The following article is part of a six-part Transhumanity.net series, comprising a single, previously unpublished paper delivered at the 2010 Humanity+ UK conference in London. The presentation was originally titled “Shock Level Five: Augmented Perception, Perceptuo-Centrism, and Reality”.
If the preceding characterization of the universe offends one’s intuition, then we might consider an equivalent gestalt or metaverse which simultaneously manifests all possible values for all possible variables, and which has our observable universe (with its specific values for observed variables) embedded within it. The difference between this metaverse scenario and the idea of multiple universes is that we have no need to assume that there could be no communication between the observable universe and the “outside” metaverse. We do, however, need to consider the question of whether the only threshold between these two zones of existence would be perceptual, or if there might be some more fundamental form of boundary.
One might reasonably object that the difference between universe and metaverse could not be merely perceptual, because if things in the metaverse were “real” in any valuable sense, then we should be able to interact or engage with them despite not being able to perceive them. What evidence do we have of such invisible phenomena? Of course, these are exactly the kind of thing discussed in the previous section, such as patterns only observable in the ultraviolet spectrum (by butterflies or humans with special equipment) or astronomical phenomena explicated by false-colour imaging.
Moreover, some conditions within the observed universe are not vital to our existence (e.g. the structure of snowflakes), while other, normally imperceptible conditions may be critical to the development of life (e.g. dark matter). The picture beginning to emerge here is that of three qualitatively different zones of existence: (1) The observable universe, (2) a “deep” metaverse of (potentially all) physical values incompatible with our human existence, and (3) a “penumbra” composed of phenomena physically compatible with our existence, yet imperceptible under normal circumstances.
The universe/metaverse model described above is what physicists would refer to as a phase space (Gibbs, 1901), because we are envisaging a hypothetical “space” (the metaverse) in which all possible states of a system are simultaneously represented. A phase space depicted as a graph usually describes a system with two or three dimensions, whereas our metaverse would be better called multi- or n-dimensional. Within this n-dimensional phase space, then, human beings would only exist within a subset of those points where their existence is physically possible. Our observable universe would be a second, nested subset of “conditions we are capable of perceiving”.
“Travelling” from the observable universe into the penumbra would simply be a matter of adjusting one’s perceptual capabilities until specific imperceptible phenomena may be perceived. As discussed in the previous section, humans have taken the first tentative forays in this direction over the last century or so. Travelling further into the deep metaverse may not be possible (even if such a thing as a metaverse exists), since to do so would require us in some sense to leave behind the space defined by physical phenomena supportive of human existence, to see if there exist real physical phenomena supportive of other forms of life.
To a transhumanist (albeit a radical one), such a transition is not necessarily impossible. “Leaving the space defined by physical phenomena supportive of human existence” does not mean dying, but transforming oneself into a form of life other than human by technological means. Hans Moravec (1999) has speculated about ways in which such a transition might take place, describing a process of transferring minds into bodies capable of existing in universes with (for example) speeds of light slightly different to our own.
On that speculative note, let us conclude the arguments in this section. The interpretation of the anthropic principle described above suggests that we find ourselves in a reality with particular characteristics because they are the characteristics we are equipped to perceive. Hypothetical differently equipped beings would, by this account, be expected to perceive the universe as having different characteristics. Therefore, we should not consider this to be a solely human-centric or “anthropic bias” (as suggested by Nick Bostrom), but rather more broadly as a perceptuo-centric bias. If we consider the observations underlying the anthropic principle to be caused by perceptuo-centric bias, we may refer to this interpretation of the principle as perceptuo-centrism.
Perceptually augmented trans- or posthumans would be in a position to take advantage of aspects of reality beyond those readily apparent to unmodified humans. Examples of posthuman perceptual abilities might run from the mundane (e.g. night vision, hearing radio signals or unencrypted digital communications) to the relatively radical (e.g. combining online information, pattern recognition systems and augmented reality, in order to see clouds of biographical data following people around, among other applications). A perceptuo-centrist interpretation of the anthropic principle, however, suggests that such abilities may represent the mundane end of a much more exotic set of possibilities. Perceptually augmented posthumans may indeed find that some of the apparently immutable aspects of the universe are in fact merely markers of the perimeter of human perceptual capability.
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