The Universe's Most Troubling Paradoxes
Information and Theories 5/1/12
By: Chris Capps
The universe seems like a chaotic place. Rules seem to guide a flow of random chances with even known universal laws occasionally overruling and rejecting one another. And on top of all of that the human race has put before itself the task of understanding everything. But somewhere along its journey it's come up with some extremely chilling theories about life the universe and everything.
Of course one of the first problems that arises when examining the universe is the Fermi Paradox. Contrary to the label often placed on the Paradox, there are no final conclusions to be drawn from it - only more questions. It was originally a response to the "silentium universi" or silence of the universe. When Frank Drake of the University of California, Santa Cruz observed the potential for life existing elsewhere in the universe as very likely through a series of mathematical equations. The Fermi Paradox begged the question, "Why doesn't SETI observe more apparently artificial radio signals?" The conclusions are far from complete to say the least, but are nonetheless often erroneously used as evidence to suggest there is no life elsewhere in the universe. This is contrasted heavily by public opinion polls among astronomers who say life elsewhere in the universe is almost certain. In a field filled with conservative statements and few predictions, astronomers base their beliefs on observable facts over speculation - even when being asked to speculate. On June 27, 2011 Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Applied Astronomy Institute in St. Petersburg, Andrei Finklestein, joined the discussion by stating that life forming elsewhere in the universe was as certain as the formation of atoms. If this is the case, one theory of the paradox suggests that intelligent life may inevitably destroy itself on a planet-wide scale - and fast.
But if that's going to happen, then it wouldn't be long before this second theory makes it a moot point altogether. Nick Bostrom, a Swedish philosopher constantly probing the quandary of human existential risk, suggests that all life in the universe may very well be a simulation. And while it seems radical at first, Bostrom's theory quickly delves into the matter with his own mathematical equation to back up the theory. He suggests that as we begin to understand the capabilities of computer hardware, the possibility of creating computers complete with populations of people with their own lives and thoughts means that eventually we could start creating "ancestor simulations" to simulate Earth's own past. If we were living in a computer simulation, the chances of living outside of one would quickly become slim as the number of simulated universes generating people with brains convinced theirs was the real one would outnumber the single "real" universe. In the end, it's all a question of how many simulations of 2012 would take place on desktop computers around the world stretching forward indefinitely until humans pull the plug.
Of course, when trying to tie together the universe why stop at just one? One of the mainstream interpretations of string theory, the Many Worlds Interpretation by Hugh Everett suggests that we live in one of a multitude of universes, and each one has its own people and history, no matter how similar or different. If this is the case, and other universes aren't constrained by the same universal laws, then every single thing possible may have actually happened in a different universe. And the word possible would take on a new meaning as well.
And speaking of infinity, if such a concept were to exist, then a chilling quote from scientist Stephen Hawking could be enough to give some people reason to question how we got here in the first place. In 2010 Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow wrote a book entitled The Grand Design, where they stated that recent cosmological discoveries alongside quantum theory could allow a universe to appear from what we might call nothing (or at least nothing as we understand it.) The idea of spontaneous generation was long ago disregarded as myth, but now seems to be back on a universal scale. What does this mean to the average existential thinker? If it is possible to allow configurations of atoms to come together, then the possibility of the same quarks coming together and creating a planet complete with its own history is incalculably unlikely, but given enough time mathematically inevitable not only to happen once, but an infinite number of times in an infinite number of variations. For that matter, a computer complete with reality simulation software suddenly popping into existence from nothing is also an extremely unlikely, but ultimately inevitable possibility given the scope of infinity.
So are we very temporary beings living in a graveyard of planets on a computer simulation of a world that was switched on by beings who spontaneously came from nothing on hardware that popped into existence in a multitude of universes that span every possible history and destiny? The only thing that seems reliable at that point is an acceptance of the strangeness of it all.