Recent discussion of the alleged adverse consequences of space colonization by Phil Torres in this journal is critically assessed. While the concern for suffering risks should be part of any strategic discussion of the cosmic future of humanity, the Hobbesian picture painted by Torres is largely flawed and unpersuasive. Instead, there is a very real risk that the skeptical arguments will be taken too seriously and future human flourishing in space delayed or prevented.
We describe a significant practical consequence of taking anthropic biases into account in deriving predictions for rare stochastic catastrophic events. The risks associated with catastrophes such as asteroidal/cometary impacts, supervolcanic episodes, and explosions of supernovae/gamma-ray bursts are based on their observed frequencies. As a result, the frequencies of catastrophes that destroy or are otherwise incompatible with the existence of observers are systematically underestimated. We describe the consequences of the anthropic bias for estimation of catastrophic risks, and suggest some directions for (...) future work. (shrink)
We historically trace various non-conventional explanations for the origin of the cosmic microwave background and discuss their merit, while analyzing the dynamics of their rejection, as well as the relevant physical and methodological reasons for it. It turns out that there have been many such unorthodox interpretations; not only those developed in the context of theories rejecting the relativistic paradigm entirely but also those coming from the camp of original thinkers firmly entrenched in the relativistic milieu. In fact, the orthodox (...) interpretation has only incrementally won out against the alternatives over the course of the three decades of its multi-stage development. While on the whole, none of the alternatives to the hot Big Bang scenario is persuasive today, we discuss the epistemic ramifications of establishing orthodoxy and eliminating alternatives in science, an issue recently discussed by philosophers and historians of science for other areas of physics. Finally, we single out some plausible and possibly fruitful ideas offered by the alternatives. (shrink)
A Global Catastrophic Risk is one that has the potential to inflict serious damage to human well-being on a global scale. This book focuses on such risks arising from natural catastrophes, nuclear war, terrorism, biological weapons, totalitarianism, advanced nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and social collapse.
:There are manifold intriguing issues located within largely unexplored borderlands of bioethics, future studies, and astrobiology. Human enhancement has for quite some time been among the foci of bioethical debates, but the same cannot be said about its global, transgenerational, and even cosmological consequences. In recent years, discussions of posthuman and, in general terms, postbiological civilization have slowly gained a measure of academic respect, in parallel with the renewed interest in the entire field of future studies and the great strides (...) made in understanding of the origin and evolution of life and intelligence in their widest, cosmic context. These developments promise much deeper synergic answers to questions regarding the long-term future of enhancement: how far can it go? Is human enhancement a further step toward building a true postbiological civilization? Should we actively participate and help shape this process? Is the future of humanity “typical” in the same Copernican sense as our location in space and time is typical in the galaxy, and if so, can we derive important insights about the evolutionary pathways of postbiological evolution from astrobiological and Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence studies? These and similar questions could be understood as parts of a possible unifying research program attempting to connect cultural and moral evolution with what we know and understand about their cosmological and biological counterparts. (shrink)
The experimental setup of the self-referential quantum measurement, jovially known as the ‘quantum suicide’ or the ‘quantum Russian roulette’ is analyzed from the point of view of the Principal Principle of David Lewis. It is shown that the apparent violation of this principle – relating objective probabilities and subjective chance – in this type of thought experiment is just an illusion due to the usage of some terms and concepts ill-defined in the quantum context. We conclude that even in the (...) case that Everett’s (or some other ‘no-collapse’) theory is a correct description of reality, we can coherently believe in equating subjective credence with objective chance in quantum-mechanical experiments. This is in agreement with results of the research on personal identity in the quantum context by Parfit and Tappenden. (shrink)
It has already become a commonplace to discuss postbiological evolution in various contexts of futures studies, bioethics, cognitive sciences, philosophical anthropology, or even economics and SETI studies. The assumption is that technological/cultural evolution will soon entirely substitute for the biological processes which underlie human existence – and, by analogy, the existence of other independently evolved intelligent beings, if any. Various modes of postbiological evolution of humans have been envisioned in both ﬁctional and discursive contexts. Little thought has been devoted so (...) far to the question whether these postbiological modes are truly ﬁnal in both logical and conceptual terms. What lies beyond the postbiological realm? Clearly, only a few radical speculations on the topic can be oﬀered. In this paper, it is argued that in a suﬃciently broad subset of scenarios for postbiological evolution there will be a kind of reverse trend: the one of reintegration with the biological universe, by that point understood in a much wider and more inclusive sense. The argument for such reintegration could be understood through the metaphor of expanding Klein bottle as a symbolic image of the post-postbiological evolutionary trajectories. This kind of trajectory will lead to the state in which products of culture are indistinguishable from the natural environment, suggesting practical consequences for our SETI eﬀorts. (shrink)
Anthropic reasoning has lately been strongly associated with the string theory landscape and some theories of particle cosmology, such as cosmological inflation. The association is not, contrary to multiple statements by physicists and philosophers alike, necessary. On the contrary, there are clear reasons and instances in which the anthropic reasoning is useful in a diverse range of fields such as planetary sciences, geophysics, future studies, risk analysis, origin of life studies, evolutionary theory, astrobiology and SETI studies, ecology, or even strategic (...) studies and global policy. The association of anthropic reasoning with string theory and particle cosmology has not only become the standard wisdom, but has been often construed in a negative way, in order to demonstrate or insinuate that such reasoning is too abstract or even belongs to “fringe science”, remote from run-of-the-mill research practices in any other more “mundane” and less theoretical scientific discipline. The purpose of this paper is to analyse some of the counter-examples to the standard wisdom, suggest that the anthropic reasoning is more flexible, more general, and less fashion-driven than the detractors state. In addition, we consider some historical and/or extrascientific motivation for this persistent prejudice. (shrink)
Cosmology seems extremely remote from everyday human practice and experience. It is usually taken for granted that cosmological data cannot rationally influence our beliefs about the fate of humanity—and possible other intelligent species—except perhaps in the extremely distant future, when the issue of “heat death” (in an ever-expanding universe) becomes actual. Here, an attempt is made to show that it may become a practical question much sooner, if an intelligent community wishes to maximize its creative potential. We estimate, on the (...) basis of a greatly simplified model, the rate of loss of potentially useful information due to the delay in undertaking the colonization of the largest gravitationally bound structures in an accelerating universe. In addition, we argue for a natural cosmological extension of the classical taxonomy of advanced technological communities given by Kardashev. New developments in the fields of anthropic self-selection and physical eschatology give, for the first time, solid foundations to such results. This may open some new (and possibly urgent) issues in the areas of future policy making and transhumanist studies generally. It may also give us a slightly better perspective on the SETI endeavor. (shrink)
The recent surge of interest in the origin of the temporal asymmetry of thermodynamical systems (including the accessible part of the universe itself) has put forward two possible explanatory approaches to this age-old problem. Hereby we show that there is a third possible alternative, based on the generalization of the classical (“Boltzmann–Schuetz”) anthropic fluctuation picture of the origin of the perceived entropy gradient. This alternative (which we dub the Acausal-Anthropic approach) is based on accepting Boltzmann's statistical measure at its face (...) value, and accomodating it within the quantum cosmological concept of the multiverse. We argue that conventional objections raised against the Boltzmann–Schuetz view are less forceful and serious than it is usually assumed. A fortiori, they are incapable of rendering the generalized theory untenable. On the contrary, this analysis highlights some of the other advantages of the multiverse approach to the thermodynamical arrow of time. (shrink)
A modern assessment of the classical Boltzmann-Schuetz argument for large-scale entropy fluctuations as the origin of our observable cosmological domain is given.The emphasis is put on the central implication of this picture which flatly contradicts the weak anthropic principle as an epistemological statement about the universe. Therefore, to associate this picture with the anthropic principle as it is usually done is unwarranted. In particular, Feynman's criticism of theanthropic principle based on the entropy-fluctuation picture is a product of this semantic confusion.
The well-known argument against the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) due to George Gaylord Simpson is re-analyzed almost half a century later, in the light of our improved understanding of preconditions for the emergence of life and intelligence brought about by the ongoing “astrobiological revolution”. Simpson’s argument has been enormously influential, in particular in biological circles, and it arguably fueled the most serious opposition to SETI programmes and their funding. I argue that both proponents and opponents of Simpson’s argument have (...) occasionally mispresented its core content. Proponents often oversimplify it as just another consequence of biological contingency, thus leaving their position open to general arguments limiting the scope of contingency in evolution (such as the recent argument of Geerat Vermeij based on selection effects in the fossil record). They also tend to neglect that the argument has been presented as essentially atemporal, while referring to entities and processes that are likely to change over time; this has become even less justifiable as our astrobiological knowledge increased in recent years. Opponents have failed to see that the weaknesses in Simpson’s position could be removed by restructuring of the argument; I suggest one way of such restructuring, envisioned long ago in the fictional context by Stanislaw Lem. While no firm consensus has emerged on the validity of Simpson’s argument so far, I suggest that, contrary to the original motivation, today it is less an anti-SETI argument, and more an astrobiological research programme. In this research programme, SETI could be generalized into a platform for testing some of the deepest assumptions about evolutionary continuity and the relative role of contingency versus convergence on unprecedented spatial and temporal scales. (shrink)
In a recent paper in this journal, Ken Olum attempts to refute the Doomsday argument by appealing to the self-indication assumption, the idea that your very existence gives you reason to think that there are many observers. In contrast to earlier refutation attempts that use this strategy, Olum confronts and try to counter some of the objections that have been made against SIA. We argue that his defense of SIA is unsuccessful. This does not, however, mean that one has to (...) accept the Doomsday argument. A developed theory of observation selection effects shows why the Doomsday argument is inconclusive and how one can consistently reject both it and SIA. (shrink)
Recent discussions of theorigins of the thermodynamical temporal asymmetry (thearrow of time) by Huw Price and others arecritically assessed. This serves as amotivation for consideration of relationshipbetween thermodynamical and cosmologicalcauses. Although the project of clarificationof the thermodynamical explanandum is certainlywelcome, Price excludes another interestingoption, at least as viable as the sort ofAcausal-Particular approach he favors, andarguably more in the spirit of Boltzmannhimself. Thus, the competition of explanatoryprojects includes three horses, not two. Inaddition, it is the Acausal-Particular approachthat could benefit enormously (...) from dissociationfrom fanciful ideas of low-entropy futureboundary conditions entertained by Price. Novelrevolutionary developments in observationalcosmology, as well as in the nascentastrophysical discipline of physicaleschatology, have obliterated such hypotheses.Also, the Acausal-Anthropic approach wepropose, offers another clear instance ofdisteleological nature of the anthropicprinciple. (shrink)
An interesting consequence of the modern cosmological paradigm is the spatial infinity of the universe. When coupled with naturalistic understanding of the origin of life and intelligence, which follows the basic tenets of astrobiology, and with some fairly incontroversial assumptions in the theory of observation selection effects, this infinity leads, as Ken Olum has recently shown, to a paradoxical conclusion. Olum's paradox is related, to the famous Fermi's paradox in astrobiology and “SETI” studies. We, hereby, present an evolutionary argument countering (...) the apparent inconsistency, and show how, in the framework of a simplified model, deeper picture of the coupling between histories of intelligent/technological civilizations and astrophysical evolution of the Galaxy, can be achieved. This strategy has consequences of importance for both astrobiological studies and philosophy. (shrink)
The intriguing recent suggestion of Tegmark that the universe—contrary to all our experiences and expectations—contains only a small amount of information due to an extremely high degree of internal symmetry is critically examined. It is shown that there are several physical processes, notably Hawking evaporation of black holes and non-zero decoherence time effects described by Plaga, as well as thought experiments of Deutsch and Tegmark himself, which can be construed as arguments against the low-information universe hypothesis. Some ramifications for both (...) quantum mechanics and cosmology are briefly discussed. (shrink)
The recent operationalization of the famous Newcomb's game by Schmidt (1998) offers an interesting and thought-provoking look at the plausibility of backward causation in a Newtonian universe. Hereby we investigate two details of the Schmidt's scenario which may, at least in principle, invalidate his conclusion in two different domains: one dealing with the issue of Newtonian predictability in specific instance of human actions, and the other stemming from a possible strategy aimed at obviating the anthropically oriented view of backward causation (...) as applied to a judicial and ethical problem posed by a version of the scenario. We conclude that the scenario is at least to be more complex than originally presented in order to remain viable. However, it points to a very deep and delicate question of compatibility of backward causation with the conventional ethical standards. (shrink)
Both “optimists” and “sceptics” in regard to extraterrestrial intelligence tend to hold the view that we are entitled to an epistemically clear position: either there will be a signal, in the sufficiently general sense, proving the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence, or no such signal is forthcoming. The distinction, I wish to argue here, is not at all so clear-cut. On the contrary, there are arguments, intrinsic to the subject matter, to the effect that the detection of ETI will be a (...) protracted affair characterized by uncertainty at every step. Such view of SETI discovery mandates different policies from those conventionally discussed in the literature. We should not gear our expectations and publicly promote the view that the Contact will be a clear-cut, Archimedean “Eureka!”-style discovery. In contrast, the tempo and mode of the process of discovery might significantly influence societal and political reactions to the discovery. We should be prepared for such a protracted unfolding of events. (shrink)
We outline an argument favoring voluntary moral bioenhancement as a response to existential risks humanity exposes itself to. We consider this type of enhancement a solution to the antithesis between the extinction of humanity and the imperative of humanity to survive at any cost. By opting for voluntary moral bioenhancement; we refrain from advocating illiberal or even totalitarian strategies that would allegedly help humanity preserve itself. We argue that such strategies; by encroaching upon the freedom of individuals; already inflict a (...) degree of existential harm on human beings. We also give some pointers as to the desirable direction for morally enhanced post-personhood. (shrink)
The answer to the fine-tuning problem of the universe has been traditionally sought in terms of either design or multiverse. In philosophy circles, this is sometimes expanded by adding the option of explanatory nihilism – the claim that there is no explanation for statements of that high level of generality: fine-tunings are brute facts. In this paper, we consider the fourth option which, at least in principle, is available to us: co-evolution of the universe and obsevers. Although conceptual roots of (...) this approach could be found already in ancient stoicism, it is still the least investigated explanatory option for resolving the problem of empirical fine tunings. We offer two preliminary models along which the co-evolution hypothesis could be developed further. They are still on the level of speculative metaphysics, but there are opportunities along the way to generate predictions which are in principle testable, especially in the domain of large-scale numerical simulations. (shrink)
The answer to the fine-tuning problem of the universe has been traditionally sought in terms of either design or multiverse. In philosophy circles, this is sometimes expanded by adding the option of explanatory nihilism—the claim that there is no explanation for statements of that high level of generality: fine-tunings are brute facts. In this paper, we consider the fourth option which, at least in principle, is available to us: co-evolution of the universe and observers. Although conceptual roots of this approach (...) could be found already in ancient stoicism, it is still the least investigated explanatory option for resolving the problem of empirical fine tunings. We offer two preliminary models along which the co-evolution hypothesis could be developed further. They are still on the level of speculative metaphysics, but there are opportunities along the way to generate predictions which are in principle testable, especially in the domain of large-scale numerical simulations. (shrink)
In a recent paper in this journal, Ken Olum attempts to refute the doomsday argument by appealing to the self–indication assumption (SIA) that your very existence gives you reason to think that there are many observers. Unlike earlier users of this strategy, Olum tries to counter objections that have been made against (SIA). We argue that his defence of (SIA) is unsuccessful. This does not, however, mean that one has to accept the doomsday argument (or the other counter–intuitive results that (...) flow from related thought–experiments). A developed theory of observation selection effects shows why the doomsday argument is inconclusive, and how one can consistently reject both it and (SIA). (shrink)
Evidence for instances of astrophysical ‘fine tuning’ is thought by some to lend support to the design argument. We assess some of the relevant empirical and conceptual issues. We argue that astrophysical fine tuning calls for some explanation, but this explanation need not appeal to the design argument. A clear and strict separation of the issue of anthropic fine tuning on one hand and any form of Eddingtonian numerology and teleology on the other, may help clarify arguably the most significant (...) issue in the philosophy of cosmology. (shrink)
In a recent study of astrophysical “fine-tunings” (or “coincidences”), Robert Klee critically assesses the support that such astrophysical evidence might be thought to lend to the design argument (i.e., the argument that our universe has been designed by some deity). Klee argues that a proper assessment indicates that the universe is not as “fine-tuned” as advertised by proponents of the design arguments. We argue (i) that Klee’s assessment of the data is, to a certain extent, problematic; and (ii) even if (...) Klee’s assessment of the data is correct, it provides a necessary but not a sufficient response to the design argument. However, an adequate skeptical rejoinder to the design argument can be made by appealing to the anthropic principle. (shrink)