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Reversing priorities
Posted by Tony on 22nd May 2003 at 20:48:54
The Weak Anthropic Principle says what can be said about the (non/very limited) centrality of humans in the universe. Yet it is perfectly natural not just for naive humans to put themselves at the centre but for serious thinkers to continue to find other ways to return humans to centre stage whenever earlier ways are overturned.

Faced with the apparent enormities of the multiverse, especially when measured at the Planck scale, the human centred bias grasps at the weight of a human being around the geometric mean between an atom and a star, or claims (human) consciousness to be more complex than anything else in the universe.

While it can take some doing, things can start to look a lot more sensible after human ego is ejected from centre stage. Please grant me enough rope to describe things that can be hard to explain as "miracles" in the interests of readability.

The anthropocentric view sees consciousness as the major miracle, biological life as a lesser miracle and just presumes the existence of space time energy matter, or at least it did until the multiverse became respectable. But even given the multiverse, the weak anthropic principle is generally considered sufficient explanation.

That pecking order really needs to be turned on its head.

As miracles go, consciousness is but a minor miracle. In two words consciousness is simply "selective attention". If there is anything special about human consciousness it is rooted in the unique intersection of recursive grammar and opposable thumbs. We are thus the only species which can both tell stories and manipulate things to a sufficient degree to produce megacities. Mind is what brains do in the same sense as software/hardware and content/media, and the information side of such dichotomies long predates even the most primitive animal consciousness. In a few more words, consiousness funnels and filters rich perceptions and memories down to narrow action choices, it mediates learning and, maybe most importantly, it is central to that primeval pleasure of being alive and able to act on the world and thus close a feedback loop. But consciousness is still only a minor miracle, especially when heavily blinkered by the unvalidated novelty of human language.

Biology is a bigger miracle, or series of significant miracles, at least one of which, developmental differentiation of multicellular life forms, is a really neat trick. The original assembly of a sufficient set of metabolic chemical reactions within a selectively porous membrane, including macromolecules primarily concerned with preservation and copying of information, is widely expected to have been an easy enough miracle to be relatively commonplace. From there it was natural that planetary chemical standardisation would follow as those able to eat each other won out over those starved out of that loop. As Lynn Margulis has shown, a few fortuitous episodes of digestus interuptus eventually gave the planet a viable kingdom of eukaryotes, from which multicellular animals, plants and fungi eventually developed. Animals' neural networks were an even more recent significant miracle, eventually leading to behavioural adaptation preceding genetic adaptation and thus accelerating the diversification of forms not just of animals but also of flowering plants.

But the real miracle is the basic physics of space time energy matter we have long taken for granted because it has been inescapable. Lately I have come to realise that the journey from nothing at all to expanding transparent momentum-conserving spacetime is a lot more tortuous, a lot more surprising, a much grander miracle than the journey from chemical elements to elephants and orcas.

That reversal of miracle priorities is the point of this post, but exploring it in any more detail is further than I am ready to go here now.

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Reversing priorities - Tony 20:48:54 22-May-03
Re: Reversing priorities - Yo 16:29:47 01-Apr-08
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