But, taking not too much poetic license, we can argue that human society at a whole is a 10^6m scale intelligence (well, more like 10^3 if we are only counting the pile of human brains, but the distances are still in the 10^6 scale). It furthermore has incredibly slow thought transmission outside of very small "fast" nodes. Yet it solves the problem by not requiring most signals to propagate very far. Only a few ideas need to be globally known by humankind, the intermediate filtering is still mostly local.
So, a galaxy-sized "brain" can exist, it just needs to be very hierarchical, since any global consensus would take hundreds of thousands of years to formulate, even at the speed of light. In computing / distributed system terms: locality matters.
Even human society can only be analogized to an organism. It isn't one either. It's not enough to point out there's vague similarities but ignore the multiple-orders-of-magnitude differences in the various scales.
And there's no need for "everything to be an organism". There's no physical reality to that idea. It's merely a reflection of our own predisposition towards weak analogical thinking when we should be dealing with things on their own terms. For human society, analogical thinking can easily lead us astray; for galactic scale society it's even harder to get away from analogical thinking because there isn't one (so far as we know) from which we can derive any observations at all, so there's no concrete facts in which we can ground our thinking.
As a stepping stone, "human society as an organism" may be the beginning of understanding. But when you start doing things like bemoaning its lack of self-preservation instinct, it's a sign you've gone too far with the analogy at the expense of dealing with what is really there.
An organism can reasonably be defined as the minimal subset of a gene's phenotype that is actually capable of reproducing. On that view, an ant (for example) is not an organism, an ant colony is the organism. This neatly solves the puzzle of how it is possible for evolution to produce ants, since the vast majority of individual ants are sterile.
On that view, the minimal possible organism for a sexually-reproducig species is a mating pair. But a single pair of humans would not survive in the wild. At a minimum it takes a village (as they say). So a human village can reasonably be taken to be an organism, just as an ant colony can. But a village can't produce a technological society. At best, a village can subsist. So why is it unreasonable to consider (say) a city-state as an evolutionary advance on the village, and hence an organism in its own right even thought it isn't minimal? And so on through the Roman empire, the British empire, and the modern nation-state and multinational corporation, all of which are no less examples of the human genome's phenotype than the human body itself.
Where did this definition come from?
> But a single pair of humans would not survive in the wild.
Not true; there are numerous examples of single families surviving in the wild.
From the puzzle: how can it be that evolution produces a creature (ants) where 99% of the individuals are sterile? And the answer: ants are not the organism, the ant colony is the organism. This idea was introduced by Dawkins in "The Extended Phenotype".
> there are numerous examples of single families surviving in the wild
Not without some external support. At a minimum they went into the wild with some clothing and tools.
That has nothing to do with the definition of the word organism. Maybe you want another word for the unit of reproduction, but the word /organism/ already has a specific meaning, independent of reproduction.
"the material structure of an individual LIFE form"
"a whole with interdependent parts, likened to a LIVING being"
So let's go on to look up "Life":
"the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, REPRODUCTION..."
We just assume that every life-harboring planet will have water and trees and blue skies, but even the "dead" planets that we've seen so far are nothing like each other.
However if Earth is the only place with leafy green trees, for example, and we go on to plant these on Mars and other planets, we will essentially be making copies of Earth (which would otherwise be the only example of itself) by replicating its attributes and variables on other worlds as much as we can, for our own comfort.
Over a large enough scale of time and space, Earth could be seen as a successful organism that managed to replicate itself. It doesn't need to have any direct agency over its reproductive components (us) any more than we have any agency over our own sperm and eggs.
Most modern humans are completely disconnected from this lifestyle and probably would not be able to adjust quickly enough... but its not some impossibility of biology.
Do you think a gorilla or chimpanzee male and female couple placed in an appropriate habitat with a reasonable amount of luck could survive to reproduce?
Yes, of course. The key word there being tribe. Not isolated breeding pairs.
> take a woman and man from such a society with no tools and clothing, and put them in a environment similar to what they are used to and they will build the tools and clothing they need and reproduce.
Maybe. But even if this were true, the couple would still be relying on knowledge gained through their upbringing in the tribe. That's the reason doing this experiment with humans not raised in a stone-age tribe would almost certainly fail.
Exactly. This is just a piece of an organism (society) "budding off" and surviving for a while on its own, not unlike an individual ant wandering away from the colony, or Henrietta Lacks's cancer cells (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henrietta_Lacks). AFAIK there is not a single example of a human mating pair completely cut off from all technological artifacts and successfully reproducing.
It's not a well controlled experiment, but it's data. Even in that minimalist scenario they have some tools. Because it's just obvious that if you had no tools your odds of survival are pretty frickin' low. People die in the wilderness all the time even with tools.
And a community of other humans.
> it's been done many times
I am not aware of even a single instance where a single pair of humans with no technological support successfully reproduced (by which I mean: raised a child until it was old enough to survive independently. Just having a baby doesn't count.) If you know of such a case, please give me a reference.
Life really isn't constrained to any of our neat categorizations; life really is whatever works over time.
It argues almost the opposite of your points re: "everything is an organism." One of the things the author talks about is the possibility that our universe (and just about everything in it) is exposed to evolutionary forces. It even deals with your "distances too large to form a feedback loop" issue (by taking the relativity of distance and time to logical extremes).
Signals inside the cerebral cortex were cited as traveling as slow as 7mph. (I think I'm getting that from the old Cosmos series.) So a brain could be at least 95 million times larger. So Marvin the Paranoid Android's complaints referencing his "brain the size of a planet" could be realized in theory. In Michael Swannick's Vacuum Flowers the Earth had been taken over by a hive mind called "The Comprise" but it couldn't grow any larger because of lightspeed delays. Attempts to do so would result in "mitotic division" into rival sub-entities, one of which would kill the other.
(op cites 300 kph as neural transmission speed, but this is primarily true for long nerve fibers. In the brain, it's much slower, IIRC.)
Let's build one:
(2): plasma cloud contained by EM
(3): Charged particle flows in context of a network of causality.
This. I look forward to a future where science is made by machines. What we know so far has the imprint of human values and limitations. I am very suspicious when a theory 'makes too much human sense'. Reality has no obligation whatsoever to be intelligible. What really is, outside from the human mind, has a structure that is unfathomable complex: human knowledge is necessarily a reduced representation of a tiny slice of such underlying reality. And most science is pragmatical science for human purposes, not fundamental work towards the comprehension of the inner workings of reality. This is a task for superior intelligent beings, not for us.
The article points out:
> If our brains grew enormously to say, the size of our solar system, and featured speed-of-light signaling, the same number of message crossings would require more than the entire current age of the universe, leaving no time for evolution to work its course.
but this argues that stellar-scale life doesn't exist yet, not that it can't exist.
The universe is extremely young, ~10^10 years. Stars will continue to form for 10^14 years - ten thousand times longer than the universe has existed so far. And the universe will continue to evolve for many many orders of magnitude after that. There is plenty of time.
However it seems clear to me that networked intelligence, of the sort that has only existed on Earth for a couple of decades, is actually a new form of intelligence than individual intelligence.
Networked intelligence on Earth is extremely new and weak, however I am confident that in my lifetime we will recognize it as an "emergent intelligence".
Or 120 million years, if you think that ants fit the description.
Actually my mistake was here, where I wrote:
> actually a new form of intelligence than individual intelligence.
should have probably said "actually a new form of intelligence on top of human sentience." since I was referring specifically to the emergent intelligence of a sentient species able to encode our intelligence and transmit it throughout the network at near light-speed.
(some examples: https://www.biofilm.montana.edu/node/2438 & http://www.nature.com/articles/npjbiofilms20156 )
Are we, though? Isn't an individual human actually a large colony of co-operating cellular organisms?
But it's only at the level of a brain that the illusion of consciousness appears.
Very slowly for us humans, at our scale.
But "it" would think at its own, regular pace (which might, in turn, be very fast for an even larger entity). In regard, we humans may not even be a perceptible event on this time scale.
It's a matter of metabolism and of perception of time: we, as humans, think & react very slowly for smaller animals (and are even slower on the time scale of basic chemical reactions).
If you look at human society, once we industrialized and developed things like strip mining, synthetic fertilizers, plastic bags, chlorofluorocarbons, trawling or nuclear technology, it's clear that our capability of doing things multiplied. Sometimes the thinking and values part to actually control what we're doing comes a little bit belatedly.
Or the head-brain could farm out the running to a different control point - a second brain that controls running.
It seems like we may have already done this, ourselves: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/
You'd be better off moving the brain down and just having a really long mouth / snout / tongue. And then you'd have an elephant...
You can only have very basic processing near the actual actuator.
Unfortunately it's not a very bright distributed intelligence. Memory has scaled successfully, but the strategic insight needed to guarantee self-preservation hasn't.
>So, a galaxy-sized "brain" can exist, it just needs to be very hierarchical
Or it could just think very slowly. For an entity that big there probably isn't any real hurry or much need to worry about external threats. Slow thinking also means that the speed of light stops being a problem.
It's a huge problem for humans because we don't live very long. If we lived for millions of years at one millionth of our usual pace we wouldn't find it limiting at all.
That doesn't mean we should think of society as a singular "living creature".
We are a collection of, among other things, much smaller living creatures...
I like the idea.
People's social circle, the subculture they belong to are the first meta-organism.
Society as a whole is then a meta-organism made from subcultures.
Found. "Glacial", Galactic North anthology.
Considering my lacking but informed understanding of the fundamental requirements of life as it exists here on earth, I see a fundamental flaw with the idea that a galaxy sized organism could sustain the engine of life, protein folding.
There has to be some source of external energy that is fueling these organisms and galaxy sized anything make even the most massive stars in the galaxy look infitismally tiny in comparison.
Perhaps gravity of a super massive black hole could kick-start and spin some sort of electric turbine like biological organ or something to get things put into motion but considering life starts small such a scale would hit hurdles.
Of course this is assuming that life on distance planets all use the primarily carbon based deoxyribonucleic acid system of life.
Humans try to classify collections of matter into coherent objects. Otherwise there would be no way we'd be able to understand the world without that abstraction. But you live in that world long enough, and you begin to believe that reality neatly fits into the categories, however the categories exist only in our minds. But you can always make the categories break if you push them far enough. Plenty of philosophical discussions are really just about definitions of words and not anything 'real': Does life begin at conception? Is Theseus' ship the same? Is a bee colony a single organism?
> Outside of math there's a limit to how far you can push words; in fact, it would not be a bad definition of math to call it the study of terms that have precise meanings. Everyday words are inherently imprecise. They work well enough in everyday life that you don't notice. Words seem to work, just as Newtonian physics seems to. But you can always make them break if you push them far enough.
For what we know anything could be alive, we just have now way to be verify it. Our concept of "life" is very limited, because it's limited to what we can perceive or imagine.
If something isn't constrained by causality, can we even classify it in the same "life" bucket that we define ourselves to be in? Can we even reason about it?
This is the limit of our condition: at a certain point, everything is a believe. I believe in causality because I have been perceiving the reality this way. And this believe is strong enough to prevent myself from jumping outside of the windows, fearing the consequence of my action.
But nothing proves that the universe is causal. You can imagine a non causal universe, and some mecanismes making us not see it.
You can imagine many totally randoms universe, but our conscienciouness only focus on the one we think make sense.
You can imagine that each individual live in it's own universe, but none of them are influencing each others.
You can imagine no universe and just a dream, or a virtual one projected to get a restult.
You can imagine a universe that is created and dying at every moment, replaced by another one in order to try to find the perfect combination or particules or to restore some kind of balance.
a galaxy size brain would disagree with itself a lot.
My skull size brain is alreayd disagreeing with itself plenty.
If we were to scale up our brains and bodies with upgraded speed-of-light transmitters, then 80 light-milliseconds is about 24,000 kilometers, or almost exactly twice the diameter of Earth. Thus a similarly time-scaled fully integrated conscious experience is probably limited to that volume.
Obviously, brains have lots of localized computation and subsystems that are smaller and have lower cycle times. Planetary brains could have very fast local regions but the integration time across subsystems is probably what contributes to the perception of time in consciousness.
If you are at the size of a galaxy you aren't being affected by humans ability to be faster just as little as individual cells mostly aren't affecting humans even though their ability to deal quickly with things at the cellular level react way faster than your entire body do.
In fact most studies about the human mind seems to suggest that we are actually more like tourists than captains on our own ship.
So the update frequency of the whole system can vary. The most important part is that it's a pattern-recognizing feedback loop which can store past cycles.
I think we barely know anything about chemistry: the universe offers so many options, that restricting outserlves to life as we know it is bound to make us miss most of the real alternatives.
There are only a finite number of elements, and these elements are prouduced in similar ways due to radioactive decay and stellar processes. Of these, a simple study shows that carbon is best. Also, life requires some kind of chemistry to reproduce - this is easiest in a liquid, and water is the best, most abundant liquid for the process.
Perhaps a complex molecule is superior to carbon in some way. Or perhaps something could exist and reproduce as a plasma. These materials and conditions may exist somewhere in the universe, but are not nearly as likely as carbon and water.
Maybe another element (or compound) performs better in certain conditions or in the presence of certain catalizators than carbon. We have not detected this because we do not have the conditions to perform the experiments, or maybe we haven't found the right proportions of catalizator to compound, or maybe we have not even tried that specific combination.
There are maybe other stables elements that we have not yet discovered, with >1000 protons in the nucleus: another isle of stability which we do not know about because the stars do not easily reach it when going supernova.
Maybe there are other organization structures (not atoms) for matter that do not occur in this part of the universe. "Chemistry" would be very different then.
There are too many variables: humankind is very young, science is in its infancy, we have a very limited spectrum of the possible conditions / materials at our disposal, and anyway the possibilities that the universe offers are way too big for us to make any final statement.
The universe has been running for a long time, in a massive parallelized manner: it sure has found possibilities that we do not even dare of dreaming about.
> These materials and conditions may exist somewhere in the universe, but are not nearly as likely as carbon and water.
You can be right there, but what is more likely: carbon and water or "the rest of possible alternatives"? It could be that carbon+water is the most common option, but still most life in the universe is based in lots of different alternatives.
You are advocating that consciousness derives from non-physical entities ("it doesn't seem to be physical". To whom doesn't it? To you? To me it seems quite physical!). Which could be very well be true, but that statement is non-falsifiable, like God.
I am assuming the simplest thing (Occam Razor): that all we have is the material world, and there are no invisible pink unicorns. Which could be wrong of course, but then be careful because it is behind your back.
So, maybe you are right or maybe you are wrong. If you are right, we can stop talking right here, since your statements are not based on reason, and can thus not be argued (for or against): you can always postulate the pink unicorn wherever you see fit.
If you are wrong, we do not need to discuss anymore either, since that's the end of this topic.
Exactly: other environments would push evolution (in whatever form happens in other ecosystems) in complete different ways.
> Furthermore we really have no distinct line between biology, chemistry, and physics.
Right, those are human classifiers, which are mostly well defined, except when they are not.
Every particle contains the whole Universe and the Universe contains all particles.
But there's an interesting property of fractals (please correct me if I'm wrong) - at every level, a fractal is self-similar but not an exact copy of itself.
If we connect the two ideas, then every particle contains a similar but not identical Universe - a "parallel Universe"..
So then every particle is a gateway towards a parallel Universe in which there might be parallel versions of us, but slightly different. And every Universe contains every other parallel Universe inside itself.
Mind bending indeed.
This can be followed up by an even "crazier" question: If so, is our Galaxy a living creature ?
Going in the other direction, are cells in our bodies "living creatures" ? They sure do exhibit all the qualities of the larger organisms. If that's true, then our body is a conglomerate of 100 trillion living beings locked together in a biological ecosystem, each individual cell or collection of cells having probably no concept of the larger system they are part of.
So then we (our bodies and other animals) could also be locked together in a biological ecosystem (The Earth) and we would be oblivious of the fact by default.
Is Earth a "living creature" ? The "overview effect" that astronauts report upon seeing the Earth from orbit seems to be related to exactly this realization - that the planet is one big living organism. There's a fantastic short documentary about this - https://vimeo.com/55073825
We are just beginning to see the complex interconnection of things and beings in the biosphere so there's a lot of circumstantial evidence that the planet might be a huge living organism - not quite fits in our definition of "organism", but then it might mean that our definition is a bit too narrow.
Ancient shamans and the modern day "psychonauts" repot the same "overview effect" after tripping on various psychedelic plants and fungi - that everything is alive, including the planet, the stars and so on.
The idea of a "soul" - as the differentiating property of living things - has been around since .. forever.
And if we touch the idea of soul, then we're entering the realm of the Holy and the idea of God.
If all living beings have "souls" and if the Galaxy is a living being that it results that it too has soul. Interestingly that it's the "soul" that allows us to "grasp" the "being part of" thing.. So if cells have souls, they feel Us with it, if the Planet has soul, we feel it with our souls and so on...
Oh well, this is a infinitely long discussion, so I'll just pause here and contemplate on some C++ code :)
I like this, a galaxy-scale Gaia Hypothesis. Why not?
Our perspective is so small and our life span is so limited, would we be able to recognize or even comprehend the thought processes of a galaxy sized organism?
And in fact all parts of our brain do not communicate with all others; there are specialized subprocessing in the early visual system (cf Letvin) much less the various specialized cortices.
So one could construct a computational agent on the scale of a galaxy -- this ignores the question of evolution.
I've long presumed that we're unlikely to even recognize an intelligent alien (and that an alien encountering human interstellar travelers might not recognize the humans as intelligent). It's a fundamental hermeneutic question.
If you consider your brain as the brain of the galaxy, and the rest of the galaxy as its limbs, then certainly :)
The fact that the brain has only little control over its limbs (through very weak forces of gravity and electromagnetics) doesn't really matter.
It's turtles all the way down.
Can anyone elaborate? What is the evidence that sentience and intelligence requires this?
It's really worth a read: http://irl.cs.ucla.edu/papers/right-size.html
I'll never forget: "You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away, provided that the ground is fairly soft. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes."
Actually, they just meet a localised handling agent that explains that they work for a star-spanning sentience - which is something the characters had been considering as a way of making themselves robust against civilisation-destroying gamma ray bursts, but dismissed on the grounds that it made everything so slow - though that links into the other theme in that book of simulated beings existing on very different timescales.
I like the definition of life being something that can reproduce. But self organized, I'm not sure. All life depends on non-biological environmental factors for its organization and reproduction.
smallest theoretical scale is 10^-35 m, i.e. Planck length
smallest observed scale is 10^-19 m, i.e. quark interactions
smallest life scale is 10^-6 m, i.e. bacteria and viruses
size of vessel of consciousness is 10^-1 m, i.e. human brain
largest life scale is 10^3 m, i.e. Blue Mountain honey fungus
largest observed scale 10^26 m, i.e. the cosmic horizon
largest theoretical scale is unknown
* is there a theory that encompasses General Relativity and defines a theoretical largest possible distance/time?
* perhaps consciousness, being in the middle, will never, via mathematics, unite such a theory with Quantum Mechanics
10^-35 - Planck length
10^-19 - quark interactions
10^-11 - hydrogen atom
10^-6 - bacteria and viruses
10^-1 - human brain
10^3 - Blue Mountain honey fungus
10^8 - Diameter of our sun
10^16 - Oort cloud
10^20 - Our Galaxy
10^26 - the cosmic horizon
It's possible to define a universe of nearly any possible shape, but most aren't really compatible with our observations. One that fits reasonably well would be the de Sitter space, which fits most important criteria, and has a finite size at each moment in time.
If we consider the possibility of infinitely old universe with no beginning or end, the answer is yes, most likely, but it's unlikely we ever know. Those strange blobs of light could very well be living, thinking things or parts of them, but everything that happens on their physical scale is so slow that we can only observe a mere snapshot of their state.
While I don't want to spoil too much for the HN crowd (more than I have already by posting it under this link) it's a great SciFi book that hints at some really cool theoretical questions about life, space travel, and inter-species communication.
It was written in 1930's, but in some ways it's still incredibly refreshing and thought provoking.
Actually they grow higher than that limit. They absorb dew in their leaves so they can grow taller. There is a reason there are redwoods only in a certain climate.
Like lazaroclapp commented, it's not that big a stretch to think of humanity (as a whole) as meeting the definitions of both. Also (or alternatively), the earth.
That's circular, it's begging the question. Assuming that there's something special about the meter scale, then using that to reinforce the notion that there is something special about the meter scale.
Rabits are more conscious that amoebas, and less than men. The consciousness of the US is probably not comparable to the consciousness of men - they are basically different things, with some common properties.
So yes, the US is conscious, for some definition of consciousness.
I land in the max tegmark 'information probably is the same as consciousness' camp. It makes sense that a guy who studies simultaneity would ascribe magical properties to information that is partitioned like spacetime.
But I can't argue with the critics -- we don't yet have a measurable physical quantity for consciousness, much less a definition. Dave Chalmers says the 'hard problem' is why we have qualia. I think the hard problem is even more fundamental -- it's really hard to formulate questions about consciousness in a way that communciates the problem to someone who hasn't already thought of it.
You can say the behavioral evidence (i.e. measurable quantity) for consciousness is that we're having a conversation about it, but that feels like a copout.