The Anthropic Principle (Part II)

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Imagine that you’re about to enter a state of suspended animation, caused by your body being cooled to near absolute zero. While unconscious, there won’t be any neural activity in your brain. Every mechanism involved in your biological clock will be completely halted, and consequently all sense of time will be completely lost. However, while in this state, there won’t be any damage done to your body in any way, and you could safely remain in this state for an arbitrarily long time before being woken up.

Immediately after you lose consciousness, a robot will turn on and perform the following actions. It’ll toss a silver dollar onto the floor and observe the results. If the coin lands on heads, the robot will pick it up and flip it again. Similarly, if the coin lands on tails, the robot will pick it up and flip it again. However, if the coin lands on its edge, the robot will awaken you from your suspended animation and then turn off. The probability of this happening on any given toss is extraordinarily low, but the robot will continue for an arbitrarily long duration of time until this occurs, so it will necessarily happen eventually.

Let’s envision the experience from your perspective. You’re in a bed. You see the robot, motionless, holding the coin. The process begins and you feel yourself fading out of consciousness. You then immediately experience the opposite feeling ― you begin slowly to regain consciousness and a sense of your surroundings. You see the robot again, motionless, no longer holding the coin. On the floor, you notice the coin balanced on its edge. You leave the bed and the mere vibration of your step knocks the coin onto its side. It feels as if you were asleep for literally no time at all. You wonder how long it’s been since you were last awake.

This (not especially revolutionary) thought experiment is meant to highlight the link between time, probability, and consciousness.

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“Why should I be worried about dying? It’s not going to happen in my lifetime!” [1]

“When you’re dead, you don’t even know that you’re dead. Same with when you’re stupid.” [2]

“Twenty-four hours to go. I wanna be sedated.”i[3]

“Assume the universe didn’t exist ― including time. Without time, how long would it take before a universe existed? So we wait a non-length of non-time, and then (instantly?) a universe exists.” [4]

You can use dreamless sleep to warp to the future.

I would’ve been really sad if I’d never gotten the chance to exist.

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“It’s impossible to be conscious of being unconscious ― a billion years could pass, and you wouldn’t know it. It’s impossible to experience any gaps in life ― it’s continuous and never-ending from your own point of view.” [5]

“They start administering the anesthesia, and the next instant you’re waking up. It isn’t like sleep ― it’s a deep, medically-induced coma. You’re effectively traveling forward in time. They could keep you under for a year and it would feel the same.” [6]

“When you’ve eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” [7]

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In a certain important sense, time begins with consciousness/sapience.

“The world and life are one.” [Wittgenstein] “Or, in other words, the universe and consciousness are one.” [Pannenkoek]

“Death is not an event in life ― we don’t live to experience death. If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present.” [Wittgenstein]

“Our life has no end in the same way our visual field has no edge.” [Wittgenstein]

“Death is like multiplying zero by infinity.” [8] There’s a sense in which unexperienced time ― no matter how long ― collapses to nothing, subjectively. But what about when that length of time is forever? It reminds me of indeterminate forms in math analysis.

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I can’t help but feel that the anthropic principle is intimately connected ― or even a partial answer ― to the question of why there’s something rather than nothing.

“Thinking about this stuff sometimes gives me a really strange feeling.” [9]

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“I don’t fear death. I’d been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and hadn’t suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” [10]

“After your death, you will be what you were before your birth.” [11]

“Existence is embodied time; human beings are time incarnate.” [12]

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Citations

  1. Raymond Smullyan
  2. Philippe Geluck
  3. The Ramones
  4. (source lost)
  5. Michael Smith
  6. (source lost)
  7. Sherlock Homes / Arthur Conan Doyle
  8. Josiah Emery
  9. Josh Werns
  10. Mark Twain
  11. (source lost)
  12. Søren Kierkegaard
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