Universe Aborning


George Dyson challenges us to take a new perspective on the digital revolution:
What we’re missing now, on another level, is not just biology, but cosmology. People treat the digital universe as some sort of metaphor, just a cute word for all these products. The universe of Apple, the universe of Google, the universe of Facebook, that these collectively constitute the digital universe, and we can only see it in human terms and what does this do for us?
We’re missing a tremendous opportunity. We’re asleep at the switch because it’s not a metaphor. In 1945 we actually did create a new universe. This is a universe of numbers with a life of their own, that we only see in terms of what those numbers can do for us. Can they record this interview? Can they play our music? Can they order our books on Amazon? If you cross the mirror in the other direction, there really is a universe of self-reproducing digital code. When I last checked, it was growing by five trillion bits per second. And that’s not just a metaphor for something else. It actually is. It’s a physical reality.
Every week on FastForward Radio I make reference to "the greatest period of transformation in human history" -- namely, now. I believe that we are truly privileged to live in this era, owing to our proximity to the (literally) unimaginable changes to come.

Dyson sees my bet and raises me.

Perhaps, Dyson tells us, the most astounding change has already come...but we were too busy to notice. A new universe is born, and we look at it and think about it in terms of its usefulness to us. Not that there's anything wrong with wanting things to be useful, but we seem to be running into a category error.

Is this universe, the one we live in, useful? Even the sun, one star out of trillions, seems far too big to be viewed only in terms of its utility. Like a star, only on appropriately grander scale, a universe is a unity, a totality, an entity that requires no outside rationale.

It just is.

The birth of a new universe is, I almost hesitate to point out, a singularity.

For 14 billion years there was one universe, just one, as far as we know. And then suddenly, in an infinitesimal blink of an infinitesimal eye -- and within the lifetime of many still among us -- there were two. We live in the early, early days of the life of a new universe, a companion to the one we've always known. The ultimate destiny of this new universe lies far beyond our comprehension or imagination. But we know that it will change everything, including ourselves and, possibly, the very fabric of the reality from which it sprang.

There can be no greater adventure than this.

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