Saturday, November 2, 2002

Interview with Frank. J. Tipler (Nov. 2002)

I copied here this old interview, published on the Transhumanity Magazine of the World Transhumanist Association (now Humanity +) in November 2002 (link). See also "Review of The Physics of Christianity, by Frank Tipler" and "Soft Tiplerianism".

Frank J. Tipler is a Professor at the Department of Mathematics, Tulane University, New Orleans. He is well known for his writings on the Cosmological Antrophic Principle and the Omega Point Theory. “… So, if the observed acceleration were to continue forever, the Omega Point Theory would be refuted. But the expansion of life to engulf the universe is EXACTLY what is required to cancel the positive cosmological constant (a.k.a. the Dark Energy): as life expands outward, life willl require energy, and before the collapse of the universe provides gravitational collapse energy, the energy source will be the conversion of baryons and leptons into energy via electroweak quantum tunnelling… We are so close to beginning the colonization --- after colonization begins, our descendants would be too spread out to be completely wiped out --- that I would claim the laws of physics would make it impossible for us to become extinct before giving rise to our descendants (human downloads and/or AI’s). If the laws of physics be for us, who can be against us!...”

Frank J. Tipler is a Professor at the Department of Mathematics, Tulane University, New Orleans. He is well known for his writings on the Cosmological Antrophic Principle and the Omega Point Theory. Please read the introductory note at the bottom if you are not familiar with his work.

Q) In "The Physics of Immortality" you make very specific predictions for the masses of Top Quark and Higgs Boson, and say that an experimental confirmation would be a very clear indication that the Omega Point Theory is correct. Do you see any indications from recent experiments that your predicted masses for these particles are more likely, or less likely, to be confirmed?

A) The top quark was found shortly after my book was published. The current value the experimenters give is 170 GeV. I predicted 185 ± 20 GeV. So (unless the experimenters drop the value) my prediction seems to agree with reality. My Higgs prediction of 220 ± 20 GeV is still open. The current lower bound quoted for a Standard Model Higgs is about 100 GeV ("lower bound" means that the actual value must be above the "lower bound"). I imagine that we will have to wait for the Large Hadron Colllider to go on line in 2005 before we see the Higgs. My prediction of the top and Higgs came from my deduction that the Higgs field would be only marginally stable. (I inferred marginal stability from acceleration in the collapse phase of the universe.) I then used the standard stability curve to get the particle masses. Given that the top quark is in the correct position for marginally stability, the Higgs boson pretty well has to have the marginally value also, given the shape of the stability curve. Since my book was written, the stability curves have been improved, and I think 190 ± 20 GeV would be a better estimate for the Higgs mass, using these improved stabiltiy curves.

Q): The Omega Point Theory requires a "closed" universe, where at some point the cosmic expansion is reversed by a contraction phase terminating in a gravitational collapse. What do you think of recent measurements from novae in distant galaxies indicating that cosmic expansion is accelerating?

A) I think the evidence that the universe is currently accelerating is VERY strong. Besides the direct evidence for acceleration from the supernovae which you mention, we have observations of flatness from the acoustic peaks in the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR). Recall my predictions 1 and 5: the first is for closure, and the 5th for near flatness, so my prediction (and inflation's) for flatness is looking good. Near flatness plus insufficient Dark Matter to close the universe means that there HAS to be Dark Energy, hence the acceleration.

I unfortunately overlooked the possibility that acceleration could occur in the expanding phase of the universe. Acceleration in the expanding phase of universal history invalidates my prediction of Hubble's constant (Second half of prediction 5) The current value of Hubble's constant is 70 km/sec-Mpc rather than the 45 km/sec-Mpc I predicted.

I SHOULD have predicted acceleration in the expanding phase, since the existence of a net number of baryons in the universe implies the Higgs field would not be in its true vacuum, where we would expect the positive cosmological constant (which is the mechanism for acceleration in the collapsing phase of universal history) would be exactly cancelled.

So, if the observed acceleration were to continue forever, the Omega Point Theory would be refuted. But the expansion of life to engulf the universe is EXACTLY what is required to cancel the positive cosmological constant (a.k.a. the Dark Energy): as life expands outward, life willl require energy, and before the collapse of the universe provides gravitational collapse energy, the energy source will be the conversion of baryons and leptons into energy via electroweak quantum tunnelling, a process I describe in Section N (relativistic spacecraft) of the Appendix for Scientists. What I did not realize when I wrote my book a decade ago is that this electroweak process would also act to cancel any positive cosmological constant today, and that the net baryon number in the universe would REQUIRE such Dark Energy today.

Q) What are the implications for the Omega Point Theory of dark matter and dark energy?

A) The Omega Point Theory suggests that the particle physics Standard Model (SM) is sufficient to explain both: the Dark Energy is just the currently uncancelled part of the positive cosmological constant, and the Dark Matter is just the Standard Model SU(2)_{left} field, coupled to the SM Higgs field. I was very worried when I wrote PHYSICS OF IMMORTALTIY that the entropy in the CMBR would make an acceleration in the collapsing phase of universal history impossible. I propose to solve this problem by claiming the temperature of the CMBR --- currently "measured" to have a temperature of 2.2726 degrees Kelvin --- is actually at absolute zero! I show in a paper I put on the lanl data base ( last November that such an apparently ridiculous claim is possible, because any quantized gauge field in a homogeneous and isotropic universe would NECESSARILY have a Planckian spectrum, even at zero temperature! What the measurements of CMBR showing that it is Planckian ---- which it most certainly is --- are really measuring is not the temperature, but the size of the universe. In my paper, I show how to convert the quoted "temperature" of 2.2726 into the size of the universe.

I describe a simple experiment to check my claims. Such an experiment would be important because it would check three things simultaneously: (1) it would show what the Dark Matter is, (2) it would show what the Dark Energy is, and (3) it would provide another test of the Omega Point Theory: it would test the idea of computers taking over the universe. My proposed experiment could in principle be done by anyone familiar with microwave techniques, using very cheap equipment. An accelerator like the billion dollar machines at Fermilab or CERN would not be required. A few thousand dollars worth of equipment would do it. Any takers?

As an added inducement, I point out in the above-mentioned paper that the effect I'm predicting has probably already been seen! An outstanding anomaly in astrophysics has been the existence of Ultra High Energy (UHE) cosmic rays: they shouldn't be able to propagate through the CMBR, yet they do. If the CMBR has the properties I claim, UHE Cosmic Rays WOULD be able to propagate through the CMBR.

Q) In "The Age of Spiritual Machines" Ray Kurzweil suggests that perhaps even a universe that left to itself would expand forever can be engineered into a collapse by future civilizations, or the other way around. This would be some amazing cosmic spacetime engineering indeed! Do you think this may be possible, and can you imagine any plausible mechanism?

A) The universe would collapse even if spatially open, if a negative cosmological constant were to exist, and could be turned on. But only if a negative cosmological constant already existed could this engineering be done. The experimental evidence is strong that the cosmological constant is POSITIVE, not negative. Furthermore, no engineering could change the spatial topology of universe. This would violate a fundamental law of quantum mechanics called unitarity.

But note that what I have suggested above to cancel the observed acceleration would in effect be a universal engineering project to force a collapse, where without the action of life, there would be no collapse.

In another paper (also available on the lanl, and in the published technical literature) I have argued that the known laws of physics REQUIRE life to engage in this engineering project.

Q) Andrei Linde has recently theorized that the universe may indeed collapse rather than expanding forever. But in Linde's theory the collapse comes a mere 10 to 20 billion years from now. How would this affect the Omega Point Theory's requirement for intelligent life to expand relatively quickly and manipulate the contraction into a Taub collapse?

A) Linde and I have different approaches to physics. I refuse to use anything other than the known laws of physics. I assume that these laws are correct, until an experiment shows that they have a limited range of applicability. Linde decides what he wants the universe to be like, and invents whatever laws are required to give him what he wants. Linde's laws are invented to eliminate anything like the Omega Point Theory, so it is likely that the Taub collapse won't work.

Notice in particular that Linde's Eternal Chaotic Inflation theory is played out in a spatially infinite universe. It is a mathematical theorem that the universe has to be spatially FINITE if it is to end in an Omega point.

Q) In the Omega Point Theory, humans colonize the universe via space probes that travel to distant planets and literally synthesize human beings on the spot rather than carrying them the whole way as full-grown, oxygen-breathing passengers. How can we be sure that each Adam and Eve (so to speak) that are placed on all of those distant worlds will cooperate in the grand effort to engineer a Taub collapse of the universe?

A) It is in their selfish interests to act locally to force the universe into a Taub collapse. If they cooperate they live, if they don't cooperate, they die. Also, I have argued, as I said above, that the laws of physics will ensure that they cooperate.

Q) In their SF novel "The Light of Other Days" Sir Arthur Clarke and Stephen Baxter imagine a near future civilization resurrecting the dead of past ages by reaching into the past, through micro wormholes, to download full snapshots of brain states and memories. Do you think that some of us might be restored to life, much before the Omega Point, by similar means?

A) No. Wormholes involve a violation of unitarity, because they involve topology change. Can't happen, unless the laws of physics are wrong. Where is the experiment showing that they are? Until I see the experiment, I will continue to believe in the known laws of physics.

Q) Have you, or Prof. Wolfhart Pannenberg [NOTE: he is a well known theologian who supports Tipler's views], managed to convince any religious leaders to accept all, most, or any significant portion of the Omega Point Theory?

A) No. I ascribe this rejection to the same reason that no religious leader has ever accepted "any significant portion" of the Transhumanist Credo. Most if not all religious leaders reject the idea that we humans are just special types of computers, and that human downloads and/or artificial intelligences are possible. Most, if not all, religious leaders reject the idea that the human mind (or soul) is just a program running on the wet computer we call the brain. Instead, they believe in an "immortal soul" which appears to be some sort of "stuff" not subject to the laws of physics.

In theology, this belief is connected with the gnostic (or Manichean) heresy, which holds that there is a "spirtual realm" superior to the material realm, which, since inferior, is uninteresting, or evil, or both. The goal in the gnostic heresy is to escape from the world of matter into the spirit world. Unfortunately, this heresy is widespread even among Christians (who should know better), and it prevents the Omega Point Theory --- or transhumanism --- from being taken seriously.

But I expect this to change in the future. I have just come back from a conference on Christianity, and when I pointed out the connection between the gnostic heresy and their rejection of transhumanism, the Christians at the conference began --- for the first time, I think --- to take transhumnsim (and hence the Omega Point) seriously.

I was also told by a German reporter that the Lutherian Bishop of Hamburg has accepted the Omega Point Theory. Is a bishop a "religious leader," or should I hold out for an archbishop or cardinal?

Q) You point out that many of the tenets of Christianity and Islam are similar, perhaps even identical in a fundamental way. Yet many bloody wars have been fought between Christians and Muslims, and now these two worlds seem headed for another major clash, perhaps much worse than the previous. Any thought that you wish to share?

A) I discussed the problem which Islam faces on pages 302-304 (the last part of the "Garden of Islam" section of Chapter 11) of THE PHYSICS OF IMMORTALITY. There are tolerant Muslims, and always have been, but throughout Islamic history, these tolerant Muslims are almost always dominated by Muslims who hate anything other than Islam. So Islam is almost always accompanied by war against non-Muslims. But there are encouraging signs that if given a democratic government, the good Muslims will take control from the evil Muslims. Iran is a "semi-democracy" in the sense that a parliament elected by the Iranian people have real, even if not complete, power. This parliament passes progressive laws, and if the Mullahs were also elected, I would predict that Iran would be a tolerant, liberal society, even if formally a theocracy.

Q) Suppose the human race becomes extinct before colonizing the universe. Then it is up to some other race to build the Omega Point scenario. Why should these superaliens want to resurrect us, today's humans?

A) We are so close to beginning the colonization --- after colonization begins, our descendants would be too spread out to be completely wiped out --- that I would claim the laws of physics would make it impossible for us to become extinct before giving rise to our descendants (human downloads and/or AI's). If the laws of physics be for us, who can be against us!

Q) You seem to accept the Many Worlds Interpretation (MWI) of quantum physics. Does the MWI mean that the universe splits into separate branches when a measurement is made, or that our mind splits into separate branches when the result of a measurement is observed?

A) I definitely accept the MWI. The MWI is not an option, but as I show in my book, a necessary mathematical consequence of quantum mechanics applying at all levels: not just atoms, but also humans are quantum mechanical objects. So if the MWI is actually false, then quantum mechanics must also be false at some level of complexity. All competent mathematical physicists know this perfectly well. Roger Penrose in his THE EMPEROR'S NEW MIND makes this point. It's just that Penrose explicitly rejects linear quantum mechanics at the level of the human brain. But as I have mentioned, I accept the known physical laws as being true, until an experiment shows them to be false.

It is better to think of parts of the universe as splitting. As Everett once said (roughly), if a mouse observes the universe, the mouse, not the universe, is changed. I would say, if a human mind observes the universe, the mind, not the universe, is split.

Q): After the tremendous amount of thought, research and writing that you put into your book, how do you feel about the hostile reception it received? Does the criticism bother you? Do you ignore it as much as possible? Or are you just waiting to be resurrected at the Omega Point so you can say "See, I told you so!"?

A) "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me." Criticism is the driving force of science. Much of the criticism has consisted of insults, and hence not useful. But my improvements in the Omega Point Theory, describved above, are due in large part to technical criticisms. My explanation of the Dark Matter and Dark Energy, and the simple experiment to test it, derive from criticisms I received from Gordon Kane, a professor of physics at the University of Michigan, after I gave a seminar at the University of Michigan a few years ago.

What I was unprepared for was the hostile "stone throwing" I received at Tulane University. I was actually formally tried for heresy (this word was not used by the panel convened to try me. Instead, I was told that I "didn't think like everyone else in the department"). I was not fired --- it's difficult to fire a tenured full professor, especially for unorthodox thinking, exactly what tenure is supposed to protect. But my salary was frozen: since my work was "worthless", it is clear to University officials that I should receive no raise. So now my pay is some $30,000 less than the Tulane full professor average, almost at the level of a starting assistant professor at Tulane, and definitely less than the assistant professor at a place like Cal Tech.

In the past I could have made up the salary shortfall by writing books. But Tulane changed the terms of my employment (the Louisiana courts have ruled that the University can do this to any faculty member), and now Tulane claims to own the copyright to any book I may write. So it looks as if I may depend on others elsewhere to develop the OPT. Fortunately, transhumanists exist, and eventually some will be trained in cosmology.

Q): If the Omega Point Theory is true, we shall be resurrected at the end of time and live in a very pleasant world. So why shouldn't we just relax and enjoy life instead of working hard to improve our life in today's world?

A) The selfish answer is that we don't know what the far future people will know about us. If they record that we slack off now, this slacker will be the only version of us emulated in the far future computers. With a slacker personality, we cannot enjoy the future to the fullest extent, to say nothing of the trouble we would be in for if we adopt an evil attitude, and THIS info make it to the far future.

The unselfish answer is that it is our duty. Buy working hard now, we can reduce the amount of suffering between now and the resurrection time. So in spite of my difficulties at Tulane, I'll keep trying to develop the OPT: if I succeed, human knowledge will be advanced --- especially if I can persuade sometone to do the simple experiment I describe!

Q) The Omega Point Theory deals with the far future. Most of our readers are more interested in the short and medium term future, and in particular in the possibility to improve the human physical and mental characteristics by applying nano/bio/info technologies. What timeline do you imagine for the gradual merging of biological and machine intelligences that many contemporary thinkers foresee? For example, when do you think we may develop working interfaces between biological brains and machines, or technologies to upload minds to machines?

A) I think we'll see AI's and/or human downloaded some time this century.

Introductory note

Some familiarity with Frank Tipler's writings, such as the books listed below, is required to enjoy this interview. The author's web site also contains some introductory material. If you cannot wait, here is our own very brief and incomplete version of "The Omega Point Theory in a nutshell": intelligent beings of a far future epoch close to the gravitational collapse of the universe (the so called Big Crunch) may develop the capability to steer the collapse along a specific mode (Taub collapse) with unlimited subjective time, energy, and computational power available to them before reaching the final singularity. Having done so, they may wish to restore to consciousness all sentient beings of the past, perhaps through a "brute force" computational emulation of the past history of the universe. So after death we may wake up in a simulated environment with many of the features assigned to the afterlife world by the major religions. We are using a weak "may", but Prof. Tipler thinks that there is plenty of evidence for the Omega Point Theory in today's universe.