Anyone for Eternity?

John Leslie

  • The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead by Frank Tipler
    Macmillan, 528 pp, £20.00, January 1995, ISBN 0 333 61864 5

To Frank Tipler, theology must either be nonsense or else become a branch of physical cosmology. Much to his astonishment, he tells us, strong signs of God and the hereafter can be seen in cosmology’s equations. Squeezed together by gravity, in some distant year the universe will be crushed down to a single point. In a crucial sense, all the same, intelligent life will have lasted for ever. And the ‘Omega Point’ to which everything is crushed will be a transcendent, divine culmination of information processing that has become infinite. It will unify an infinite collection of infinitely complex, loving minds, among which will be the infinitely improved minds of you and me.

Tipler is a leading cosmologist. From the possible universes suggested by Einstein’s theory of general relativity, he chooses one which will eventually collapse like a wobbling jelly, its axis of greatest compression changing again and again. Manipulated by our vastly intelligent descendants, the compressions will be maximised. Plenty of energy can then be extracted from them, allowing life to continue ever onwards as the collapse proceeds. (In their efforts to maximise the compressions, our descendants will find nobody to help them. Our failure to detect extraterrestrials is a good indication that they don’t exist, Tipler maintains. If they did, wouldn’t they long ago have spread to the solar system?)

To have any great influence on the wobblings, intelligent life will need to have colonised the entire universe by the day its collapse begins. Although this could be a trillion years in the future, there is no time to lose. Colonisation will have to take place at nine-tenths the speed of light. Technology will soon permit this because only computer-based simulations of humans need be rocketed to remote galaxies. With components tremendously miniaturised, a computer weighing a hundred grams will soon be able to simulate ten thousand living, thinking men and women. At the cost of just a little more weight, one would have everything required for starting up a colony. DNA records could be included, if sentimentalists wanted the colony to become one of flesh-and-blood people rather than simulations.

It may well be, however, that humans will take no part in the colonisation, not even in simulated form. By around the year 2030, Tipler estimates, computers will have intelligences equal to ours. Soon afterwards they will overtake us. They themselves could be the colonists, but they would be our descendants, true persons with a life we had passed on to them.

As the universe continues its collapse, its wobblings will grow ever faster and everything will get violently hot. Life in the form of protoplasm or silicon chips would be vaporised, but new substrates will have been developed. Events will occur at a speed that increases without limit. Here is the key to living for ever in a universe which lasts for a finite number of years only. As measured by the constantly speeding-up tickings (so to speak) of the events themselves, time will stretch onwards infinitely. Living beings could experience infinite sequences of new thoughts, which is what living ‘for ever’ ought to mean.

In order to manipulate the wobblings of the universe, living beings everywhere would have to co-operate, loving one another. Will they? Characteristically, Tipler resorts to the mathematical theory of games and to microeconomics in order to prove that they will. They will be eager to fuse their personalities, with the result that the Omega Point will be just a single person – a person knowing infinitely much. The Omega Point will be infinite in power as well. It will have entire mastery over a universe whose energy has grown without limit, as Einstein’s equations dictate in the case of complete gravitational collapse. The Omega Point will deserve the name ‘God’.

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