Join The Universe

If you spend most of your time arguing with your immediate family, then even the family members with whom you most disagree are at the center of your world, and greatly define you. Or if you spend most of your time focusing on the “hot” topics and status conflicts within a particular academic community, then even the people there with which you most disagree are your close colleagues, and greatly define you. Or if you spend most of your time arguing about US politics, then even those who disagree with you most about that are near the center of your world, and define you.

That is, in general you are defined more by the topics on which you argue, and the communities in which you argue, than by which side you take on such topics. The people you most hate, you hate exactly because they are close to you, and in your way, as they are in your world.

These worlds I listed, even the US politics world, seem to me just too small and provincial to spend all my time there. So I invite you to instead, at least some of the time, come join my favorite world. Join the place where we argue about the biggest issues we can find in the universe. A conversation that may eventually be joined by creatures across many eras and perhaps even civilizations. Even if I completely disagree with you on such things, if you focus on arguing about them, then you are in my world. And you will help define me.

Here are 42 BIG questions:

  1. Did there have to be something, rather than nothing?
  2. Is the universe infinite, in spacetime or entropy?
  3. Why is entropy always lower in past directions?
  4. Are the speed of light, and forward causation, hard limits on info & influence?
  5. What is most of the universe made of, & can the other stuff make complex life & civs?
  6. Where are the universe’s largest reservoirs of extractable negentropy, and how fast can they flow?
  7. How cheaply can these reservoirs be defended & maintained, and thus how long can they last?
  8. In which of the many possible filter steps does most of the great filter usually lie?
  9. How far away is the nearest alien civilization?
  10. What % of alien civs evolve intelligence via routes other than our social conflict route?
  11. How willing are most aliens to cooperate with us, instead of competing?
  12. When will growth in tech abilities slow down due to running out of useful things to learn?
  13. When will growth of solar system economy slow down due to congestion & exhaustion?
  14. When will growth of Earth economy slow down due to congestion & exhaustion?
  15. When will artificial machines replace biology in running & doing things?
  16. Will that be late enough for genetic engineering or global warming to matter much?
  17. When will the dominant creatures around take a long view, or an abstract view?
  18. What types of competition and coordination (e.g., governance) institutions will dominate in which social areas when and where?
  19. What forms of governance will be most common in which different future eras?
  20. When will mental organization of dominant creatures deviate greatly from that of humans now?
  21. After that point, which kinds of minds will win which competitions where?
  22. After that point, what units of mental or social organization will matter most, and when or where?
  23. After that point, what will minds value, and at what levels will they most encode and coordinate values?
  24. What were the key causes and enablers of each past key growth mode (life, brains, foraging, farming, & industry)?
  25. When will the next growth mode start, what will enable it, and how will it differ?
  26. When, if ever, will all that we caused and care about end and die?
  27. What will be our deepest future collapse, short of extinction, how deep will that be, and how long to recover?
  28. When will be the next major civilization collapse, what % of world will that take down, and how different is the next civ?
  29. When will be the next big war, and will many nukes be used?
  30. When, if ever, will external genetic, econ, or military competition again drive large scale policy & governance choices?
  31. Where in space-time are most of the human like creatures who believe they are experiencing our place in space-time?
  32. What are our strongest levers of influence today over the universe?
  33. How long will how much non-human nature remain, and how wild will that be?
  34. What are the actual motivations that drive most human behavior today?
  35. What has been driving the main changes in values and attitudes over the last few centuries, and what further changes will they induce?
  36. What new practices and institutions can enable greatly increased rates of innovation?
  37. When, if ever, will more general & reliable truth-oriented institutions (e.g., prediction markets) offer estimates on a wide range of subjects?
  38. When, if ever, will average human fertility stop falling, and total human population rise?
  39. When, if ever, will human per-capita income stop rising?
  40. Will human per-capita energy usage ever start rising greatly again?
  41. When will humans become effectively immortal, and least re internal decay?
  42. For where did Earth life originate, and when did it start there?

(I will add more to this list as I hear good suggestions.)

Hamming’s famous question is “What are the most important problems in your field”, followed quickly by “Why aren’t you working on them?” If one of your fields is the universe, then why aren’t you working on one of these big questions?

Added 9a: I’ve mostly left out questions where it is unclear if the usual debates are about something real, rather than about how we use words.

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