Blasphemy or words of God?

I recommend to everyone the scientific thriller Blasphemy, by Douglas Preston. A real page turner, this book tells the biggest story: the birth and unstoppable growth of a new scientific religion, perhaps revealed by God himself. This fictional religion, “The Search,” is very, very close to my own.

See my full review here.

In Red Mesa, Arizona, scientists have built the most powerful particle accelerator on Earth, Isabella, a fictional higher-energy version of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Isabella is so powerful that it can create Big Bang -like energies and rip holes in the fabric of space-time itself.

The scientists receive a message that seems to come directly from the zone of extreme space-time curvature that forms where particles and anti-particles collide.

“‘Who are you?’ Kate typed. ‘For lack of a better word, I am God.’”

The scientists are initially skeptical and suspect a hoax, but the beauty and consistency of the words of God persuade them. Now they have the mission to reveal a new formulation of religion, based on science.

Regardless of its origins — God’s revelation, an AI program inspired by God, the ravings of a mad scientist, or brilliant memetic engineering — the new religion, “the Search,” is beautiful. It is awesome, full of sense of wonder, compatible with science, and “useful” in the sense that it can take us beyond current humanity 1.0, and then to the stars where we will eventually meet God. In this sense, the Search is true religion.

Excerpts of the words of God:

If I knew [the purpose of existence], existence would be pointless.

If the end of the universe were present in its beginning — if we are merely in the middle of the deterministic unfolding of a set of initial conditions — then the universe would be a pointless exercise.

If you’re at your destination, why make the journey? If you know  the answer, why ask the question? That is why the future is — and must be — profoundly hidden, even from God. Otherwise, existence would have no meaning. The physical argument is that no part of the universe can calculate things faster than the universe itself. The universe is “predicting the future” as fast as it can.

The universe is one vast, irreducible, ongoing computation, which is working toward a state that I do not and cannot know. The purpose of existence is to reach that final state. But that final state is a mystery to me, as it must be, for if I knew the answer, what would be the point of it all? By computation I mean thinking. All of existence, everything that happens — a falling leaf, a wave upon the beach, the collapse of a star — it is all just me, thinking.

I can no more explain to you who I am than you could explain to a beetle who you are. I will explain instead why you cannot understand me. You inhabit a world scaled midway between the Planck length and the diameter of the universe. Your brain was exquisitely fine-tuned to manipulate your world — not to comprehend its fundamental reality. You evolved to throw rocks, not quarks. As a result of your evolution, you see the world in fundamentally erroneous ways. For example, you believe yourselves to occupy a three-dimensional space in which separate objects trace smoothly predictable arcs marked by something you call time. This is what you call reality.

Natural selection has given you the illusion that you understand fundamental reality. But you do not. How could you? Do beetles understand fundamental reality? Do chimpanzees? You are an animal like them. You evolved like them, you reproduce like them, you have the same basic neural structures. You differ from the chimpanzee by a mere two hundred genes. How could that minuscule difference enable you to comprehend the universe when the chimpanzee cannot even comprehend a grain of sand? If our conversation is to be fruitful, you must abandon all hope of understanding me.

You evolved to see the world as being made up of discrete objects. That is not so. From the first moment of creation, all was entangled. What you call space and time are merely emergent properties of a deeper underlying reality. In that reality, there is no separateness. There is no time. There is no space. All is one. Your own theory of quantum mechanics, incorrect as it is, touches on the deep truth that the universe is unitary.

You think of yourself as an “individual person,” with a unique and separate mind. You think you are born and you think you die. All your life you feel separate and alone. Sometimes desperately so. You fear death because you fear the loss of individuality. All this is illusion. You, he, she, those things around you living or not, the stars and galaxies, the empty space in between — these are not distinct, separate objects. All is fundamentally entangled. Birth and death, pain and suffering, love and hate, good and evil, are all illusive. They are atavisms of the evolutionary process. They do not exist in reality. There is an absolute truth, a reality. But a mere glimpse of this reality would break a human mind.

For reasons I have already explained, you cannot know what I am. The word “God” comes close, but it remains a highly impoverished description.

You constructed your physical laws on the assumption of the existence of time and space. All your laws are based on frames of reference. This is invalid. Soon your cherished assumptions about the real world will crash and burn. From the ashes you will build a new kind of science. Newton’s laws of motion, while false, were adequate to send people to the moon. Just so with your laws: they are workable approximations that are fundamentally incorrect.

The great monotheistic religions were a necessary stage in the development of human culture. Your task is to guide the human race to the next belief system.

The immediate goal of humankind is to escape the limits of biochemistry. You must free your mind from the meat of your bodies.  You have already begun to process information beyond your meat existence through computers. You will soon find a way to process it using quantum-state computing machines, which will lead you to harness the natural quantum processes in the world around you as a means of computation. No longer will you need to build machines to process information. You will expand into the universe, literally and figuratively, as other intelligent entities have expanded before you. You will escape the prison of biological intelligence. Over time, you will link up with other expanded intelligences. All these linked intelligences will discover a way to merge into a third stage of mind that will comprehend the simple reality that is at the heart of existence.

Religion is as essential to human survival as food and water. If you try to replace religion with science, you will fail. You will, instead, offer science as religion. For I say to you, science is religion. The one, true religion. Instead of offering a book of truth, science offers a method of truth. Science is a search for truth, not the revelation of truth. It is a means, not a dogma. It is a journey, not a destination. You will not deny people faith; you will offer them a new faith. I have not come to replace the Judeo-Christian God, but to complete him.

I ask you to contemplate the universe that you now know exists. Is it not, by itself, more awe-inspiring than any God concept offered by the historical religions? A hundred billion galaxies, lonely islands of fire flung like bright coins in a vastness of space so immense that it is beyond the biological comprehension of the human mind. And I say to you, that the universe you have discovered is only a tiny fraction of the extent and magnificence of the creation. I am the God of deep time and space, the God of superclusters and voids, the God of the Big Bang and the inflation, the God of dark matter and dark energy.

[T]his is your destiny: to find truth. This is why you exist. This is your purpose. Science is merely how you do it. This is what you must worship: the search for truth itself. If you do this with all your heart, then some great day in the distant future you will stand before Me. This is my covenant with the human race. You will know the truth. And the truth shall make you free.

  • Hi Giulio,

    To me the characterisation of science is false.

    Science is not a search for Truth in the sense of knowing Truth.
    In science, the idea of truth is an uncertain ideal.

    Science deals in methods to select the most useful explanation from amongst the competing explanations available.

    Science acknowledges fundamental uncertainties in all measurements, and in all approximations to knowledge.

    The very idea that we could know something with absolute certainty is one of the most improbable things. We may in fact know something, but we could never be certain of that knowledge.

    It seems to me that this whole historical fixation on the notion of Truth comes from a child’s first attempts to deal with the infinite uncertainties of life, and to split that infinity into two polar camps True and False. True and False have meaning in certain mathematical and logical domains, most notably in Boolean logic, and computer systems derived from it (having been programming computers since 1973 I have some experience in that realm).

    However, it is clear to me that we have no certain access to True and False in the realm of the real.

    It is clear from studies of both neuroanatomy and psychology that we have no direct access to reality.
    The reality of our experience seems to exist in a model of reality that our brains create, and keep updated from inputs from our senses. Our experience of being seems to be in this “shadow realm”, which most of the time is a very accurate model of the “real thing” and allows us to function; and sometimes it fails. Stage magicians are very good at inducing model failures, so are many marketers and some politicians (and dare I say, many religious leaders).

    It seems clear to me that we are evolved organisms, capable of creativity in our own right, and subject to multiple influences from genetics, physics, culture and environment.

    The more awareness we bring to our situation, the more influence we have over it, and that influence can never be total.

    It seems highly improbable that we will develop any matrix that allows our awareness to truly leave our bodies any time soon. We can certainly have experiences of leaving our bodies (I have had quite a few such) and all of them seem to be mediated by the model in our brains rather than anything separate in reality.

    It may be possible that some alien race evolved somewhat before us has developed such technology and may apply it to us, and that seems rather improbable at this juncture for a vast array of reasons.

    So to me, the couching of science in religious terms does a grave disservice to science.

    And I acknowledge that there are in fact many who call themselves scientists who are in fact religious about science. And to me, all such people are simply ignorant of what science actually is.

    It is clear to me that science is, and always will be, fundamentally grounded in uncertainty and possibility. There cannot be any end to the path of science, it is a potentially infinite inquiry. Kurt Goedel and Stephen Wolfram have both demonstrated the mathematical logic for this beyond any reasonable doubt.

    Personally, I look forward to the day when all people are able to leave the childhood certainty of simple binary approximations of true and false, and step into the infinite gradations of uncertainty that seems to characterise reality in which we seem to find ourselves.

  • Giulio Prisco

    Hi Ted, thanks for writing.

    I thing God agrees with you: “Newton’s laws of motion, while false, were adequate to send people to the moon… Science is a search for truth, not the revelation of truth. It is a means, not a dogma. It is a journey, not a destination.”

    And I agree with you: see

    Many mystics believe in supernatural phenomena beyond the reach of science. Many ultra-rationalists believe in a soon-to-be-found Theory of Everything to explain all that happens in the universe with a few elegant formulas. I think they are both wrong: nothing is beyond the reach of science, but Shakespeare’s “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” may remain true forever.

    You can count up to any number, and there will still be infinite numbers beyond. Similarly, our scientific understanding of the universe may grow without bonds, but always find new fractal depths of unexplained phenomena, to be explored by future scientists.

  • phm

    ‘The program itself was anything but simple — I’m not sure even I understand it. It said a lot of things I never intended it to say — things that I never dreamed of. You might say it performed beyond specs.’

    Why does this quote annoy me so much? I don’t think any A.I programmer would talk like that. Surely it’s a given that if you’re sucessful your baby will think things that you’ve never dreamed of, and you’re not going to understand how it works. Does anyone in the field have ‘specs’? Wouldn’t they just say ‘I want it to learn’?

  • Peter Christiansen

    I just finished reading Douglas Preston’s, BLASPHEMY, and it is every bit as good as you said Guilio. I have a question: Is it possible to post the Appendix, The Words of God, which is the heart of the book, on Turning Church website?

  • Giulio Prisco

    Hi Peter, glad that you liked the book. In this post I included what I see as the key parts of the Appendix. If I missed something, please let me know!