This is the first part of three in our series on immortality. Today we will discuss Frank J. Tipler’s theory of the after-life.
Frank J. Tipler explains his theory of immortality in his book The Physics of Immortality. Though it is a thick book, we could summarize his theory as follows:
- If the universe collapses into a big crunch, the universe will turn into a supercomputer with infinite capacity – both in memory and processing speed. Tipler calls this the Omega Point.
- A computer with sufficient capacity is able to simulate (or emulate) people in a virtual reality.
- Because of 1 and 2 the big crunch or Omega Point will result in the resurrection of the dead.
Most of Physics of Immortality is devoted to arguments in favour of these assertions. Tipler has to prove:
- The universe will end in a big crunch.
- The big crunch will result into a supercomputer or Omega Point.
- People can actually simulated by a computer.
- And if 1, 2 and 3 are true the Omega Point will actually choose to resurrect the dead.
Here I will discuss the arguments Tipler presents to defend his thesis.
The universe will collapse and will become a supercomputer
(Due to the nature of this topic, this section is quite long. A reader with limited interest in cosmology might skip through this section. It’s sufficient to know that the cosmological part of Tipler’s argument is based in sound physics.)
Tipler spend a fair amount of text explaining the state of cosmology as it was in the early 1990s. He introduces the concepts which underlies his theory and explains those quite clearly. We learn what closed or open universes are, what the possible futures of the universe are. As far as cosmology is concerned, Tipler does a great job.
According to Tipler life has no future in an open or flat universe, as in these cases the cosmos will become too cold to sustain life. Consequently life will inevitably die out and the universe will be an empty graveyard. So the question arises if life could survive in a closed universe.
At first sight this is a strange idea, as a closed universe has, by definition, an end, i.e. time is finite in such universe. But Tipler argues we are conflating two different types of time, objective and subjective time. Though objective time in a closed universe is finite, subjective time is not. Objective time is the time we measure with clocks, while subjective time is the time we experience. I will explain this with an example.
Suppose I put a video camera somewhere and let it record for a day. Thereafter I will watch back the recordings. However, if I would watch it back in “real time” it would take me 24 hours to watch the entire video. But I can speed up the playing. If I make playing speed twice as high, I will be able to watch the video in just 12 hours. At 4 times normal speed, it takes 6 hours and so on.
The time I need to watch the video is objective time and decreases as I increase the playing speed. But from the perspective of the people in the video, time does not change and 24 hours remains 24 hours. This is subjective time.
Similarly Tipler argues that the time needed to run a computer simulation is not equal to the time in the simulation. This enables scientists to run simulations of the Solar Systems in couple of hours or days, rather than to wait for a few million years.
The amount of subjective time is not determined by the amount of objective time, but depends upon the processing speed of the computer running the simulation. If a computer would have an infinite processing speed, it would be able to generate unlimited subjective time within a limited amount of objective time.
So Tipler explores what condition should be true for the universe to become a computer with infinite memory and infinite processing speed. Both the storage and processing of information requires energy and to make things even worse, the energy required increase with temperature. Hence an infinite amount of energy will be required to store and process infinite information. Nevertheless Tipler argues that the contraction of the universe will provide sufficient “free” energy.
In an open or flat universe temperature will converge to zero, as it expands to infinity (temperature is roughly heath divided by volume or T~Q/V). In a closed universe it is the other way around. As the universe contracts, temperature will rise and in extremis as V→0, T →∞. However, not any contracting universe is suitable for Tipler’s Omega Point.
In a universe which contracts homogeneously temperature will become the same anywhere. But if temperature is equal throughout the universe, no work can be performed. Hence the universe should (be forced to) contract in only one direction, so there will be a temperature difference. (Tipler believes that a highly advanced civilization might force the universe in a particular direction.) As long as the universe continues to contract, the temperature will rise and if it contracts only in one direction, ΔT will also rise.
Because the Omega Point requires specific conditions, Tipler formulates six hypotheses which should be true if his Omega Point theory is correct. His first hypothesis is that the universe should be closed, i.e. the rate of expansion of the universe should decline and finally be reversed.
His second hypothesis is that all event horizons should converge to a single point, which Tipler calls the Omega Point. As he points out a closed universe does not necessarily implies that all event horizons will converge (for a more detailed discussion of event horizons, I refer to Wikipedia). The third hypothesis formulated by Tipler is that the density of particle states should diverge to infinity but no faster than the square of than the energy density. This has to do with the processing of information.
Hypothesis fourth is more interesting. Tipler argues that the energy of the Top Quark should be around 185 GeV with a margin of 20 GeV and the Higgs boson should have an energy of 220 GeV again with a 20 GeV margin. In the twenty years that has passed, we know that the Top Quark has an energy of around 173 GeV (within the margin) but the current estimates of the Higgs boson is around 125 GeV.
One should wonder why the Higgs boson is that important. Well Tipler argues that as the universe contracts the temperature will increase, life cannot exist in its current form (based on molecular compounds). As we will see below, Tipler defines life as information, so if life has to continue this information should be transferred to another medium. And he intends to use the Higgs field to store that information.
Though Tipler’s prediction of the energy of the Higgs boson is incorrect, there might be still hope for him. Some physicists believe there might be more than one version of the Higgs boson exist each with a different mass.
Tipler’s fifth hypothesis concerns the density parameter (which symbol is coincidental an Omega). The density parameter determines the shape of the universe and the rate of expansion and contraction. As stated earlier Tipler requires a closed universe.
His final hypothesis is related to the “density contrast” and is important because Tipler seeks a universe which does not contract homogeneously.
Unfortunately, Tipler does not explain why a collapsing universe will become a supercomputer. Though physicists consider all physical systems as computers (as explained in the Scientific American article cited below), Tipler does not make this explicit.
People can be simulated on computers
The second pillar of Tipler’s theory of immortality rests on the idea that humans and other sentient being can be simulated by computers. This part of his theory is more controversial than the former, as that is grounded in sound cosmology. Even if a contracting universe is a computer of some kind, it will not of any use if people cannot be simulated.
Before we can continue we need to define what life actually is. Tipler shares Richard Dawkins’ definition of life as information that is preserved by natural selection. This definition has an important implication, namely that the form this information is stored is irrelevant.
Human beings are now, in Tipler’s vision, at the very basic level information processing units. And essentially no different that computers, albeit it far more complex than current computers. However, he argues that as computer technology progresses, computers will become more and more complex and eventually will be able to compete with human in respect to intelligence.
A computer can described with two parameters: its memory capacity and its processing speed. The former quantity is measured in bits, the latter in floating point operations per second or flops. Tipler then attempts to establish what the respective values of the human brain are. He mentions several numbers for the size of human memory, but the final number is 10^17 bits (a one and seventeen zeros), which according to Tipler is equal to a capacity of 1,000 years of life experience. In respect to processing speed Tipler estimates human capacity to be around 10 teraflops.
Tipler is a believer in what is called strong AI, i.e. the idea that truly intelligent computers are, at least in theory, are possible. However, this concept is far from uncontroversial. No surprise that Tipler devotes quite some space to discuss two critics of strong AI, Roger Penrose and John Searle.
Penrose argues that strong AI is impossible because Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, which implies that there are true statements which cannot be proven. Tipler believes this problem can be overcome by random mutations and natural selection (quite ironic denial of evolution is for Tipler equal to denial the existence of God and hence blasphemy).
Searle’s argument against AI is his famous analogy of the Chinese Room. However, Tipler believes that analogy is flawed and hence invalid.
In my humble opinion Tipler, Penrose and Searle fail to distinguish between intelligence and consciousness. It should be obvious that there unintelligent but conscious beings and conversely the opposite might also be true.
Tipler argues further that not only can people be simulated by a sufficiently capable computer but that a total simulation, or emulation as he calls it, is identical to the original. Consequently in order to be resurrected by a the Omega Point, nothing of the original person has to be preserved. Using brute force the Omega Point can re-create all people who have ever lived.
His argument that an emulated person is identical to the original, follows from his argument that life a form of information is. If my future emulation has the same information (my memories, my experiences and so on) as me, then my emulation and I are the same person.
Another point discussed by Tipler is if those emulated persons actually exist. He argues that from the perspective of the emulations themselves, they certainly exist and so far as Tipler is concerned that is satisfactory.
Tipler equates his Omega Point with God. However his “physical theology” is quite different from classical theology. He does not derive this views of God from scripture, though he cites the Bible, Quran and theological works throughout his book, but on physics. Hence Tipler continues the tradition of natural theology.
Though Tipler’s main topic is eschatology (the study of the end of the world) and his Omega Point is clearly the end point of our universe, he argues the Omega Point is the creator. He argues that since the evolution equations are deterministic and time is symmetrical, we can reverse cause and effect. Or put simply: the future causes the past.
According to Tipler the Omega Point influence the events in the universe to ensure its existence.
Further he redefines the concepts of omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. Tipler defines omnipotence as the ability to do anything which is not logically impossible. And since the Omega Point will cover the entire universe, it will be omnipresent as. And the Omega Point will know everything what could be known.
It is the Omega Point’s desire for knowledge that will ensure all people will be resurrected by emulation. However, that everyone will be resurrected does not mean that everyone will become immortal. (The Omega Point could decide to delete a person from the emulated reality.)
Of course, Tipler discuss what his afterlife would look like and hence he discusses the concepts of hell, purgatory and heaven in chapter ten.
His view of “hell” is that an emulated person might turn out to be incorrigibly evil and hence will be removed from the simulation. This idea is similar to annihilitionism. However, other person might be rehabilitated and Tipler identifies this with purgatory. Heaven is then defined as a place that fulfill the desires of the resurrected person.
An interesting issue is that Tipler argues that we can do nothing to earn our resurrection and that only the Omega Point will decide whom will be resurrected. However, he argues that the Omega Point will eventually resurrect all people and uses game theory to substantiate this claim. Basically it is the self-interest of the Omega Point to resurrect everyone. Tipler calls this “grace”.
Tipler’s theory of immortality is has several challenges. First of all, evidence suggests that the universe is expanding at an increasing rate and is unlikely to contract in the future. However, this might not be the greatest issue for the concept of after-life-by-emulation. Only we would need another “megacomputer”.
One possibility would be black holes. A black hole is mathematically similar to a big crunch and might be used to run a Tipler-like emulation. In fact scientists are investigating the possibility of black hole computing – below I have linked to a couple of articles on this subject
The fundamental objection to Tipler’s theory is the idea that the human mind could be simulated on a computer. If it turns out that the human mind could not be emulated, then no computer how powerful can give us eternal life. At this moment computationalism is an open question.
Next time will we discuss David Staume’s The Atheist After-life.
Articles on black hole computers
Black hole computers, Scientific American, 2004.
Black holes: the ultimate computers? New Scientist, March 2006.
Black-hole computing by Sabine Hossenfelder at Aeon.