Modern Cosmism Conference

Divine action and resurrection: something like that, more or less

I haven’t posted for a while because I have been studying and focusing on my forthcoming book, but I want to say something about my current studies and thoughts on physics, divine action, and resurrection, inspired by observations and comments by readers, especially Spud.

Adapted and expanded from the discussion about my article “Christianity and Transhumanism Are Much Closer Than You Think” at IEET:

Spud and I often discuss the How and When of technological resurrection. I say that I have no idea of How and no idea of When, but scientists in the far future could know much more. Spud answers, that’s not good enough, we need to say something more precise now to keep people warm at night. Of course he is right, it would be nice to say something more precise, I just don’t know what to say at this moment, we simply don’t know enough physics yet.

“The wait is cosmological ages,” says Spud, “and who wants to wait up for that?” But I am not worried about When. From your perspective, you don’t have to wait cosmological ages. As far as your subjective experiences are concerned, you go to sleep and you wake up “the morning after” in a new world. The morning after could be billions of years in the future, but you don’t experience the time between going to sleep and waking up. This has been analyzed by theologians for hundreds of years. Be it two hundred or two billion years in the future, resurrection technology won’t be developed in our lifetime, but on the other hand whenever it’s developed it will offer subjective continuity to resurrected people, so why worry?

I don’t think we could understand How at this moment. But perhaps we could offer suggestive stories and throw-away models for God and resurrection, based on today’s physics. While being probably wrong because current physics is probably wrong, the throw-away models could convey the flavor of future theories. An example is Tipler’s model, which is based on today’s physics. I think Tipler’s mistake is thinking that we already know enough physics for eschatology, but at least he put his hands in the mud to work out a reasonably detailed story.

Understandable throw-away “something like that, more or less” models are useful because, even if they are wrong, perhaps they are not entirely wrong, or they are wrong in interesting ways that can help imagining better models. Leonardo’s detailed models of flying machines, based on the science of Leonardo’s time, were not entirely wrong and interestingly wrong, because they helped thinking about heavier-than-air flying machines, which were achieved centuries later, not by imitating birds flapping wings but by entirely different technologies.

The theologians quoted in “Christianity and Transhumanism Are Much Closer Than You Think” argue that miracles – and what’s resurrection if not the ultimate miracle? – don’t need to violate natural laws. God is smarter than that and can do miracles by using, as opposed to violating, the laws of nature.

A 19th century physicist would disagree, because 19th century physics is deterministic. A particle can go this way or that way, and if the laws of physics say that it must go this way, God can’t make it go that way without violating the laws of physics.

Contrary to 19th century physics, modern physics isn’t deterministic. Modern non-quantum physics is non-deterministic in practice due to chaotic dynamics, and modern quantum physics is non-deterministic in principle due to the random collapse of quantum wavefunction upon observation. Von Neumann distinguished between two fundamental quantum processes – Process 2, the deterministic evolution predicted by the equations of quantum mechanics, and Process 1, the random collapse of the wavefunction (quantum jump) upon observation. It seems, in fact, that observation forces the universe to make up its mind, choose one random way, and discard (or hide) previously existing information about alternative ways.

What counts as an “observation” is an open issue. Some physicist think that only observation by a conscious observer qualifies. In other words, your measurement equipment alone doesn’t collapse the wavefunction, but you do as soon as you become aware of the result.

Today, a common alternate view is that ultimate quantum reality is deterministic, but the unavoidable interactions and entanglement with the rest of the world force (apparently) individual quantum systems to (apparently) make up their mind very rapidly (decoherence) and choose one of the possible ways. The previously existing information about alternative ways is not discarded but transferred to the environment, where it is rapidly “lost in translation” into less and less accessible degrees of freedom and becomes indistinguishable from thermal noise. However, observation outcomes (which way?) for apparently individual quantum systems are still effectively random.

Things can go this way or that way, and both ways are compatible with the laws of physics, so God can choose which way without violating the laws of physics. Therefore God can tweak complex processes in space-time with messages hidden in random noise to choose the random outcomes of individual quantum events. God is omnipotent indeed, and works “below” the laws of physics.

Fred Hoyle imagined a hierarchy of Gods in the universe, from lower-case local gods all the way to an asymptotic cosmic God that emerges from the physical universe, comes into full being beyond time, controls space and time, seeds the universe with life, and keeps tweaking and fine-tuning the whole of space-time with subtle quantum messages and time loops. I am writing an article titled “A for Almighty” about Hoyle’s model.

Other scientists and theologians proposes physical theology and divine action (“theodynamics”?) models with a God that comes to full being in the far future, able to control space-time events anywhere, anytime, including here and now, with quantum messages that travel backwards in time, and able to establish self-consistent time loops that “cause” God Himself to exist. Something like the picture below (from my talk at the Modern Cosmism Conference in October, New York). John Cramer’s “Transactional Interpretation” of quantum physics, where time loops are central, comes strongly to mind.

God can do miracles, and resurrect the dead by copying them from the past. Personal resurrection isn’t included in Hoyle’s model, but could be consistently integrated with similar models. For example, God could encode us in time loops, or extract us from quantum noise – if information is not lost but encrypted in thermal noise, a sufficiently powerful God could decrypt it. As part of the Irrational Mechanics project, I plan to assemble a gallery of throw-away physical theology, divine action, and resurrection models.

I Shall Be, Time Loops

Images from my talk at the Modern Cosmism Conference in October, New York.

  • spud100

    Splendid article and splendidly, complex, Dr. Prisco! Your ideas appear solid indeed. I was not insisting that Tipler’s timeline was an absolute, but even when the year Ten Trillion is the blink of an eye to our re-created brains/minds, the neurons that comprise me get aggitated. I look forward to your re-opening of Irratiional Mechanics. If we speak of observers in physics, I think walking away from Boltzman Brains, unless you see that concept as a flawed old idea, might be a mistake if we do this. What are BB’s but the ultimate conscious observer?

    I had never heard of Fred Hoyle’s hierarchy hypothesis. I wonder if Eric Steinhart knows of Hoyles ideas, for they appear identical.Hoyle, I remember, though the universe was “a put up job,” similar, to Allan Ree’s, Royal Astronomer and the 6 Numbers guy. I always liked John Crammer’s Transactional cosmology, and I see that Jack Sarfati and his son in law, Kim Burafatto, agree with John Crammer’s papers. I thought I sent you this link before, but its an Aeon article that at first touches on this subject in the first paragrah, information and their quantum relationships.

    • Giulio Prisco

      Thanks Spud, I am writing a review of Hoyle’s ideas, with links. Hoyle wrote in the 80s, and we know some more physics today than in the 80s (for example decoherence, quantum information science, and black hole information were just starting in the 80s). I would love to see Hoyle’s ideas adapted to recent developments, and I have found interesting examples.

      A problem is that using the G and R words can be dangerous for a scientist’s career. Hoyle was denied a Nobel prize for that! I think we really need more good citizen scientists who can dedicate their time to unPC science. But for that we need BIG, and the territory becomes political…

      Observers in physics: Von Neumann and followers (e.g. Stapp) attribute a central role to the observer’s consciousness, which collapses possibilities into actual reality. So does Hoyle. But our ideas continue to work if the observer is de-personalized (everything in the universe is an observer of everything else), and perhaps there are BBs embedded in the fabric of space-time that play a role. I am sure Hoyle would have loved the idea.

      By the way, you mean Martin Rees, not Allan Ree, and yes, Rees’ ideas are related to Hoyle’s (without going that far). See:

      • spud100

        I never knew about Hoyle being denied the Nobel because of his ideas, but I do know Hoyle did foundational work in neucleosynthesis of star elements. Yes, I did mean Sir Martin Rees, astronomer royal. The time scanning thing seems brilliant to me, and of course the question arises, where to look, or more precisely, how to look? If there is some activity in the cosmos that emulates a computer register, a cache, an Akashic Record, some aspect of light or gravity, then the direction of our species becomes more focused.

        • Giulio Prisco

          Hoyle being denied the Nobel (Source: Fred Hoyle’s Universe, by Jane Gregory):

          “In October 1983, the Nobel Prize for physics was announced, and it was to be awarded for advances in our understanding of the evolution of stars. Half of the Prize went to Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, of the University of Chicago, for his work on the physical processes that determine the structure and evolution of stars. The other half of the Prize was awarded to Willy Fowler, for ‘theoretical and experimental studies of the nuclear reactions of importance in the formation of the chemical elements in the universe.’ The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences noted that: ‘Many scientists have studied these problems, but Chandrasekhar and Fowler are the most prominent.’”

          “A Nature headline summed up a widespread dissatisfaction with the award when it asked: ‘where was Hoyle?’ The Observer newspaper, commenting on Hoyle’s recent thinking on a cosmic deity, suggested that this ‘unexpected conversion may bring him some comfort during a vexing time – for the diminutive, mercurial physicist has just been soundly snubbed by the world of science.’”

          “New Scientist published an article subtitled ‘a defence for Sir Fred Hoyle,’ which pondered the paradox of a likeable, inventive scientist who manages nevertheless to repeatedly raise the hackles of the scientific establishment, and suggested that Hoyle’s ‘breadth of vision’ made other scientists uneasy’.”

          “1997 brought another prize: this time, the Crafoord, which again carried a substantial sum of money, and was awarded, 40 years on, for stellar nucleosynthesis. Hoyle shared the honour with Ed Salpeter, who had pioneered the triple-alpha process in the early 1950s. The Crafoord Prize is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in areas of science not covered by its Nobel Prize; but that qualification does not seem to apply in this case, as the citation was similar to Fowler’s Nobel citation: the award was for Hoyle and Salpeter’s ‘pioneering contributions involving the study of nuclear reactions in stars and stars’ development.’ Colleagues saw this as some redress for Hoyle having been excluded from Fowler’s Nobel.”

          • spud100

            Fascinating, in the same sense that the practices of criminal gangs, or the history of Stalin or the 3rd Reich, are fascinating, Dr. Prisco. The British, practiically invented snobbery, as a means of social control, and what can we say is that it works? That physicists. and astronomers, and their mouthpieces at science journals behave in this manner, show me how limited, are the hard physical sciences turning out to be.

            A counter punch to the scientific societies, could be zingers like saying to them, “Hey, where’s my fusion reactor, already? or, “Ok, so you discovered Higgs, so tell me how this is going to fight diseases, transport energy better?” The sputterings, in response to my disturbing questions, cuts to the funding of basic and applied research, and it’s purported usefulness. A physicist wouldn’t care that I asked such questions, however, if member of the US Congress asked such questions, many physicists wouldn’t like it, but this is why retailiation matters. We are not talking real money, as the saying goes in the US

            The news services would be properly. apalled, and would condemn congressman 100, as an anti-intellectual fiend, and a Luddite. “Good”, I would reply, because not everyone in science is nice, nor, are they necessarily, open minded either. Carl Sagan as the ernest, explorer of the universe, may never have been a true model, for the rest of them. Counter punching or leverage, also shows one’s opponents that actions have consequences. To quote a statement from a very early AI program, “You’re a cow, either give milk or go home!” Fred Hoyle seems a lot more interesting to me now, so thanks for the data.

            Vindictively, Yours

          • spud100

            Hey, another thought regarding Magnus’s comment. Do you think Dr. Prisco, that Ben Goertzel would have any interest in this? I know that in a couple of essays and breifly, in his books, he has touched upon these subjects we discuss? He seems pretty much unapproachable, for me, as I attempted a couple of times, last year, to ask him about these topics. He is indeed a very busy fellow, and he might have the intellectual chops, to push this pursuit along.

        • Giulio Prisco

          Re “If there is some activity in the cosmos that emulates a computer register, a cache, an Akashic Record…”

          If quantum information is conserved, then the whole universe acts as a memory cache. Big place to search though… ;-)

          If quantum information is not conserved in our universe (which is the case if the collapse of wavefunction is real and random) and Everett is right, then the MWI multiverse acts as a memory cache. Even bigger place to search though.

  • Samantha Atkins

    With out a time machine resurrecting someone who died in the past such that the information that made up that person is now widely dispersed and not identifiable is impossible.

    • Giulio Prisco

      “Impossible” is a big word, and claims of impossibility are _very_ often falsified by facts. We do things every day that our grandfathers would have considered as impossible.

      Strictly speaking, resurrection requires only time scanning (acquiring information from the past), not time travel (influencing the past). Time scanning is paradox-free. Even without time physics, information from the past can be acquired from traces available in the present. Archaeologists do that all the time. Extracting information encrypted in quantum noise would be archaeology on steroids.

      But, back to the time machine, time travel is compatible with both general relativity and quantum physics (our two most successful physical theories). Solutions to Einstein’s field equations that permit time travel have been found since the 1940s. Why don’t we take science more seriously?

      Quantum time travel can be paradox-free (e.g. Everett’s MWI and similar).

      You say impossible, I say time will tell.

      • Jesse Mazer

        Why do you say time travel is compatible with quantum physics? There are mathematical models of quantum field theory in which a particle traveling forward in time can be equivalent to its antiparticle moving back in time, but I don’t think there are any quantum field theory models that would allow for actual transmission of information back in time. As for general relativity, although it’s true there are solutions in GR involving closed timelike curves, there are numerous calculations which support the conjecture that this possibility will be eliminated in whatever future theory of quantum gravity supersedes GR, see the chronology protection conjecture article on wikipedia for details.

        I agree with you about the possibility of “time scanning” by some future artificial intelligences to recreate all the beings that have lived in their past light cone, see my comment above to magnus about reasons to think this would be allowed in the type of cosmology that currently looks most likely in string theory.

        • Giulio Prisco

          Re “Why do you say time travel is compatible with quantum physics?” – Everett’s interpretation accommodates time travel without logical paradoxes. Hoyle developed an explicit quantum model for information traveling back in time (In “The Intelligent Universe” and – also watch for my forthcoming review here). Cramer’s transactional interpretation is based on advanced waves, so it seems plausible that it could accomodate time travel (at least Cramer thinks that)…

          • Jesse Mazer

            Well, there are two basic ways to have time travel without logical paradoxes, the “time travel = multiverse travel” version where going back in time causes you to end up in an alternate history that diverges from the one you came from, and the Novikov self-consistency principle where history is constrained to be self-consistent (I wrote up a little thought-experiment here showing how one could in principle generate self-consistent histories algorithmically, which hopefully helps show there is nothing paradoxical about this idea). Even if backwards time travel is possible and Everett’s interpretation is correct, that doesn’t imply the “time travel = multiverse travel” would be the correct one, and in fact physicist Allen Everett (no relation) argues here that one would need to modify the basic equations of quantum physics to have it be possible to actually end up in a different “world” than the one you started in via time travel. That would suggest that if you don’t want to modify the equations, a time traveler in Everett’s multiverse would still experience a single self-consistent history (as Stephen Hawking suggests in this piece).

            Likewise, I would assume that in order for Cramer’s model to accommodate actual travel into the past, it would have to go beyond just being a new “interpretation” of the known equations of QM–since a mere shift in interpretation shouldn’t change any empirical predictions–and involve some actual modification to the basic equations. He says in this piece that modifying QM to make its equations non-linear rather than linear could allow for actual “faster-than-light or backward-in-time signalling”, suggesting that without such a modification it wouldn’t be possible.

          • Giulio Prisco

            Recently I read (don’t remember where) an example of self-consistent time loop attributed to Feynman. It goes something like: You go back in time to kill your past self. You shoot him but hit him in the shoulder, so he doesn’t die. You couldn’t kill him because your aim was poor – and your aim was poor because you had been shot in the shoulder in the past.

            I think self-consistent time loops are a very powerful concept. Perhaps we can combine Everett and Novikov: if a time loop is self-consistent then it can be contained in one universe, otherwise it must span different universes. If you think many-minds instead of many-worlds (which, I suspect, is what Everett had in mind), then you don’t need a separate self-consistency principle, because only sub-observers with consistent histories can interact.

  • magnus

    Yes, we need a Tipler for every of our best models oft he world. And throwing out theories about resurrection , which probably will be imperfekt at this stage of our development, encourages people to improve upon them. Sometimes, when a text isn t that good, it will have a longer life if it contains some strong core ideas because some think they can do it better and a few really can.
    Unfortunately, for me, when all my todos are done, so am I. And skills, well…

    My role in this project is to encourage a few of the people I meet to think about the question of a technological resurrection,. I have a little paper on my drive. I will put it on my webpsge a day when I m not to done of my todos. Or I go for politics, take the power and fund the greatest of projects;).

    M.Perrys writing about the imperfect resurrections, interpreted as coming from another branch of the multiverse, is one of these great ideas: the concept of onticity. Some kind of hyperarcheology combined with high computational power will probably be attractive arguments for some of us.
    Cheers from the North.

    • Giulio Prisco

      Hi Magnus,

      Re “My role in this project is to encourage a few of the people I meet to think about the question of a technological resurrection.”

      This is a very important role, as important as that of the theoretical scientists who develop detailed theories and equations, and that of the experimental scientists who test the theories in the lab. One master “encourager” can motivate a thousand scientists to think and tinker, and a few of those scientists will do good and even breakthrough work.

      It’s the role of mystics, philosophers, and artists. For example, good science fiction motivated and continues to motivate engineers to develop the space program, the Internet, biotech, tomorrow mind uploading, and after that Akashic physics.

      Keep on!

    • Jesse Mazer

      “Yes, we need a Tipler for every of our best models oft he world.”

      Would you count string theory among our current best models? Leonard Susskind and Raphael Bousso have a paper here which suggests that in the landscape model of string theory, all the different bubble universes in different vacuum states created by eternal inflation will eventually decay into a minimal-energy vacuum state where the cosmological constant has a value of zero, and the laws of physics exhibit unbroken supersymmetry (this paper suggests that although biological life in our universe wouldn’t survive the transition, atoms and complex structures could still exist in the supersymmetric universe, so perhaps some suitably constructed A.I. could survive). They posit that a hypothetical observer in this final minimal-energy-vacuum-state universe, a cosmic “census taker”, could make an infinite number of measurements of signals from these past bubble universes (including our own); for theoretical reasons this apparently would allow you to get well-defined probabilities from quantum mechanics without the need to assume the wavefunction ever “collapses”, I don’t really understand this issue but physicist Sean Carroll has a blog entry here where he tries to explain how this could relate to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

      The key here is that with the cosmological constant having a value of zero once this decay happens, the census taker’s observable region would expand in radius without any upper bound, unlike in a universe where the cosmological constant remains nonzero forever. If the cosmological constant did remain nonzero forever, the acceleration of the expansion of space would continue forever, and that would mean there’d be only a finite number of galaxies (or other bits of matter) we could ever get light signals from (see our past light cone as time approaches infinity, our cosmic ‘event horizon’, in Fig. 1 of this paper), and likewise a finite number of galaxies or other matter we could ever travel to. But if our vacuum does decay to a new vacuum where the cosmological constant is zero, as predicted by the landscape model of string theory, there would be no upper bound to the distance we could see or travel to.

      If Susskind and Bousso posit that you could have this sort of census-taker that makes an infinite number of observations of past universes to measure them with increasingly perfect precision, that at least suggests it’s at least theoretically possible in our current understanding of string theory (both Susskind and Bousso are ‘big names’ in this field). Whereas Tipler’s proposal, as I understand it, makes some assumptions about quantum gravity that are totally incompatible with current mainstream views about string theory–specifically, he says here that he assumes the final theory of quantum gravity will just be the ‘Standard Model of particle physics and the DeWitt–Feynman–Weinberg theory of quantum gravity’, normally thought to be incompatible due to problems involving black holes, which he hopes to avoid simply by positing the boundary condition that no black holes can ever form. I believe Tipler’s idea that an infinite amount of information-processing can occur in a finite volume of spacetime near the Big Crunch is also incompatible with the most popular speculations about holographic bounds on the amount of information quantum gravity will allow in finite regions, specifically with Bousso’s ‘covariant entropy bound’ discussed in the last paragraph of this article (and also on the last page of the ‘holographic bounds’ article I linked above).

      • Giulio Prisco

        Welcome Jesse. Thanks for all the links!

        It seems quite plausible that the inflationary multiverse and Everett’s multiverse could be one and the same “thing.” Susskind argues for this idea in a paper, and Tegmark’s book also suggests it.

        Re “Tipler’s proposal, as I understand it, makes some assumptions about
        quantum gravity that are totally incompatible with current mainstream
        views about string theory….”

        … which is a moving target. Tipler (or any other contemporary scientist) can’t be expected to get everything right, but I like that at least he put his hands in the mud to work out a reasonably detailed theory, and perhaps his theory will help others to think of a better one.

        • Jesse Mazer

          True, quantum gravity is a moving target, but by the time he published “The Physics of Immortality” his assumptions about quantum gravity were already incompatible with the ideas most physicists were pursuing, I wish he had at least made this a little more clear in his book as it took me a long time to catch on, and summaries of his ideas by a lot of transhumanists (like this review by Anders Sandberg) suggest they didn’t realize this either, and took at face value Tipler’s claims that his ideas were totally based on current mainstream physics. As for helping others to think of a better one, would you agree that the Susskind/Bousso paper I linked to suggests a cosmological model in which infinite computation should be physically possible? In terms of figuring out some of the ‘engineering’ details on how infinite computation would actually be performed in a flat universe with a cosmological constant of zero, Freeman Dyson’s paper “Time without end: Physics and biology in an open universe” (which predates Tipler’s Omega Point proposal, I believe) seems like a good start since it deals with the possibility of infinite computation in this type of cosmology, although Dyson makes the unnecessary limiting assumption that computation will be confined to some finite collection of particles (and thus requires that certain variables like position be ‘analog’, defined to infinite precision, so that they can be tweaked and measured with ever-increasing precision in order to store an ever-increasing amount of data in such a finite set), rather than continually incorporating more and more particles into the computations with time (which might make the assumption of analog physics unnecessary).

          • Giulio Prisco

            Re “would you agree that the Susskind/Bousso paper I linked to suggests a cosmological model in which infinite computation should be physically possible?” – Let me read it first! ;-)

            Dyson’s model is also one of the “throw-away” models that I am referring to. Less detailed than Tipler’s though.

          • Jesse Mazer

            Cool, if you have any thoughts on it when you read it I’d be interested to hear them. BTW, my first comment to Magnus still shows up as “awaiting moderation”, was it just auto-flagged because of all the links?

          • Giulio Prisco

            @Jesse – Your first comment should show now, I didn’t even realize that it was still pending. Something to improve in the Disqus interface I guess. Will read S/B paper and comment.

      • magnus

        Re “Would you count string theory among our current best models?”

        Yes, without being an expert, I would say, the different string-theories, the quantum-loop-gravity could be investigated by someone like Tipler, with the same intentions. But, who?

        And also the (still pure mathematical) theories about infinite computation are important (supertasks, here
        But, even if endless life wouldn’t be possibleI, I consider a resurrection to a life lasting thousands of years better than nothing.
        To reach these thinkers (without scaring them), our quest must be made more legitime, kind of political correct maybe? Or we try to reach out to them in other ways.
        cheers from a country under an IT-attack