from Thursday, October 16, 2003 9:00-10:00 PM Eastern
© by International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design
Our guest tonight is James Gardner.
James N. Gardner is a widely published complexity theorist and science
essayist whose peer-reviewed articles and scientific papers have
appeared in prestigious scientific journals, including Complexity
(the journal of the Santa Fe Institute), Acta Astronautica (the journal
of the International Academy of Astronautics), and the Journal of
the British Interplanetary Society. He has also written popular articles
for WIRED, Nature Biotechnology, The Wall Street Journal, and World
Link (the magazine of the World Economic Forum).
His latest book, and the subject of this chat, is called Biocosm...
I'm now going to turn the chat over to James...
Thanks. I hope some of you had a chance to look ok the PPT that was
sent out. More info is also on the website for the book, which is
www.biocosm.org. he basis thesis of the book is that the universe
is hard-wired to give birth to life and intelligence and that life
and intelligence, in turn, are the means used by the universe to
James, where did the universe get this property from? The property
of being hard-wired for life?
From a prior cosmic cycle of reproduction. Think of the cycle as a "mother" universe
giving birth to a "baby" universe which then matures and
gives birth to another "baby" universe.
When we say “hard-wired,” it suggests some sort of engineered
device such as an algorithmically designed computer. In what sense
do you mean “hard-wried”?
I mean that the laws and constants of nature are intelligently designed
to yield life and ever more competent intelligence. The laws and
constants function precisely as DNA does in an earthly organism--they
provide a recipe for ontogeny and a blueprint for cosmic reproduction.
James could you explain what is meant by the von Neumann cosmic duplicator
and how you understand it?
Yes. Von Neumann proved that there are four essntial elements logically
required for any self-replicating entity. One is a duplicating machine.
This element was missing from Smolin's theory of cosmological natural
selection. I am trying to rescue Smolin's basic framework by supplying
the missing element. I hypothesize that sufficiently evolved intelligence
could be the cosmic dusplicator. This is necessary to endow the CNS
cycle with an element of heredity.
What exactly do we mean by "intelligence" in the Biocosm?
Good question. By "intelligence" I mean at the end of the
cosmic evolutionary cycle, an entity or entities sufficiently advanced
to be capable of engineering (or re-engineering) the basic laws and
constants of physics. Michio Kaku calls this a Type IV civilization.
I believe that humans and their probable progency are the evolutionary
predecessors of the supremely involved intelligence that will emerge
in the distant future.
Given your response to jt, I've got three questions. First, what about
problems of infinite regress. Second, why appeal to a larger cosmic
system of reproduction (outside our universe) to answer questions
about this particular universe? Third, are the things that are hardwired
into nature hardwired *by* something else or are they native (fundamental)
Really great questions. The problem of infinite regress is serious
(and is addressed seriously in my book) but it may be more an artifact
of human intellectual limitations than anything else. (I know, what
sounds like a cop-out.) What I am interested in exploring in the
future is the radical notion of Princeton astrophysicist J. Richard
Gott that an intelligent universe may be its own mother (through
the mechanism of a closed timelike curve). That would mean that the
future is the source of the information that "causes" events
in the past. On the second question, I think this is a useful heuristic
device that gives an interesting new perspective. Third, both. Intelligence
and mind are funcamental to nature. In fact, I think they are the
primary cosmic phenomena.
I would like to think about the analogy of DNA-Cell and (physicals
constants-laws)/universe. Why do you think life has only a secondary
role (you talked about a mitochondrial role), whereas life still
has a central role in the universe : to duplicate it.
I wasn't clear on that. Life and intelligence play a primary role.
Humans are the counterparts to mitochondria. That doesn't mean that
mtochondria are not important--we couldn't live without them--just
that they are small (literally) players in the grand scheme of things.
But doesn’t the nucleotide sequence in DNA exhibit freedom from
causal determinism (Monod’s “necessity)? It seems like
any law-like behavior would only preclude the generation of such highly
informational and highly optimized genetic algorithms. I thought laws
contain very little information. Aren’t they compression algorithms
for reams of very regular, highly ordered, high probability, monotonous
I am not sure I fully understand the question. There is a portion in
my book (and in an article I just published in SCIENCE & SPIRIT
MAGAZINE that suggests that the laws and constants could (at least
under the teachings of M-theory) have been very different. Andrei
Linde points out (and I agree) that this means that this makes them
potential carriers of information, just as DNA sequences are.
What do you say to someone who thinks your system sounds Spinoza-like?
I agree. I cite Spinoza with admiration right at the beginning of the
In every known case of engineering, “choices with intent” are
made at successive decision nodes. These choices are integrated into
a holistic process that yields a useful machine or product. So I am
trying to understand your use of the term “engineering.” Is
engineering possible without choice with intent at successive decision
I am not sure. Let's go back to the analogy of DNA to the fundamental
laws and constants of nature. The DNA sequence does not contain nealy
enough data to fully specify a mature organism. What is does contain
is program for orchestrating ontogeny, with enormous complicated
feedback loops consisting of the developing proteome and tissue structure.
By analogy, the laws of nature prescribe the ontogenetic program
for the cosmos but the process of organism maturation (the "organism" being
the cosmos coming to life) requires many feedback loops, of which
we human are a part.
i saw that you were at a recent conference...something with the word "accelerating" in
it. is this the group of scholars that you most closely align? If not,
is there a group of scholars is embracing your work, or with whom you
feel closely aligned?
Yes, I appreciate the accelerating change/computational singularity
perspective (Ray Kurzweil, etc.) Also the Sante Fe Institute folks.
Also Martin Rees, Paul Davies and John Barrow. And of course the
brilliant Bill Dembski!
Going back to Micah's 3rd question; when you say the laws and constants
are carriers of infromation are they something like cicuit pathways
or are they the signals of your concept of hard wiring?
Another great question. I think more like circuit pathways (if you
can also conceive of a DNA sequence--a genome--as a circuit pathway,
which I think you can.
The main critic of Biocosm is, according to me, a methodological problem.
The Selfish Biocosm Hypothesis (SBH) isn't scientific, but philosophical.
The falsifiability tests of the SBH are not serious (I can easyly
argue on that). But, what I would like to tell, is, that's it's normal
that it can't be scientific, the idea is too great and too gigantic.
The problem is that if you tell you're doing philosophy, people won't
listen to you seriously. But according to me, you are, James Gardner,
the greatest philosopher on earth alive. So, I'm getting to my question
: was the subtitle of Biocosm "The new scientific Theory ...." only
here to sell your book ?
Wow! You sound like Jill Tarter (of SETI fame). She too questions whether
the ideas are scientific. I would say this: I think there is a role
for "natural philosophy" much like Kant practiced. It can
challenge scientific orthody and that is important. If the current
tests I put forward are not adequate to make my perspective "scientific," I
will keep searching for more. And no, it was not just to sell books.
What do you think about Phi/the "golden mean", and its pervasive
appearance in the growth of systems both inanimate and animate (spiral
galaxies, spiral shells, dna, phyllotaxis, body proportions). Phi has
such astonishing properties algebraically. Might it be tied at some
fundamental level to the underlying fabric of the self-replicating
I think it might. I wonder if Wolfram's work bears on this?
I meant that if we gave scrabble pieces to a computer programmer containing
all zeroes, (or all one’s) on each piece, it would be impossible
for her to program any functional algorithm. There would be no freedom
of selection. The high probability of getting a one (or a zero) on
each draw of a scrabble piece would lend itself to a law-like description
and behavior. But there would be no uncertainty—the basis for
Shannon’s concept of information. There could be no genetic
instruction with law-like behavior. It would have too little uncertainty
and too little potential for biological complexity. Is my thinking
I am not sure. I guess I am having trouble understanding why, if the "laws" of
nature are fundamentally code--they encode an ontogenetic program--why
they can't function precisely like DNA?
Sorry if this was asked already but I came in late. In your book you
mention, in response to Behe, that irreducibly complex structures
can come about via co-option. Dr. Kenneth Miller uses the type III
secretory system as a precursor to the bacterial flagellum, one of
Behe's examples, that could have lead to the evolution of the flagellum.
Seeing as how data now show that the type III secretory system evolved
from the flagellum or that they both evolved independantly, and that
the flagellum does not seem to work with any lower complexity, does
this pose a problem for your theory?
I am not sufficiently familiar with the details of the particular issue
you present to respond intelligently. But I will look into it.
If information is the circuit what is the signal? Intent?
The laws of nature are the circuit (like DNA). The "signal" is
life and thought.
OK. That brings us to the end of today's chat. ISCID would like to
thank James Gardner for the stimulating discussion!
Great respones James, thanks a lot!
Thanks to all of you. This was tremendously stimulating.
© by International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design