Werner to Vijñana: Thinking Through the Great Filter, Humanity’s Halting Problem
We are facing the most monumental and ominous challenge humanity may ever encounter. To overcome this challenge, we may need to turn our back on the very foundational concepts that have enabled our tremendously successful progress in order to make new discoveries that will prevent our impending annihilation and allow humanity to flourish and expand into the cosmos as no civilization has ever before.
When we look out into the vast emptiness of space with enormous telescopes and other detection instruments, it is obvious that our universe is exactly that: empty, with an apparent absence of any intelligent activity. Scientists and philosophers have proposed an explanation for this great celestial silence: the Great Filter. The GF can be thought of as an “insurmountable developmental wall” that has prevented any expected explosion or exploration of the universe.
Consider the technological advances that our civilization has made in the last 150 years. We’ve gone from covered wagons to the discovery of the light bulb to automobiles, airplanes, rockets, televisions, computers, manned travel to the moon, the internet, smart phones, and we are on the verge of artificial general intelligence, fully autonomous cars, quantum computers and manned trips to Mars. Project forward 150 more years, 1000 years, even a million years and we can imagine humans having mastered interstellar travel and possibly being well on our way to colonizing other solar systems and possibly even be moving outside of our galaxy given the curious and exploratory nature of intelligence. If we take the perspective that life is not rare in our universe of a trillion galaxies and a billion trillion stars, and the likelihood that other similarly intelligent and curious civilizations in other galaxies could have a multiple billion-year head start on us, it is natural to wonder why we don’t see evidence of at least one successfully colonizing civilization when we peer out into the deep cosmos. Something must be preventing this. In the 1990s, Robin Hanson proposed the Great Filter as that mechanism. Over the last couple decades, the debate has been over the likelihood of this GF being in our past vs. being in our future and many believe the evidence points to it looming in our future in the form of imminent global catastrophes, cosmic threats, robot rebellions, world-destroying physics experiments or a number of other possibilities.
Many have supposed that the Great Filter will spell our doom because of our inability to define and master the fundamental cosmological rules. This failure, should it continue, will prevent us from ever successfully leaving our home planet, as it must have also prevented every other civilization that has ever existed. Without this knowledge of the true nature of our reality, interstellar colonization is really, really hard – impossible many believe.
What if the only means of avoiding this impending and dreaded threat that will eventually cause our civilization to die out can actually be found within us already and our only obstacle in fully utilizing this tool is our inability to recognize its utmost importance in the very fabric of reality? My conjecture is that our inability to pivot from current scientific methodologies to recognition of a post-relativist/standard model solution set that relies on Consciousness as fundamental reflects a procedural inability that to date has afflicted every civilization in the history of the universe – thus the Great Silence that we have always collectively and universally observed.
We have come far. We have come very far. And we have only gotten here armed with logic, reason and countless cycles of hardcore scientific hypothesizing and testing to achieve an enormously successful foundation of cosmology through iterations of refinement that began before the time of Plato. In the 17th to 19th centuries, we studied the “really big” and developed theories that very accurately described the motions of celestial bodies and this, in turn, brought great benefits. In the 20th century we studied the “really small” and developed theories that brought even more accuracy and even more benefits, but didn’t mesh with the previous theory. While we currently continue studying how to make the very big and very small agree, our focus actually needs to move to the invisible and developing a new theory that brings together previous theories and with it the most incredible benefits: technology that enables unimaginable capabilities including faster than light (FTL) travel, which is currently impossible within the spacetime paradigm. It is a common belief that an inability to master FTL travel makes the vast distances between stars and galaxies just too much to overcome. But this constraint is one born from our current understanding of reality that takes spacetime as primary and we find ourselves caught in a web of unsolvable mathematics and some are questioning if this can ever be resolved.
For this reason, I believe we are on the event horizon of the GF right now – our inability to understand the true nature of reality is preventing us from developing the means of becoming a spacefaring civilization that can colonize our galaxy and eventually the universe. Our current theory of the very big (relativity theories) does not agree with the theory of the very small (standard model). Assuming there is life in other parts of our enormous universe – an assumption that is generally accepted as high probability given the very large numbers of stars and galaxies in the universe – this may be the problem that keeps civilizations grounded on their home planet, without the tools to weather the challenges that come from reaching across the vast expanse in a slow, hopeless struggle to populate anything besides its home planet until inevitably its home star dies out, leaving them to perish in a cold death.
But there may be a degree of collective stubbornness at the root of our refusal to understand the true underlying nature of reality. I believe a brain that has the capacity to create the highly successful standard model and interrelated relativity theories within the rigid constraints of a scientific methodology that requires reproducible empirical evidence is not suited to taking the next steps required to solve the problem from an entirely novel perspective without a difficult, intentional and collective paradigm shift to a new starting point – something that surely will be, and already is, resisted by a highly physicalist-dominated orthodoxy.
Today, we are seeing signs of a paradigm shift in a very infantile stage, but it is entirely possible that it will be successfully muted and dismissed by the narrow-minded dogmatic custodians of the current paradigm, who by assigning the tag of pseudoscience to anything leveraging the “C-word,” will deter today’s smartest from venturing into the realm of this new science. This cycle of resistance is not uncommon and has occurred many times over humanity’s history, but now the stakes are as high as they have ever been and we must overcome this before it is too late. This may be a “one chance” type of bifurcation given the many other threats we face today and undoubtedly will in the future.
Given our inability to fully understand our reality and the methodology barriers we face, we now find ourselves at an apparent impasse and the only way to continue after thousands of years of progress may be to start over from a completely different perspective.
While I believe this is not a trivial task, I do, however, see signs that it is possible given the convergence of cross-disciplinary, leading-edge thinking that is just beginning to disrupt mainstream physicalist scientific dogma and offer a starting point for new theories. Accepting spacetime as the fundamental substrate of our reality is the natural result of our very successful theories, but also a self-imposed constraint preventing solution of our current problems that emerge from these same successful theories. Once we realize and accept there is something more fundamental that generates spacetime from currently unknowable levels – magnitudes of times smaller than even the tiniest sub-atomic particles – the current constraints disappear and a new form of science can emerge that allows FLT and therefore unfettered travel to anywhere in the universe. We must start with the understanding that consciousness is fundamental and any understanding of our reality must arise a posteriori.
How can we be sure that an integrated information theoretic approach assuming Consciousness as fundamental rather than a materialist/reductionist philosophy is the answer? Mind does not equal body. Body does not generate mind. There is clear evidence that there is more to our reality than we currently accept. The best physicists are realizing spacetime is not fundamental, we are not only accepting non-local quantum effects as proven, but utilizing them in current technologies, we are reaching an understanding of the mathematical and geometrical nature underlying reality and better defining the outrageous fine tunings that make our universe possible, while also beginning to recognize the biological designs that have made life possible in the first place. There are immense piles of literature that document our collective consciousness experiences as well that takes us to a realization that there is more to reality than we can observe. It is clear in what direction our thought leaders are converging: that reality is not as we have understood it and consciousness appears to have a very fundamental role in everything about our reality.
Realization that spacetime is not fundamental and the concepts emerging from leading thinkers across many domains (e.g., physics, biology, computer science, neuroscience, theology, psychology, etc.) is evidence that we know where we need to go, it’s just a matter of whether dogma, visceral skepticism and our current form of science will prevent it. It is a race against time and we are in a critical period where you only get one chance to get through this Great Filter or forever succumb to these problems where the very concepts that can save us are forever demoted and lost within the pile of previously discarded ideas tagged as “pseudoscience”. We have very smart people approaching the concepts that will save us. But if we don’t get behind the ideas collectively and support the new bedrock from which required future technologies can arise, we may succumb to the Great Filter – as every previous civilization has before us.
We can all do our part by being open-minded to the possibility that consciousness plays a much bigger role than we have thought – perhaps the biggest role. There are many physicalist-type thinkers who are quite dedicated to their ideas and this is not a suggestion that their research should be stopped. What must be stopped is the dogmatic supposition that anything contrary should be discarded out of hand, kept on the fringe and mocked even. Anyone who has taken seriously mindfulness, meditation and other internal practices can easily see that there is a power that exists within ourselves that must continue to be seriously explored, defined and considered as the scaffolding that will hold up not only new concepts and principles, but also all of the old ones.
As we adopt a new perspective, we may find some surprises. Is this compatible with simulation theory? What about artificial intelligence and the fear of a robot rebellion? Are we truly alone in the universe?
- How does the simulation play into this? It depends on the nature of it. If you take the perspective that we are special (it was created just for us), then the GF is behind us and there never could be any other civilizations. If the perspective is that it is not specifically for us, then the future GF applies
- What if the GF isn’t so Great? Are there ETs that have already mastered this?
How does accepting consciousness as primary start us in the right direction:
- Hoffman type work where a new theory based on consciousness builds up to produce spacetime, an understanding of gravity, light, etc. and thus an ability to bypass constraints imposed by spacetime such as no FLT. But is Hoffman’s work supported by the orthodoxy? Not really and in many cases it is mocked
- Understanding of how things work at below sub-atomic scales. We have no other tools to do this as the LHC cannot work at scales smaller than 10-18m and the lower limit of reality may be a mind-boggling 10-35m
- Understanding of how things work in terms of other dimensions through better understanding of internal neurology and its relationship to external features of reality that aren’t ordinarily exposed to us by our senses
- Personal contentedness – with a true understanding of our reality, we can individually understand our true nature (AI), our purpose and our place in society, the nature of creativity, how to have consciousness experiences that enrich your life and your relationships with others
- Realization of our place in the cosmos, better understanding of its creation and other entities that have already mastered consciousness as primary principles – yes, really
- Better understanding of the Creator through understanding of our own gift of consciousness
- Realization of addictive dogma that we can remove to facilitate a better understanding
- True understanding of how the universe works – and doesn’t work. How it brings about certain conclusions, how it prevents complete knowledge of what it is