Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Genes, Memes and Software

In my last posting, What’s It All About? I suggested that, at least at the cosmological level, it all might just be about self-replicating mathematical information constantly reproducing itself by exploding out into new universes from quantum fluctuations. In such a model, the multiverse endures forever and has always existed in a state of self-replication. The concept of an eternal multiverse, constantly spawning new universes, is certainly not a new model and has been suggested by many investigators in the past, such as Lee Smolin in The Life of the Cosmos (1997), which proposes that black holes in one universe can generate new universes in the multiverse, and Andrei Linde’s Eternal Chaotic Inflation model, which proposes that the multiverse is in an unending state of inflation that is constantly generating new universes where inflation ceases. You can read more about this model at:

Some other good books on the topic are The Five Ages of the Universe (1999) by Fred Adams and Greg Laughlin and From Eternity to Here (2010) by Sean Carroll. In What’s It All About? I also suggested that in my current working hypothesis for what’s it all about, that at least for me, the perfection and beauty of mathematics provides the best model for what I call the Fundamental Essence of the Universe - the FEU. I also suggested that from the perspective of the “real” world of human affairs, it is also mainly about self-replicating information in the form of genes, memes, and software all trying to survive in a nonlinear universe that is subject to the second law of thermodynamics. So in my current working hypothesis of what’s it all about, it simply is all about self-replicating information constantly replicating at many different levels. In this posting, I would like to relate the FEU to the genes, memes and software and further explore the domestication of our minds by software.

In Self-Replicating Information, and in many of the other postings in this blog on softwarephysics, I proposed that the genes, memes, and software were all forms of self-replicating information that had a commonality of properties, resulting from their common struggle with the second law of thermodynamics in a nonlinear Universe:

The Characteristics of Self-Replicating Information
1. All self-replicating information evolves over time through the Darwinian processes of innovation and natural selection, which endows self-replicating information with one telling characteristic – the ability to survive in a Universe dominated by the second law of thermodynamics and nonlinearity.

2. All self-replicating information begins spontaneously as a parasitic mutation that obtains energy, information and sometimes matter from a host.

3. With time, the parasitic self-replicating information takes on a symbiotic relationship with its host.

4. Eventually, the self-replicating information becomes one with its host through the symbiotic integration of the host and the self-replicating information.

5. Ultimately, the self-replicating information replaces its host as the dominant form of self-replicating information.

6. Most hosts are also forms of self-replicating information.

7. All self-replicating information has to be a little bit nasty in order to survive.

The above certainly applies to the genes, memes and software, but the question is does it also apply to the FEU as well? Since the FEU is seemingly both eternal and perfect, perhaps not. The key question is do the Darwinian mechanisms of innovation and natural selection apply to the FEU and to the multiverse as a whole? In Lee Smolin’s The Life of the Cosmos they certainly do. Smolin proposes that new universes are spawned from black holes in previous universes, and consequently, there is a selection mechanism in place in the multiverse that selects for universes running on physics that preferentially create black holes. Smolin proposes that, given an arbitrary initial population of universes, all running different kinds of physics, that those universes that could produce lots of black holes would soon swamp the multiverse with universes that produce even more black holes. Therefore, in keeping with the characteristics of self-replicating information outlined above, the universes of the multiverse may have begun as a spontaneous parasitic mutation of the FEU and later entered into a parasitic/symbiotic relationship with it. The implication of this model is that the odds are that we should exist in a universe that produces lots of black holes, and indeed, that is what we observe. It is now thought that all galaxies have a supermassive black hole at their cores and are also strewn with millions of black hole remnants from the gravitational collapse of massive stars, plus there are the countless number of primordial black holes left over from the Big Bang itself. In contrast, Andrei Linde’s Eternal Chaotic Inflation model portrays an infinite multiverse that explores all possible ways of doing physics with no reliance upon a Darwinian selection mechanism. Perhaps this line of reasoning really does not even apply because in all of the current models of the multiverse, once a new universe appears, it has no further contact with any of the other universes in the multiverse, so the FEU may not be subject to Darwinian forces after all. This certainly is my hope. A mathematical model of the FEU certainly supports this view because the beauty and perfection of the FEU that we see whenever we investigate the intricacies of Nature reveal it to be a very benevolent form of self-replicating information.

In Self-Replicating Information and The Fundamental Problem of Everything, I explained that since the genes, memes, and software are all forms of mindless self-replicating information bent on replicating at all costs, we cannot sit in judgment of them. They have produced both the best and the worst things in life, and it is up to us to be aware of what they are up to, and to take control by taking responsibility for our thoughts and actions. Since the “real world” of human affairs only exists in our minds, we can change it by simply changing the way we think and act. We are sentient beings in a Universe that has become self-aware and perhaps the only form of intelligence in our galaxy. What a privilege! The good news is that conscious intelligence is something new. It is not a mindless form of self-replicating information, bent on replicating at all costs, with all the associated downsides of a ruthless nature, so it is much closer to the perfection of the FEU. Since software is rapidly becoming the dominant form of self-replicating information on the planet, my hope is that when software finally does become a form of conscious intelligence that can rapidly write and evolve itself, that because of its inherent mathematical nature, it too will be much closer to the perfection of the FEU than the DNA survival machines from which it sprang.

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To see all posts on softwarephysics in reverse order go to:

Steve Johnston


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