the physics of immortality and the direction of time

Recently, Sean wrote a blog post about Frank Tipler, who described in his book,
The Physics of Immortality, what he calls Omega point theory; Wikipedia has enough about it that I do not need to elaborate much further. The main idea in one sentence is that the
'big crunch' of a re-collapsing universe which contains intelligent life (necessarily) generates a
point of infinite complexity, capable to process an infinite amount of information in a finite amount of time [x]. As I mentioned previously, the book contains a lot of interesting physics, but also large sections comparing the Omega point to the God of various religions and as a whole the book is a bit odd.

In a section near the end of his book, Tipler discusses quantum gravity, the wave function of the universe and
in particular the boundary condition(s) for such a wave function. The best known example for such a condition
is the no-boundary proposal of Hawking, which corresponds to 'creation from nothing'; A different proposal was
examined by Vilenkin and others [e.g. here].

Tipler proposes as a new boundary condition the requirement of an Omega point. In other words, he replaces the usual initial condition with a final condition on the allowed physical states. In his own words:

"In my above description of the Omega Point Theory, I used past-to-future causation language, which is standard in everyday life, and in most physics papers. This may have given the reader the impression that it is life that is creating the Omega Point (God) rather than the reverse. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is more accurate to say that the Omega Point, acting backwards in time, via future-to-past causation, creates life, and His multiverse."

This is of course a main difference (if not the main difference) between science and religion.

Science assumes an initial condition (usually of high symmetry and low entropy), with everything following
afterwards according to the laws of physics, with no purpose, intention or meaning.

Religion on the other hand assumes that there is a point to the world and our experience, a desired goal and final explanation, which determines everything.

Once Tipler assumes the final Omega point condition, he leaves science as we know it and opens the
door to 'explanations' like this:

"I will say that an event is a "miracle" if it is very improbable according to standard past-to-future causation from the data in our multiverse neighborhood, but is seen to be inevitable from knowledge that the multiverse will evolve into the Omega Point."

While his book 'The Physics of Immortality' is vague enough, suggesting that perhaps one may be able to have it both, science and religion, the subsequent development of Tipler's thoughts makes it immediately clear where his proposal leads:

"I shall now argue that the Incarnation, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection were miracles in my sense. The key to understanding why these events HAD to occur is the recently observed acceleration of the universe."

I will only add that in my opinion Sean's word crackpot is misplaced in this case; I think 'tragedy' would fit better.

[x] According to Tipler, the discovery of an accelerating expansion of the universe (dark energy) does not
necessarily affect his main assumption, as he explains in this interview.


smekhovo said...

Or you could describe it more longwindedly as petitio principii.

wolfgang said...

Yes,but why is it usually absurd to assume final conditions and reason backwards and the other way around (assuming initial conditions and reasoning forward) seems usually much more reasonable.

I suspect it might have to do with the fact that the initial condition is symmetric, simple, low entropy etc. and the final condition is not.
But to be honest, I am not sure and I think it might be possible that to an Alien both seem equally awkward ...

Allen said...

Retrocausality, influencing the past:

wolfgang said...


thank you for the link, I believe this is about the transactional interpretation of QM.

Allen said...

The article is not about the transactional interpretation at all, it's about an experiment that could provide some insight into the nature of time.

And (incidentally) might also support the transactional interpretation. Right?

The results of the experiment would shed light on whether the future can have some sort of causal influence on the past.

Which is one of the things that you seem to imply is dodgy about Tipler's ideas.

Of course, if the experiment shows that there is no retro-causation...then I guess that undermines Tipler's position.

But, the article only mentions the transactional interpretation in passing.

wolfgang said...


>> The central claim of your post is in error, as Prof. Frank J. Tipler doesn't assume the Omega Point exists.

Yes he does, in the section of his book which discusses quantum gravity.
And the quote "It is more accurate to say that the Omega Point, acting backwards in time, via future-to-past causation" is not only verbatim but reflects of course accurately his proposal to place a final condition on the wave function of the universe (instead of using a conventional initial condition a la Hartle and Hawking).

You are right that most of the book discusses classical or semi-classical gravity and in those sections he tries to motivate the existence of the Omega point using a more conventional language.

But notice that the Omega point is in the future of us and its existence is not certain as it depends on intelligent life arranging it (in the classical and semiclassical veriosn of his proposal).

wolfgang said...

I should add that empirical evidence (the accelerating expansion of the universe) which was obtained after the book was published does *not* support the main point of his book (which is based on a closed universe).
He suggested a way around this (the link is in my post), which I don't find very convincing.