Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and former president of the Royal Society, delves into the deepest questions of existence in this thought provoking documentary.
Rees, immaculate silver hair never out of place, embarks on an intellectual adventure illuminated by a stellar collection of talking heads in the shape of John Conway, Leonard Susskind, Max Tegmark and Nick Bostrom.
As Rees points out, there seems to be something special about the forces that govern our universe. For example, if gravity was stronger it would inhibit the evolution of life. If it was weaker, galaxies would never have been able to form in the first place. Much to the chagrin of physicists, their discoveries, not least those relating to the cosmological constant, seemed to be pointing towards a designed universe. Which implies a designer. A troubling thought for most scientists.
The anthropic principle, emergent complexity and the multiverse all get a look in as explanations for this apparent ‘fine-tuning’ of our universe.
- The Multiverse, while obviously being the most complicated thing imaginable, actually offers a fairly simple explanation for why our universe is the way it is. If each universe has its own laws of physics, and there is an infinite number of universes, then it is a probablistic certainly that a universe with our laws will exist… and it does… and we live in it.
- John Conway’s Game of Life offers a tantalising analogy of how complexity might emerge from very simple rules, ultimately giving the illusion of design.
- The anthopic principle is often discussed and is straightforward enough – essentially saying that if the universe wasn’t the way it was we wouldn’t be here to worry about it.
Looking to the future Rees envisages the possibility of human evolution merging with technology to create silicon based life and ultimately ‘superintelligence’. An intelligence so different from our own that we cannot begin to imagine its capabilities. However, we can suppose that it might be able to model vastly complicated and advanced simulations of the universe that may one day be able to answer these fundamental questions of existence. So advanced perhaps, that it may even be able to put these simulations into motion, leaving us with the question – are we now living in a simulated universe created by some other vastly intelligent species. And if so, how, if at all, does that vast intelligence differ from a god?
For another take on this fascinating hypothesis, listen to the 30 minute audiobook of Isaac Asimov’s brilliant short story ‘The Last Question’.
What We Still Don’t Know: Are We Real?