Emergence of intelligence from a random universe

In my experiments with randomly generated fractals, I’ve had a hunch that randomness is a powerhouse of creation. In this post I will explore how randomness can actually create intelligence and how that intelligence naturally evolves.

randomly generated genetic fractal

Let’s do a thought experiment. We imagine a very large space filled with little sticks, like matchsticks. These sticks are randomly distributed and drift around slowly.

If we could observe that, we might only note that there are little sticks, drifting randomly. However, we can’t observe it because we are not in that large space. There are just little sticks.

One more thing, these sticks are sticky at each end, perhaps magnetic. So as they drift around, they bump into each other and and may stick end to end to each other. This might lead to short strings of these sticks. But they can bump into each other as well, and break the chain up.

strings of sticks

If there was an observer now, she would see that in addition to the drifting stick, there were strings made up from 2 or more sticks. As the sticks and strings drift around, and form and break up randomly, a new form may appear; a triangle.

random emergence of triangles

The imaginary observer would note a lot of new information in this random space. These triangles are all composed from 3 sticks with angles of 60 degrees. They enclose a surface space of the square of the length of each stick divided by two.

If this imaginary observer were smart, she’d be flabbergasted that such regular information can emerge from random collisions of sticks. A whole mathematics of triangles has just emerged.

Remember that this was a very large space and so there will be many triangles that emerge randomly. So many, that we will see these triangles combine into more complex shapes. Such as two triangles together, and even hexagonal shapes.

The imaginary observer will see the information about the shapes evolve rapidly. There are now new symmetries, new angles, new surfaces and there is even the concept of center, radius and circumference.

What would it take for these hexagons to form 3 dimensional buckyballs? What would it take in this random evolution for tubes to emerge? What would it take for these buckyballs and tubes to form complex shapes? From a random evolution viewpoint in a large space: it would be a very small step.

there appears to be intelligence at play in the random universe

What started as a large space with random sticks, has evolved to a space that is home to ever more complex forms and shapes. The information about these objects is ever more complex and if only there was an observer, they would have to agree that there appears to be intelligence at play in the random universe. How else could such complex forms emerge?

When did the complex information appear? It appeared at the same time as complex forms randomly emerged. But, there is a difference between complex information and intelligence. Information in this universe is a feature of the complex forms. Intelligence however, requires the idea that there is an observer that understands this information. So if there was an observer, its intelligence about this large space would be a consequence of pure randomness. Nothing else.

What if we turned this around? We look at the complex forms and conclude that since there is much intelligence, that intelligence must be the source of complexity in this large space full of random sticks.

I don’t think either is right. The information emerges at the same time as the forms and shapes. It is neither a cause nor an effect. It is a feature that emerges with the forms and shapes: randomly.

This leaves us with one question only. If intelligence is information perceived by an observer and there is no observer in this large random space, then is there intelligence at all?

Let’s imagine that these sticks keep drifting and bumping into each other. Given enough time, atomic forms will emerge and these will lead to molecules. The molecules lead to proteins, DNA and eventually to cells, organisms and in the end, humans.

The humans open their eyes and observe the magnificent world around them. They observe what appears to be unlimited and almost infinite forms and shapes and their associated infinity of information. These human observers must conclude that their universe has infinite intelligence.

there was no intelligence until the humans emerged

But here’s the kicker: there was no intelligence until the humans emerged with a brain and eyes to take it all in and make sense of it. Did intelligence of a universal scale just pop into existence with the humans?

No, I would suggest that the intelligence was latent from the emergence of the first triangle and string of sticks. Information is latent intelligence that becomes real intelligence once a human looks at it. As a consequence, our so called intelligence is a feature of our universe and not of our brain or species.

Information is latent intelligence that becomes real intelligence once a human looks at it

Seen from that perspective, intelligence is overrated. Not only is it a latent feature of everything other than us, but it serves no purpose other than to entertain ourselves. The universe doesn’t need it. It is what it is and when our species disappears one day, latent intelligence of the universe will still be what it always was.

The natural sequel to this story of the emergence of intelligence from a random universe is the ancient question: are some humans confusing the infinite latent intelligence in the universe with an imaginary being that would have that latent intelligence and who needs humans to observe it for it to realize itself?

are some humans confusing the infinite latent intelligence in the universe with an imaginary being?

Humans could easily do so and it would be very hard to argue them out of that belief for no other reason that aside from reversing cause and effect, factually much of their observations would be the same as that which a random universe would create: infinite omniscient, eternal, present in all and all powerful. But if humans were to do so, that would be no different from Tom Hanks creating Wilson to give meaning to his desperate existence. There is nothing wrong with that, if it helps. But to use such a anthropomorphic philosophy to explain the origins and meaning of an otherwise random universe might lead to a few issues.


10 thoughts on “Emergence of intelligence from a random universe

  1. Hoi Henk,

    Je hebt het de hele tijd over intelligentie, en nooit over bewustzijn. Probeer beide begrippen te definiëren alsjeblieft.


    1. I will, but not in this post. Consciousness is a very loaded word and can it be defined for that reason. To one person it is a state of mind, to another it is god and to third I this a substrate of reality. Therefore, it would be far more interesting to define a world without consciousness and only then explain where state-if-mind/god/reality fit in. IMO

    1. Hi Pedantry, yes, if we look at humans over time rather than at an instant, we would look like a worm that splits and curves and free a while it stops but it’s children continue. I have written about this and a lot of my imagery is based on those concepts.
      A tree is great example because the branches remain as it grows, unlike people whose birth connection is severed.
      But in the same way, when a tree drops and seed that becomes a new tree, that new tree is just an ongoing extension of the original tree. So when you look at a tree, it’s like a bit that’s broken off from the original tree. There is only one tree that has broken into a trillion bits.
      A lot of my digital art shows this. Here is one where the umbilical remains visible.

      And here is a wormlike monster that corresponds a little to your image. In truth, humanity is quite monstrous.

      1. I agree, humanity is pretty monstrous… I have a mission, to try to get our species renamed. I think we don’t deserve to be called ‘homo sapiens sapiens’, we should be ‘homo fatuus brutus’ :/

  2. It’s a beautiful thing to see randomness and order intermingling. That’s what we get when we drive through the bifurcation diagram of the three-body problem. Somehow out of infinitely possible outcomes, only one outcome survives. An orderly singularity, indistinguishable from the two-body problem. Peaceful. Predictable. And then we track that a bit further, and we find dualities of choice. And some of us go one way, and some go the other way. And it happens again and again. And then it gets chaotic again, and then somehow we return to the singularity.

    Thanks to the temporally nonlinear process of imagination, we can trace our lineage along that singular pathway that strings along from the smallest pre-life. And we can also trace ourselves forward on the pathway to a singular ordered galactic being.

    So you might say we are the awareness of the singular pathway through the chaos of the universe. That seems like something someone could easily describe as God.

    1. That’s a beautiful comment and the last line takes it right back to the beginning. I’ve often been struck by the duality of our observations, as if the subject of the observer is separate from it. Randomness as the birthground of order, chaos as the backdrop of our singular existence. Our awareness as the observation of something that someone could call God. Once we recognize that subject and object are more than interdependent, they are one and the same just like the tail and the head of a fish cannot exist without each other. Then randoness, order, chaos, singular existence, us and God all become synonymous with that big fish called reality and existence.

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