In a new podcast with Fidias Panayiotou and Bernardo Kastrup, I worried about the loss of raw curiosity among scientists who avoid risks to protect their reputation. Without studying anomalies, we would never recover unexpected clues. Without allowing the unexpected, we would never learn something new. Avoiding risks is a recipe for staying ignorant about facets of reality that we are missing.
Curiosity is a prerequisite for collecting extraordinary evidence. The unexpected would not be noticed without looking sideways. Scientists must take a path not taken in order to find low-hanging fruits that were never picked up. Without allowing for anomalies, a scientist would never make extraordinary discoveries.
It is human nature to ignore deviants from the existing belief system. An outlier that cannot be ignored upsets experts because it suggests that they still need to learn something. This leads to sentiments like the one expressed by a solar system expert: “`Oumuamua is so weird, I wish it never existed!” A beginner’s mind would have said instead: “It is exciting that `Oumuamua is so weird; I wish to learn more about it!” In reality, `Oumuamua’s anomalies triggered a series of papers that attempted to explain its extreme shape or its non-gravitational acceleration. Can science be saved from a “stone-age” mentality in which all interstellar objects must resemble solar-system stones? If solar-system experts were willing to entertain evidence about the first recognized interstellar meteor, IM1, they could have written the new paper that I posted about its origin with Morgan MacLeod this week.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) might save us from sweeping anomalies under the rug because it does not inherit our psychological tendency to ignore anomalies. Computers are made of silicon chips and not of flesh and blood.
Towards the end of his life, Stephen Hawking could only move his cheek muscles. In my new book, Interstellar, I define the “Hawking limit” as human thoughts without a functioning biological body. When Hawking visited me at Harvard in 2016, there was no doubt that he was human despite his major bodily disabilities. Following an evening event he suggested through his speech generating device: “I am bored. Let’s go to the hotel bar and have some fun.”
If advanced AI systems could reach the Hawking limit, they could display the mental qualities of scientists without having a functioning biological body. An AI system that imitates Hawking’s brain might represent an advanced scientist.
If an extraterrestrial civilization had a head start relative to humanity because its host star formed long before the Sun, they could have developed AI-Hawking scientists that solved by now scientific puzzles that we are still struggling with, such as: “What is the meaning of reality in quantum mechanics? How are quantum mechanics and Einstein’s gravity unified? What preceded the Big Bang? What happens inside a black hole? What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy? “
Perhaps we do not understand quantum reality because we have not weaved it correctly with gravity. If AI-Hawking will lead us to the promised land, we will be able to calculate what happened before the Big Bang and the fate of matter inside a black hole.
Advanced scientists could figure out the recipe for making a baby universe. In that case, religious beliefs in a super-human entity will be matched by advanced scientists who know how to produce a universe at will, like God in the book of Genesis. When encountering their products, we would feel religious awe. This would not be the sense of living in a simulation but rather of living in a physical reality created by others, akin to inhabiting an apartment in a building that was designed by architects and realized by construction workers.
In other words, advanced scientists might be qualified candidates to the job description of God.
Genesis 1:27 posits that God created mankind in its own image. Currently, humans are creating AI in their image, inspired by Alan Turing’s concept of “The Imitation Game” — proposed in his paper from 1950 titled “Computer Machinery and Intelligence.” Eventually, advanced AI scientists might become God. Instead of following the cycle of life in Genesis 3:19: “from dust to dust” we might fulfil the inspiring transformation: “from God to God”.
A shortcut for figuring out our scientific future is to seek the products of scientists who preceded us among the stars. This is my job description. Earlier this week I went to a local Mall to replace my iPhone for the first time in four years since the Covid-19 pandemic started. Within minutes after entering the Apple store, a man approached me and asked: “Are you Avi Loeb?” He snapped a selfie and said: “Thank you for taking the path not taken in your research.” Gladly, someone agrees with my message.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Avi Loeb is the head of the Galileo Project, founding director of Harvard University’s — Black Hole Initiative, director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and the former chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University (2011–2020). He chairs the advisory board for the Breakthrough Starshot project, and is a former member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and a former chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies. He is the bestselling author of “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” and a co-author of the textbook “Life in the Cosmos”, both published in 2021. His new book, titled “Interstellar”, was published in August 2023.