As I’ve written about before on these pages, of all the ‘Big Questions’ in science, the issue of those slippery, tricksy quantities we call consciousness, awareness, and intelligence is one of the most challenging. That’s especially true when it comes to any sense of the universality of such things. We’re barely beginning to recognize the extraordinarily sophisticated, yet alien, functioning of terrestrial neighbors like cephalopods, let alone any hypothetical life elsewhere.
Furthermore, our current quest to find new worlds that might produce and sustain living systems is still in its infancy. There are a host of relatively mundane, but highly technical hurdles to overcome: from the decoding of stellar light and planetary compositions to the measurements of biomarkers, seasonal cycles, and the disentangling of complicated chemistry and contingency.
So it can seem a bit premature to be talking about the origins and nature of awareness, of minds in any cosmic sense. Except, there appear to be deep-rooted commonalities between the emergence of complex chemistry and life, and the emergence of other phenomena – such as organism awareness, agency, and perhaps consciousness. Could it be that answers to all these puzzles converge on deeper principles?
A new institute, YHouse, that I’ve talked about in a previous post, is now moving into higher gear to bring a bunch of human brains to bear on these issues. A brand-spanking-new website has just gone live, along with a new blog written by Piet Hut of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton.
The first post is a doozy, ‘On Matter and Information: The Origin of Recipes’, and I unashamedly encourage you to go and read it and have your mind blown.
Since Erwin Schrödinger wrote his influential ‘What is Life?’ book in 1944, the idea that information, order and chaos, thermodynamics, and life are all connected has continued to inspire and baffle us. But we may be starting to see convergence on these issues, and it may not be entirely coincidental that the timing is in step with our new-found exoplanetary perspective.