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Article  Freeman Dyson’s disturbing scientific theology

#1
C C Offline
https://johnhorgan.org/cross-check/freem...c-theology

John Horgan: Recent advances in artificial intelligence have given new life to the old idea that one day intelligent machines will surpass their human creators. Physicist Freeman Dyson was an early explorer of this sci-fi scenario. Dyson, who died in 2020 at the age of 96, possessed one of the most brilliant, original minds I’ve ever encountered, a mind that no machine will ever match. Below is an updated version of my profile of Dyson in The End of Science.

INTRO: Humanity, Nietzsche proclaimed, is just a steppingstone, a bridge to the Superman. If Nietzsche were alive today, he would surely entertain the notion that the Superman might be an intelligent machine.

There is, it turns out, an odd little scientific field that speculates about how intelligence will evolve if it sheds its mortal coil. I call this field scientific theology because it explores age-old philosophical and even theological questions: Why are we here? What are the ultimate limits of knowledge? Is suffering a necessary component of existence, or can we attain eternal bliss?

Freeman Dyson is the most brilliant practitioner of scientific theology. In his 1988 essay collection Infinite in All Directions, Dyson ponders why life is so hard. The answer, he suggests, might be related to “the principle of maximum diversity.” This principle, he explains,

operates at both the physical and the mental level. It says that the laws of nature and the initial conditions are such as to make the universe as interesting as possible. As a result, life is possible but not too easy. Always when things are dull, something turns up to challenge us and to stop us from settling into a rut. Examples of things which made life difficult are all around us: comet impacts, ice ages, weapons, plagues, nuclear fission, computers, sex, sin and death. Not all challenges can be overcome, and so we have tragedy. Maximum diversity often leads to maximum stress. In the end we survive, but only by the skin of our teeth.


When I first read this passage, I circled it and drew exclamation marks beside it. Dyson is rejecting the notion that physics can find a “final theory” that solves the riddle of the universe and brings physics to an end. Dyson is also hinting at a solution to the deepest of all theological puzzles, the problem of evil: Why would a loving, all-powerful God create such a painful, unjust world?

Dyson’s answer is that God makes life hard to ensure that it will be “as interesting as possible.” The implication is that existence is--and must be--an eternal struggle. Was I reading too much into Dyson's remarks? I hoped to find out when I interviewed him in 1993 at the Institute for Advanced Study, his home since the early 1940s... (MORE - details, no ads)
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#2
Magical Realist Offline
Quote:Always when things are dull, something turns up to challenge us and to stop us from settling into a rut.

We basically live our lives around the attempt to minimize the number of events that can catch us off guard. Cushy warm houses with weather proof
roofing. Luxurious cars transporting us smoothly with minimum thought and effort to well lighted stores where we can buy everything we need. An internet that imparts endless images and information at our fingertips. Yearly trips to the doctor to screen for any ailments that might be lurking about in us. I don't think we need earthquakes and covid pandemics and wars and ice ages to keep life interesting. Interesting is whatever you have time to reflect on and take solace in and pleasurably engage with. And we have a society nowadays that maximizes the chances for that sort of pressure-free and playful me time. Ruts can be comforting over time.
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#3
Zinjanthropos Offline
(Jun 10, 2024 07:00 PM)C C Wrote: https://johnhorgan.org/cross-check/freem...c-theology

John Horgan: Recent advances in artificial intelligence have given new life to the old idea that one day intelligent machines will surpass their human creators. Physicist Freeman Dyson was an early explorer of this sci-fi scenario. Dyson, who died in 2020 at the age of 96, possessed one of the most brilliant, original minds I’ve ever encountered, a mind that no machine will ever match. Below is an updated version of my profile of Dyson in The End of Science.

INTRO: Humanity, Nietzsche proclaimed, is just a steppingstone, a bridge to the Superman. If Nietzsche were alive today, he would surely entertain the notion that the Superman might be an intelligent machine.

There is, it turns out, an odd little scientific field that speculates about how intelligence will evolve if it sheds its mortal coil. I call this field scientific theology because it explores age-old philosophical and even theological questions: Why are we here? What are the ultimate limits of knowledge? Is suffering a necessary component of existence, or can we attain eternal bliss?

Freeman Dyson is the most brilliant practitioner of scientific theology. In his 1988 essay collection Infinite in All Directions, Dyson ponders why life is so hard. The answer, he suggests, might be related to “the principle of maximum diversity.” This principle, he explains,

operates at both the physical and the mental level. It says that the laws of nature and the initial conditions are such as to make the universe as interesting as possible. As a result, life is possible but not too easy. Always when things are dull, something turns up to challenge us and to stop us from settling into a rut. Examples of things which made life difficult are all around us: comet impacts, ice ages, weapons, plagues, nuclear fission, computers, sex, sin and death. Not all challenges can be overcome, and so we have tragedy. Maximum diversity often leads to maximum stress. In the end we survive, but only by the skin of our teeth.


When I first read this passage, I circled it and drew exclamation marks beside it. Dyson is rejecting the notion that physics can find a “final theory” that solves the riddle of the universe and brings physics to an end. Dyson is also hinting at a solution to the deepest of all theological puzzles, the problem of evil: Why would a loving, all-powerful God create such a painful, unjust world?

Dyson’s answer is that God makes life hard to ensure that it will be “as interesting as possible.” The implication is that existence is--and must be--an eternal struggle. Was I reading too much into Dyson's remarks? I hoped to find out when I interviewed him in 1993 at the Institute for Advanced Study, his home since the early 1940s... (MORE - details, no ads)

I’d still like a god who makes life easier. Come to think of it we blame god for the bad and thank him for the good. Wonder what it’s like for the big guy, tough or easy? How it can be tough for god is beyond me.
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