Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Is history one damn thing after another?

In Comments there has been discussion of futurist Ray Kurzweil's prediction that computers will soon equal human intelligence.

Eric Chaisson, a physicist at Tufts University, defines history's direction with something he calls free energy rate density, a measure of the concentration of energy as it flows through space and time.

For example, vastly more energy flows through a star than through a worm, but the concentration of energy is greater for a worm than for a star -- roughly 10,000 ergs per second per gram for a worm versus 2 ergs per second per gram for a typical star.

When Chaisson calculates the free energy rate density for everything from stars to living cells to worms to human brains he gets an exponentially rising curve that he takes to be the signature of increasing complexity -- and, by implication, the direction of cosmic history.

What's at the top of Chaisson's curve? Not the human brain, but the Pentium chip and its equivalents, with a free energy rate density of something over 10 billion ergs per second per gram. This exceeds even the human brain because microchips perform their operations so much faster than do webs of organic neurons. According to Chaisson, we are rapidly conceding to computers our place as the most complex things in the known universe.

Are there other forms of complexity out there among the galaxies with free energy rate densities in the hundreds of billions? We'd be fools to think otherwise. But does this affect the way I live my life? More tomorrow.