Daily Archives: October 4th, 2007

The Post-Biological Universe

From The Daily Galaxy :

“Biologically based technological civilization…is a fleeting phenomenon limited to a few thousand years, and exists in the universe in the proportion of one thousand to one billion, so that only one in a million civilizations are biological.”

Steven J. Dick, NASA Chief Historian

If extraterrestrial intelligence exists, Stephen Dick concludes in an article in the International Journal of Astrobiology, it has probably evolved beyond biology to an advanced form of artificial intelligence that is the product of million or billions of years of technological and cultural evolution similar to the civilizations Arthur C Clarke envisioned that created the Tycho Monoliths in 2001 -A Space Odyssey. In a post-biological universe machines are the dominant form of intelligence.

o Dick the emergence of life and the evolution of intelligence is literally pre-programmed by the laws and constants of physics, which function similar to cosmic DNA.

The emergence of life and intelligence, according to Dick, was coded into the cosmic playbook from the first moment of the Big Bang. Intelligent life is destined to eventually dominate the cosmos and ultimately to serve as the instrument of cosmic replication.

In his book, The Biological Universe: The 20th Century Extraterrestrial Life Debate and the Limits of Science, Dick argues that at the dawn of the 21st century calls for us to take into account the Copernican principle that life on earth and humanity is in no way physically central in the universe: “we are located on a small planet around a star on the outskirts of the Milky Way galaxy.”

The first concept, the question of life beyond our home planet, Dick explained in his essay, has exercised human imagination, and has stirred irrational fears, since the ancient Greeks, fears that in large part were responsible for the death more than 400 years ago, on February 17, 1600, when Giordano Bruno was summoned from his Inquisition prison cell in Castel S’ant Angelo across the Tiber from the Vatican, marched to the Campo dei Fiori, and burned at the stake in large part for his belief in an infinite number of inhabited worlds. So anathema, Dick writes, was the subject of other worlds that even historians of science avoided it until the 1970s.

This worldview of the cosmos as a biological universe is a revolutionary perspective as profound a revision in our way of think as the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions. It is a worldview that believes that “planetary systems are common, that life originates wherever conditions are favorable, and that evolution culminates with intelligence.”

As we find ourselves careening toward toward a future that could be dystopian, utopian or techno-topian, it would seem very likely that advanced civilizations are beyond the biological body form and into mechnical or even non-physical forms such as plasma. Could Dark Matter be a storage medium for post-biological super-intelligences? Who knows?

This would definitely leave the people at SETI in a quandry since such beings would certainly not be using radio to communicate, with each other (implied individuality, group mind?) or anything else. It would limit their search considerably.

On a less philisophical note, Happy Birthday Sputnik. Our future non-biological descendents are your children as well.

Daily Galaxy Article

Steven J. Dick’s Abstract