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A for Almighty - Fred Hoyle’s Cosmic Theology
Giulio Prisco   May 31, 2016   Turing Church  

Fred Hoyle imagined a scientific theology with a hierarchy of Gods in the universe, from lower-case local gods all the way to an asymptotic cosmic God that emerges from the physical universe, comes into full being at the end of time, controls space and time with subtle quantum messages and time loops, seeds the universe with Life, and works through Life.

Sir Fred Hoyle (1915 – 2001) was both an accomplished science fiction writer – his novels “A for Andromeda” [Hoyle 1962] and “The Black Cloud” [Hoyle 1957] are rightly placed among the masterpieces of science fiction of all times – and a Nobel level scientist. It’s well known that Hoyle was denied a Nobel Prize in Physics [Gregory 2005] that should have been rightfully his for his pioneering work on nucleosynthesis processes in stars. Hoyle’s collaborator William Alfred Fowler received the Nobel prize in 1983, but Hoyle’s fundamental contributions – later acknowledged by Fowler – were overlooked by the Nobel committee. That has been attributed to Hoyle’s brash personality and penchant for politically incorrect statements, including – I guess – daring to suggest that the universe is controlled by a cosmic God.

Hoyle first came to the God conclusion by reflecting on what would later be known as “Anthropic Principle” – the amazing coincidences and fine-tuning of the physical constants that appear to favor the emergence of carbon-based life. “Some supercalculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom,” he said [Hoyle 1981].

“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”

In a video clip titled “Fine Tuning” [Polkinghorne 2009], physicist and theologian John Polkinhorne tells the story of Hoyle’s discovery of how carbon atoms are formed in the stars. “The chemistry of life is the chemistry of carbon,” says Polkinghorne. Where does carbon comes from? The only place in the whole universe where carbon can be made is in the interior of stars. “Every atom of carbon inside our bodies was once inside a star,” continues Polkinghorne. “We are people of stardust.”

Stellar nucleosynthesis can create carbon atoms if and only if the carbon atom has an excited state with a very specific energy level (resonance). With “anthropic reasoning” – the universe must be able to produce carbon-based life such as ourselves – Hoyle predicted this resonance before it was found experimentally. “If the laws of nuclear physics had been a tiny bit different, either there would be no resonance at all, or it would be at some other energy, which would be no good,” explains Polkinghorne. “And Fred, who had a life-long commitment to atheism, is reported to have said (in a Yorkshire accent):”

“The universe is a put-up job.”

“In other words, this can’t be just a happy accident, it’s too significant for that,” concludes Polkinghorne. “There must be something behind all this. Because Fred didn’t like the word ‘God’, he says some (capital I) Intelligence has monkeyed with the laws of the universe.”

Though Hoyle didn’t like the word “God,” his ultimate Intelligence looks very much like God to me. The loving, personal aspect of God, and the concept of personal resurrection, aren’t part of Hoyle’s “theology,” but they aren’t necessarily incompatible with it either (see below). Therefore, I hope Sir Fred will forgive me for using the G word in this review.

Jane Gregory’s biography “Fred Hoyle’s Universe” [Gregory 2005] offers a fascinating portrait of the life and work of a visionary scientist and politically incorrect thinker who threw stones at too many sacred cows to be rewarded with a Nobel Prize. In fact, Hoyle dared to publicly and vigorously oppose parts of Darwin’s theory of evolution, to which he even referred as “pseudoscience” [Hoyle 1982], because he considered the probability of inorganic matter spontaneously assembling into organic life, and continuing to evolve through random mutations alone, as far too small to be credible. As an alternative to Darwinism, Hoyle proposed his own highly imaginative version of Intelligent Design (ID). Supporting ID is guaranteed to attract rabid hostility in “liberal” academic circles, but Hoyle made things even worse by using the forbidden G word. A scientist who finds God, of all things. That’s probably why Hoyle was denied a well-deserved Nobel Prize

“Many in the scientific community had felt for a while that stellar nucleosynthesis was an achievement worthy of a Nobel Prize,” Gregory reports. “The Observer newspaper, commenting on Hoyle’s recent thinking on a cosmic deity, suggested that this ‘unexpected conversion may bring him some comfort during a vexing time – for the diminutive, mercurial physicist has just been soundly snubbed by the world of science.’ New Scientist published an article subtitled ‘a defence for Sir Fred Hoyle,’ which pondered the paradox of a likeable, inventive scientist who manages nevertheless to repeatedly raise the hackles of the scientific establishment, and suggested that Hoyle’s ‘breadth of vision’ made other scientists uneasy.” In 1997 Hoyle was awarded the prestigious Crafoord Prize for his work on stellar nucleosynthesis, which other scientists interpreted as a redress for having been excluded from the Nobel.

Hoyle started as an atheist, but through science he came to cosmic visions essentially similar to – actually indistinguishable from – those found in the world’s religions. He imagined a hierarchy of Gods in the universe, from lower-case local gods all the way to an asymptotic cosmic God that emerges from the physical universe, comes into full being beyond time, controls space and time, seeds the universe with life, and keeps tweaking and fine-tuning the whole of space-time with subtle quantum messages and time loops. A for Almighty, indeed.

But Sir Fred wasn’t a mystic. He was a scientist, and a top class physicist. Therefore, he didn’t stop at inspiring poetic visions, but dared to try and propose physical models for both the local gods, aka Intelligent Designers, and the ultimate cosmic God.

Intelligent Designers

In “The Intelligent Universe – A new view of creation and evolution” [Hoyle 1984], a thoughtful and beautifully illustrated popular science book published in 1984, Hoyle set forth his unconventional views of life, the universe, and everything. According to Hoyle, life on our planet was seeded by cosmic organic spores that pervade the universe, perhaps engineered by ancient intelligences to create a new material substrate – carbon-based biology – able to continue hosting intelligent life in the face of an evolving universe, with changing physical constant, which was becoming hostile to the old material substrate – whatever that was – of intelligence.

“[Intelligence] continually has to modify and adapt the material by which it is expressed in order to keep in step with an ever-changing Universe,” says Hoyle. “Success is always temporary, yet because intelligence is at work, somewhere in the Universe living matter is keeping ahead… [Suppose] that our species continues into the future for many thousands of millions of years, and that the understanding of the world by our descendants advances throughout such an immense span of time at a rate similar to the advance of our ancestors over the past million years. Suppose also that our remote descendants become aware that the critical tunings in carbon and oxygen are changing, a situation which even their greatly advanced technology is powerless to prevent.”

“[They] could set about the problem of finding an entirely new material structure to which the store of knowledge that constituted themselves might be transferred. This it seems to me explains why another intelligence, an intelligence which preceded us, was led to put together, as a deliberate act of creation, a structure for carbon-based life.”

Hoyle’s vision of super-intelligent civilizations engineering new forms of life able to continue the cosmic march of intelligence is very transhumanist to say the least. However, Hoyle doesn’t have cultural survival in mind, let alone personal survival, but only the continuation of intelligent life as a whole.

“I suspect that as far as individuals are concerned, this conviction [of survival of the ‘software’ after destruction of the ‘hardware’] is in error,” says Hoyle. “However, for life as a whole it is probably much more firmly grounded.”

But perhaps our creators were able to do a little more than that. Perhaps they were able to build into carbon-based life some kind of awareness of its origins. Perhaps our religious impulses are firmware instruction to continue the march of intelligent life, out there among the stars. In Hoyle’s words:

“You are derived from something ‘out there’ in the sky. Seek it, and you will find much more than you expect.”

Let’s recap things so far. Hoyle attacked Darwin and put the Intelligent Designers in his place, and added to his previous cosmological heresies, such as replacing the Big Bang with one or another form of steady-state model, by suggesting that the physical constants could change with time [1]. That by itself was more than enough to earn the wrath of the bureaucrats of science in the eighties (today, I guess the modern “Scientific Justice Warriors” (SJWs) would burn Hoyle just like they burned Giordano Bruno). But let’s come to the G word.

In an Afterword to the Penguin Classics edition of Hoyle’s “The Black Cloud” [Hoyle 2010], Richard Dawkins praises the novel as one of the greatest works of science fiction ever written.

I totally agree with Dawkins. In “The Black Cloud” we (actually, our fathers – the book was first published in 1957) are confronted with a fundamentally alien entity, with knowledge and powers vastly exceeding our own. Dawkins says:

“The Black Cloud vividly conveys to us what it would be like to be visited by an extraterrestrial being whose intelligence would seem god-like from our lowly point of view. Indeed, Hoyle’s imagination far outperforms all religions known to me. Would such a super-intelligence then actually be a god? An interesting question, perhaps the founding question of a new discipline of ‘Scientific Theology’.”

“The answer, it seems to me, turns not on what the super-intelligence is capable of doing, but on its provenance. Alien beings, no matter how advanced their intelligence and accomplishments, would presumably have evolved by something like the same gradual evolutionary process as gave rise to our kind of life.”

I agree with the second part of the last paragraph of Dawkins’ quote, but not with the first. The color of the cat, or its provenance, doesn’t matter if the cat is still able to catch mice and all that. If it acts like a god, and it thunders like a god, then I call an entity a god.

But the Black Cloud and the Intelligent Designers are just little local lower-case gods. Their powers are awesome from our perspective, but insignificant from a cosmic perspective. They live and act within the universe, and must obey its laws that they are powerless to change. In “The Intelligent Universe,” Hoyle notes that the Intelligent Designers are like the Greek gods, extremely powerful but nonetheless limited beings, rather than the Almighty Christian God.

“[If] we define an intelligence superior to ourselves as a deity, then in this book we have arrived at two kinds – the [Intelligent Designers] and the ‘God’ of the infinite future,” says Hoyle. “Interestingly, these two very different forms of intelligence correspond closely with the Greek idea of deities as managers of an already existing Universe on the one hand, and the Judaeo-Christian idea of a deity outside the Universe on the other.”

In Evolution From Space [Hoyle 1982], Sir Fred considers the sequence:

… – ???? – ??? – ?? – ? – man.

God is the never reached limit at the left.

So let’s come to God.

A mosaic by Boris Anrep depicting Fred Hoyle as a steeplejack climbing to the stars, with a book under his arm. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Ultimate Cosmic God

In “The Intelligent Universe” [Hoyle 1984] Hoyle ponders the weirdness of quantum mechanics with the example of a particle that can be in the left half (A) or in the right half (B) of a box. His observations, however, apply to the general case of a quantum system that can be in two possible states, for example spin-up or spin-down. “The chance of A is half and the chance of B is half,” says Hoyle. “Quantum physics states that before we look into the box, the electron does not actually have a position – this is only fixed the instant we look at it, by our consciousness in some strange way being part of the experiment itself.”

Hoyle subscribes to a “consciousness interpretation” of quantum physics, where one of the states of a quantum system – initially in a superposition of states – becomes real when it’s inspected by a conscious observer, while the other states vanish [2]. “Quantum physics states that until it has actually been observed, it does not have a distinct position at all,” says Hoyle. “Only at the moment that the consciousness of the experimenter intervenes is the position of the electron suddenly ‘decided’.”

Quantum weirdness isn’t too worrisome if it remains confined to microevents at the quantum scale. But Hoyle tells the story of how, one day, he was shocked by suddenly realizing that quantum superpositions can be amplified to the macroscopic scale of everyday experience. “Macroevents are represented as being completely predictable, whereas the micro-events that make them up are not,” he says. “But this separation seems quite arbitrary.”

“Taken to its logical conclusion, quantum mechanics should lead to a spreading vagueness in the world, even to the extent of making vague the events of everyday life. But apparently this does not happen. If you hold a match to this page, it will bum, an event which is completely predictable. Hence in some way there must be a sharpening of the picture which compensates for the uncertain fuzziness which quantum mechanics predicts.”

Hoyle is persuaded that the sharpening of the picture – the choice of one of the possible outcomes of a quantum event – happens in the mind of the observer. This seems to validate free will – snap decisions reached on the spur of the moment, prompted by an “inner voice” as a result of quantum events in the brain amplified to the macroscopic scale. But a random sharpening of the picture seems a very poor form of free will, even if we manage to persuade ourselves that a random decision is really “our” decision. Free will requires more than randomness, and Hoyle proposes an imaginative way out:

“Imagine the quantum event in question being repeated many times under identical conditions. Sometimes A will happen and sometimes B, creating a sequence – B B A B A A A B A B B A B B A B … in which the ratio of As and Bs is known for a sufficiently long sequence. Although this ratio is itself thoroughly predictable, the actual sequence of As and Bs is not. It is usual to suppose that the sequence is random, and in some situations it may indeed be so, but to suppose that all such sequences are random is itself purely speculative. The effect of reversing this thinking is remarkable. Imagine now that some sequences are non-random. Let us represent A by a dash and B by a dot… The Morse code springs instantly to mind.”

“It is evident that such a sequence could carry a message, it could carry information. Suppose our brains contain a quantum ‘experiment’, an experiment repeated many times under similar initial conditions, each with the equivalent of a dot or a dash as its result. The outcome could be a potential message available for permanent storage in the memory, ready to be acted upon, an injection of information that could form the basis for the behaviour that we call free will.”

According to Hoyle, complex arrangements of matter can decode “Morse code” messages encoded in quantum randomness. In particular, life – a very complex and organized form of matter – can decode and execute these messages.

“The atoms in living material are arranged in more complex ways than in non-living matter, but why then should complex arrangements of atoms be so crucially different from simple arrangements?” wonders Hoyle. “Because complex arrangements can set up situations of the A or B type, and can then proceed to recognize the information contained in the resulting sequences of As and Bs, dots and dashes, which simple arrangements of atoms are unable to do.

“We can also add that it is the process of recognition of such sequences that constitutes the phenomenon of consciousness… The information sequences, the Morse code messages if you like, are there at all stages, just as the books in a school are there for any child competent to read them.”

So, according to Hoyle, our thoughts and decisions are driven by complex, non-random information delivered to specialized quantum decoders in the brain, and consciousness itself is a byproduct of decoding “Morse messages” encoded in quantum noise. If consciousness is involved in a fundamental, not entirely passive way, free will seems to come back into the equation (too bad Hoyle doesn’t develop this point). Hoyle continues:

“The problem now is to understand where the coded information sequences might come from.”

The Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism have two sets of solutions, one with radiation traveling from the past to the future, and another with radiation traveling from the future to the past. Hoyle notes that solutions in the second set – the “advanced wave” solutions – are usually discarded without thinking twice, but there are no fundamental reasons to do so. On the contrary, the advanced wave solutions could be physically meaningful. In fact, Hoyle himself and Jayant Narlikar, extending previous works of Wheeler and Feynman, developed “a time-symmetric local quantum theory augmented by a cosmological response from the future that reproduced exactly all the practical results of normal quantum electrodynamics” [Hoyle 1982].

“The quantum version of the Wheeler-Feynman theory involves an influence functional through which the local system interacts with the large scale cosmological boundary conditions,” noted Narlikar in the proceedings of a 2002 conference dedicated to Hoyle’s work [Narlikar 2003]. “This local+cosmological interaction appears as transition probability for a local system, wherein all cosmological variables are integrated out. Phenomena like spontaneous transition or a collapse of the wavefunction are seen to arise from this interaction. This suggests that, the attempts to explain some of these pheneomena through local hidden variables having failed, the real clue to the mystery may lie in the response of the universe in the above fashion.”

Now Hoyle drops a theological bomb: the information-rich quantum messages that drive living organisms come from an Intelligence (capital I) in the infinitely far future. The ultimate Intelligence ensures that complexity, information, and life advance in an universe that otherwise would be doomed to decay by entropy.

“Quantum mechanics is based on the propagation of radiation only from past to future, and as we have seen leads only to statistical averages, not to predictions of the nature of individual quantum events. Quantum mechanics is no exception to general experience in physics, which shows that the propagation of radiation in the past-to-future time-sense leads inevitably to degeneration, to senescence, to the loss of information… But in biology this situation is reversed, because as living organisms develop they increase in complexity, gaining information rather than losing it.”

“Biological systems are able in some way to utilize the opposite time-sense in which radiation propagates from future to past. Bizarre as this may appear, they must somehow be working backwards in time. If events could operate not only from past to future, but also from future to past, the seemingly intractable problem of quantum uncertainty could be solved. Instead of living matter becoming more and more disorganized, it could react to quantum signals from the future – the information necessary for the development of life. Instead of the Universe being committed to increasing disorder and decay, the opposite could then be true.”

“On a cosmic scale the effect of introducing information from the future would be similarly far-reaching. Instead of the Universe beginning in the wound-up state of the big bang, degenerating ever since, an initially primitive state of affairs could wind itself up gradually as time proceeds, becoming more, not less sophisticated, from past to future. This would allow the accumulation of information – information without which the evolution of life, and of the Universe itself, makes no logical sense.”

“[The] ultimate cause being a source of information, an intelligence if you like, placed in the remote future.”

As Polkinghorne noted, Hoyle prefers not to call the ultimate Intelligence “God,” but it’s difficult to call it something else. Hoyle emphasizes that the ultimate Intelligence does not operate from some particular time-location in the future – if so, it would be itself driven by signals from its own future – but from infinitely far in the future. “The concept of eternity figures large in many [religions], with the notion that there is a controlling force that lies at an unattainable distance,” concludes Hoyle. “Perhaps here we have a vaguely perceived truth masked by the adornment of ritual and ceremony, obscured by the trappings of our earthly existence?”

“For those with a taste for mathematics, I have sought to follow the trail a little further in a recently published article,” says Hoyle. He is referring (I guess) to the article titled “The Universe: Past and Present Reflections” [Hoyle 1982] published in Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics in 1982, not to be confused with the 1981 article with the same title [Hoyle 1981]. Some passages in the 1982 article shed more light on Hoyle’s thinking.

Hoyle claims that It is possible to see in rather precise mathematical terms how the ultimate Intelligence could establish intelligence throughout the Universe by imposing information sequences on finite material systems. Referring to Hugh Everett’s seminal 1957 paper “‘Relative State’ Formulation of Quantum Mechanics” [Everett 1957], Hoyle outlines and interprets Everett’s ideas – often indicated as “Everett’s Many-Worlds Interpretation” (MWI)[3] – directly from the original source. Quantum mechanics seems to lead to a proliferation of subobservers, each one considering himself “as being identified with a definite state of the quantum mechanical system.” Hoyle recalls that, much before Everett, he and his fellow students used to lightly speculate about “alter egos” in parallel universes, and suspects that the concept may have been speculated about from the earliest days of quantum mechanics.

However, Hoyle doesn’t buy the MWI. He considers the branching, enormously complex “Everett” tree of quantum mechanics as a reference map of possibilities, but thinks it must be complemented by an explanation of how the “special subobserver wavefunction” that represents consciousness chooses a specific route in the reference map. According to Hoyle, consciousness itself is a byproduct of the process of choosing a route – or, using Sir Fred’s analogy, lopping the unrealized branches of the Everett tree. The precess is controlled by “signals that propagate future-to-past, opposite to the branching of the tree itself, which goes past-to-future.” The signals are directed by the ultimate Intelligence at the end of time.

“In analogy to a two-stroke engine, quantum mechanics is just one of the cylinders, stroking from past-to-future. The other cylinder serves to condense the wavefunction, and it strokes from future-to-past.”

A future end-point, situated at an infinite time distance in the Everett tree, imposes a deterministic reality on an observed quantum system, causing the observer’s consciousness to choose the path that will lead to the end-point. “[If] we were to start with deterministic reality at the limit, arguing backwards from future to past, there would be deterministic reality at every link of the chain.”

Thoughts on Hoyle’s Cosmic Theology

More than 30 years after the publication of The Intelligent Universe, quantum physics is still a mystery, but there have been interesting and relevant theoretical developments.

Hoyle’s theory is based on a consciousness interpretation of quantum physics – the observer’s consciousness chooses the outcome of quantum events. In “Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics” (Von Neumann 1955], the reference quantum mechanics text used by Hoyle and Everett, Von Neumann distinguished between two fundamental quantum processes – Process 2, the deterministic evolution of the wavefunction predicted by the equations of quantum mechanics, and Process 1, the random collapse of the wavefunction upon observation. According to Hoyle, Process 1 is the action of consciousness upon the universe, and the explanation of consciousness itself.

Today, a common alternate view is that ultimate quantum reality is deterministic, but the unavoidable interactions and entanglement with the rest of the world force (apparently) individual quantum systems to (apparently) undergo a rapid collapse in a process called “environmental decoherence.” [Joos 2003]. The apparently discarded information is not lost but transferred to the environment, where it is rapidly “lost in translation” into less and less accessible degrees of freedom and becomes indistinguishable from thermal noise. However, observation outcomes for apparently individual quantum systems are still effectively random.

Decoherence explains how the wavefunction of a quantum system q, as a result of the inevitable interactions and entanglement with the environment, appears to collapse upon measurement (Von Neumann’s Process 1). Decoherence works without needing a “real” collapse. The wavefunction of the total system (q plus environment and measurement equipment) continues to evolve according to the deterministic equations of quantum mechanics (Von Neumann’s Process 2) and the total information is conserved, but q’s wavefunction taken alone appears to undergo a collapse and lose information. The evolution of q taken alone appears as effectively random, but “q taken alone” is an approximation, and the evolution of the total entangled system q+environment is not random.

Decoherence explains why the macroscopic world seems classical instead of quantum (with the exception of very carefully prepared cases difficult to realize), without requiring ad-hoc additions to the equations of quantum mechanics (such as Von Neumann’s Process 1). There is no Process 1, only Process 2. Therefore, some physicists, including H. Dieter Zeh, who first described decoherence, think decoherence lends support to Everett’s ideas [3] [Joos 2003].

A new interpretation of quantum mechanics, called “Transactional Interpretation” [Cramer 2016] has been proposed by John Cramer in 1986. Cramer’s interpretation is based on a “quantum handshake” between retarded wave and advanced wave solutions of the equations of relativistic quantum mechanics. The retarded waves propagate forward in time, and the advanced waves – analogous to Hoyle’s advanced waves – propagate backward in time. The collapse of the wavefunction [2] is “two-way in time and atemporal.” Though controversial, Cramer’s Transactional Interpretation – which is at least strongly resonant with Hoyle’s ideas – has been accepted by a minority of physicists as the most promising interpretation of quantum mechanics that has been proposed to date.

It’s interesting to think of how to update Hoyle’s ideas in light of the new developments in quantum physics since the eighties, in particular decoherence, the renaissance of Everett’s ideas, and Cramer’s Transactional Interpretation.

Hoyle’s ultimate Intelligence can be thought of as a God that emerges asymptotically from the evolution of life in the universe, and controls the universe across space and time by influencing living organisms, anytime and anywhere. If God emerges from the universe and controls the past, then God creates and sustains the conditions for His ultimate emergence through self-consistent time loops.

It’s worth noting that Hoyle’s God works through people. In fact, according to Hoyle, only living beings are able to decode and act upon God’s messages from the far future. Other complex arrangements of matter are also able to do so, but since Hoyle identifies consciousness with the process of decoding God’s messages, any such complex arrangement of matter qualifies as a conscious, living being.

Hoyle’s cosmic God seems may seem cold and distant, very different from the loving and caring Christian God that answers our prayers and will resurrect us after death, in a new and better world. As noted above, Hoyle preferred to distance himself from the Christian God, but is his God that different? Don’t forget that Hoyle’s God – the ultimate Intelligence at the end of time – is present in our mind and active in the world, through us.

In fact, in Hoyle’s cosmic theology, we are the agents of God’s divine action in the world.

God can send us directed messages and “revelations,” which will be filtered by our mind in ways that we are able to more or less understand – remember “the information sequences… are there at all stages, just as the books in a school are there for any child competent to read them.” Perhaps some revelations are really coming from God? The possibility can’t be excluded in Hoyle’s model.

God is also active elsewhere in the universe, through alien intelligences, including intermediate lower-case gods.

Though Hoyle is skeptical of personal resurrection, it seems evident that his God, omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, could easily resurrect us if He so wishes.

The question remains of whether the ultimate Intelligence, a “wholly other” entity inconceivably different from us and infinitely higher than us, could ever care enough about tiny unimportant beings like us on a tiny planet lost in the immensity of the universe. But the same question can be asked of the Christian God, and the Christian answer is that, yes, God does care. Why and how? The question must remain unanswered, because we can’t understand God.

But for a simple analogy, consider this: I am much higher than my doggy, but I love her deeply and try to to my best to keep her happy. I understand (more or less) what she wants and “answer her prayers” to the best of my ability. In many cases I am able to “descend to her level” and communicate with her in a way that is (more or less) understandable to her. If you have a pet, you know what I am talking about. Why shouldn’t God love me, too? I remember than once in the nineties I went back home in the traffic to feed my Tamagotchi (remember those plastic toys with a virtual pet inside?) because I didn’t want it to be unhappy. Why shouldn’t God love you, too?


[1] – The idea the the physical constants and the physical laws could change with time has been recently suggested by top physicists and philosophers of science, notably including Lee Smolin and Roberto Mangabeira Unger.

[2] – The reduction of a superposition of quantum states to a single quantum state upon measurement is often indicated as “collapse of the wavefunction.” Hoyle and others think it’s the observer’s consciousness that causes the collapse of the wavefunction.

[3] – The popular “Many Worlds” interpretation of Everett’s ideas is to be considered as an oversimplified picture. H. Dieter Zeh wrote: “While also called a “many worlds interpretation”, it describes one quantum universe. Because of its (essential and non-trivial) reference to conscious observers, it would more appropriately be called a ‘multi-consciousness’ or ‘many minds interpretation.” [Joos 2003].


Cramer, John G. The Quantum Handshake: Entanglement, Nonlocality and Transactions. Springer, 2016.

Everett, Hugh. ‘Relative State’ Formulation of Quantum Mechanics.Review of Modern Physics, 1957.

Gregory, Jane. Fred Hoyle’s Universe. Oxford University Press, 2005.

Hoyle, Fred, and Elliott, John. A for Andromeda. Harper & Row, 1962.

Hoyle, Fred. The Universe: Past and Present Reflections. Engineering and Science, November, 1981.

Hoyle, Fred. The Universe: Past and Present Reflections. Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics, September, 1982.

Hoyle, Fred, and Wickramasinghe, Chandra. Evolution From Space: A Theory of Cosmic Creationism. Littlehampton Book Services Ltd., 1982.

Hoyle, Fred. The Intelligent Universe – A new view of creation and evolution. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984.

Hoyle, Fred. The Black Cloud. Penguin Classics, 2010. (First published by Heinemann, 1957).

Joos, Erich (Editor). Decoherence and the Appearance of a Classical World in Quantum Theory. Springer, 2003.

Narlikar, Jayant. Working with Fred on action at a distance. Fred Hoyle’s Universe – Proceedings of a Conference
Celebrating Fred Hoyle’s Extraordinary Contributions to Science. Springer, 2003.

Polkinghorne, John. Fine Tuning (video).

Von Neumann, John. Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics. Princeton University Press, 1955.

Giulio Prisco is a writer, technology expert, futurist and transhumanist. A former manager in European science and technology centers, he writes and speaks on a wide range of topics, including science, information technology, emerging technologies, virtual worlds, space exploration and future studies. He serves as President of the Italian Transhumanist Association.


If this -god- has to adjust the universe then that means it is imperfect
so why would this -god- make an imperfect universe
conditional upon time or space for that matter
and what does this -god- live on? air? space? the discredited aether?
is -god- subject to entropy because then it is not perfect but conditional
so if -god- is at maximum entropy it would be dead
so if -god- is at 0 entropy it would not exist
so why even bother. Hoyle was a fantasist. He imagined these beings
not exactly science
which makes no such claims as they have not ever been in thousands of years verified.
The Hindu - Buddhist practitioners had pushed the envelope to the limits of sentient perception and realized - there are no gods: just emptiness
the Void.

@almostvoid re ” Hoyle was a fantasist.”

You mean his theory of stellar nucleosynthesis, which is one of the cornerstones of modern astrophysics, is a fantasy?

Re “If this -god- has to adjust the universe then that means it is imperfect so why would this -god- make an imperfect universe”

Please define “imperfect.” Who said that something that needs continuous adjusting is imperfect? Then Life is imperfect, and so is Art. Also, who said that “imperfect” is a bad thing? Perfection is lifeless and static, striving to make things better is living and dynamical. I guess God tries to do His best, just like we do.

Imperfect is not a moral definition. Since this -god- claims perfection, its believers certainly do and who are we to judge their definitions? Of course life is imperfect. Evolution is a work-in-progress: there is no final end point. However the -god- who created this is certainly even more flawed than us. We are psychotic to the bootstraps. Look at the incessant wars. Willingly entered into. Look at he homicide rate in the US and compare that to Japan. [who don’t believe in this -god- at all] Art is flawed and this is good. Egon Friedell’s magisterial work on the history of Europe uncovered just how brilliant flawed personalities manage to create brilliance. So imperfect can be good. The definition was in contrast to perfect which exists in and of itself in any instant and particular given. But this anthropomorphic mewing is pathetic.  This childish pining for a cosmic santa claus or an American version of Superman. Time to grow up and enjoy everything. Without fear of the unknown.

@almostvoid re “Since this -god- claims perfection.”

But it doesn’t. Hoyle doesn’t say that, and neither do I. Hoyle’s Cosmic God is the asymptotic end-point of a sequence of local gods, who grow in complexity and power without ever attaining the unattainable end of perfection. They just try and do what they can. Other more recent writers make this clearer and more explicit.

Re “Art is flawed and this is good… So imperfect can be good.”

Totally agree.

Re “This childish pining for a cosmic santa claus or an American version of Superman.”

What’s wrong with Santa Claus and Superman? They gave a lot of happiness to a lot of children. Happiness is good for you, and pushes you to make others happier too. Don’t underestimate happiness.

Re “Time to grow up and enjoy everything. Without fear of the unknown.”“

Totally agree! Including “wholly other” Cosmic Gods.

My main point in this and similar articles is to make it clear that science and religion are not incompatible, and on the contrary can be mutually reinforcing. It just takes an open mind and a bit of imagination.

I read Hoyle’s book The Black Cloud over the weekend. It is interesting to note that he envisioned a super intelligence another magnitude above the cloud creatures. When the clouds interfaced this divinity they apparently died like the humans died when they attempted knowledge transfer with the cloud. It should be humbling ... we do not have the physical capacity to fully apprehend divinity. The bible is full of this wisdom. In the old testament to see the face of God would kill you. .. in the new testament you can come to see the face of God if you overcome the world. In the spirit of scientific theology,  Fully overcoming the world would require engineering a safe interface.

@almostvoid, logically Good and Evil are complementary therefore both necessary vectors in life-space. A perfectly good world has no freedom no life vector. That would mean there is a place with absolutely NO difference with nothing to grow from, nothing to grow to. It is the Great I Am state of being aka “dying to self”. So, a world that sustains life must have difference to grow aka. Good and Evil. Now this is a matter of degree. Given any simulation with life the difference between good and evil are subjectively the same. For life the greatest perfection is imperfection. Like a battery cell, there is potential in difference. The greater the threat, and the greater your God, the more life potential there is available to do works. I Harness the fear and anguish and let it inspire me to good. But any time I wish I can die to self. Really now what do we mean by a perfectly good world? The word “perfection” derives from the Latin “perfectio”, and “perfect” — from “perfectus.” These expressions in turn come from “perficio” — “to finish”, “to bring to an end.” “Perfectio(n)” thus literally means “a finishing”, and “perfect(us)” — “finished”, much as in grammatical parlance (“perfect”)...nothing is perfect except the infinite

James McLean Ledford

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@James - ...and think that, in Hoyle’s cosmic theology, the black cloud is but a minor local god. At the end of the book, the black cloud drops hints about a superior Cosmic God. The Black Cloud was written in 1957, much before The Intelligent Universe (1984), so we can consider The Intelligent Universe as a next stop of the same train of thought.

@James re “For life the greatest perfection is imperfection. Like a battery cell, there is potential in difference…”

Yes. A perfect universe would be a static universe with no potential for further growth. Perfection must remain a limit, unattainable even to God. But God can make today a bit better than yesterday, and tomorrow a bit better than today, and so forth. And so can we.

To riff off of the other comments,

One can consider Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems in some sense that if a constructed set is consistent it can never be complete ( &ödel’s_incompleteness_theorems ).

So “imperfection” by nature is almost required, otherwise as mentioned prior there would be “no freedom, or deviancy”. And from a chemist/material perspective a “perfectly ordered” crystal is really fragile, for if struck at the right angle. It will completely cleave off a part of itself. Disordered atoms in the overall structure (imperfections in the ordered crystal). Will often confer durability to the item. It is all about orientation of the microcrystals & the imperfections (dopants…etc).

Also at the barest, a conception of Self as God, or how ever such an entity is defined (maybe at essence as awareness, or sentience). Leads one to think that if all is Void, and there is no awareness…how can I (Self) be aware of said notion? A sort of, there’s a positive value (Good, On, Aware, +1…whatever), and a negative value (Evil, Bad, Off, Ignorant, -1,...).  There’s also a placeholder set for the null, the non-existent value of non-awareness (a universe/entity that cannot, or is not desired to be understood…0, or the Void, a black hole, a black box…just shovel that sh*t in there!).  A set that can only be understood through “experience”, or analogy of the other two sets (+1 & -1 yield 0 when summed).  Can you conceivably think of a world in which your own awareness doesn’t exist that isn’t defined through a negation of what you understand (that your Self doesn’t exist because you understand it through yourself…notice the contradiction)?

@everyone else,
I’m beginning to think that Self as God (or the conclusion of Oneself) is sort of a paradox/fools errand. Transhumanists aspire to prolong (longevity/immortality), and accumulate potential (power) which almost implies that Self is God (for extrapolated trends….etc where does one end up in the scheme if they follow these rabbits…at the metaphorical top)?  Again seems like a pending contradiction, or at least Obscurist reasoning.

My personal sense of things is more like, I feel like if one of the local super intelligences would stop by and chat, and give out some helpful advice, this wold be great, because we primates seem to need all the help we can get. Dawkins said some years ago that he thought there might be super intelligences in the universe wit god like powers.

Should we worship them if one stopped by? Deep Space 9 had a species that was worshipped by an advanced galactic civilization. In Batman versus Superman, there were a few scenes depicting Superman as being worshipped by humans. I always ask the humanist questions, so I wonder if Hoyle ever gave thought to life, death, and an afterlife. I am guessing not, simply because that is not what astronomers and physicists normally do.

I am coming to suspect regarding this, that where astronomers, physicists, and angels,  fear to tred, computer scientists might go?


To be a little contrarian, what if one was to insert/portray a local super intelligence as Jesus, Buddha, your neighbor Bob… Postmodernism as I understand it tries to deconstruct everything (kinda like Descartes Doubt).  I mean one first would have to qualify local, super, and intelligence in any sense for one to start thinking on a grander scale.  And based off of what I’ve heard about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  It would seem that it’s possible to have breakdowns over simply defining what Quality is.

Not to mention if a Local Super Intelligence (LSI) did drop by, and provide advice.  There’s always the question as to if civilization/people will heed it.  It could be advice as “simple” as don’t play with nukes, or don’t fuck each other over…

Why would anyone heed an external source of authority (LSI) when in most cases it’s the reluctance to hold authority/accountability (both for self, and others), or too much authority granted to another that causes some problems?

Also, Physicists (still a person, and individuals) seem to tread there, at least in my world/encounters, for that’s whom I’ve had most of these conversations with through my college days.

Understood, RJP8915

Its good to hear that some physicists are interested in ponying up, and discussing the existential. The occurrence of nice advice from a friendly super mind, like don’t pee on an electric fence, would indeed be welcomed. Because it would answer lots of related questions on logic, behavior, attitudes, and it would have an affirmative effect in the sense that, “The neighbors are watching.”

On the theological, I often suspect that we are too picky with the idea of God, etc. Ir was guys like Aquinas, that selected perfected and set the bar, O so high, I guess, because it pleased them.

@Spud re “I feel like if one of the local super intelligences would stop by and chat, and give out some helpful advice, this wold be great.”

Perhaps they do. Hoyle suggests that the Ultimate Intelligence sends us ideas every now and then: “God can send us directed messages and “revelations,” which will be filtered by our mind in ways that we are able to more or less understand – remember “the information sequences… are there at all stages, just as the books in a school are there for any child competent to read them.” Perhaps some revelations are really coming from God? The possibility can’t be excluded in Hoyle’s model.”

Perhaps some local super intelligences are able to use the same channels.

@RJP8915 re “One can consider Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems in some sense that if a constructed set is consistent it can never be complete… So ‘imperfection’ by nature is almost required…”

An interesting idea. It’s often possible to add axioms along the way to make a formal system more complete, while keeping it consistent (I think I read somewhere that’s a proven theorem, in which case “often” becomes “always”). Perhaps God keeps adding to physical laws to keep things moving and flowing.


I think some physicists (I really can’t speak for a/the group) simply realize that it’s moot arguing/debating some of these points because of a sort of “relativism”.  You see things differently than I do, and I see things differently than you do (that’ll never change).  Thus the only way to find/share a common ground (axioms/beliefs/assumptions…etc) is to endorse, or to at least switch to a different perspective.

In the metaphor/analogy of “The Neighbors are watching”, one can either be “good” (relative to said other neighbor), or a “pain”.  As in if said neighbor was a partier, or really into loud sounds/music…etc.  Does said values jive with your values?  Ie, would you go party with the neighbor, or would you call the cops?

Thus I feel that one can only really speak from their own perspective, but they can empathize with another simply by drawing comparisons from their own history.  Example, don’t pee on electric fences can be inferred based upon observation (someone else has peed on an electric fence, and they got shocked…thus one can hear about it or see it…observe it), or one can experience it first hand (go up and pee on an electric fence…thus learning immediately).

And somethings simply can’t be expressed, or conveyed to another until they’ve experienced it first hand.  Like the notion that it’s beneficial to heed advice from others (friendly super mind).  Although even then, the friendly super mind may never have experienced said events (due to different perspectives), so they may never have advice to offer.


Adding axioms is apparently what religions do.  I found/stumbled upon this draft of a book a physicist from Duke is writing online a couple of weeks ago that was an interesting read.

Thanks @RJP8915, very interesting. I’ll take a look. This page has links to .pdf versions of Brown’s book:

After tasting a bit of the author’s views, including his “pit o’ despair,” I sort of come away with the notion that (for myself) the writer provides no beneficial answers. There’s scores of cynical, but likely correct, skeptics from the world of physics; John Baez, Lawrence Krauss, Sean Carroll, just to name 3 who are enthusiastic to put forth a very ‘conventional’ view of physics and the cosmos,* which doesn’t help our species. Either, in material sense or (given human neurochemistry) or the emotional sense.

We need more, better, answers, then the calmly, rational, but hugely, pessimistic, droning on, from the realm of physicists, astronomers, mathematicians, neuro-scientists, etc. From a personal point of view, most people would do better in the waters of existence, with assistance from somebody throwing a flotation device, rather than a ship anchor. The author, from Duke physics, seems solidly, tied to the former, rather than the later. This is sort of why in my earlier post, I saw more hope for my perspective, with the peeps that do computer science for a living.

*“conventional” meaning, they like to piss on such notions

@Spud re “There’s scores of cynical, but likely correct, skeptics from the world of physics; John Baez, Lawrence Krauss, Sean Carroll, just to name 3 who are enthusiastic to put forth a very ‘conventional’ view of physics and the cosmos,*”

The three skeptics that you mention are guilty of exactly the same logical fallacy of which they like to accuse more imaginative scientists: they assume their conclusions and adapt science to their worldview. The difference is that their worldview is boring. Give me Hoyle, Tipler, or Sheldrake, anytime.

Skepticism in moderate doses is healthy and good, but one must be skeptic of skepticism as well. Too much unthinking (or, even worse, politically motivated) skepticism, and one becomes just one more useless party pooper.


I kinda agree with your sentiment, but I kinda also agree with the author from Duke. There are scores of cynical/skeptical people from around the world (I’m sure it’s not just physics…they may just be more “recognized”).  There’s also scores of idealistic people around the world. Just as there’s good/bad or any other binary/opposed dialect.  I just felt that the author was simply trying to convey a notion that, “yes, there’s these “two camps”, and they argue every which way.  There’s just a way to not be troubled by all the mishmash, and that is to drill down into your own being (find your core axioms).”

Towards the end of his draft he illustrates some of his “meta”-axioms (open-mindedness, and romanticism for the aesthetic…along with belief in Deity). I don’t think the author ever intended to provide “beneficial answers”, but that it is more or less open to how you interpret it through your axioms/beliefs.  That you’ll “side with” whoever shares your axioms (fall into those camps), and with that you’ll either remain there permanently (through not questioning). Or that it will be a brief tenure because you “rock the boat”.

If you’ll recall towards the end of my prior comment to you about not being able to express things that one hasn’t become “ready for”, or the notion of simply having no experience with said subject to provide advice from.  How is that any different?

To illustrate with your metaphor of the waters of existence, there’s a large body of people in there, and some are actively trying to save themselves and others.  Although it’s also hard telling them apart from others who’d be willing to drag others down to that notion of “annihilation”. If you felt you were “saved”, and had the benefit of throwing support to those in the waters.  Would you take time to find those who’d actually appreciate (as in understand, or enjoy) assistance, or just throw support willy nilly to those in there? The problem being if you saved someone who didn’t want to be saved.  That person would in turn throw you back in because of their willingness to drag others down.

Possibly, and I do mean possibly because I don’t know the author or his full intentions.  One may foster a notion that he is throwing anchors in the beginning to sink people into the “pit o’ despair”, but he does so to make those who’d throw him back in sink faster.  Whereas those who’d benefit will reject it eventually (cast aside their weights/burdens), and resent the burden he tossed at them. The thing is though if one thinks that those who are worth saving are capable of being Good people (you know forgiveness, tolerance, friendliness…etc).  They likely wouldn’t hold that temporary burden he cast against them as a grudge.  They may realize that it was simply to protect himself because he couldn’t tell at a distance that they were “Good or Bad”.

...just thoughts on my part, but I liked his draft for it reinforced some of my perspectives (“The Neighbor’s are Watching notion”).  It also didn’t explain “everything” simply because it couldn’t.  He is not me.

@Spud - someone said that the difference between scientists and engineers is that the scientists focus on demonstrating that something can’t be done, and the engineers focus on doing it anyway, often redefining the problem in such a way as to have acceptable solutions.

The scientists say that human muscles couldn’t flap big wings hard enough to lift a human body, and therefore people can’t fly. The engineers build all sorts of devices that permit people to fly without having to flap wings.

I am with the engineers.

SI, Doctor!

This is why people like myself think it is helpful to ask the use of a scientific endeavor? 25 years ago the US congress cut funding for our version of CERN, and the physics community declared all that a disaster! CERN has taken the lead in particle physics, and has proven (maybe) the Higgs particle, ans some other anomalies. However, great breakthoughs in making energy, as was promised by CERN and its competitor in Texas (which never materialized) never arrived. New energy systems derived from particle accelarators as outlined by nobelist, Carlo Rubbia, never became within reach.

This is why I feel the pure science approach is terribly wrong. Look at ITER in France. They just added annther decade to their due date. In part this is because they are doing plasma physics, in order to better study the best engineering approach for a potential commercial reactor someday. They have this exactly backwards. If one wants to study plasma physics, fine. If one wishes to produce copious electricity from deuterium and tritium, this is another matter. Physics without a proper goal achieves very little anymore. Not so much accidental lab accidents to make use of nowadays.

Thus, your statements about the engineers is completely accurate, and shows how detatched, the physicists have become, over many years.

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