Percentage of the universe filled with thinking matter

Before you say, "Save it for the philosophy forums," I do, in fact, ask these kinds of questions on philosophy forums, I just wanted to test the waters here, since this forum is unusually intellectual for being centered around a video game.

So anyway, if you look at things from an outside (and I mean very outside) perspective, you can reduce everything, including living creatures, into lumps of matter. So far, it seems that a very tiny fraction of that matter (the ones comprising humans and the smartest non-human animals) is capable of thinking about itself. In the case of humans, some of that thinking matter will, in theory, manipulate other clumps of matter into thinking. In other words, we're talking about the AI revolution, which, if you're into Ray Kurzweil's cult-like singularity culture, should be just around the corner. That means the percentage of thinking matter in the universe will increase slightly.

You probably already see where this is headed. If the process continues, then eventually a large percentage of the universe's non-thinking matter will be converted into thinking matter. If this percentage becomes large enough, then you would have a universe that is essentially one massive brain.

Can anyone theorize any purpose to a brain of that size? Or if it would even be able to accomplish anything? The amount of time it would take for neural messages to shoot back and forth would be so long, a single thought might take billions of years. Not so practical. Of course, if the entire universe is one thinking entity, then the sense of time would be different and those billions of years probably wouldn't matter.

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The Lost World by Michael Crichton

P. 429, 1995, 1st Ed. Softcover

Paragraph 9, line 2

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Or at least it'd be an interesting counter-point, maybe.

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GoatLord said:

Can anyone theorize any purpose to a brain of that size? Or if it would even be able to accomplish anything?


ZERG.

Slightly more seriously though, the thought of the entire existence being one giant bureaucratic government trying to make decisions about absolutely everything going on inside it is mildly amusing.

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GoatLord said:

You probably already see where this is headed. If the process continues, then eventually a large percentage of the universe's non-thinking matter will be converted into thinking matter. If this percentage becomes large enough, then you would have a universe that is essentially one massive brain.

You lost me at the italicised sentence. Why suppose that a (very large) set of material things, all individual members of which had the ability to think, would constitute one massive brain?

You might find this and this interesting.

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durian said:

Why suppose that a (very large) set of material things, all individual members of which had the ability to think, would constitute one massive brain?


Gravemind?

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GoatLord said:

You probably already see where this is headed. If the process continues, then eventually a large percentage of the universe's non-thinking matter will be converted into thinking matter. If this percentage becomes large enough, then you would have a universe that is essentially one massive brain.

Apart from the prospect of our home galaxy eventually being populated by nothing but self-replicating, sentient terraforming robots (which we'd created to render distant planets habitable for human colonists, shortly before humanity was devoured by rogue nanobots), I suspect the percentage of the universe that thinks is likely to remain fairly static, with species achieving self-awareness at about the same rate that more advanced cultures are destroying themselves.

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GoatLord said:

Can anyone theorize any purpose to a brain of that size? Or if it would even be able to accomplish anything?

As we're talking about intelligent life throughout the whole universe somehow conglobulating into one big superbrain, this crappy analogy shouldn't be too far-fetched for you:-

A worm - should it have the ability to cogitate at all - might ask the same question about a human brain, but our thought processes are so disparate in their grandeur that it's simply unable to appreciate them or how they work.

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durian said:


That was the single biggest waste of time I've experienced in a while. I kept reading, absolutely certain that eventually there would be a point, but no, I read the whole damn thing and I can say, definitively, there is no story, no moral, no point. Thank you for annihilating 10 minutes of my day. I'm actually slightly pissed.

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durian said:

You lost me at the italicised sentence. Why suppose that a (very large) set of material things, all individual members of which had the ability to think, would constitute one massive brain?

Why wouldn't you? Multiple computers can be combined to create larger computers (parallel processing) and brains are essentially biological computers (albeit computers that work in a very different way to the digital computers we use). Humans communicate, pass ideas (technological, scientific, political, etc.) between each other and incrementally improve on these ideas with each generation. I think it's absolutely right to think of societies in this way.

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Sure. I take it, though, that even if it's true that brains are computers, it doesn't follow from this that computers are brains; a massive brain may well be a computer, but a massive computer may not be a brain. So, mentioning computers in the face of my scepticism as to whether the relevant collection of things would constitute a brain may not be very helpful - it depends on what one antecedently supposes to be essential to something's being a brain, on which:

I take it you mean to draw parallel between the manner in which, as you say, "Humans communicate, pass ideas ... between each other and incrementally improve on these ideas with each generation", and the activities of a brain. I can appreciate that there's room for a comparison here, but I'd be hesitant to go so far as to say that, insofar as we humans are engaged in the kind of activity that you describe, we collectively constitute a brain (though there might be other things in vicinity that I would find it more plausible to say).

It's unclear to me that there are very strict necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be properly counted among the brains (and - if there are such conditions - it's unclear to me what they are). It might help, then, to treat the notion of something's being a brain as involving an implicit appeal to certain resemblances to paradigms; that is, we can say, x is a brain iff x is the same, in certain key respects, to a suitable paradigm of brainhood (and so, given the variety that one finds among biological brains, it's likely that there will be many different ways of being a brain). Since we're more likely to agree on whether something is a paradigm, this seems a neat way to proceed.

But of course, it's an open question as to what the features of paradigm brainhood might be, such that their instantiation in some candidate object (be it a computer, or set of persons, or whatever) would suffice for a suitable similarity to obtain between the object and the paradigm, such that the former could be properly counted among the brains. I take it that this is precisely the point on which we disagree: while I can appreciate the similarity that you highlight between - on the one hand - a network of individuals, refining certain ideas, and - on the other - a brain, doing whatever it is that brains do, it's not obvious to me that this similarity suffices for the former to be properly counted among the brains.

By way of a hand-wavey explanation: Insofar as it's a biological notion, it seems natural to me to say that brains are things which are the organs of single organisms, responsible for - on the one hand - regulating various physiological functions, and - on the other hand, processing sensory input and triggering appropriate behavioural output. To the extent that it does this well, the organism will - in general - be less unlikely to meet an untimely end. In addition, this (and other) activity in the brain clearly underlies consciousness.

Now, I don't mean to suggest that, to be properly counted among the brains, a candidate object must be like this in all respects, but it does seem to me that some essential similarity would be missing from the case of a collection of persons, sharing ideas. Perhaps this is because I find it natural to think of the brain in teleogical or functional terms - specifically, in terms of the role it plays within the individual organism, and the contribution that it makes to their survival, enabling them to orient themselves in their environment, etc. And so since - in the situation you describe - it seems there's no kind of organism, such that the candidate brain - considered as type - belongs to it, and contributes to its survival (or to that of its members), I'm disinclined to call it a brain.

Still, I take it that none of this actually matters for GoatLord's thought experiment, which could be reposed not in terms of brains, but (with more biological neutrality) in terms of 'thinking things'. The brain is a thinking thing, and perhaps there could be thinking things which - because they don't satisfy the relevant biological criteria - were not brains, but were thinking things all the same. If so, the question could just be reposed in those terms.

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GoatLord said:

...since this forum is unusually intellectual for being centered around a video game.


Lol.

This is joke, no?

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DoomUK said:

As we're talking about intelligent life throughout the whole universe somehow conglobulating into one big superbrain, this crappy analogy shouldn't be too far-fetched for you:-

A worm - should it have the ability to cogitate at all - might ask the same question about a human brain, but our thought processes are so disparate in their grandeur that it's simply unable to appreciate them or how they work.

Reminds me of a sidewalk billboard I'd seen years ago - "If the human mind was simple enough for us to understand, we'd be too simple to understand it."

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Xaser said:

Thinking matter? Since when does thinking matter?

What is mind? No matter. What is matter? Never mind!

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Rayzik said:

Lol.

This is joke, no?


I'm just saying, the amount of correct spelling and articulation I see here is downright astounding, but I also have a very, very, very poor opinion of the intellectual capacity of most people and in particular gamers.

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Complexity like life/brains/computers only seem able to crystalize at lower temperatures like earth. Most of the matter of stars like the sun is too hot to support anything more complex than simple patterns I guess.

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GoatLord said:

I'm just saying, the amount of correct spelling and articulation I see here is downright astounding, but I also have a very, very, very poor opinion of the intellectual capacity of most people and in particular gamers.


And I'm sure most of us can agree on which gaming communities are the worst.

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