© 2011, John M. Smart.
President, Acceleration Studies Foundation, Mountain View, CA USA
Co-Founder, Evo Devo Universe Research Community, EvoDevoUniverse.com
Adjunct Professor, Emerging Technologies, University of Advancing Technology, Phoenix, AZ USA
Affiliate, ECCO (Evol, Complexity & Cognition) Group, Center Leo Apostel, Free U. of Brussels, Belgium
The emerging science of evolutionary developmental (“evo devo”) biology can aid us in thinking about our universe as both an evolutionary system, where most processes are unpredictable and creative, and a developmental system, where a special few processes are predictable and constrained to produce far-future-specific emergent order, just as we see in the common developmental processes in two stars of an identical population type, or in two genetically identical twins in biology. The transcension hypothesis proposes that a universal process of evolutionary development guides all sufficiently advanced civilizations into what may be called "inner space," a computationally optimal domain of increasingly dense, productive, miniaturized, and efficient scales of space, time, energy, and matter, and eventually, to a black-hole-like destination. Transcension as a developmental destiny might also contribute to the solution to the Fermi paradox, the question of why we haven't seen evidence of or received beacons from intelligent civilizations. A few potential evolutionary, developmental, and information theoretic reasons, mechanisms, and models for constrained transcension of advanced intelligence are briefly considered. In particular, we introduce arguments that black holes may be a developmental destiny and standard attractor for all higher intelligence, as they appear to some to be ideal computing, learning, forward time travel, energy harvesting, civilization merger, natural selection, and universe replication devices. In the transcension hypothesis, simpler civilizations that succeed in resisting transcension by staying in outer (normal) space would be developmental failures, which are statistically very rare late in the life cycle of any biological developing system. If transcension is a developmental process, we may expect brief broadcasts or subtle forms of galactic engineering to occur in small portions of a few galaxies, the handiwork of young and immature civilizations, but constrained transcension should be by far the norm for all mature civilizations.
The transcension hypothesis has significant and testable implications for our current and future METI and SETI agendas. If all universal intelligence eventually transcends to black-hole-like environments, after which some form of merger and selection occurs, and if two-way messaging is severely limited by the great distances between neighboring and rapidly transcending civilizations, then communication with feedback may be very rare, an event restricted to nearest-neighbor stars for a very brief period prior to transcension. The only kind of communication that might be common enough to be easily detectable by us would be the sending of one-way METI or probes throughout the galaxy. But simple one-way messaging or probes may be not worth the cost to send, and advanced messaging or probes may provably reduce the evolutionary diversity in all civilizations receiving them, as they would condemn the receiver to transcending in a manner similar to that of the sender. If each civilization in our universe is quite limited in what they can learn given their finite computational resources, and if many civilizations evolve in parallel and in isolation in our universe for this reason, then a powerful ethical injunction against one-way messaging or probes might emerge in the morality and sustainability systems of all sufficiently advanced civilizations, an argument known as the Zoo hypothesis in Fermi paradox literature. In any such environment, the evolutionary value of sending any interstellar message or probe may simply not be worth the cost, if transcension and post-transcension merger are elements of an inevitable, accelerative, and testable developmental process, one that eventually will be discovered and quantitatively described by future physics.
Fortunately, transcension processes may be measurable today even without good physical theory, and radio and optical SETI may each provide empirical tests. If transcension is a universal developmental constraint, then without exception all early and low-power electromagnetic leakage signals (radar, radio, television), and later, optical evidence of the exoplanets and their atmospheres should reliably cease as each civilization enters their own technological singularities (emergence of postbiological intelligence and life forms) and recognizes they are on an optimal and accelerating path to a black-hole-like environment. Furthermore, optical SETI may soon allow us to map an expanding area of the galactic habitable zone we may call the galactic transcension zone, an inner ring that contains older transcended civilizations, and a missing planets problem as we discover that planets with life signatures occur at a much lower frequencies in this inner ring than in the remainder of the habitable zone.
1. Universe Evolution and Development
2. The Transcension Hypothesis
3. Measuring Transcension
4. Black Holes I
5. Black Holes II
6. METI Implications
7. SETI Implications
8. Resisting Transcension
1. Universe Evolution and Development: A Biological Model for Cosmic Culture
The emerging science of evolutionary developmental (“evo devo”) biology (Carroll 2005, Kirschner and Gerhart 2005) can aid us in thinking about our universe as both an evolutionary system, where most processes are unpredictable and creative, and a developmental system, where a special few processes are predictable and constrained to produce far-future-specific emergent order, as seen in the developmental processes guiding the emergent similarities among two genetically identical twins.
In discriminating between evolution and development in living systems, one of the most important insights is that the vast majority of biological change that we observe in the emergence or control of complexity is evolutionary. By this we mean it is unpredictable, stochastic, experimenting, creative, locally-driven, a bottom-up, two-way (communication and feedback) process of complexity creation and variation. Only a special subset of biological change, perhaps something less than 5% at the genetic level, to a first approximation, is what we call developmental. By this we mean it is predictable, cyclic, randomness-reducing, convergent, conservative, globally-driven, a top-down, one-way process of complexity conservation and constraint. The “developmental genetic toolkit” is a set of special genes that have been highly conserved in all higher life, from nematodes to humans. To a rough order it involves 2-5% of genes in complex organisms (e.g., perhaps 2-3% of the Dictyostelium genome of 13,000 genes, Iranfar et al., 2003). These genes constrain and direct developmental change, and change very slowly over time. Evolutionary processes range across the entire remainder (95-98%) of the genome, and produce phenotypic variety. The genes involved in evolutionary processes change much faster over time.
Gould (2002) has argued that the only broadly predictable feature of evolutionary processes is that their variety increases over time. Viewed over geologic time, the “tree of life” gains ever more branches, species, and specializations across all life-permitting environments. At the same time, all biological systems engage in developmental processes, which cause them to be born, grow, mature, replicate, grow old, and die. Such perennial developmental life cycles are the conserved and constraining framework upon which all evolutionary processes occur. If one has the appropriate physical knowledge, such as the ability to computationally model development, or if one has historical experience with prior cycles of a developing system, developmental processes become predictable.
As Smart (2008, 2010), Vidal (2008, 2010a,b), and others in the Evo Devo Universe research community have proposed, evolution and development may work the same way in the universe as a system. If our universe is a system presently engaged in a life cycle (“Big Bang” birth, growth, maturity, replication, senescence, and eventual thermodynamic or other death), we may ask which of its features are evolutionary, and which are developmental, and which mechanisms it uses to pass on its evolutionary intelligence in the next developmental life cycle. We can observe many physical processes in our universe that seem perennially creative, exploratory, and unpredictable (quantum mechanics, chaos, nonlinear dynamics, non-equilibrium thermodynamics), and a special subset of processes that seem highly conservative, constraining, and predictable (conservation laws, entropy, classical mechanics, stellar lifecycles, spacetime acceleration). Both evolutionary and developmental attractors, or systemic teleologies, appear to operate in this complex system.
If universal change is analogous to the evolutionary development of two genetically identical twins, two parametrically identical universes (possessing identical fundamental physical parameters at the Big Bang) would exhibit unpredictably separate and unique internal evolutionary variation over their lifespan (unpredictable differences in specific types of species, technologies, and knowledge among civilizations), and at the same time, a broad set of predictable and irreversible developmental milestones and shared structure and function between them (broad and deep commonalities in the developmental processes, body plans, and archetypes of life, culture and technology among all intelligent civilizations). This question is thus relevant to astrophysics, astrobiology and astrosociology. One potential developmental process that, if validated, would have great impact on the future of civilizations will now be proposed.
2. The Transcension Hypothesis: Sufficiently Advanced Civilizations Invariably Leave Our Universe
The expansion hypothesis (Kardashev 1964, and many others since) predicts that some fraction of advanced civilizations in our galaxy and universe must become beacon builders and spacefarers, spreading their knowledge and culture far and wide. Expansion is the standard expectation of those engaged in SETI (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) and METI (messaging to extraterrestrial intelligence) today. Expansion scenarios typically assume ETI messaging to be bounded by the speed of light, and space travel to occur at some significant fraction of the speed of light.
By contrast, the transcension hypothesis, also known as the developmental singularity hypothesis (Smart 2000, 2008, 2010) proposes that a universal process of evolutionary development guides all sufficiently advanced civilizations increasingly into inner space, the domain of very small scales of space, time, energy and matter (STEM), and eventually, to a black-hole-like destination, censored from our observation. Vinge (1986), Banks (1988), Brin (1998a) and others have explored variations of this idea in science fiction. If constrained transcension operates on all advanced civilizations as they develop, and if this process leads them, with rare exception, to enter inner space or black-hole-like domains, this would explain Enrico Fermi's curious paradox, the question of why we have not seen signs of intelligence in our own galaxy, even though Earth has likely developed intelligent life one to three billion years later than other Earth-like environments closer to our galactic core (Lineweaver et. al. 2004). This impressively long period of prior evolutionary development provides plenty of time for messages, automated probes, or other signs of galactic intelligence to have arrived from any single advanced civilization that chooses an expansionist program. Explaining the Fermi paradox is a particularly great scientific challenge if ours is a biofelicitous (life friendly) universe, as recent astrobiological evidence suggests it to be (Davies 2004, 2007).
Proving the existence and exclusivity of the transcension hypothesis with today’s science may be impossible. Nevertheless, several early lines of evidence, and corresponding SETI tests, can be offered in support of the idea. If we grossly define "complexity" as the number of unique combinations of structure and function expressed in a physical system, we can propose that the leading edge of structural complexity over universal history has occupied ever more spatially-restricted universal domains than its antecedents, a phenomenon we may call the increasing "locality" (or perhaps, "multi-locality") of complexity. A familiar history of physical complexity begins with universally distributed early matter, leading next to superclusters and large scale structure, then to the first galaxies, then to metal-rich replicating stars within special galaxies, then to stellar habitable zones, then to prokaryotic life existing on and around single planets in those zones (miles deep in our crust, miles in the air, and evolved in situ or as planetary ejecta on meteorites in near space), then to eukaryotic life inhabiting a far more restricted domain of the special planet’s surface, then to human civilizations living in yet more localized domains, then to humans (each with 100 trillion unique synaptic connections) in industrial cities emerging as the leading edge in those civilizations, and perhaps soon, to intelligent, self-aware technology, which will have even more unique connectivity, and inhabit, at least initially, a vastly more local subset of Earth’s city space. Self-aware computers may themselves be able to enter far more miniaturized and local nanocomputational domains. Thus, to a first approximation, the increasing spatiotemporal locality of leading edge substrate emergence looks like universal complexity heading toward transcension as it develops (Smart 2008).
Now complex systems do expand regularly into neighboring, or “next adjacent” spatial realms during their evolutionary development, and during such brief expansions, locality decreases briefly for the system under observation. Supernovas reach distant domains of space, ocean life colonized land, humans colonized much of the surface of Earth, intelligent robots will soon colonize our solar system. But note that this type of expansion is always quite limited. Systems at any fixed level of complexity do not expand continuously, or at an accelerating rate. They expand until they reach their own systemic or local environmental limits, or have produced the next level of complexity development. Over universal history the increasing locality of the spatial domain of the leading edge of complex systems is a far more prevalent trend than the periodic next-adjacent spatial expansion in these systems, and on first inspection, increasing locality seems a good candidate to be a process of universal development.
Continue reading (Long Essay) - The Transcension Hypothesis by John Smart
Slide - The Transcension Hypothesis: Cosmic Censorship of Advanced Civilizations
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