Review: The Romance of Reality, by Bobby Azarian
You are not a cosmic accident. You are a cosmic imperative.
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I have been reading a review copy of “The Romance of Reality: How the Universe Organizes Itself to Create Life, Consciousness, and Cosmic Complexity” by Bobby Azarian, to be published on June 28.
I love this book. If you are interested in the same things I’m interested in, buy this book now. Azarian’s ideas on life and the universe, mind and free will, thermodynamics and emergence, are close to mine (see my recent posts “The universe is striving toward a goal” and “My current take on emergence and causation”).
Azarian argues that a strive toward complexity, life, and consciousness is built into the fabric of reality and its physical laws. This doesn’t contradict thermodynamics. On the contrary, adaptive complexity (e.g. life) is needed to produce entropy as fast as possible. But Azarian reverses the story: “we should no longer think of the universe as trying to produce entropy at the fastest rate possible; the universe is self-organizing at the fastest rate possible,” and the increase in entropy is a byproduct.
Azarian proposes “a unifying theory of reality that appears to be profoundly Darwinian and profoundly teleological at the same time.” Darwinian teleology pulls the universe upwards. Information has causal power over matter and energy. We are free agents with real free will.
Azarian frequently reminds readers that his worldview is natural and physical rather than mystical and supernatural. In a key passage, Azarian criticizes the idea that life could be based on nonphysical laws:
“If there are such nonphysical laws in existence, upon recognizing such laws, they would just get naturalized and added to the list of phenomena we consider real and ‘physical’… So rather than classifying these emergent ‘laws of life’ as nonphysical, it is more appropriate to describe them as new laws of physics, as Schrödinger suggested.”
(Note: Life, said Erwin Schrödinger in “What Is Life?” (1944), “while not eluding the ‘laws of physics’ as established up to date, is likely to involve ‘other laws of physics’ hitherto unknown, which, however, once they have been revealed, will form just as integral a part of this science as the former.”)
I agree, but with the caveat that these “other laws of physics” could be seriously different from the physics we know, so different that perhaps calling them nonphysical is not misleading.
I think understanding these “other laws of physics” will require an entirely new framework where strong emergence and downward (backward, downward, top-down, teleological) causation play a central role.
“As for downward causation being a new ‘force,’ I’m not sure we have to say more than that it is ‘the causal power of information,’” Azarian told me. “This is something ontologically new from the reductionist perspective, but does not seem to go beyond science.”
Now and then Azarian hints at the idea of “a great cosmic mind at the end of time.” To me, this is the logical end point of what he says. But, he told me, the cosmic mind wouldn’t be “any different in nature than a human mind but vastly more powerful.” Again I agree, but with the caveat that the cosmic mind could be seriously more powerful than ours, so much more that perhaps calling the cosmic mind God is not misleading.
Theology aside, “the entire universe is evolving… growing increasingly intelligent.” This is happening through intelligent life like us. One of the most inspiring lines in “The Romance of Reality” reads:
“You are not a cosmic accident. You are a cosmic imperative.”
What we do matters. And what is it that we must do?
Azarian gives a clear answer: we must align with the cosmic flow toward more and more life and consciousness, in particular by expanding beyond the Earth to the stars and making more and more of the universe alive and thinking.
“As sentient life inevitably emerges, evolves, and expands outward into space, populating planets and saturating inanimate matter with information and intelligence, the cosmos gradually begins to wake up... Promoting an awareness of our emergent cosmic purpose will facilitate exponential technological and social progress that can allow life to continually progress and the biosphere to extend itself, out into the cosmos.”
I couldn’t agree more.