Well, this isn’t really going to be a book review of the usual kind but one that reflects the thoughts and reservations that this book has invoked in me and some fascinating facts shared by the book as well. Be warned, if you do not want to be spoiled, STOP HERE.
This chapter seems to suggest two things: 1) Alien life is inevitable, 2) Water bears (tardigrades) are invincible.
Alien life is inevitable. I agree. But what is there to take away from such a general piece of information? It’s almost like saying, water is wet. So let’s try to gain some value out of this. Matt suggests that life is inevitable due to the sheer number of possibilities that the universe enables and the tendency for life to continue its existence.
Now let’s create some parameters that will help develop useful information. I believe that life within the reach of humanity are the only forms of life that should be of concern (unless in the unlikely scenario where humanity develops a way to travel through wormholes…. more on that later). Sad to say, nearly all of the universe is inaccessible to humanity even if we can travel at the speed of light.
Now let’s consider the potential of aliens within that 6% that we can even hope to explore within our universe. Aliens are fundamentally living things, it could range from being a cell to being a superintelligent complex organism. In the capacity of cells, I do believe that the probabilities are high enough for cellular organisms to exist on some other planet. Matt points this out by expressing the number of habitable planets that exist around us. Furthermore, the detection of planets with a high possibility of harbouring is now a possibility!
However, in the range of intelligent and super-intelligence organisms, it would be spectacularly unlikely. This is quite well addressed in the book Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark, do check it out! The reasons for this comes from the 4 following areas:
- Fermi Paradox: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNhhvQGsMEc
- The Great filters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjtOGPJ0URM
- The duration takes for intelligent life to form
Intelligent life or any complex organisms are a matter of chance that takes billions of years to form and the universe is only 13.8 billion years old. What are the chances that other planets have been harboring life long enough to have developed intelligent life?
- The lack of evidence
Humanity exists on an extremely small time scale compared to the existence of the universe. If there were to be intelligent life elsewhere, it is very likely that they would have developed into type 2 or even 3 civilizations and would have built megastructures that would be very easy to notice in the night sky. However, to date, there are none. No signals or remnants of any kind. Nothing.
Tardigrades are apparently invincible. Put them in whatever condition you can think of. Chances are they will survive, even in space. And relatively speaking they are quite big, existing at about half an mm! Pretty amazing what life can bring about.
Also in this chapter, Matt also discusses ways for life to propagate beyond their primary planet, and one way is to just blast these organic particles into space in the hopes that life would develop in other areas eventually. Believe it or not, this blasting of particles from earth has always been happening, organic, and inorganic particles have been leaving the earth’s atmosphere for a long time now. That’s why organic molecules can be found just about anywhere you look in space. Neat!
Cloning to a poorly informed person (like me) would ignorantly assume that it is something that can already be done for humans but is just not being done due to ethics. I was very wrong. 😢
Dolly the sheep will sound familiar to most of us. Dolly was the first publically successful result of a cloning experiment of a sheep. Guess how many eggs were needed to bring about 1 successful specimen, the answer is at the bottom of this section*. One thing I failed to notice about cloning until I read this book was how low the success rate is. And as the organism’s DNA gets more complex, the probability of a successful clone decreases exponentially. Therefore, cloning humans using current technology would be near impossible.
If cloning were to be industrialized, Matt suggests that it would be for two reasons:
- Therapeutic cloning
Therapeutic cloning, like reproductive cloning, involves the creation of a genetically identical embryo, but rather than raising it to be a functioning organism, the cloned cells remain in a dish in a lab. Cells are later removed from the clone’s cells and then transplanted into the patient to replace specific types of cells. This method has been used successfully in the lab to treat mice with Parkinson’s like disease. Yay!
Therapeutic cloning is where most of the research is being done to create successful sources of stem cells that are becoming more essential as we continue to increase our knowledge on how to control the specialization of a stem cell. Its potential is immense. Imagine a world where there is a 0 organ rejection rate.
- Reproductive cloning
Reproductive cloning is what we are more akin to. It is the creation of a whole new lifeform that is genetically identical to the original and raised as a fully functioning organism. This method of cloning is being performed more than one would generally assume. Numerous persons with money and an animal they value highly have utilized this to breathe new life into these cloned animals. These range from pets like dogs, cats and even to racing horses… I think you can tell where this is going. It is highly controversial in many areas of the world especially since this is THE definition of “playing God”, but one can’t overlook the benefits of such practices when it’s necessary.
However, cloning is not all good and pure. Cloning a genetically identical version of the original means that it will suffer everything that the original suffered due to its DNA. This includes the likes of cancer, susceptibility to diseases, physical features, and so on. This clone is going to be you in every sense of your DNA.
However, this clone is absolutely NOT going to be you when it comes to experiences or knowledge. They are a blank slate, they are going to have their own set of experiences and learn different things that will put a stark difference between you and your clone.
- You cannot rapidly speed up aging in a clone
- Clones cannot be born old, this is a myth that followed Dolly the sheep for quite a while because the sheep only lived 6 years
This chapter was interesting because it invoked an interesting thought. “What if we measured value with energy?” This concept seems to be quite well established in nature. Those who control, obtain, store and use energy well are usually more likely to live better lives.
A little thought experiment:
Energy is being utilized in nature very much like how we utilize currencies (or expect it to be).
- It can’t be destroyed nor produced
- It can be used to do work
- Even better it can’t be tampered with
- It can be stored, measured, converted, and transferred
It is often said that the level of development of a civilization can be measured by their extent of energy use.
What characteristics would a world that uses energy as a standard global currency have?
And what pros/cons would it have compared to digital/fiat currencies?
I believe that going forward, energy efficiency is going to be a crucial factor that will impact everyone’s lives. This will result in the rapid growth of energy-efficient systems all the way down from the generation to electricity to the efficiency of charging our phones, as the 2nd law of thermodynamics becomes much more recognizable to everyone. So instead of them carrying around storage of energies (cash), it will most likely be digitalized and managed in a central area like how digital currencies work. Another example is how oil is being transported on ships that are burning oil at the same time. Massive amounts of energy inefficiencies are being experienced globally, however, they are not being effectively acted upon because it is being commercialized.
- Energy capture/production would be exploited as much it can be
- Creates a little incentive for purely service-based commodities, motivating that civilization to be much more technocratic in nature
Do feel free to share your thoughts on this with me!
The second thing I learned from this chapter is how fragile an ecosystem is, and in extension…. us. This earth that we live in, is as such because numerous systems have been optimized for it. We are all living in a limbo of near-perfect ecological balance. Let me try to portray the level of perfection we are enjoying right now on earth relative to the universe. Climate change, everyone is going crazy over 2 degrees of temperature change. The Ecology on Earth is so perfectly balanced in its stable state that most living things on it depend on it being in a temperature band of less than 0.000003% of commonly & naturally occurring temperatures.
This is quite depressing for the future of humanity if we are not able to adapt to be able to survive in a wider range of conditions because, in the long run, everything changes. Change is the only constant as long as entropy is not at its highest possible state (heat death).
Before we get into this, we need to get this right. Observable universe refers to the universe that we can see. With that, there is no good cosmological reason to think that the universe does not continue beyond our cosmic horizon. Which leads to the first version of the multiverse, the universes next door.
1) Quilted Multiverse: Coined by astrophysicist Brian Greene, he compares the universe to that of a patchwork quilt that goes on forever. To a single non-moving observer, their observable universe is all that they will ever know of their universe, and it is the same for another observer at some other point in space. It’s like having circles on an endless plain, with each circle representing the cosmic horizon respective to each observer.
2) Inflationary Multiverse model:
Imagine a tabletop with marbles scattered on it in random. With each marble representing a universe and the tabletop representing the never-ending inflation of space. The idea is that the Big Bang, the event that creates the universe, may happen wherever inflation stops somewhere because inflation does not have to stop everywhere all at once. With the universe inflating endlessly so will the number of big bangs and hence the multiverse.
3) By folding the Inflationary Multiverse and String Theory, you get the Landscape Multiverse:
This is quite a lot like the Inflationary Multiverse, just that there is no reason to believe that these other universes will share the same physical laws and constants. Some may have more dimensions while some may have less. These variables will change the fundamental forces of physics that operate within that universe.
4) Derived model, Spheres in spheres:
In the Inflationary Multiverse model, the quilted multiverse theory still stands. That would be like having smaller spheres existing within those marbles, like bubbles inside bubbles. This works because, to the observer inside the “marble” the universe would appear infinite with no edges, while from outside the “marble” it is finite. Basically, a multiverse inside a multiverse… Boom!
5) Many Worlds hypothesis:
An oversimplified way to help us wrap our heads around this idea is to consider the Schrodinger’s Cat thought experiment. While this experiment always has one definite outcome when the result is observed, Huge Everett III would not settle for an either/or solution, and basically asked, “Why not both?”. The universe does not choose and both things happened. Much like as if a whole new universe is created every time a decision is made.
Surprisingly, this theory has some solid experimental proof backing it up. For example, shoot an electron at a barrier with two slits and it will act like a wave of energy and go through both if there was no observation made at the point where the electrons go through the slit. Repeat the experiment, but this time observe the process at the point where the electrons are passing through the slit and it will pass through one slit or the other as if there is a distinct particle. Your observation changes the results. (Youngs’ Double Slit experiment)
For more exhilarating knowledge like the ones above, I strongly suggest that you give this book a try. X