Big Bang and Extropy

Crosby_M (
Wed, 07 Aug 96 13:32:00 EDT

Eric Lerner explains, in his 1992 book "The Big Bang Never Happened"
(Vintage Books / Random House), how the Big Bang theory is an irrational
faith, "a scientific version of the Biblical story of Creation." And therein
lies a story worth posting for Extropians.

Lerner sums up his theme as follows: "Today Big Bang theorists see a
universe much like that envisioned by the medieval scholars - a finite
cosmos created ex nihilo, from nothing, whose perfection is in the past,
which is degenerating to a final end. The perfect principles used to form
this universe can only be known by pure reason, guided by authority,
independent of observation. Such a cosmic myth arises in periods of social
crisis or retreat, and reinforces the separation of thought and action,
ruler and ruled. It breeds fatalistic pessimism that paralyzes society. By
contrast, the opposing view, plasma cosmology, is empirical ... Its
proponents see an infinite universe evolving over infinite time. The
universe can be studied only by observation - there is no final answer in
science and no final authority. This approach, binding together thought and
action, theory and observation, has proved, over the ages, to be a weapon of
social change. The idea of progress in the universe has always been linked
with the idea of social progress on earth."

Lerner shows how the basic assumptions of the Big Bang theory have been
refuted by observation; yet, to explain the discrepancies, its theorists
continue to postulate elaborate, contrived explanations, such as cosmic
strings and dark matter, involving conveniently unobservable phenomena. This
is quite similar to the way statists keep coming up with more government
fixes for the new problems continuously arising from previous government
attempts to fix something. Lerner points out: "The deductive method's
disregard for observation and practical application of science originated
with the slave master's disdain for manual work, while the empirical
method's system is based on free craftsmen and traders combining theory and

Toward the end of part 1, 'The Cosmological Debate' in "The Big Bang Never
Happened", Lerner describes the long struggle of Swedish Nobel prize winner
Hannes Alfven who pioneered the principles of plasma cosmology; then Lerner
explains how he himself developed his theories about the speed of plasmas in
vortices, all confirmed by astronomical observations; and how along with
their collaborator Tony Perat at Los Alamos, they finally achieved some
public recognition in 1989 after the first joint conference of plasma
physicists and astrophysicists.

Note that most popular science books about cosmology and the nature of the
universe in the past few years have all been written by mathematical
physicists, like Paul Davies' "The Mind Of God" and Roger Penrose's two
best-sellers, both of whom long for a world of pure reason, of mathematical
ideals, and a theory of everything.

On the fictional side, most of the stories in 1995's "Far Futures"
anthology, edited by Gregory Benford, take this pessimistic view of the 'end
of time', which might be dedicated to Frank Tipler's "Physics of
Immortality" ideas. The notable exception is Poul Anderson's "Genesis",
about the independent, extropian, solar intelligences of a gallactic
MetaMind. Anderson's story really constrasts with Charles Sheffield's "At
the Eschaton" about a 'hero' who conquers the galaxy and then takes over the
Omega Point and even destroys this universe all so he can resurrect his
beloved in a new 'baby' universe of his own creation.

Back in "The Big Bang Never Happened", in ch.7 'The Endless Flow of Time',
Lerner promotes Ilya Prigogine's theories of order from chaos, and how the
mathematical physicist's notion of the reversibility of time is an
inapplicable abstraction. More importantly, he shows how evolution is a
process of more efficient energy capture, and applies to ecosystems, if not
to individual organisms: "the debris of one stage fuels a subsequent stage
... Thus there is no inherent limit to evolution away from equilibrium, even
with a fixed supply of energy, so long as a process can continually increase
the efficiency with which it recycles the energy."

Lerner then goes on to castigate Bohr & Heisenberg's mysticism, moral
neutrality, and Nazi collaboration, particularly what he calls Heisenberg's
fascist search for 'The Central Order'. I might call this the desire to
crack the 'privileged' levels of the universe's operating system (as opposed
to agoric transformations at the application level).

Lerner goes on to offer some clues regarding vortexs from thermodynamics &
hydrodynamics that might eventually reconcile the inconsistencies of quantum
theory & relativity. I interpret his discussion here as saying that only
waves have any existence over time, particles & objects are merely the
current, fleeting froth of interacting waves - the epiphenomena. The popular
paradigm, however, tends to think of objects & material things as reality,
while the messages that pass between them are considered fleeting &

In ch.9, 'Infinite in Time and Space', Lerner describes how "the Big Bang is
entangled with religious and theological ideas," and it's only a short step
from theological longings for a Necessary Being (God), a Creator from
outside, to science as an elite priesthood, and the fascist search for a
Central Order to the universe.

In particular he discusses how particle physics and the Big Bang cosmology
have an incestuous relationship (as well as circular logic) - their embrace
of purely deductive reasoning from subjective ideals while ignoring
observation and inductive reasoning. Lerner nicely sums up what is wrong
with the purely deductive approach taken by the mathematical physicists
(with their Platonic ideals) who have dominated much of popular science in
recent years: "it is futile to try to derive natural laws from aesthetic

Finally, Lerner makes the most important point of the book: "By positing an
end to all things, conventional cosmology necessarily implies one of two
philosophical stances: either a blind existential pessimism, humanity
condemned to a meaningless existence, or a dualistic faith like that of the
Middle Ages, which finds meaning only in the world beyond."

Lerner goes on to describe the theories of Teilhard de Chardin who, he says,
"rejects the dualism that assumes two distinct existences, that of the
spirit and that of matter." Furthermore, according to Lerner, "[Teilhard]
hypothesizes that there are two forms of energy. One, the 'tangential,'
links an entity with existing processes in the universe; the other,
'radial,' is identified with the creation of new relations and higher orders
of complexity. This second form of energy Teilhard de Chardin identifies
with consciousness." A bandwidth-optimizing summary of this is Francois
Jacob's 1974 quote on how energy & information are "the two forms of power;
the power to do and the power to direct what is done," noted in John
Holland's "Hidden Order".

In ch.9, Lerner's section on 'Infinity & the Deity' makes the following
major point: "On the one hand are those who ... believe that an infinite
universe will challenge the authority of the deity. On the other, their
opponents believe only a universe without limits befits an infinite God."

Lerner's final chapter, 'Cosmos and Society' is extremely disappointing
because (I think) Lerner misinterprets economics as badly as he accuses
mathematical physicists of misinterpreting cosmology, and for the same
reason - Lerner has no hands-on experience with economics or industry, he
starts with preconcieved socialistic ideals and then searches for statistics
to fit his thesis, namely, that capitalism is in decline and a new mode of
'worker democracy' is needed. He fails to distinguish between the
pseudo-market, mercantilist economies of Europe & South America and the
truly free-market, though regulation-stifled, economies of the U.S. and the
Asian 'Tigers'. Furthermore, (as anyone who hasn't had their head burried in
plasma physics would know) he totally fails to recognize that the current
'slowdown' in progress is due to a major shift from a labor-based,
manufacturing economy to an information-based, service economy, and is
certainly not due to any crisis in capitalism, which has yet to be really
tried in perhaps 90% of the world's countries!

The other point where Lerner's thinking is seriously flawed is his
contention (in ch.7) that "a universe as computer, a finitely divisable
universe, would indeed have no future and no past ... because its every
action is precisely predictable."

I don't believe this. Digital computers are able to perform simulations that
exhibit instabilities where the results will be unpredictable. Rudy Rucker
commented on this notion in his book "Mind Tools" (p116): "One feels that,
although some of the world's information is digital, much of it is also
analog.... It could be, though, that we simply aren't able to examine the
world closely enough to see its digital texture. Something feels analog to
us if its pixels are too small for us to readily sense them.... Nevertheless
- and this point is worth stressing - any physical process can be modeled to
any desired degree of precision by a complicated-enough digital
computation." But, can a digital program exhibit the kind of non-local
effects that Lerner proposes? I say yes - All systems are digital at the
bottom but become wave-like, or analog (analogue?), only when they interact
as independent (agoric) entities. (By the way, could someone please point me
to the origin of the term 'agoric'?)

My notion is that a pluralistic universe must be object-oriented at the
bottom (what I call the Content level). That is, it must be composed of
discrete (though interdependent) entities. It cannot be continuous or analog
like Eric Lerner claims, otherwise, there is no chance for the decision
points that allow free will. In other words, the base level of reality must
be composed of particles, not waves. These 'low-level', object-oriented
systems, or 'particles', however, merely process transactions according to
subjective or internal (intrinsic) criteria. The next step up (at what I
call the Context level), the system becomes event-driven and interactive
(extrinsic), correlating its internal states with external information.
Finally, at the Contest level, the system becomes wave-like and abstract
functions are enabled by applying knowledge achieved at (what I call) the
Contest level to produce novelty back at the Content level through self

And so, Boundless Expansion (NOT Big Bang), Self Transformation ('free will'
/ libertarianism), Dynamic Optimism (unbounded universe), Intelligent
Technology (3-tiered, Content/Context/Contest systems design), Spontaneous
Order (bionomic + fractal + selectional algorithms) may all be 'proven' from
the 'hidden order' of ecology, thermodynamics & hydrodynamics.

P.S. Too bad I'm not a physicist or mathematician. My .gov address is the
only one I have access to and the opinions expressed here are NOT those of
the agency I work for (Bureau of Labor Statistics). I'm just a hired hand
who enjoys hacking (not cracking) the economic stats (hormones) of MetaMan
for a living. (I have worked as a systems analyst under contracts to the
federal government for 10 years, but NEVER for a regulatory agency.)