Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Kurzgesagt Cases: Thinking About Human Origins and Our Civilization; The Possibility of a Universal Great Filter; and Real Vs. Simulated Reality -OR- The Case for Optimistic Nihilism

"What Happened Before History?
Human Origins"

The above 10-minute YouTube video takes us on a journey -- at once fascinating, humbling, and oddly uplifting -- through human history, and puts our own present-day civilization in a context whereby we can appreciate just how unusual and, indeed, wonderous it is -- and so provides a badly needed appreciative uplift from our current woes.

The video was put together by the outfit known as Kurzgesagt, in whose YouTube channel I've taken a real interest in recent weeks. Indeed, this particular entry contains five Kurzgesagt videos along with a brief description.

I think it best if I just let The Keeper of All Knowledge explain what is Kurzgesagt:

Kurzgesagt (German for "in a nutshell") is a German animation studio founded by Philipp Dettmer. The studio's YouTube channel focuses on minimalist animated educational content, using the flat design style.

It discusses scientific, technological, political, philosophical and psychological subjects. Narrated by Steve Taylor, videos on the channel are typically 4–16 minutes in length, with many of them available in German through the channel Dinge Erklärt – Kurzgesagt.

As for Steve Taylor -- the narrator for all of videos -- he is a British radio and TV presenter and voice actor. I had a difficult time finding a photograph of him, but I eventually found it here. That site contains his bio and voice snippets. It also suggests he is fluent in both English and German.

I would have thought "Kurzgesagt" literally means "short said" in German.

The outfit also has its own website:

That website describes Kurzgesagt as both an animation studio and a design agency that creates unique explanatory videos, along with offering various graphic design services.

It contains the following description on the "About" page:

German for "In a nutshell" is a Munich-based YouTube channel and design studio with a unique perspective on design, color, and storytelling. We engage in information design projects of all kind, but are best known for our distinctive animation videos. We want our work to raise awareness for topics from the fields of science, space, technology, biology, history and philosophy. Our goal is to inspire people to learn – and we believe humor and a good story to tell are just as important as straight facts.

And this brings me to the next three Kurzgesagt videos that I'd like to feature in this entry ...

"Why Alien Life Would be our Doom -
The Great Filter"

The title of this video essay is a bit upfront misleading because it does NOT mean that the discovery of extraterrestrial life itself would be the active cause of doom of human beings.

Rather, it is saying that evidence of extraterrestrial life -- implicitly, either primitive and extant OR advanced and extinct -- indicates that while life can arise (via abiogenesis) easily enough throughout the Cosmos, whenever it arises and reaches a certain level of intelligence, it will inevitably wipe itself out before it can colonize other planets throughout its home galaxy.

The "great filter" refers to getting over that potentially insurmountable barrier to achieve a galactic civilization, of which we have no evidence that any exist ("space seems to be empty and dead" -- which means something is preventing a species from climbing beyond a certain point.

And the big relevant question for humanity becomes: Is that barrier behind us or still ahead of us?

The "null hypothesis" here, so to speak, is: "Once a species takes control over its planet, it's already on the path to self destruction." It would seem to be technology-based or ecological destruction (or a hybrid of the two).

The former manifests itself either technology that it fails to control and results in something like a nuclear war, out-of-control nanotechnology, genetic engineering of a virus or bug that exterminates the species, AI run amok either by accident or intentionally.

The latter refers to an old-fashioned ecological catastrophe whereby a species that takes control of its planet and changes its atmosphere and ecology invariably ("100 percent of the time") sets in motion an ecological collapse of its biosphere.

In summary: The more common and complex life is in the Cosmos, the more likely it is that the Great Filter is ahead of us ... hence the undesirability of finding life beyond our planet.


The next video ponders the question of reality itself to include our place in it ...

"Is Reality Real? The Simulation Argument"

Specifically, it addresses the question of whether or not what we perceive as reality -- not just physical Universe we inhabit but our very own self-consciousness and what each of us calls our "life" -- are really just some inconceivable simulation being run by some lifeform so advanced that it, for all intents and purposes, is godlike (indeed, IS God) to us.

I found also interesting the computing power that would be needed to simulate the Observable Universe:

Counting all brain synaptic interactions that give you 1 operation, then the human brain runs at about 10^17 (i.e., 100 quadrillion) operations per second. "Rounding up" -- a full three orders of magnitude -- it estimates that 10^20 (100 quintillion) operations are needed to produce one second of consciousness.

Now if you simulate all of human history, and assume that 200 billion humans have ever lived (it avoids the question of how many humans ever WILL live), and give each one a 50 year life span, the number of operations is:

30 million seconds / year x 50 years x 200 billion people x 10^20 operations / second = ~3 x 10^40 operations. That's 300 duodecillion operations, which is vastly (as in, 10 quintillion times) more than the estimated ~1 septillion (10^24) stars in the Observable Universe.

Let me just add here that while the idea behind this video may seem like a particularly weird type of lunacy, or Matrix-like reality writ large, I actually think it describes a more fundamental reality.


Because even if there is a God in that Western Judeo-Christian anthropomorphic way -- namely, a Father-like God who watches over us, loves us in whatever that may mean, a God that once in a while protects us, and is the Source, Maker, and Keeper of All -- well, that is functionally no different than being in that "God's" simulation, i.e., Creation.

Of course, calling it a "Simulation" implies it isn't "real" when that's not at all what it means for a simulation such a scale and complexity. That is, the Simulation IS reality as far as we are concerned.

This video essay does not get into the topic of a Boltzmann Brain, but that is something to consider, as well.

And that is a nice segue into the final Kurzgesagt video that addresses the question of "What if this is all there is?" How do we respond to living in a Cosmos in which there is no God, no Afterlife, no nothing -- we all just randomly pop into existence for a brief period and then disappear. Forever.

"Optimistic Nihilism"

This video lays out the case for what it calls "Optimistic Nihilism" -- that is, why even in that case, we should just be happy, give it the meaning that makes sense to us, and build our own utopia. (I'm going to skip all the problematic aspects embodied in those concepts, and let's just go with it in a happy and good sense.)

Below are some quotes / ideas from the video (paraphrased):

You only have one shot at life, which is scary, but it also sets you free ... If the Universe ends in a heat death (entropy), then everything good and bad that ever happened to you will be "forgotten" by the Universe ... Every mistake you bad, every bad thing you did will be voided.

If our life is the only thing we get to experience, then it is the ONLY thing that matters. If the Universe has no principles, then the only relevant ones are the ones we decide. If the Universe has no purpose, then we get to dictate what is its purpose.

We get to feel and experience the Universe -- and in that way, we are not detached at all from it but are every bit the part of it, as important, as any astrophysical object. In fact, it's even better because we are the Universe's thinking and feeling part. We are the sensory organs of the Universe.

We are truly free in a Universe-sized playground. So, we might as well be happy and aim to build a utopia in the stars. What's more, there is so much we still don't know including about life itself that we have all of our lives (as a species, that is) to figure it out and journey across the Cosmos on that quest. And so we should just be happy and strive to make others happy while building that galactic human utopia.

Simulation indeed. Enjoy.

Of course, FOREVER is such a long time that well before then, the entire Observable Universe that we inhabit would -- for any number of reasons -- spontaneously recreate or just quantum mechanically return reassemble itself, and we would do all of this over again. And again and again. In infinite combinations and permutations.

And on that note, I'm going to wrap up this entry.


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