Cosmology is not geography

Researchers believe they have found the signal left in the sky by “inflation” – the idea that the cosmos experienced an exponential growth spurt in its first trillionth, of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second. In related news, surveyors have been climbing and re-measuring some of Britain’s highest peaks, to see if they are high enough to be called mountains. I am sure you see something odd here.

OK, both headlines are about scientific measurements. But the first is about fundamental cosmology, the deep nature of our universe, while the second is about provincial geography. These peaks had a different height ten years ago, will have a different height in 10 years, and “high enough to be called mountains” is an arbitrary convention. This doesn’t mean that the second headline is not interesting – for geographers and mountain climbers it may well be more interesting than the first – but the two headlines are not “related” at all, they are about totally different things.

I am a big fan of Frank J. Tipler. In The Physics of Immortality (1994), Tipler shows that some high level visions of religions may be basically compatible with science – future sentient beings may become natural Gods able to re-engineer space-time and resurrect the dead. Like many readers, I was totally awestruck by Tipler’s vision.

As a Stone Age (20th and 21st centuries) scientist, Tipler is certainly wrong on many points that will be corrected by future scientists. But dismissing him as a crank, like some idiots do, is really like dismissing Leonardo as a crank because his aircraft sketches wouldn’t fly, which is just stupid. Leonardo was a genius who got the concepts right, and later engineers equipped with more detailed knowledge have realized his visions.

In the first part of his second book, The Physics of Christianity, Tipler refines his Omega Point model of the far future history of the universe and suggests that, by purposefully annihilating baryons, sentient life will be able to stop the accelerating expansion of the universe and start its gravitational collapse, which is a necessary prerequisite for his Omega Point scenario. I am very keen of this “fix what you don’t like” transhumanist attitude, also supported by Ray Kurzweil’s last sentence in The Age of Spiritual Machines: “So will the Universe end in a big crunch, or in an infinite expansion of dead stars, or in some other manner? In my view, the primary issue is not the mass of the Universe, or the possible existence of antigravity, or of Einstein’s so-called cosmological constant. Rather, the fate of the Universe is a decision yet to be made, one which we will intelligently consider when the time is right.” According to Tipler, life will choose a big crunch in order to achieve an Omega Point, and resurrect sentient beings of past ages in appropriate computational realities fueled by the unlimited computing power available.

Then, Tipler tries to show that Christian mythology is compatible with science. In the second part of The Physics of Christianity the virgin birth of Jesus, his incarnation, his resurrection, and several miracles are discussed and “explained” in terms of modern physics in the framework of Tipler’s cosmology. Well…

I think the second part of the book is “not in the same universe” as the first one, and much less interesting. I find it off-topic, just like describing in detail the provincial geography of England in a cosmology essay on the fundamental features and structure of the universe. I find Tipler’s cosmology fascinating, but I just don’t find geographic details like the virgin birth important, or interesting. My respect and love for Jesus are exactly the same if I think that he was born just like everyone else.

All religions, at least all the Western religions that I am more familiar with, have both cosmic and provincial aspects, at times difficult to disentangle. I often find religious mythology and metaphors interesting and aesthetically appealing, as a nice local geographical feature, like looking at the stars from a beautiful place in the mountains. But the mountains are not the stars.

Then, many religions have really petty, extremely provincial aspects related to what and when one should eat or drink or what sex is allowed and with whom. I don’t care for this stuff at all. It isn’t even geography – it’s local zoning norms, often questionable, sometimes ugly.

I am persuaded that we will go to the stars and find Gods, build Gods, become Gods, and resurrect the dead from the past with advanced science, space-time engineering and “time magic.” I see God emerging from the community of advanced forms of life and civilizations in the universe, and able to influence space-time events anywhere, anytime, perhaps even here and now. I also expect God to elevate love and compassion to the status of fundamental forces, key drivers for the evolution of the universe.

But my God is not interested in the petty details of our daily life, as long as we act with love and compassion. My God has no interest in what you do with our genitals, or with whom, as long as you act with compassion and love. My God has no interest in what and when I eat, or drink, or smoke, or inhale, as long as I act with love and compassion. My God has no preference for one or another nation, religion, ethnic group, gender, or sport team. My God is very, very, very far above these things.

Perhaps I should clarify “My God has no preference for one or another religion,” which may seem odd. What I mean is that the common cores, the cosmological and mystical aspects of different religions, are similar or at least compatible. It’s only the geography (not to mention the zoning norms) that is different, like the geography of England is different from the geography of Utah. But England and Utah are both under the stars, the same stars.

I discussed these points last week at the 2014 Conference of the Mormon Transhumanist Association (MTA) last week in Salt Lake City. Now, Mormonism provides a good example of cosmology, geography, and zoning norms.

Mormonism has a concept of boundless elevation and exaltation of Man, through all means including science and technology, until he becomes like God. Conversely, God was once like Man before attaining an exalted status. “[Mormonism] allows for humans to ascend to a higher, more godlike level,” writes Max More in his introduction to The Transhumanist Reader, “rather than sharply dividing God from Man.” This part of Mormonism is the core of my own religion, and therefore I am a card carrying member of the MTA.

Then we have the geography, the story of the Book of Mormon and other revelations. I find Mormon mythology very inspiring, but I consider it as geography (like the virgin birth), and my admiration and respect for Joseph Smith are exactly the same if I think that he made everything up. Perhaps there is not even an important difference between imagination and revelation. Perhaps, when we contemplate the numinous, we are more in tune with the universe, and we are allowed to take something back. Perhaps Joseph was just more in tune with the universe than the rest of us.

And then, we have the local zoning norms. I don’t drink much and I haven’t done drugs for decades, but I am unable to function as a sentient being without drinking coffee and smoking, habits that Mormons strongly disapprove of. They may well be right – if I had grown up as a Mormon I would probably be healthier – but I don’t think the King Follet Sermon and the Word of Wisdom live and the same conceptual universe: the first is cosmology, and the second is zoning.

I know that many believers are emotionally attached to geography and even zoning norms. I have no problem with them (as long as they act with love and compassion, of course).

But others, who find the geography uninteresting and the zoning norms arbitrary and unpleasant, reject everything including the stars. Which is too bad, because the stars are beautiful.

That’s why I think we need new religious social movements, focused on the cosmic core of enlightened spirituality.


  • Joshua

    I didn’t realize I was a Transhumanist until I recently discussed some of my theological/scientific viewpoints to a friend. I’ve been LDS all my life, but have struggled more recently to reconcile my “cosmological” understandings with the “zoning” of Mormon culture. Anyway, I rarely comment on the articles I read, but I really wanted to thank you because you’ve articulated my own viewpoints in a way that I never could.


  • Giulio Prisco

    Thanks Joshua, and welcome in the transhumanist galaxy! Have you already joined the MTA?

  • There are 2 main parts of religions: what is true, and what we should do. Commandments, about food sex smoking etc, what you call “geography”, mostly fit in “what we should do”. Questions like “does god exist and what is god made of” or “can we create something like a universe or section of it by crunching together galaxies” are in the “what is true” part of religion. What should we do, and what is true, should be in 2 separate books.

  • Giulio Prisco

    @Ben, I think we are using different categories. I think both the categories that you are using contain both cosmology (high level, important) and geography (low level, provincial, petty).

    For example in the category “what should we do” there are statements like “we should be kind to children” (cosmology) and “we should not eat in Ramadan days” (geography). I think these two statements belong in (very) separate books.

  • Jason Travis

    Thanks, Giulio. I really liked the article, especially”am persuaded that we will go to the stars and find Gods, build Gods, become Gods, and resurrect the dead from the past with advanced science, space-time engineering and “time magic.” I see God emerging from the community of advanced forms of life and civilizations in the universe, and able to influence space-time events anywhere, anytime, perhaps even here and now. I also expect God to elevate love and compassion to the status of fundamental forces, key drivers for the evolution of the universe.”

    Like you I enjoyed Tipler’s books- mainly for the vision. The universe is an amazing awe-inspiring place and we- if current cosmological predictions are correct- a young species. Who knows what wonders lie ahead?

    Only a few centuries we could only wonder at the stars and feel awe. Now we can begin to understand how they work, how to get there and manipulate spacetime itself, to allow infinite computation, to allow the ressurection of long dead ancestors, to become citizens of heaven and one with God.

    We may be several generations- perhaps several hundred- from achieving those ambitions but that is a mere eye blink of cosmic time!