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The Physics of Immortality

Posted by spritzophrenia on July 26, 2010

I came across astrophysicist Frank Tipler’s The Physics of Immortality some time ago in a bookshop. Looked really interesting, if a bit wacky, but it contained way too much high-end physics for me to evaluate. I always wondered what exactly his conclusions were beyond some kind of g0d. Lucky me, Hugh Ross’s The Creator and the Cosmos has a summary.

According to Ross, Tipler (and co-author John Barrow) believe they can prove from physics that As we continue to evolve, we will become the Creator-Designer:

With [their “final anthropic principle”], the life that exists (past, present, and future) will continue to evolve with the inanimate resources of the universe until it all reaches a state that Barrow and Tipler call the “Omega Point”. This Omega Point, they say, is an Entity that has the properties of omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience, with the capacity to create in the past. In other words, the Creator-God does not exist yet, but we (all life and all inanimate structures in the universe) are gradually evolving into God. When God is thus finally constructed, His power will be such that He can create the entire universe with all of its characteristics of design billions of years ago.

continued below…

In his latest book [at the time], The Physics of Immortality, Tipler proposes that evolution toward the Omega Point will occur through advancing computer technology. By extrapolating computer capability doubling time (currently, about eighteen months) some millions of years into the future, Tipler predicts that a future generation of human beings will be able not only to alter the entire universe and all the laws of physics but also to create a God who does not yet exist. Furthermore, we will be able to resurrect every human being who has ever lived by recovering the memories that once resided in each person’s brain.
Ross, page 165

Coincidentally, this stuff aligns with some science-fiction ideas I’ve been thinking about, and speculation in some other books I’ve been reading. Since Ross’s book Tipler’s published The Physics of Christianity.

I really like this comment from an Amazon reviewer:

Quantum Physics is the new magic. I’ve noticed from hanging out on philosophy forums online, that Quantum Physics is the new magic. There’s a quantum theory of consciousness, quantum this, quantum that. Everything can be proven with Quantum Physics. So some places have a sort of Godwin’s Law that you can’t use Quantum Physics as proof of anything — unless you yourself have a strong background in the subject. Of course, this doesn’t quite apply, as Tipler is a mathematical physicist, but his writings certainly remind me of all the Quantum Physics-as-magic posts I’ve seen written online.

I’ve since published a précis of Ross’s rebuttal of these ideas. But what do you think? Weird enough for ya? Comment below. You don’t have to be a physicist to have an opinion.

21 Responses to “The Physics of Immortality”

  1. Iain said

    I’m procrastinating so this post will only be small, but I almost sympathise with the Omega Point idea. I should clarify. I do think that (if we don’t destroy) the far-future fruits of science will result in technology that will allow us to do many amazing things. Possibly even, for most purposes, appear god-like. I think we will know much but that we won’t be “omniscience”. I think we will, for most intents and purposes, be effectively omnipotent within the bounds of our material universe. Depending on how travel and observation technology goes we could get fairly close to being functionally omnipresent.

    Even by extrapolating what serious physicists talk about now, it isn’t hard to see that the future of our species could be a star-spanning, galaxy manipulating, life-creating race. If you look at what people are already saying about the idea of encoding information in black holes and the nature of the broad structure of our reality, it is also possible that we will be able to create a “universe” (and mould and populate it).

    Realistically, it is highly likely we will just kill ourselves. But IF we hang on long enough to get our species off of just the single planet and IF we develop enough so that our sex-organs and our adrenal glands play less of a role in the functioning of our higher cognition and IF we manage to achieve technological advancements that look more realistically like the Singularity (Kurzweil) … then maybe there is something in all of this mumbo-jumbo to look forward to.

    I’d be fairly skeptical about what they said about control of the past and the creation of a god itself, but if any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic then it is also true that a sufficiently advanced species is indistinguishable from an incarnate deity.

    (I could provide more detail and perhaps sound less prophetically insane, but I don’t have time)

    Great topic!

    • I’d forgotten the future “singularity” concept.

      Certainly, when reading some speculative SF it can get very trippy. Some of Greg Bear’s stuff is like that (eg Eon). Gregory Benford had ideas of vast intelligences based in cosmic gas and electrical fields, sort of like gas computers in his “Galactic Centre” novels.

      All very mind boggling.

      It raises questions around the idea of what it would mean to be ‘human’. But I guess we will be long gone by that time.

  2. SugarPop said

    Um, so, if in the future *we* create a *god*, and through that are able to resurrect every past human through access to their memories, then how do we know that this hasn’t already happened, and that we are just reliving what has already been, like a re-run of a movie?

    Maybe I’m being a bit naïve and not thought-full enough. Perhaps someone will care to educate me?

    • Iain said

      There isn’t any such guarantee. Our universe might have been created by a race of god-like creatures in what is, from our perspective, a transcendent meta-universe. Metaphysical speculations are like that. That’s the nature of the game!

      Their writing makes me think of Terminator, if we think that in the future we could affect or create the past. Also, it sounds quite close to the Mormon doctrine of eternal progression.

      • Can you briefly explain that Mormon doctrine Iain? It’s not one I’m really familiar with. I’ve read that when one gets through to the core doctrines Mormonism is much more like polytheism than traditional theistic Christianity.

        • Iain said

          Certainly can.

          Basically, the Mormons have three (or four?) options for afterlife depending on where you fall within their system.

          The Telestial Kingdom is the afterlife for the naughty people.
          The Terrestrial Kingdom is the afterlife for the nice people who weren’t Mormons.
          The Celestial Kingdom is the reward for the best kind of Mormons, including (but perhaps not limited to) the Mormons who were properly married in a Mormon Temple.

          The highest reward for the best (married) Mormons is Exaltation, where the Mormon is unified with the Father and glorified into a state of godhood (from Romans 8:17 and almost certainly more detail in Mormon scriptures that I’m not aware of).
          As far as I understand it, and I’m no Mormon scholar (or even an ex-Mormon), I believe that the Mormon view is that the creator god and the current god are two separate Beings (i think?). The current god is an example of a Being who demonstrated the possibility of eternal progression into a state of godhood. I believe that Mormons, effectively, believe that if they tick all the right boxes then eventually they will be deified.

          But I could be wrong. I’d say “ask a Mormon” but I haven’t managed to have much success in that area, myself.

        • Ah… in that case I had heard of this, but didn’t know it was called eternal progression. Thanks, great summary.

          And yes, quite different to “orthodox” Christianity ™

        • Iain said

          I think that the overall doctrine is “Exaltation” and the specific process is “eternal progression”.

          I’ve tried to talk to a couple of Mormon friends about this. They could confirm tiny fragments but by-in-large I found that they were either hiding LDS doctrine OR were not aware of the doctrines that were more of a departure from Orthodox Christianity™.
          Based on their reactions when they talked to me a while later I think that it’s probably more likely that their church’s general education sessions just weren’t giving them the more complex theology of the LDS system. It’s hard information to get, from the outside looking in.

        • SugarPop said

          Although I suspect its authority and accuracy is questionable, the TV series “Big Love” is interesting in that it *examines* polygamy and other aspects of the LDS doctrine. I’m always intrigued when subjects of faith and dogma make it into mainstream media. I question the motives behind making these the subjects of *entertainment*, yet welcome the fact that it has the consequence of broadening awareness about differences in belief and practice.

        • Iain said

          On Brian Dunning’s Skeptoid Podcast episode 163, “How to Make Skepticism Commercial”, he made the point that people usually want something interesting and entertaining first, followed by good information last.
          His point was that if we fail to produce TV or other media that is interesting, nobody is going to watch it. Bad information sells because bad information can usually be thrilling and bizarre. It draws an audience.
          In this case (while I’ve never seen Big Love and don’t plan on watching it ever 🙂 ) I think that if, in the process of entertaining, it also manages to educate then I’ll probably put up with a little bit of commercial exploitation in order to make a positive compromise.

      • SugarPop said

        Interesting – I was actually thinking of the Terminator movies when I made my original statement. The biggest knot I wrestle with is the apparent linearity of time. If time is an *illusion*, then I think anything is quantumly possible. I just have a hard time wrapping my head around time. My noodle is baked.

    • I think that’s a perfectly valid comment SugarPop, and is not something I’d thought of. This is why I need you guys to help me out 🙂

      Your suggestion reminds me a bit of Descartes’ ideas, and his subsequent heritage, which I believe is now largely unpopular in philosophy circles? (“How do we know we aren’t brains in vats controlled by evil scientists, just imagining our lives”? Rather like the film The Matrix.)

      But more than that, you’ve hit on some time-travel paradoxes which I think are problematic for this view.

      Both are really good thought-provokers.

      Even “obvious” comments (which I don’t think yours is), show us the typical responses to such ideas, which is at least useful. I don’t want people to be scared of derision when posting here.

      All comments are valid on spritzophrenia, even “I think this is silly, but I can’t explain why”. After all, I often feel that way myself.


  3. QP is only ‘magic’ if you buy into a concrete, fixed nature of reality. It speaks to a ‘reality’ which exists but that we are unaware of because we are limited by our senses. In my book Again (http://romyshiller.com/Again.php) I say, ‘To me, partiality reigns. All I know is that there are glimpses and fragments of knowledge. We are not privy to the whole picture. We are accordingly limited by our senses. To find evidence of this, look at various animals and their realities. The world of the fish in the fishbowl is the fishbowl. All it knows is some “hand” feeding it. This could be magical or omniscient to a fish. The fish is severely limited by its environment, senses, etc. So moving on from this, I understand that I can only know so much. I am a fish in a fishbowl. I am limited and any quest of mine is circumspect. I can explore the unknown, the mysterious, other notions. I can observe the hand that feeds me, my fishbowl. I can know a warped reality, a skewed perspective. I do not believe in concepts that invoke ideas of the real, the solid or the secure. Things that are shaky or wobbly feel more appropriate.’ Reality is a concept.

    Happy Birthday, Jonathan.

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  7. reikoeoh said

    Hey Jonathan, I think that we are a part of God, but neither we nor machines will create God. Humans always give its own species too much credit! LoL! 😉

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