we can see. Such a universe might then evolve its own intelligence, which would grow powerful enough to repeat the process. A self-reproducing universe would have a chance p of evolving intelligence, which would then birth an expected number N of similar baby universes, such that p*N >1.

Our descendants might even become powerful enough to imprint themselves upon such a baby universe. An imprinted universe would somewhere contain mind(s) with important specific similarities, such as memories, personality, or values, to the minds of its creators.

One of the following two remarkable conclusions seems likely:

  1. No Mind Hair – Even if our descendants command billions of galaxies and study physics for trillions of years, they still cannot create self-reproducing baby universes, and reliably imprint their minds on them. Such a task is beyond the abilities even of such gods. They are trapped; their baby universes just cannot have “mind hair.”
  2. Gods Nearby – Somewhere out there in our universe is probably hiding the imprinted minds of our universe’s creators. If we search long and far enough and understand physics well enough, we may well find them.

Here’s why. If our descendants can make self-reproducing universes, then there’s a non-zero chance they will do so, and if so there’d be an infinity of such universes. But out of an infinity of expected universes we are quite unlikely to be in the first, making it quite likely that our universe had creators. If such creators could imprint their minds on our universe they probably would have done it. So, either imprinted versions of our creators are probably out there somewhere in our universe, or no feasible power can reliably mind-imprint a self-reproducing baby universe.  Such imprinting could at best succeed rarely. QED. Either conclusion is remarkable.

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  • Larks

    This is exactly the way I parsed Bostrom’s Simulation Argument.

  • James D. Miller

    If the theory of eternal inflation is right then nature keeps creating an exponentially increasing number of new universes. Even if intelligent life learns to imprint new universes, it might never be able to make as many new ones as nature does.

    • George

      What about the big rip?

  • Carl Shulman

    The QED is excessive. All you need to avoid Scylla and Charbydis is for imprinting to be possible, but for imprinting more than a small proportion of one’s universe’s babies to be infeasible.

  • Mark

    As far as I am familiar with the subject of baby universes (above average, but definitely not the details), baby universes weren’t motivated by a theory or equation so much as a physicist saying essentially “wouldn’t this be a cool way to generate a multiverse?” Most of the idea’s current fame is due to the fact that it is interesting, not any scientific support. While we cannot predict future technology, an arbitrarily chosen example is unlikely to be possible.

    • Mitchell Porter

      Mark thought “baby universes weren’t motivated by a theory or equation”

      It’s a pretty natural speculation once you have non-Euclidean space, and even more natural when you include quantum mechanics. The domains of eternal inflation, “AdS2 fragmentation” in string theory, and the “Nappi-Witten universe” are all interesting examples that have an independent motivation.

      However, this is definitely all speculation which has developed in the space created by our own ignorance of reality. Of the examples that I listed, eternal inflation is probably the most robustly motivated, but only in the form of an eternally inflating early universe from which inhabitable regions like ours bud off. The idea that those conditions can be recreated within one of those inhabitable regions is far more speculative. AdS2 baby universes are entangled in a way which suggests (to me) that they’re not actually separate. And the Nappi-Witten cosmology is basically a cyclic, big-bounce universe, not one with multiple “offspring”.

      If there is no such thing as a baby universe, then it’s not remarkable that even cosmic superintelligences can’t make one. And perhaps Robin’s argument is a further, minor piece of evidence that this is so – though it jumps from “cosmic imprinting is possible” to “very (infinitely?) long chains of imprinting would occur”, which is really an extra assumption. E.g. what if imprinting can only occur at a big crunch, and it requires cosmic control that is hard to achieve? (It might be difficult for physical reasons, or because of conflict.)

      In trying to decide whether cosmic imprinting is even possible, strictly physical reasoning should be given much greater weight than observer selection arguments or the coolness of megascale engineering. One should also lean towards “dour”, conservative arguments, rather than possibilities which are metaphysically exciting, because the latter are intrinsically biased towards unusualness. Media reporting on the speculative froth in cosmology and theoretical physics gives it a strongly disproportionate significance. Not only are most such speculations wrong, most of the speculations that laypeople hear about are wrong, but the reports don’t say this. Thus every week we hear that the fundamental constants might be varying, or that reality is made of information, or that the LHC might affect the past, ad infinitum. This is a symptom of where we are at scientifically – we are equal to the task of making such speculations, but not equal to the task of deciding which of them are false; it’s not telling us that the universe is maximally weird or maximally exciting.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Carl, you are right, so I added “reliably” to the post to clarify.

    James, naturally-created universes may be far less likely to be conducive to intelligence than intelligently-created universes. If so intelligence might be mainly found in the later type.

  • David

    I’m impressed that you’re venturing into this field, but I don’t think the argument sounds right. It only works if baby universes can *only* be generated by intelligence, and not happen naturally. Even if we do go on to create many “mind-imprinted” big bangs (not sure what that means), their number might be dwarfed by the many more spontaneous (undesigned) universes. Many of these spontaneous universes could themselves generate universe-making intelligence, and do it without help. The question of whether we’re in one of these or one of the designed ones now just becomes a question of frequencies: How rare are spontaneous versus designed big bangs, and how likely is a spontaneous big bang to generate civilizations? (I assume you thought that “imprinted” universes do so inevitably.) Once you fill in those values, you get the the chance of us being in a designed universe, given we’re able to design universes. But unless spontaneous big bangs are rare or spontaneous universes are largely sterile, that number won’t be very close to 1.

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      Yes, in principle there could be a large enough number of random sources with a high enough rate of making universes like ours to beat the rate that universes like ours begat others. That first rate is surely extremely low, but that first number could also be extremely large.

      • arch1

        For a theory that produces large numbers of universes like ours, see Lee Smolin’s Cosmological Natural Selection theory.

        Basically, it makes two assumptions: 1) new child universes are born as a a side effect of black hole creation, 2) child universes have the same laws as their parent, with small random variation.

        Smolin concludes that if these assumptions are right, you end up with the vast majority of universes having laws tuned to maximize the production of black holes, which likely means they are tuned to maximize star production, which correlates with life-friendliness, which explains the fine-tuning mystery without resort to anthropic reasoning.

        One spiffy thing about this theory is that it makes the testable prediction that as we learn more about how the black-hole-fecundity of a universe varies as a function of its physical constants, we will (continue to) find that, lo and behold, our particular universe’s combination of physical constants is near a maximum.

        I gather from Wikipedia that there are some recent skeptical views of the theory – see the article as a takeoff point for more info on those.

      • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

        Sean Carroll of “Cosmic Variance” promotes a theory which I believe derives from Smolin in his book “From Eternity to Here”.

  • Jehu

    Robin,
    What you’ve described isn’t far from Mormon theology, which is a ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ cosmology if there ever was one. Basically, Mormons by doing good Mormon things and having lots of spirit children can ‘level up’ and eventually aspire to become lower case g or even upper case G gods in the next cycle. Their God is basically an epic level Mormon PC. Needless to say, this view is considered heretical by most of Christendom. It’s also true though that the simulated universe, the tailored ‘baby universe’, and the standard model of Christianity are functionally equivalent. Creator, ruler, and sustainer of the universe—lots of folks have wondered about the whole sustainer thing, but one has to confess it makes more sense within this frame.

  • MichaelG

    So didn’t someone prove that Conway’s Game of Life was capable of implementing a computer, given a sufficiently large board? And if my mind can be simulated by a computer, then there’s a Life board that represents my current state. A Life board is just a string of binary digits, which could be extracted from anything.

    If the “universe” just consisted of an infinite non-repeating field of static, somewhere in that field there would be the Life board representation of my current mental state.

    Similarly, all possible computable universes would exist in the field. Even universes that made no logical sense (ex: comic book superheros) would exist. Time isn’t necessary, since all moments of the universe exist as separate patterns in the noise. Physical law isn’t necessary, since the patterns contain their own logic.

    It’s all random and meaningless. Like these speculations…

  • Nathan Cook

    If creating universes is possible for our descendants, then Bostrom’s simulation argument says that that is evidence that our universe is a simulation. Does it then follow that Powers lurk among the stars? It could be that they would not dream of interacting with us in that way. Or suppose our parent universe enables hypercomputation. Then our universe would be desperately impoverished by the standards of our creators, while potentially being perfectly capable of supporting both Turing computable Powers and sub-creation of other Turing computable universes.

  • http://www.athousandnations.com Mike Gibson

    If you were a super-intelligent powerful entity, how would you print your presence in your universe? What is the signature of the artist? Why not an actual signature?

    So if you are this universe creating artist:

    Why speak in codes?

    Who are you hiding messages from?

  • Constant

    John Gribbin’s latest book appears to include part of this argument or something close. I don’t have a summary handy but I have this quote from a reader review that describes the conclusion:

    Has John Gribbin found God? His latest mind-blowing description of cutting edge physics and quantum weirdness starts out conventionally enough (if any of this stuff can be thought of as being conventional) but ends up concluding that our universe is an artifact created by intelligent beings in another universe.

    Investigating Gribbin’s argument for this conclusion, I found something similar to what is stated here. I don’t know if he also proposes that the creator imprints his own mind on the baby universe.

  • Unknown

    When discussing possible conclusions, we should also consider:

    3. The total lifetime of the human civilization will be vastly less than required to create baby universes.
    4. The physics of our universe is such that baby universes cannot be created.
    5. The physics of our universe is such that baby universes are infeasible to create, e.g. they might be creatable but not within 5 billion light years of our planet.
    6. Any civilization advanced enough to create baby universes either has no need to imprint themselves on them, or has figured out everything about how intelligence works already (as they damn well should have, given trillions of years) or have decided that it’s much more productive and efficient to terraform several thousand extrasolar planets than to create a baby universe.

    There are probably others. I take exception to your claim that the two conclusions you presented are “likely”.

  • Prakash

    Reminds me of the thought I had when I heard Eliezer and Robert Wright’s bloggingheads talk.

    Robert Wright basically believes that there is high probability that there is a God pattern imprinted on our universe and it is “Non-Zero”.

    During the dialogue, Eliezer wanted Robert to distinguish between the accident hypothesis and the non-zero hypothesis. He also mentioned that he would see the difference between the two by solomonoff induction, as in the shortest computer program that can output the result seen.

    Now, any accident hypothesis involves a random number function, right?

    The best random number functions are those that either go beyond the matrix or are very long.

    Assume we figure out the length of the program required to generate a general intelligence. Let this length be Lg.

    Let us say that there is a parallel group working on generating the simplest program that can reliably recreate seemingly random patterns in nature. Let this program once it halts (nothing in our reality surprises it anymore) have the length Lr.

    If the program never halts and Lr is continuously increasing, or Lr is > Lg, then solomonoff induction would imply that an intelligent designer is the better hypothesis. Is this right?

    Which would imply that from studying the randomness of nature and the nature of intelligence, we can figure out some day whether we are in a purposeful or a random universe. Is this correct?

    I think that is a more important question than whether we are level zero because even if we are in a created universe, we might need to understand our Lr.

    • Prakash
    • Will Sawin

      what is P(our universe|a general intelligence chooses to create a universe)?

      what is P(a general intelligence chooses to create a universe|a general intelligence exists)?

      They’re not 1. The first, in particular, is very small, in particular, if we find a universe is very random. So your conclusion doesn’t hold.

      This saves us from the conclusion that the more random our universe is, the more likely it was to be created by an intelligence.

  • http://www.cephalove.southernfriedscience.com Mike Lisieski

    Ever seen the Futurama episode where Bender finds god in space: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godfellas ?

    “no feasible power can reliably mind-imprint a self-reproducing baby universe” – somehow I don’t find this such a remarkable conclusion. It seems like a very sensible null hypothesis, and one that I’d expect to be supported.

  • jb

    well, I personally think that the imprint of the mind of the creator is all around us. Specifically:

    1) Gravity, which causes aggregation and thus the possibility of solid masses
    2) Planck length – if I had a supercomputer that could model the universe in 3d, I would have to have an integral unit of reference at the very bottom- “move this atom one unit north”
    3) Survival of the fittest – why the fittest? Why not the reddest, or the oldest, or the most depressed?
    4) Solitude – the reason we have not met any other civilizations is the creator’s will, perhaps?
    5) Logic – logic constructs our arguments, manages our perceptions – what could be more the will of a creator than the establishment of logical rules?
    6) The three laws of thermodynamics – surely other laws could be postulated and enforced – perhaps ours is a thought experiment in certain rules
    7) The universe as a hologram – I’ve read physicists describing the universe as a giant 2d hologram that we are projected on. That sounds disturbingly like the way computer memory works.
    8) Time – why does time flow the way it does? Perhaps because the creator wants it to.

    • Doug S.

      3) Survival of the fittest – why the fittest? Why not the reddest, or the oldest, or the most depressed?

      Because “fitness” is defined in terms of what survives.

  • Finch

    This was a nice post. It’s an admission that Robin’s assumption of finite density might be wrong, and an exploration of the implications of that.

    Although that isn’t the only thing I’m skeptical about in Robin’s long-term forecast, it seems like the “most likely to be wrong” assumption.(*) It’s hard to believe in a world of quantum mechanics and general relativity that our technology will stop at the atomic level. Maybe it will. Maybe there’s some hard digital limit farther down – say, at the Planck length. But maybe there isn’t. Maybe there’s a technical limit we’ll hit before we hit any real physical limit. It’s clearly speculative.

    Still, it’s nice to see someone thinking hard about this.

    (*) Others include:
    (1) That “population” still means the same thing in the future. I don’t worry much about the world’s population, as measured in cells, today. The advent of multi-cellular life has made that less relevant. Who knows what transformations await us?
    (2) That there aren’t good ways of trading off time for space in a world where most creatures are computational.
    (3) That the universe has a finite lifetime, and that the right way to measure economic output is per unit time, and not, say, cumulatively. This may be the same thing as (2).
    (4) That we won’t achieve some sort of long-term-stable tyranny that will suppress population growth. Robin has commented on this as unlikely. I’m not convinced, notably because the first thing such a deep-ecology tyranny would do is cut the population to a “Sustainable” level that would make breakout much harder. Small populations have less room for variance.
    (5) That the Berserker ships won’t show up next week to wipe us out. I.e., there may be a filter awaiting us. Robin has commented extensively that existential threats are worth worrying about.

  • IVV

    I’m having a hard time seeing this as a profound statement. Stated simply, the argument appears to be that, within the experience of this universe, either there is a god, or there is no god.

    Could someone please help me connect the dots here? What more is there in this statement?

    • Finch

      Presumably the dichotomy is between (there is no god), or (there are gods).

      There’s nothing in the argument that implies there’s only one evolution of a baby universe creator, ever, as far as I can tell. That would be a separate argument, and it might be a tough one to make.

      • IVV

        So it’s really “Godhood exists or godhood doesn’t exist.”

        That feels even less profound, to be honest.

  • Misha

    The swedish astronomer Peter Nilson wrote about such ideas in a couple of novels.

  • Finch

    Ha! That’s funny.

    My take is that it’s an obvious way out, if you view the prediction of a slow-growth Malthusian world as a bit of a downer.

    If our kids are going to be out there manipulating space-time and manufacturing new universes, then the math of Robin’s previous posts no longer works out. It also turns a philosophical debate into an evidentiary question, which seems like an improvement.

  • Josh

    Why would anyone want to “imprint their mind” on a baby universe?

    That aside, my familiarity iwth this idea comes from a book by Lee Smolin, “Life of the Cosmos”, which helped popularize the idea that the universe is well-tuned to maximizing the number of black holes created over its lifetime.

    One reason for this might be that black holes create baby universes which share (at least) some properties of their parent universe. Therefore, if we assume our universe is like most universes (an assumption Smolin feels confident in but which I can’t help feeling is more an act of sophistry than a righteous application of statistics), it might be that our type of universe has evolved because it maximizes offspring.

    The fact that it is hospitable to (at least some) intelligent life might be a happy accident of the conditions necessary to make black holes; or for some reason I can’t think of, intelligent life might generally choose to increase the total creation of baby universes, in which case hosting intelligent life confers a reproductive advantage.

    • kevin

      Why would anyone want to “imprint their mind” on a baby universe?

      Why would anyone want to have children?

  • http://codeandculture.wordpress.com Gabriel Rossman

    i just got a little chuckle realizing that somewhere, somebody is probably reading this post and trying very hard to figure out exactly how it serves to promote the nefarious ulterior motives of the diabolical Koch brothers

  • James

    Why not apply evolutionary thinking, and posit that the universes that exist are exactly those that their creators correctly tailored to lead to subsequent recreation?

    So the imprint of the creator is not in the form of a representation of its mind hidden somewhere, but instead the imprint is itself the initial conditions.

  • http://tehom-blog.blogspot.com Tom Breton

    In Alternatives to No Mind Hair I propose three alternatives. One I see has already been sort of proposed by
    James Miller and Carl Shulman. The others are the co-opting argument for first moving and maybe it’s us.

  • Robert Koslover

    Well, it would seem to me that this intellectual speculation about the universe once again clearly violates Occam’s razor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam's_razor
    Of course, Occam could be wrong (even if seldom so). And since we can be pretty confident that we’ll never know if any of these universes or pseudo-gods exist, you can speculate all you wish with no negative consequences. Pass the popcorn. :)

  • josh

    So this is basically Bostrom plus “imprinted minds”. Even if we buy the criteria that makes it p~1 should then the likelihood of being in a universe containing imprinted creator minds be whatever fraction of universes the creators decide to put their minds in. I must have missed why we would expect this to be a large fraction.

  • http://lincoln.metacannon.net Lincoln Cannon

    Here is an elaboration of a similar argument, the New God Argument, which stems from the Simulation Argument and the Great Filter Argument, as well as the transhumanist assumption that we will eventually become posthuman:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/9205678/The-New-God-Argument-Lincoln-Cannon-and-Joseph-West

  • http://infiniteinjury.org/blog/ Peter Gerdes

    First just on straightforward grounds the argument doesn’t follow. Just because we could imprint our personality or whatever on a baby universe doesn’t entail that we would always do so. Indeed, one might reasonably believe that spawning a baby universe with such an imprint requires design and care while spawning such universes in some boringly random fashion is quite easy.

    Thus it’s entierly possible that all our descendants will imprint their personalities on baby universes but that one weirdo will build a self-replicating machine that spits out universes generated with simple random parameters and his contribution to the collection of all universes will massively outweigh the others.

    A slightly more subtle problem is the assignment of a measure to the collection of all universes. Were this a finite collection this would be easy but if we have the capability of producing a universe which, like this one, also has the capacity to produce baby universes it would be easy to create continuum many universes (infinite binary tree of universes). So how does one even assign a measure on this collection of universes.

    Immediatly this should raise a red flag. The argument relies on the intuition that “obviously” our confidence that our universe has property P should be the same as the proportion of universes with that property. But how can that be obvious if we don’t even understand what proportion means in this context (there are TONS of probability measures on Cantor space)?


    Ultimately this is really a version of the sleeping beauty paradox and exactly the same argument would apparently prove that, provided you didn’t believe it was impossible for there to be infinitely many copies of our universe, it is virtually certain (probability 1).

    The fallacy in all these arguments is the confusion of the confidence we should have that some property holds of our current awareness (generated by an imprinted world) with the measure of all such awareness with that property. In other words the assumption that since most possible consciousnesses will inhabit an imprinted world we should be confident that we inhabit such a world, is invalid.

    The problem is in assuming our awareness is somehow the result of randomly selecting (with something like a uniform distribution) one of the collection of all possible conscious experiences. We have absolutely no reason to believe any such thing.

    • http://infiniteinjury.org/blog/ Peter Gerdes

      To put this in terms a Bayesian would appreciate the issue is what our a priori probabilities truly represent.

      These sleeping beauty type arguments assume that our a priori probabilities should be thought of as just our unexamined gut feelings. However, they can’t really be that since they must satisfy the probability axioms, in other words they must assume logical omniscience. Only events whose prior probability was not 1 should modify your probability judgments via conditioning.

      The argument presented here is obviously not new empirical data. It proposes a mathematical/philosophical argument which our prior probability assignment must (if valid) comply with. But on this view the argument no longer goes through.

      For the sleeping beauty style argument to work we need to assume that since we have no reason to favor one centered universe consistant with our experiences from another we should give them equal prior probability and make some other assumptions about our prior probabilities to be in various centered universes. The conclusion we then seem to reach is that our probability for say not being in a imprinted universe, induction working, etc.. etc.. is very tiny if not 0.

      But our gut level intuition that it’s unlikely we are in an imprinted universe is considerably stronger and easier to grasp than those about centered universes. This argument then hasn’t so much shown that we should assign probability 0 to these events but that our prior probabilities were not actually consistent. Indeed, I would argue that the error is in taking our prior probabilities to even range over centered universes. That is a bad way to model our beliefs and if we are insistent about using probability as a model for ideal confidence than our event space should consist of empirically observable properties of the universe, or at least concrete facts about the world we can easily grasp.

      But if we insist on taking our priors to be a distribution on scientific claims about the world this kind of sleeping beauty argument can’t even get off the ground.

  • http://infiniteinjury.org/blog/ Peter Gerdes

    To give a shorter more convincing refutation consider the following argument:

    The principle of induction tells us to grant more confidence to simpler descriptions of reality so it shouldn’t be inconsistent to have a high confidence that the universe has a finite information content, i.e., the laws of physics and the initial conditions can be specified using only finitely much information (initial conditions and physical laws are interchangeable…every universe obeys the physical laws of the universal turing machine with the right initial conditions).

    However, by the argument above if it is possible to create baby universes (or indeed just make simulations containing conscious sims) and unboundedly many such universes/sims are created then the probability the universe can be described with less than k bits of information must be 0. After all there are only 2^k such universes and the limit of 2^k/n as n goes to infinity is 0. Therefore we must assign probability 1 to the claim that the universe allows no simple description

  • hf

    James Miller pointed out the first problem with this argument. We can easily postulate a countably infinite set of regions like our visible universe. It wouldn’t even seem that surprising (at least according to my limited understanding of cosmic inflation). In that case it wouldn’t matter what ‘fraction’ of natural ‘universes’ produce life. If the rest of your argument holds, and if I understand how to apply probability to infinite sets (both of which seem doubtful) then the alternative to 1 seems like a toss-up.

    The other problem I see here lies in your assumptions about godlike behavior. Maybe the power to create continua — like the power that Bostrom’s gods possess to simulate human brains perfectly, and to create immersive brain interfaces — strongly suggests a telepathic civilization. Maybe if we actually knew what we were talking about here, we’d see a strong correlation between godhood and having the basic decency not to create worlds where people die alone and in pain.

    i just got a little chuckle realizing that somewhere, somebody is probably reading this post and trying very hard to figure out exactly how it serves to promote the nefarious ulterior motives of the diabolical Koch brothers

    I doubt anyone would spend much time on it. Obviously a hypothetical marketing genius in the pay of the Koch brothers could start from the premise of God(s) and derive any number of Koch-like conclusions.

  • roystgnr

    There’s a Stephen Baxter book, Manifold Time, with a version of this argument which extends to non-intelligent creation of new universes as well – there’s a paraphrasing of it here:

    http://www.csub.edu/Physics/phys110/MindBlowing.html

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