New Theory: Universe Created by Intelligent Being

John Roach
for National Geographic News
March 11, 2004
On any given starry night thousands, perhaps millions, of people crane their necks skyward and allow their minds to swirl around two fundamental questions: Are we alone, and why are we here?

According to a lawyer and science enthusiast in Portland, Oregon, not only is the universe full of life, but some of it may be intelligent beyond our wildest imagination. He also says that collectively as intelligent beings we are entwined in our ultimate destiny: to give birth to another universe.

"Intelligent life is, in essence, the reproductive organ of the cosmos," said James Gardner, the lawyer who moonlights as a scientist. He has pulled together his theory—called the selfish biocosm—from the disparate fields of physics, biology, biochemistry, astronomy, and cosmology.

Gardner has published pieces of his theory in several peer-reviewed scientific journals and wraps it together in his recently published book, Biocosm: The New Scientific Theory of Evolution: Intelligent Life Is the Architect of the Universe.

Though Gardner admits the theory is speculative and out-there in the literal and figurative senses, it is grounded enough in serious research to at least tickle the fancy of some of the world's most respected scientists.

Seth Shostak is a senior scientist with the Mountain View, California-based SETI Institute, which is the unofficial hub for researchers on the lookout for extraterrestrial intelligence. He agrees with Gardner's belief that intelligent life is out there.

"It doesn't mean I automatically buy into the entire scenario Gardner is buying into, but I think he is right in suggesting intelligence is not extremely rare," Shostak said. "Of course, I'm in the SETI business, so it's probably not surprising that I believe that."

Life-Friendly Universe

The selfish biocosm theory begins with the premise that the universe is life friendly. It is not a hostile place full of black holes, uninhabitable planets, and the emptiness that somehow, randomly, allowed intelligent life to evolve on Earth, Gardner says.

Among Gardner's evidence for the life-friendly nature of the universe is that the big bang apparently had just the right amount of force to allow the universe to expand at a pace perfectly suited for the evolution of life. If the big bang had gone off with more force, the cosmos would, by now, be empty: If there had been less force the universe would have collapsed, Gardner said.

Another factor for the life-friendly nature of the universe is the ease with which carbon—the basis for life and the emergence of intelligence—forms. Also, the universe's three-dimensional structure allows life as we know it to exist.

"Collectively this stunning set of circumstances renders the universe eerily fit for life and intelligence," Gardner said last month during a presentation of his selfish-biocosm theory at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.

"It is a very seductive explanation for the fact that the universe does seem to be kind of attuned to the development of life," said Shostak, who wrote the foreword to Biocosm.

Gardner believes that eventually life and intelligence will evolve to the point where it is capable of figuring out how to create, or give birth to, another universe, just as he believes an earlier universe gave birth to our universe.

As the progeny of an earlier universe, the cosmic equivalent of DNA is stitched into our universe, providing a recipe for development and a blueprint for the construction of offspring, according to Gardner.

When it comes to the issue of ultimate origins, Gardner said his theory becomes its most speculative. He postulates a closed time-like curve wherein the universe serves as its own mother. But he has other theories as well.

"I feel somewhat tempted by the approach [Charles] Darwin took when questioned about the origin of life," Gardner said. "The whole matter, Darwin remarked famously, is far too profound for the human intellect; a dog might as easily contemplate the mind of Newton."

Proof of Theory?

Gardner's greatest challenge is to gain credibility for his theory as true science rather than pure speculation. "While intriguing and appealing, how can you know whether it is right," Shostak said. "What is the test?"

According to Gardner, key among the consequences of the life-friendly nature of the universe is that we humans ought to encounter life and intelligence as we explore the cosmos. Such an encounter would help prove the selfish biocosm theory, he said.

"In some sense it's a test, but it's not rigorous," Shostak said. "It's hard to prove that nobody is out there and it may be hard to find them even if they are there."

Other tests put forward by Gardner include detecting the evolution toward intelligence in nonprimate species, the evolution of artificial life into what is called a "conscious artifact," and the emergence of transhuman intelligence—the evolution of ever higher levels of intelligence on Earth, such as a community of humans and machines that is more intelligent than humans are alone.

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Related Web Sites
Biocosm: The New Scientific Theory of Evolution: Intelligent Life is the Architect of the Universe
SETI Institute

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