Intelligent Design

If the universe is a computer, who is the computer maker?

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One of our readers, who goes by the call sign “late_model” asked for a thread on Wheeler’s thesis that information is more fundamental than matter and energy. Wheeler, was highlighted in Wired Magazine’s 2007 edition: Wired: What we don’t know.

The WIRED article says this:

Now the whole universe is seen as a computer – a cosmic processor of information. When photons and electrons and other particles interact, what are they really doing? Exchanging bits, transmitting quantum states. Every burning star, every silent nebula, every particle leaving its ghostly trace in a cloud chamber is an information processor.
….
The quantum pioneer John Archibald Wheeler, perhaps the last surviving collaborator of both Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, poses this conundrum in oracular monosyllables: “It from bit.” For Wheeler, it is both an unanswered question and a working hypothesis, the idea that information gives rise, as he writes, to “every it – every particle, every field of force, even the spacetime continuum itself.” This is another way of fathoming the role of the observer, the quantum discovery that the outcome of an experiment is affected, or even determined, when it is observed. “What we call reality,” Wheeler writes coyly, “arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions.” He adds, “All things physical are information-theoretic in origin, and this is a participatory universe.”

Is the universe as a computer? That suggests a computer maker of sorts doesn’t it?

To understand Wheeler claims, he wrote in one of his books:

It is preposterous to think of the laws of physics as installed by a Swiss watchmaker to endure from everlasting to everlasting when we know that the universe began with a big bang. The laws must have come into being.

And Paul Davies comments:

Perhaps there are no ultimate laws of physics….Wheeler was breaking a 400-year-old scientific tradition of regarding nature as subject to eternal laws.

Foundational to Wheeler’s theory is an experiment called the double-slit delayed-choice experiment which was verified empirically in the 1970’s. Here is a description I found of that experiment: Prophesying Particles

Not so long ago, scientists were asking themselves the question: Do atoms know when we’re looking at them? Even before this question has been satisfactorily answered, a new question has surfaced: Do atoms know that we’re going to look at them before the event actually occurs? A documented experiment conducted by two prestigious universities actually implies the affirmative.

It’s called the “delayed choice experiment,” and it was originally a thought experiment dreamt up by the great theoretical physicist John Wheeler. It’s a variation on the usual “double-slit” experiment, which proves that when a photon (or electron or photon or any sub-atomic particle) is fire through a sheet with two holes, it creates an interference pattern on a screen set on the other side as if it had gone through both holes at once and interfered with itself. However, this behavior only seems to occur when the particle is not being watched when it hits the sheet. When a detector is put up to monitor the holes and what comes through, the particle is observed to be going through only one hole–and the interference pattern does not materialize on the screen at the opposite end.

The double-slit experiment is hard enough to understand on its own, even if John Wheeler hadn’t come up with the idea of moving the detector. He had the interesting idea of monitoring the particle after it had already made its “chosen” move through the holes, but still before it hits the screen which records the move. According to “common sense” (if one can use common sense in a case like this), since the scientists don’t monitor the particle at the exact moment it is “choosing” whether or not to go through both holes at once, the particle is supposed to go through both the holes at once and cause the interference.

But it doesn’t–not according to the independent experiments carried out by the University of Maryland and the University of Munich. These experiments confirm that the particle actually goes through only a single hole–just as if it had known that it was going to be observed. It makes only a solitary dot on the screen. The little scoundrel anticipates that a detector will be watching him later, and refuses to perform his startling bi-location behavior!

And of course, when the detector is removed, the particle goes through both holes, interferes with itself, and the screen shows the pattern to prove it.

The question now is “do the particles actually know that the scientists will be watching them later?” Or–to look at it a different way–“Do the scientists actually change what the particles did in the past by watching them in the present?!”

Of course this is altogether maddening to scientists, who have had enough trouble coping with subatomic antics even without having to explain the mysterious prophesying particles. The experiments need to be investigated further before any satisfying conclusions can be drawn. Right there’s talk of using light from quasars bent by “gravitational lenses” to conduct a galactic scale version of the experiment, which would hypothetically provide the most dramatic proof that the experiment always works (or, less likely, that it’s just some sort of international scientific anomaly).

Until then, I’ll chalk it up as just another weird phenomenon of the mysterious quantum world around us.

What this experiment shows is that an observer can measure (as in gain information from) a physical system. The act of measurement defines some of the system’s properties (like whether it behaves like a wave or particle). In fact, this experiment suggests teleology. A future event affects the past evolution of the system. Quantum physics is thus seen to be teleological.

By way of extension, the physical universe including its laws of matter and energy could be itself seen as one gigantic quantum system that is measured or observed. As information is acquired by some Ultimate Observer in the future, its properties and laws (and history) are fixed by the act of observation or knowing. The Ultimate Observer thus brings about existence through his knowledge of the system. That is to say, the history of the universe is driven by its future destination, not really the other way around. It is the strongest form of teleology possible!

One famous Quantum Physicist Anton Zeilinger wrote:
It from bit.

In conclusion it may very well be said that information is the irreducible kernel from which everything else flows. Then the question why nature appears quantized is simply a consequence of the fact that information itself is quantized by necessity. It might even be fair to observe that the concept that information is fundamental is very old knowledge of humanity, witness for example the beginning of gospel according to John: “In the beginning was the Word”.

The identity of the Ultimate Observer and His properties are of course part of the endless debate. Wheeler suggest the Ultimate Observer is (cough) us! That our observation of the Big Bang helps create us. To explore that further, consider this explanation by John Horgan of Wheeler’s experiment: Quantum Philosophy

galactic lens

To underscore the weirdness of this effect, Wheeler points out that astronomers could perform a delayed-choice experiment on light from quasars, extremely bright, mysterious objects found near the edges of the universe. In place of a beam splitter and mirrors the experiment requires a gravitational lens, a galaxy or other massive object that splits the light from a quasar and refocuses it in the direction of a distant observer, creating two or more images of the quasar.

Psychic Photons
The astronomers choice of how to observe photons from the quasar here in the present apparently determines whether each photon took both paths or just one path around the gravitational lens-billions of years ago. As they approached the galactic beam splitter the photons must have had something like a premonition telling them how to behave in order to satisfy a choice to be made by unborn beings on a still nonexistent planet.

The fallacy giving rise to such speculations, Wheeler explains, is the assumption that a photon had some physical form before the astronomer observed it. Either it was a wave or a particle; either it went both ways around the quasar or only one way. Actually Wheeler says quantum phenomena are neither waves nor particles but are intrinsically undefined until the moment they are measured. In a sense the British philosopher Bishop Berkeley was right when he asserted two centuries ago that “to be is to be perceived”

Wheeler himself adds in Before the Big Bang, There Was . . . What?:

Dr. Wheeler has suggested that one answer to that question [of who is the Creator] may be simply us, acting through quantum- mechanical acts of observation, a process he calls “genesis by observership.”

“The past is theory,” he once wrote. “It has no existence except in the records of the present. We are participators, at the microscopic level, in making that past, as well as the present and the future.” In effect, Dr. Wheeler’s answer to Augustine is that we are collectively God and that we are always creating the universe.

Here is a picture of how we (as represented by the eye) created ourselves through the act of quantum measurement.

self circuit

That ides is Wheeler’s Participatory Anthropic Principle (PAP).

Frank Tipler is a student of Wheeler. Tipler and co-author Barrow explicitly extend Wheeler’s hypothesis in Peer-Reviewed Stealth ID Classic : The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (1987). Instead Tipler and Barrow suggest some sort of Ultimate Observer in the distant future. They call their idea the Final Antrhopic Principle (FAP). The Ultimate Observer they call the Omega Point (I refer to it as Omega for short). They argue the properties of Omega must be that it is eternal, all-powerful, all knowing, non-material and intelligent. These properties are straight forward deductions of physical law….

Because Wheeler, Barrow, and Tipler’s ID-friendly theories are not exactly in sync with creationist theology or even Christian theology, some elements within ID’s big tent have been too quick to dismiss their ideas. In fact, if one looks here: Peer-Reviewed & Peer-Edited Scientific Publications Supporting the Theory of Intelligent Design (Annotated) one will see a peer-reviewed critique of Barrow and Tipler by a theologian whom I greatly admire (William Lane Craig). Ah, the irony of it all because Barrow and Tipler are also ID-friendly in their own way, but not in a traditional sense. Their pro-ID, pro-many-worlds ideas were a bit much even for the Big Tent.

And to finish the irony, Darwinist Ken Miller (of all people) unwittingly supports ID in his books:

Many people has rejected scientific values because they regard materialism as a sterile and bleak philosophy, which reduces human beings to automatons and leaves no room for free will and creativity. These people can take heart: materialism is dead.

Quantum physics undermines materialism because it reveals that matter has far less ’substance’ than we might believe….

This [quantum uncertainty] is something biologists, almost universally, have not yet come to grips with. And its consequences are enormous. It certainly means that we should wonder more than we currently do about the saying that life is made of “mere” matter….
….
This means that absolute materialism, a view that control and predictability and ultimate explanation are possible, breaks down in a way that is biologically significant.
….
The core assumptions supporting the “scientific” disbelief [atheism] of the absolute materialist are wrong, even by the terms of science itself…
….
What matters is the straightforward, factual, strictly scientific recognition that matter in the universe behaves in such a way that we can never achieve complete knowledge of any fragment of it…breaks in causality at the atomic level make it fundamentally impossible to exclude the idea that what we have really caught a glimpse of might indeed reflect the mind of God.
…
In the final analysis, absolute materialism does not triumph because it cannot fully explain the nature of reality.
…..
few theologians appreciate the degree to which physics has rescued religion from the dangers of Newtonian predictability. I suspect that they do not know (at least not yet) who their true friends are!

Ken Miller, Finding Darwin’s God

For others like myself, we have personal ideas about the nature and identity of the Ultimate Observer, the Omega, the Intelligent Designer of the Universe and Life. But I leave details of that debate elsewhere.

Notes:
A far more formal treatment by Physicist Hans Christian von Baeyer at William and Mary: Information: The New Language of Science (Hardcover)

Here is a link to a good description of Wheeler’s experiment: Predestination: An Analogy in Quantum Mechanics [WARNING: strong theological content not directly related to the details of the experiment. However the graphics are good.]

23 Replies to “If the universe is a computer, who is the computer maker?

  1. 1
    late_model says:

    Thank you Sal for opening the thread and providing the additional material or information depending on how you would like to look at it. Look forward to reading.

  2. 2
    Lurker says:

    If life was created by neo-Darwinian evolution, then who/what created neo-Darwinian evolution? What good is this theory if we don’t know who/what caused it?

  3. 3
    Jehu says:

    It is not just Ken Miller who says ‘materialism is dead.” Alfred Wallace, the scientist who coined the term “Darwinism,” and actually came up with the theory of evolution by natural selection before Darwin, and later worked with Darwin, said the same thing towards the end of his life. Here is his quote

    ‘Materialism is dead for all intelligent minds. There are laws of nature but they are purposeful. Everywhere we look we are confronted by power and intelligence…’

    How is that for some honesty?

    http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-on.....=Evolution

  4. 4
    vpr says:

    Lurker you ask a question I’ve been thinking about for a long time. What drives NS. Is it a force or instinct. If it’s instinct, who programmed the organism with this capability. If you take it back to the first life, Why would it want to life? Why would it want to survive? There’s a major gap here that’s just glossed over by just so stories.

  5. 5

    John Wheeler said:
    It is preposterous to think of the laws of physics as installed by a Swiss watchmaker to endure from everlasting to everlasting when we know that the universe began with a big bang. The laws must have come into being.

    Projected assumptions do not make the logic sound.

    What’s preposterous are the assumptions.

    1) There is no evidence that the laws of physics aren’t inherent to the energy of the universe. In fact, that’s the only evidence that we have.

    2) There is evidence that our universe has big bangs… so there is no reason to assume that this isn’t a common occurrence, unless you project all the way back to assumptions about an absolute cosmic singularity.

    This creates problems with observation, so then you have to invent a band-aid to big bang theory to account for the “anthropic problems”… known as inflationary theory.

    And all because you projected a pre-existing assumption about a cosmic singlarity, rather than to investigate what the evidence was telling you… that a universe with certain volume had a big bang.

    There are no anthropic problems when a universe with certain volume has a big bang.

    That’s reality.

    Duh…

    Alan Guth and Monkey Physics

  6. 6
    a5b01zerobone says:

    “Because Wheeler, Barrow, and Tipler’s ID-friendly theories are not exactly in sync with creationist theology or even Christian theology, some elements within ID’s big tent have been too quick to dismiss their ideas.”

    Another ID-friendly scientist was Fred Hoyle. He wrote a book in 1983 called The Intelligent Universe. If you have not already read it you might check it out.

  7. 7
    JGuy says:

    Late_model wrote:
    “Thank you Sal for opening the thread and providing the additional material or information depending on how you would like to look at it…”

    What if we didn’t look at it?

    Would the material be available? 😛

  8. 8
    late_model says:

    The problem with Wheeler’s explanation is the same as Bishop Berkeley’s in that who is observing the observer? Berkeley inserted God which Hume dissaproved of.

  9. 9
    JGuy says:

    Salvador,
    If you can access them. Here are some articles that might be interesting, possibly relevent and helpful in this discussion (or the one thread about the math professor, IC in physics, math etc..):

    http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=a.....dt=2874830

    http://applij.oxfordjournals.o.....t/16/3/273

    http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=a.....dt=3282646

    — JGuy —

  10. 10
    JGuy says:

    The last link on that list is to a paper titled:

    “Semiotic theory applied to free will, relativity, and determinacy : Or, why the unified field theory sought by Einstein could not be found”

    I read an essay by Dr Oller in a book I have. His writing about the related topic often recurred to me as interesting.

  11. 11
    JGuy says:

    Two of those links show abstracts in French.. using Google to translate the last linked abstract reads:

    “Summary/Abstract
    The A. shows that Einstein could not have launched relativity, nor even to define it, without choosing the intelligent observer like point of reference. The intelligent and qualified observer is indeed absolutely necessary to literally fix the events of the physical world while living among them and while moving away inéxorablement from a relatively given past towards a relatively unspecified future. By applying the semiotic theory of Pierce, the A. proves the theorems thus relating to the true narrative representations which depend on the abductive inference and all its single properties including the pragmatic perfections, their consequences for physics and biology”

  12. 12
    scordova says:

    late_model,

    I hope you are enjoying the ideas put forward. Feel free to offer questions and comments.

    Regarding, “who observered the observer?” it echoes “who designed the designer?” or “what caused the causer?”

    But if one admits a causal universe, this leads to the conclusion of an uncaused cause (this is true even if one is materialist, where matter and energy or some other “material” is the uncaused cause). By a simular argument we have an unobserved Ultimate Observer. To paraphrase an ancient saying, “No one has seen the Ultimate Observer at any time”.

  13. 13
    JGuy says:

    Sal,
    Nice 🙂 The unobserved Observer.

    Imagine an infinite regress of observers.. and one of them blinks. haha. Would we all be winked out of existence? :P:P:P

  14. 14
    late_model says:

    What I see as a crux question in the whole issue of materialism is whether information proceeds from matter and energy or matter and energy are derived from information. But relativity shows how energy and matter are related could information be related breaking down this paradox?

  15. 15
    J. Parker says:

    Scordova, I don’t know that Wheeler is truly an ally in “denying” materialism, or in fact his concepts promote a kind of man as “God” concept, since man is the observer.

    In fact, Wheeler “invented” the entire concept of the “singularity”, whose real existence Einstein himself doubted. You will note, I hope, that in another thread, an anti-cancer drug, thus further support of the role of the electric force in living processes:

    The molecule is resveratrol, known as a red wine molecule. Resveratrol appears to kill off cancer cells by depolarizing (demagnetizing) mitochondrial bodies within tumor cells.

    http://www.lewrockwell.com/sardi/sardi68.html

    Dr. Don Scott has commented, indirectly, about Wheeler’s philosophy; I would let I.D. proponents work on their own.

    http://www.electric-cosmos.org/

    http://members.cox.net/dascott3/Interview.htm

    I recall the Gulf of Mexico quote, I think from Wheeler’s book:

    Q: How do you know Black Holes don’t exist? Can you prove they don’t exist?

    A: The main difference between science and pseudoscience is that true scientists never propose unfalsifiable hypotheses and then challenge you to falsify them. For example there’s an old debating trick: “Prove to me there isn’t a rhinoceros under this table. It’s an invisible, unsmellable rhino, and you can’t feel it – it has no mass. But it is THERE. Prove to me it isn’t.” This kind of debating trick should not be used in science.

    When this happens, a red flag should go up in our minds. We must reject quickly and forcefully any demand that we falsify a non-falsifiable theory. Non-falsifiable theories are, by definition, not scientific.

    Another example just like this one occurred when the originator of the concept of black holes, said, “To me, the formation of a naked singularity [a black hole] is equivalent to jumping across the Gulf of Mexico. I would be willing to bet a million dollars that it can’t be done. But I can’t prove that it can’t be done.”

    What he is actually saying is – YOU can’t prove that black holes don’t exist, so I am free to use the concept as often as I like. It is a non-falsifiable hypothesis. It is intellectually dishonest. In logic this is called the fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantiam, meaning “argument from ignorance.” The fallacy occurs when it is argued that something must be true, simply because it hasn’t been proved false. Well-known properties of plasma are responsible for what astronomers say “black-holes” are doing.

  16. 16
    j says:

    Dr. Wheeler has suggested that one answer to that question [of who is the Creator] may be simply us, acting through quantum-mechanical acts of observation, a process he calls “genesis by observership.”

    “The past is theory,” he once wrote. “It has no existence except in the records of the present. We are participators, at the microscopic level, in making that past, as well as the present and the future.” In effect, Dr. Wheeler’s answer to Augustine is that we are collectively God and that we are always creating the universe.

    Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, pp. 213-214:

    “But Martian is so much morecomplex than is English — and so wildly different in how it abstracts its picture of the universe — that English and Arabic might as well be one language. An Englishman and an Arab can learn to think each other’s language. But I’m not certain that it will ever be possible for us to think in Martian… — oh, we can learn ‘pidgin’ Martian — that is what I speak.

    “The Martians seem to know instinctively what we learned painfully from modern physics, that observer interacts with observed through the process of observation. ‘Grok’ means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed — to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science — and it means as little to us as color means to a blind man.” Mahmoud paused.

    Mike [the Martian] nodded. “You spoke rightly, my brother. Dr. Mahmoud. I am been saying so. Thou art God.”

    Mahmoud shrugged helplessly. “You see how hopeless it is? All I got was a blasphemy. We don’t think in Martian. We can’t.”

    “Thou are God,” Mike said agreeably. “God groks.”

    Wheeler is a Martian. 🙂

  17. 17
    J. Parker says:

    16, I don’t “grok” Wheeler, for what it’s worth; thanks for the info.

    I don’t care for Heinlein’s later work either.

  18. 18
    JGuy says:

    late_model:
    “What I see as a crux question in the whole issue of materialism is whether information proceeds from matter and energy or matter and energy are derived from information. But relativity shows how energy and matter are related could information be related breaking down this paradox? “

    Late_Model,
    When I was younger. I always thought, for example, the way the bible would describe God was profound. Unlike any ideas of other religions and unlike something we’d think a person would think of… with the topic matter here, and one of the profound verses of the bible.. it just makes the ring of truth more pronounced – to me.

    Per the bible, was it matter, energy or information first…

    John 1:1
    “In the beginning was the ,Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
    🙂
    —————
    Genesis 1:3
    “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”

    There’s a seemingly endless set of examples.

  19. 19
    JGuy says:

    … here’s other intereting repeated verbiage from the bible, relating to many different effects during creation week (Genesis 1):
    “And God saw that it was good.”

    The unobserved Observer.

  20. 20
    scordova says:

    late_model wrote:

    What I see as a crux question in the whole issue of materialism is whether information proceeds from matter and energy or matter and energy are derived from information. But relativity shows how energy and matter are related could information be related breaking down this paradox?

    Correct, and slighty beyond that, Wheeler, Barrow and Tipler argued that through something known as Unified Gauge theory, ALL laws of physics including relativity proceed from a quantum measurement, and measurement implies reduction of uncertainty, and reduction of uncertainty is another word for information.

    However, I don’t think one needs to even appeal to Unified Gauge thoery. A more simple explanation suffices in the Kalaam Cosmological principle, meaning there must be an Ultimate Cause for everything.

    In Irreducible Complexity in Mathematics, Physics and Biology, note the suggestion [I added more of George Johnson’s article here than in that thread]:

    Carrying the idea even further, some solid-state physicists are trying to show that the laws of relativity, long considered part of the very bedrock of the physical world, are not platonic truths that have existed since time began.

    They may have emerged from the roiling of the vacuum of space, much as supply-and-demand and other “laws” of economics emerge from the bustle of the marketplace. If so, then solid-state physics, which specializes in how emergent phenomena occur, may be the most fundamental science of them all.

    I recognize Wheeler, Barrow, and Tipler seem to be highly supportive of a materialistic “God” or Intelligence. One commenter at Amazon observerd regarding Tipler’s book, Physics of Immortality, “Tipler found a god even an atheist could love”.

    But with a little pondering one sees their arguments are not too far from non-materialism. Some of the resistance to their work probably proceeds from the fact their ideas are not in line with Creationist or Christian theology. That is understandable, but as Ken Miller pointed, theologians don’t quite appreciate their new unwitting friends in Quantum physics.

    I put the ideas on the table because I think they are deeply relevant to ID even if it may put a bitter taste in the mouths of my creationist brethren, the ideas are still worth being familiar with. The fact that Physics is suggesting some All-Powerful Mind exists is a good starting point. The possibility of Cosmological ID makes biological ID much more palatable.

  21. 21
    jmc says:

    Actually, Tipler specifically addresses how the Omega Point Theory might be very supportive of Christianity in a lengthy and fascinating online article entitled The Omega Point and Christianity. It is much more supportive of Christianity than The Physics of Immortality was, and proposes a number of testable hypotheses.

  22. 22
    scordova says:

    jmc,

    Thank you for the link. It was very informative.

    Salvador

  23. 23
    J. Parker says:

    # 14, late-model, I shared this thread with Wallace Thornhill (and in case you’re still out there, even scordova) he wrote:

    “But relativity shows how energy and matter are related could information be related breaking down this paradox? ”

    Why does everybody make this [deplorable] error? Relativity relates energy and mass, which is perfectly understandable if mass is an electrical phenomenon. The problem lies at the heart of modern physics.

    No one knows what matter is yet. So no one knows how it exhibits mass.

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