Two hours of me talking about cosmological natural selection on Youtube
Black holes! Jazz science! And the world as a hyper-giraffe…
I’m VERY happy with how this turned out, and I think some of you might like it a lot. It’s two hours of me talking about The Egg and the Rock, and the idea of an evolved universe, with the biologist and philosopher Johannes Jaeger. (On Youtube, but don’t worry, no ads.)
We recorded this a few weeks ago, and I kept meaning to write a long post to accompany it, but… well, perfectionism set in, and that post will no doubt eventually arrive in twelve volumes, illustrated by hand and bound in vellum, in the year 2237.
So, I’m just going to put up the full conversation, now, and let it speak for itself. OK, maybe with a teeny-tiny bit of context. (Just a smidgin!)
A TEENY-TINY BIT OF CONTEXT
It is the first in a series of interviews and conversations run by The Zone – an intriguing project, based in Vienna, that is trying to find new ways to connect philosophy with the arts and the sciences. The people behind it are two artists, Botswana-born Bronwyn Lace, and Johannesburg-born Marcus Neustetter; the Istanbul-born designer and curator Başak Şenova; and Swiss-born biologist and philosopher Johannes Jaeger.
JOHANNES “YOGI” JAEGER: THE OTHER GUY IN THIS CONVERSATION
Johannes, my interlocutor in this long conversation, is a fascinating guy; a systems scientist, an evolutionary biologist, and a natural philosopher. We met in Paris a few years ago, when he was a D'Alembert Fellow at the Institut d´Études Avancées (IEA) de Paris, and I had a residency at the Centre Culturel Irlandais (where I was working on a book). Originally a hardcore experimental biologist (yes, jiggling the genes in fruit flies!), he grew restless, and has steadily moved away from a narrow reductionism toward a broader vision of science. He is the former director of the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution & Cognition Research, in Austria, and currently runs a large research project, Pushing the Boundaries: Agency, Evolution, and the Dynamic Emergence of Expanding Possibilities, in collaboration with Prof. Tarja Knuuttila at the Department of Philosophy of the University of Vienna.
You can watch the whole conversation here, or on YouTube. The people at The Zone have put together a really nice index, breaking up the two hours into a whole bunch of chapters, in case you want to skip to a particular part (or send a link to a particular part to a friend). I’ll copy their index in below.
(If you aren’t a subscriber yet, please do subscribe to get every new post for free. And if you ARE already a free subscriber, ponder the possibility of becoming a paid subscriber, so that I can obsess about The Egg and the Rock 24 hours a day, instead of the current 18...)
WHAT I’D LIKE YOU TO DO, IF YOU HAVE TIME
I think this is an excellent introduction to the idea of an evolved universe, particularly for people who are never going to read a series of dense, five-thousand-word posts on the subject. So, please, do take a minute to share this directly with someone you think would enjoy it – your most open-minded, Youtube-oriented friend, perhaps. Write them an actual, personal, email or text message, and send them the link, either to this post or directly to the YouTube video. I know I bore on about this, but such direct, personal, word-of-mouth sharing helps enormously in spreading vital new ideas that can otherwise find difficulty in gaining traction. Remember, the community of people who have even heard of these ideas, let alone thought about them deeply, is currently absurdly small: if you are as excited as I am by all of this, if you think it is important; you can make a major difference to how fast these ideas are able to spread.
Plus, you will then have another friend you can talk to about this fascinating stuff. Win/win!
As ever, please do give me feedback on these ideas, either below or over on YouTube. Here’s the video again (to save you scrolling back up), and below it the index, with the links in red…
00:00:00 Introduction: Julian in THE ZoNE
00:01:31 Arts & science: the meaning of scientific data
00:05:31 The Egg & the Rock: jazz science & public writing
00:08:56 Breaking the frame: outsider perspectives
00:12:23 Science fragmented: the need for synthesizers
00:17:21 The cult of productivity & the freedom to play
00:21:05 Analogical thinking: exploring linguistic territory
00:25:01 Our scientific language is too narrow!
00:29:36 We can have much better maps (but they will never be the territory)
00:32:14 The egg & the rock: the other end of the telescope
00:36:11 Why does the universe behave like an egg, not a rock?
00:39:47 Universal evolution: the world as a hyper-giraffe
00:44:02 The universe evolving: the deuterium bottleneck
00:49:48 Fine-tuning: unexpected structures & efficiencies
00:52:41 Cosmological natural selection: fecund universes
00:57:40 The life of the cosmos: universal reproduction
01:03:58 Empirical evidence: the James Webb space telescope
01:07:57 Predicting early galaxies & supermassive black holes
01:13:42 Black holes are primary; stars, & sheep, come later
01:16:57 Stellar organizers: accretion disks & relativistic jets
01:18:52 Predictions come true, to (almost) everybody's surprise
01:21:31 How do we get the physicists to take this seriously?
01:24:08 Garage philosophy: new technologies create new art forms
01:26:48 Quality control: experts vs lunatics on Substack
01:29:45 The art of cherry-picking & value of skeptical friends
01:31:50 Flexing your mental joints: arts, play & speculation
01:33:32 Universe makers: life manipulating black holes?
01:40:44 Ideas get buried too deep in science fiction novels
01:40:52 Yes-and: science in the context of meaningful narrative
01:46:40 The Minecraft End Poem: from one world to another
01:50:15 You are the player: to see reality more clearly
01:56:24 The universe wrote the ending to Minecraft
01:59:36 The multimodal experience of a philosophical idea
02:01:52 The life of the universe vs life in the sciences
02:05:52 Science is alienated from the experience of creating
02:07:03 We are the taste buds of the universe tasting the world
02:11:22 Outro: the arbitrariness of ending a process
I'm going to break the rules slightly as a time travelling comedy writer and say I liked this article before even reading it. I have been writing about cosmogenesis for a few years. Black holes being the engine through which new universes are born fascinates me, and has some interesting overlap with simulation theory for sci-fi writers!
Loved it! I imagine you are aware that there has been some attempts to explain complexity in the face of the 2nd law of thermodynamics. I barely know the argument, but it seems to boil down to the idea that complex structures are actually a very efficient way to disperse the energy of the universe.