Posted by: zyxo | August 27, 2008

Continuïty Gap in The Intelligent Universe


The intelligent Universe by James Gardner (“provocative and prescient”, “intellectual journey of the year”).
Finally I finished reading it !
Indeed great reading, but not something to do in a noisy bar.

I tried to find some sort of summary on the internet. What I came up with is a foreword by Ray Kurzweil and an editorial review on Amazon.
Both are word reading. The former places Intelligent Universe somewhere along his own thinking on the near singularity, the second one is less positive and points to Gardners limited understanding of evolution, chemistry and physics.

So I will try myself to summarize the book in a two sentences:

The core concept he explains is that our universe is the result of an evolution, optimizing the physical constants exactly this way that live, and consequently intelligent life is possible. Since evolution is something that goes on forever, intelligence keeps increasing as biological intelligence is replaced by technical intelligence, which before the big crunch is able to produce a new baby universe in the next big crunch-big bang transition, with the right fine-tuned physical constants to make life possible etc…

My problem with this is the folowing:
in order to have evolution, you need something that evolves. On earth it is clear that there was an evolution from dead matter to the primeval soup with simple organic molecules to more complex organic molecules to simple living creatures to more complex living creatures to intelligent living creatures to very intelligent living creatures (myself and you, dear reader) and eventually to technical intelligent creatures.
In the explanation of Gardner, I nowhere find anything that comes before a universe fine-tuned enough to permit life. He explains no transition whatsoever between a universe with the wrong physical constants and ours, with the correct-tuned physical constants.
Since it is this live and the consequent intelligence that permits the procreation of this favorable universe, how could a little-bit-wrong-tuned universe, lacking life been selected over a terribly-wrong-tuned universe, also lacking life ?
Evolution does not work with all-or-nothing situations. Evolution needs gradual transitions.

So my conclusion : the book is a nice summary and discussion of interesting literature and speculations, even the great idea (“the biggest of themes”) is interesting, but simply not possible as a result of evolution.

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