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.
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.
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.
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.