The rich experiences of an intentional, goal-oriented life emerge, in an unpredictable fashion, from the basic laws of physics. Here I argue that this unpredictability is no mirage: there are true gaps between life and non-life, mind and mindlessness, and even between functional societies and groups of Hobbesian individuals. These gaps, I suggest, emerge from the mathematics of self-reference, and the logical barriers to prediction that self-referring systems present. Still, a mathematical truth does not imply a physical one: the universe need not have made self-reference possible. It did, and the question then is how. In the second half of this essay, I show how a basic move in physics, known as renormalization, transforms the "forgetful" second-order equations of fundamental physics into a rich, self-referential world that makes possible the major transitions we care so much about. While the universe runs in assembly code, the coarse-grained version runs in LISP, and it is from that the world of aim and intention grows.
- Pub Date:
- December 2017
- Physics - History and Philosophy of Physics;
- Physics - Popular Physics
- FQXI Prize Essay 2017. 18 pages, including afterword on Ostrogradsky's Theorem and an exchange with John Bova, Dresden Craig, and Paul Livingston