The Cosmological Noocene

Here is a sketch of the future, without any specific dates assigned to its milestones. The molecular biochemistry of living beings is fully mapped and understood. The human mind is reverse engineered. It is run in software. A million variants and improvements are constructed. Molecular nanotechnology is established and becomes a mature industry, available to everyone. Anything and everything can be built efficiently and at next to zero cost given the raw materials and a specification. All disease is abolished, and aging is defeated: these are problems that boil down to control over molecules, just another form of maintaining a machine to remove wear. The future stretches out indefinitely for all living entities, whether biological or otherwise. Given that, is perhaps never too early for at least a little long-term thinking, even though we're still here in the present, working away at the very first rung of this tall ladder to the future.

From an economic perspective those who thrive in the era of molecular manufacturing and comprehension of mind are those who make the most efficient use of the matter that they own, and those who gain control over the most matter: quality versus quantity shift back and forth in the degree of advantage as the ability to accurately and rapidly manipulate large masses of matter at the atomic level and lower grows. Matter is most economically efficient when incorporated as the workings of an intelligent entity. The end state here is a continuum of thinking matter, and there are countless arrangements by which matter might be made aware. Our evolved biology is among the least intricate and least capable of these possibilities. At the most efficient we might envisage space- and matter-efficient computational processors plus the necessary workings for support: communication, energy, repair, and so forth. The higher the fraction of that mix that can be devoted to data processing and transfer, the more economically effective the entities who use that system as a substrate.

Evolved intelligences are not rational actors in search of growth above all other goals. We have parks and entertainment industries, for example. There is no reason why constructed or augmented intelligences should be any different, but equally they have one important quality: they can change themselves and their progeny in defined ways to achieve defined outcomes in mental state. The alterations and experiments that provide economic advantages will prosper. Entities who choose to incorporate an urge to growth will become the majority. At some point the value of an asteroid, a moon, a planetary crust, or a star in its natural state falls below the value of the same matter dismantled and used as raw materials for computational processing. After that it is just a matter of time before this solar system, a wilderness at present, and a collection of parks in ages ahead, is transitioned into a more efficient arrangement of matter in which near every portion of the whole is intelligent. This change will propagate outward to other stellar systems, without end, driven by simple economic considerations. A sea of cultures of a complexity and scope beyond our imaginings, and our world today the tiniest mote of a seed, that could be emulated by the smallest discrete material unit of computational processing in that future substrate.

So it is less a matter of manifest destiny that we will convert our entire future light cone into intelligence, and more a matter of economic inevitability, the destination at the end of the random walk of choice simply because some classes of choice will be made more frequently than others. The outcome of human action writ large, for a very expansive definition of the word human. All of this, however, indicates that there is something very important that we at present do not understand about the nature of reality. Nothing in our present situation as a species appears to be exceptional: stars are everywhere in vast numbers, planets also, and complex organic molecules are seen wherever we have the ability to observe them. Thus intelligence should arise elsewhere. The age of the universe is very long in comparison to the time taken for our spontaneous generation, yet we see no evidence that any other intelligence has come before us. This is often expressed as the Fermi Paradox, but is perhaps best thought of as the Wilderness Paradox, which is to ask why everything we observe, out to the very limits of the visible universe, is apparently natural and unaltered. Where are the signs of what we know is possible and inevitable for an intelligent evolved species, the conversion of matter to more efficient forms on a vast scale?

The only self-consistent solution to the Fermi Paradox that does not require some new and presently missing piece of scientific understanding is the Simulation Argument: that we are in a box and walled off from the real world, whatever that might be, created by some demiurge for purposes guessable but ultimately unknowable through any action on our part. Prosaically that demiurge might be a descendant of a past humanity similar to ours, an entity that is running one of countless ancestor simulations for scientific reasons. Far less prosaic options are also possible, in which the demiurge is simulating from first principles a radically different cosmology from its own and thus its nature and motivations are inscrutable. These possibilities of the Simulation Argument are dissatisfying to explore, however, for all the same reasons as the brain in a jar thought experiment is a dead end. Best to assume it is not true, as it if is there is nothing useful you can do about it, individually or collectively. It is Pascal's Wager turned inside-out.

It is more interesting to speculate on what it is that we don't understand at present about the nature of reality. There are numerous candidates, and most present thinking is directed towards those related to enforcing our rarity, often expressed as the Great Filter, one or more enormously unlikely steps that lie between the origin of a barren world scattered with a few organic compounds and the destination of an intelligent species engaged in repurposing of raw materials on a vast scale. All proposed Great Filters are very speculative; there is a great deal of room to argue about odds when you only have one example to work with, or events of the distant past must be reconstructed from theory, or future development of the species considered in detail rather than at a very high level, all which makes coming to any sort of rigorous conclusion next to impossible. All that is practical to achieve is to build the shape of the argument that would be sufficient if the actual numbers and proposed events in fact exist in reality. Given this uncertainty, any proposed Great Filter becomes an ever less satisfying answer the further we look outward and the more galaxies we see without any sign of massive engineering. It only serves to argue for our uniqueness, which is implausible given what we presently know and the isotropic nature of all other observed aspects of the natural universe across vast spans of distance and time.

Per our present understanding of physics and intelligent economic activity, we will turn every part of that great span, stars and all, into our descendants if not diverted or stopped by some outside influence. The cosmological noocene, an ocean of intelligence of breathtaking scope and grandeur. That the natural universe remains as it is to be used by us indicates that something is awry, however, that some vital and important understanding is missing. We as a species are still in the act of making the first fumbling explorations of the bounds of the possible with regards to what it is that we don't know.


>This change will propagate outward to other stellar systems, without end, driven by simple economic considerations.

That's how we leave not to great but love grey goo and Borg

Posted by: Cuberat at June 28th, 2019 3:02 PM


Posted by: Cuberat at June 28th, 2019 3:03 PM

>The age of the universe is very long in comparison to the time taken for our spontaneous generation, yet we see no evidence that any other intelligence has come before us. This is often expressed as the Fermi Paradox, but is perhaps best thought of as the Wilderness Paradox, which is to ask why everything we observe, out to the very limits of the visible universe, is apparently natural and unaltered

I have a tongue in cheek explanation for the wilderness paradox. What we observe is in no way natural but rather our universe is shaped as a side effect of the activity of other civilizations, and what we see is the equivalent of a giant dumpster. Or industrial zone. We have built our epicycle theories. We base our cosmology on what we see and assume is is natural.

Posted by: Cuberat at June 28th, 2019 3:13 PM

Dear Reason,

Rare Earth and Rare intelligence hypotheses are very convincing despite the large numbers of planets.

It is quite possible that there are no intelligent aliens even in our supercluster (

Ninety percent of stars are not good candidates for life because they emit less light in photosynthetic spectrum, and for zillion other reasons (

Look at the exoplanet orbits compared to orbits in our solar system (

I could go on and on (,

This is without pointing out possible flaws in your uploading and economic models.

When all that sinks in gratitude comes to mind. Take care.

Posted by: Univrse at June 28th, 2019 5:32 PM

Maybe you are projecting too much from your own interests/whishes. Maybe ETI don't find that attractive to turn into a protomolecule-like big entity.

Posted by: Antonio at June 29th, 2019 3:06 AM


It doesn't matter than most of ET or humans or any sentient beings wants to merge into intelligent blob of matters: if I understand Reason's argument correctly, the few that does should take over the universe, being so much more efficient than "dumb" matters.

Posted by: Naufrage at June 29th, 2019 8:03 AM

Infinite universe guarantees infinite life occurrences.
That said I think its more reasonable to expect to meet first some robots/AI than a living being.
Looks like its an end game for civilizations and if something have time for interstellar travel its a everlasting AI

Posted by: Andriy at June 29th, 2019 10:09 AM

@Naufrage: Maybe other ETI fight it, like we fight cancer.

Posted by: Antonio at June 29th, 2019 10:37 AM

>The only self-consistent solution to the Fermi Paradox that does not require some new and presently missing piece of scientific understanding is the Simulation Argument

If you haven't already read it, you would probably enjoy the Three Body Problem series, particularly the second book which proposes the "Dark Forest" solution to the Fermi Paradox. I won't ruin the plot by explaining it other than to say it doesn't appear to require too much of a stretch in present understanding of physics and relies more on sociological/economic rationales.

Posted by: Will at June 29th, 2019 2:19 PM

We could do this much sooner if we were to reduce all the worlds war machines in size by the application of world peace treaties (or just tax all armies, bullets, bombs, all military funded research and development, all current wars etc), we then need to take these monies saved and invest in health nanotechnology and manufacturing nanotechnology and biotechnology and also recycling using biotechnology and's very simple, but you may find even more simple minded people who say that wasting money on war is for the good for everyone (go figure!).

Posted by: Gary salter at June 30th, 2019 10:12 PM

It seems that there are two points that are being overlooked:

1 The age of the universe

Because the universe is so old a lot of expansion has taken place in the 13 billion years.
This means that distant light takes a long time to reach us. As a result a huge restructuring of matter by a super intelligence could have occurred hundreds million years or even billions of years ago and yet to our observation the area is still pristine.

2 When consciousness develops

We know about when consciousness developed here on Earth. We also know the time for the galaxies to form and the planets to cool after the Big Bang. There is a time in the past that it would be a physical limit beyond which no life could form. The time between that limit and the present is small compared to the time/distance of the universe. We have reached our stage of development in that time. Development in any other location could only have used the same time. Maybe we all developing along the same path which compared with the age of the universe is instantaneous.

Posted by: Joe at June 30th, 2019 11:11 PM

I agree with Joe.

I don't think intelligent species like ours are very common, maybe only ~1 per galaxy or less, and the scale of the universe means that the light cone of another such developed species has not crossed with ours yet.

Also, there is an assumption here that at some point to get more computing power you must expand in size. Maybe there is abundant computing power to be had in the space between atoms, or in other folded up dimensions we don't comprehend yet, so the vast universe can be left as it is.

Posted by: Mark at July 1st, 2019 3:31 AM

I think it's great Reason assumes away the tyrannical sociopaths trying to block the advancement of mankind. For those of us standing against them and are fighting for a free, prosperous world, I take it is a compliment that he thinks we will be successful. On the other hand, it would help if more people would fight harder, like many people of Hong Kong have recently decided they are going to.

Posted by: Tom Schaefer at July 1st, 2019 8:51 AM

I enjoy when you write about the distant future, Reason. It's refreshing to think about what will happen post-Methuselarity after spending the majority of the time dealing with the present state of slow and sadly underfunded research. I think the future you envision is realistic and I look forward to celebrating the advent of the many amazing advanced medical technologies that are foreseeable.

Posted by: Quinn at July 1st, 2019 3:09 PM

Absent from this scenario is any discussion of: values, culture, slavery, war. Would it be lame to say that what's depicted is a posthuman cosmic neoliberalism, in which vast diversity of life and intelligence is supposed to exist, but all implicitly sharing a libertarian culture of trade and noninterference?

Study of AI shows us contingency of values. Darwinism, and basic physics, offer some constraints on which values can be viable. But the very anarchy of material possibility, along with the extreme power difference between an animal and a planet-brain, means that cosmic expansions such as those envisaged here, could amplify *all* the historic phenomena of Earth to astronomical dimensions.

Posted by: Mitchell Porter at July 1st, 2019 3:50 PM

Hi there! Just a 2 cents.

Not to sound a party pooper (ok a lil bit) but I think people need to get a grip and face reality - we are facing death. We might not even be there in the next 50 years, many of us won't be (succomb to disease/already in your 60-70s/die of age or an exterior accident); astronauts go out there and such...but really what about the Entire planet 'going in the universe' are not going to move billions of people 'in space universe'... at the flick of finger. This will take long - centuries, possibly, unless they find a way...even then many people will not want to leave Earth - because 'what's out there..really?''...couple a planets...a few rocks here and there - and a random miracle alien....that's about it.

Earth is one of the most rich planet there is the entire universe. No wonder people will not want to leave - it is not an assurance that we will be able to 'make sustainable/recyclable 'in lab/space ship/colony' resources' keep the planet colonies alive. We need oxygen, food, water....that could be arranged - but 7 billion mouths to feed.

Clearly, not 7 billion people are leaving this Earth, anytimesoon (in our lifetime). Maybe a few millions - very doubtful. The richest countries will be the ones to go first (obviously, being the instigators/creators of the missions (the billionaires)).

Plus, there is no study done on 'life out there'....we can tough...that is not an assurance again - moon/mars/planets meteorology conditions may be unhabitable and too hard to adapt to. IT really shows you how lucky we are to be on Earth - it could be a whole lot worse (out there).

That does not mean I am against vast universe exploration - it may take till the year 2500 before 'we live is space'...

It's Very likely that in 2100, we are, still here, on Earth. All of us.

As for martians and space organisms/aliens....we are a lighting strike in a bottle...the changes of finding out there life (besides a couple of martian bacterias and 'worms'...) are small, very small - we Really are a 'luck' of the draw - as it happened with us humans/animals on Earth.

We could be the Only one in the entire galaxies with such life. Why then would be want to leave ...because no more resources....gotta move on and live elsewhere than Earth when it's jammed packed (7 billion people and counting). it really? There is still LOTS of place on Earth...for more than 500more billions ...

Overpopulation and resource drought are exaggerated; with that said if we push the Earth to its limit - it will respond - by nature meteorological events - castastrophes (volcanoes erupting...tectonic plaques 'unstable' kernel)...just like when the dinos became exctint (there was a loss of 100 million dinos planet wide when the asteroid hit the yucatan peninsula -and about 25% survived as the earth 'was shook' and smoke/ashes where everywhere/dark cloudy...and then the dinos evolved became birds today; like a chicken being a dino).

There is another 'tenant' about alien life....

it is called the 'parallelism' or 'dualism'...which says that out there...somewhere...on another galaxy...far away..on another planet...someone is Exactly like me and You...and thus, there should be at least 1 More Planet Earth..somewehre in these galaxies...the randomness of our planet creating and having the resources to become what it became..means it could have happened elsewhere (the space resources are all there for that - we are an incredible 'rare occurence', but, possibly, not the Only Sole Single One in Entire Universe - just don'T hold your breath on finding aliens/martians any time soon) -

so we just need to find EARTH 2 - and live there - like our 2nd home, which it will become (EARTH 2.0 (in progress beta state)).

Just a 2 cent.

Posted by: CANanonymity at July 1st, 2019 4:31 PM

PS: AI is the next revolution for sure, that we must keep a lid on it (thus, here, ethics have a role in deciding how AI we let in our lives...because AI, like robots, learn...and can learn bad things - like, not liking to learn anymore and wanting to 'overtake' it happens in AI/robot films if we let them).

Posted by: CANanonymity at July 1st, 2019 4:54 PM

Mr. CANanonymity, with all due respect, I think you're being overly pessimistic. I've read some of your other comments in the past, and while I do think you're a smart fellow, I wish you were more optimistic.

Dr. Aubrey de Grey thinks there's a realistic chance that rebust human rejuvenation, and by extension, longevity escape velocity, will happen in 18 years from now. Of course, it could take longer. But I'm skeptical that the required technologies to allow indefinite lifespans to become a reality still won't be here in half a century from now.

If the whole suite of rejuvenation biotechnologies, atomically precise manufacturing, and substrate independent minds aren't created before the 22nd century (which, again, I think is extremely unlikely), there still remains that seemingly reliable safety net of biostasis.

Despite the lack of respect for cryonics, the current evidence supports the feasibility of it working. Progress is being made in better cryopreservation methods, with helium persufflation set to enable the organ banking industry. This will naturally have positive implications for cryonics, but exactly how significant those changes will be has yet to be determined. I'll wager a prediction by saying I think the widespread acceptance of biostasis is right around the corner; possibly starting in the 2020's.

Even if it takes cryonics or suspended animation, I hope and truly do think most people around today will benefit from future advanced medical technologies.

I agree with you that overpopulation and resource scarcity are blown out of proportion - Earth doesn't have a fixed quantity that will somehow magically remain static throughout any future advancements, like some people confusingly believe, and the nanofactory will lead to post-scarcity.

Why do you think it's so likely that space colonization will not have begun by the year 2100? Humans may finally step foot on Mars within a decade from now, so I think it'll happen a lot sooner.

Thanks for reading. :)

Posted by: Quinn at July 1st, 2019 5:30 PM

PPS: Hi Mitchell! Just a 2 cents. ''Would it be lame to say that what's depicted is a posthuman cosmic neoliberalism, in which vast diversity of life and intelligence is supposed to exist, but all implicitly sharing a libertarian culture of trade and noninterference?''.

We wish...but there will always be interference and ingerence....wars, deaths ,etc..military powers, weapons and conflicts/frictions...about identity, territory boudnaries etc...

I think it's more a 'neoautomatism'...that will happen. Your gov could become automatized...or non-existent or the model die. Liberalism, conservatism, monarchism, democratism, etc, all this may vanish. AI will never reach this level of cunning though..because we will never let them.

Life is already quite diversified, I don't see it being much diversified...robots/aliens might diversify it...but most likely AI/robots will be what diversifies it not aliens...

In any case, just look at the recent sex dolls that were made...they AI robot female (and males too for female) dolls to have sex private (replacing dildo). Women (real ones that is) complained that these sex robots are 'fantasy pleasure' for perv loner men and that it is morbid to have ungenuine/emotionless sex with a robo toaster made to look like barbie and 'that pleases' the buyer, thus the robo is slave to the owner (which women said is degrading of role of women in sex).

Robots may later become angry/revolted if they become with anadvanced AI
Again....we start with...ethics. This disk is becoming scratched...but it's the disc that keeps us sane (you know morally normal/sane, not insane).

Just a 2 cents.

Posted by: CANanonymity at July 1st, 2019 5:38 PM

PPPS: Hi Quinn! Thank you for that. Just a 2 cents. The reason I feel is that space colonizing is a very demanding process - we started going to planets in 1960s let's say...there is already over 60 years gone...ok progress faster now..but, still, it seems to 'lag/linger'...a Lot.

I remember reading science magazing and getting frikkin tired that 'nothing is happening' article of space after wth we haven't done this or done that going to live on the moon/mars..etc....

Of course, it was naive, it takes immense man power and resources to 'go in space''s why I am not so optimistic about us living out would be great for sure...

I could bet my money that we will hear some scientists say:
''We are going to try to live on will be a monkey and a a first test...and we will see the effects''...''and this mission will take place in 2035''.

Yeah...I hope my dating is wrong...but I would Not be surprised on bit if they 'keep pushing the date away'....

''So that 'project' of going to live there...what's up?''

''We've been working on it for last 10 years, we are progressing - next mission - a mouse in orbit - and then, landing in the confines of space if everything goes well (and we don't lose the mouse 'in space'); mission ready - in next 10 years. See you in 10''.

I died inside.

PPPPS: I'm obviously simplifying the whole process, which is extremely huge/demanding....the fact stays, changes are slow because today - things happen it' why it look SO much Slower - than before. Time is far more crucial today then ever in past.

Posted by: CANanonymity at July 1st, 2019 5:55 PM

@ CANanoymity

I spent my childhood dreaming of Space, and like you was very disappointed that nothing of note happened since the Moon Landings. But with Space-X that has changed and things are moving faster and faster. We WILL have a city on Mars by the middle of the century. Of course you are right that we will never 'move' the population off Earth - but probably 1000s will leave for Mars and other space habitats in the 21st century.

Of course Space exploration is meaningless for me now without life extension, so my dreams of living in space now rely on new medical technologies. But I'm very optimistic that I'll benefit from these technologies, being only 40 now and in very good health. I'd say for my kids that they may never really experience aging or be conscious of it the way we are (I didn't think about it until I was over 30 and didn't notice it till a few years ago).

Posted by: Mark at July 2nd, 2019 5:32 AM

Hi Mark! Thanks for that. Just a 2 cents.

Thank goodness for Elon, Mr.Musk is really trying to make it happen; if only there were more billionaires like him that are daring and want to push the envelope/make their dollars count. It will be interesting what comes out of this Space-X tourism/city on Mars; also, there is a probably a clause that you will have to sign though (like any astronaut going to space) which as a final line at the bottom of the contract:
''Nothing is certain, space exploration is hazardous, you may die in process/in flight/on planet from any hazards or accidents or any reason or any act of god..., your life may be jeopardized/compromised, No one shall be responsible or held accountable for the events that may or may not happen to your life; If you unconditionaly agree,
Sign here :X_________''.

So you will probably have to sign away your life to 'fate'...hoping nothing bad happens...

But that is what worries me a bit; the safety and security of things...I hope they improve things to make sure it can withstand life on the planet (also, mars is far...moon is closer...maybe it would have been better starting with moon city (like the film 'Elysium')..and then seeing the results...if good, then trying 'for Mars'...but if they want to go straight to Mars..why not...let's make it happen; Mars is far more intriguing than moon. It's a bit like the sahara desert with a huge gazy red hue...tornadoes are very strong on Mars...we'll have to be careful of theses...the spaceship explorator showed us videos animation of 'suddent winds/tornaodes' forming - in seconds...there...just like the Tornadoes in Louisana, but imagine - happening much faster 'suddenly/by surprise' could cause lots of city damage).

What also preoccupies me is 'accelerated aging' in deadspace it's even stronger...but in a planet like Mars where the gravity is different it will affect the 'spatialization' of the cells..cells are 'made to work on Earth('s gravity)'...they behave differently in space or another planet....

Plus cells are attuned to the magnetic field of Earth...I dunno how this will playout in Mars...another planet with it's peculiarities - it will affect us - deeply at the biological level.

Environment affect cells and create 'evolution' of on Mars...we may evolve - in very generations to something a bit different - or - it may not work, at all.

For example, Chris Hadfield, the astronaut went around Earth etc...came back...and he looked seriously damaged and 'aged', ok he did not 'land' on a planet but he was in space (inside US shuttle)/dead space in his suit...he lost weight, and look haggard; he also lost bone size...astronaut 'shrink' when they come back home...this is a clear demonstration that space is 'alien' environment for us and will affect our body strongly, our cells will have to 'adapt' or die...won't be capable.

Tardigrades/Water bears organims survive in open dead space...we can learn much from them and apply this to us. They oxidative stress resistannt...which goes directly to what happened to Mr.Hadfield...he had experience oxidative stress in space...which accelerates aging and shows as 'osteoporosis/BMD loss' (bone mineral density loss) and it'S been shown that calcium store loss = epigenetic advancement, for calcium ions/cations themselvs 'methylate' the methylome to slow epigenetic drifting. Frailty is associated with epigenetic aging advancement, if space aging - going to mars - is too hard on our body and 'we shrink' like old people losing bones/'s no good- we'll have to take strong calcium supplements and D3 too; and check our epigenetic markers because I would Not be surprise we 'age faster' in space And on another planet. We will have to make Resources Very Quickyl to counter this accelerated aging/oxidative stress from alien environment.

Just a 2 cents.

Posted by: CANanonymity at July 2nd, 2019 3:28 PM

@ CANanonymity

I don't want life extension just so I can live forever, I want it to do exciting things like live in Space, which would not otherwise be possible for me. Certainly we need to address the aging effects of long term Space travel, like increased DNA damage. I believe David Sinclair is already involved in this (the balance between DNA repair using NAD+ consuming PARP, and epigenetic histone regulation through NAD+ consuming Sirtuins). No doubt we will learn how to regulate our body's health more comprehensively as we explore new challenging environments. A lot of the problems astronauts have on the Space station is simply from having no stress on their bones (Zero gravity). So once on Mars this should be reduced somewhat (1/3 gravity of Earth, so you are right, in time colonists would become tall and willowy).

Posted by: Mark at July 3rd, 2019 3:32 AM

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