I thought the photograph with last week’s blog [see ‘Happy New Year‘ on December 29th, 2021] might cause some comments. It was taken during a road trip in the USA as we were heading west on the Interstate 90, just west of Murdo in South Dakota, on our way to Yellowstone National Park from Michigan where we lived for nearly a decade. It shows a skeleton dinosaur being led on a leash by a skeleton human. As a genus, non-avian dinosaurs existed for about 150 million years and the last one died about 66 million years ago. Our genus, Homo, has only been around for about 2.5 million years so there was never an overlap with dinosaurs. Our species, Homo Sapiens have only been around for about the last 200,000 years. These time-spans are not long relative to the age of the oldest rocks on the planet, which have been estimated to be 4.6 billion years old, and implies that the Earth survived perfectly well without dinosaurs and humans for billions years. We have thrived during an epoch, the Holocene, during which the climate has been relatively stable compared to the previous epoch, the Pleistocene. However, if we cannot resolve the existential threats facing our species then it is likely that, like non-avian dinosaurs, we will only exist as skeletons in the future and the planet will adapt to existence without us. Perhaps the emphasis of many campaigns associated with climate change should shift from saving the planet to saving ourselves – we might be more focussed on coming together to address the selfish challenge.
I overheard a clip on the radio last week in which someone was parodying the quote from Marvin, the Paranoid Android in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: ‘Here I am with a brain the size of a planet and they ask me to pick up a piece of paper. Call that job satisfaction? I don’t.’ It set me thinking about something that I read a few months ago in Max Tegmark’s book: ‘Life 3.0 – being human in the age of artificial intelligence‘ [see ‘Four requirements for consciousness‘ on January 22nd, 2020]. Tegmark speculates that since consciousness seems to require different parts of a system to communicate with one another and form networks or neuronal assemblies [see ‘Digital hive mind‘ on November 30th, 2016], then the thoughts of large systems will be slower by necessity. Hence, the process of forming thoughts in a planet-sized brain will take much longer than in a normal-sized human brain. However, the more complex assemblies that are achievable with a planet-sized brain might imply that the thoughts and experiences would be much more sophisticated, if few and far between. Tegmark suggests that a cosmic mind with physical dimensions of a billion light-years would only have time for about ten thoughts before dark energy fragmented it into disconnected parts; however, these thoughts and associated experiences would be quite deep.
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Penguin Random House, 2007.