Below is the abstract of a paper of mine recently accepted for publication at Acta Astronautica. The paper considers the question of whether universal complexity development, and thus universal progress, has some long-term directionality and predictability to it. If so, this would be big news, as it would help clarify questions about the future of intelligence in our universe. The transcension hypothesis asks whether our civilization is rapidly developing into something analogous to a black hole. Most people don’t know this, but black holes are the most computationally efficient entities that we know of, at present. They also do some very unusual things to spacetime. Black holes are forward time travel devices, as any civilization that can enter them without destroying itself will merge effectively instantaneously with all other civilizations that do the same. From outside the black holes, in our “outer space” universe, it takes many billions of years for all the black holes in our galaxy to merge. But from their strange perspective, due to extreme gravitational time dilation, these mergers happen nearly instantaneously. Some physicists also argue black holes may be “seeds” or “replicators” for new universes, thus giving us a clue as to what we would do after we meet up with other intelligences.
How might we accomplish such a crazy feat as entering a black hole without destroying ourselves? By rebuilding ourselves into very, very small structures, probably below the atom in size. You may not know this, but there are 25 orders of magnitude in size between atoms and the Planck scale. This is almost as large a size range as the 30 orders of magnitude presently inhabited by life on Earth. If you’ve heard of nanotechnology, you know that life’s leading edge today, humanity, is doing everything it can to move our complexity and computation down the smallest scales we can. We have been very, very successful at this shrinking over the last several hundred years, and our ability to miniaturize and control processes at both atomic and subatomic scales is growing exponentially. In fact, human brains themselves are already vastly denser, more efficient, and more miniaturized computational devices than any living thing that has gone before them. But they are positively gargantuan compared to the intelligent computing devices that are coming next. OK, enough strangeness for now, on to the abstract. Hope you like it!
Abstract: 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.
Read the full article here: The Transcension Hypothesis, 2010.
I think the strangest and for many, hardest-to-believe part of the transcension hypothesis is the idea of universal development. The most amazing and odds-defying thing I know of is the natural process of biological development. Development is a form of future-specific selection that is far more constrained than what we call natural selection, and if something similar is happening on a universal scale as well, along with all the much more intuitive evolutionary processes, then certain aspects of the future of complex systems are highly biased to proceed in particular directions, and science has a lot of growing up still to do. Fortunately I think many of the pieces of these speculations, such as STEM compression, are stepwise testable, which is encouraging.
You can find a good overview of the evo devo (evolutionary and developmental) universe hypothesis in my chapter-length article, Evo Devo Universe? A Framework for Speculations on Cosmic Culture, 2008.
Comments? Critiques? Feedback is always appreciated but never expected.