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Original Essays | August 18, 2014

Ian Leslie: IMG Empathic Curiosity



Today, we wonder anxiously if digital media is changing our brains. But if there's any time in history when our mental operations changed... Continue »
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Original Essays | August 18, 2014

Ian Leslie: IMG Empathic Curiosity



Today, we wonder anxiously if digital media is changing our brains. But if there's any time in history when our mental operations changed... Continue »
  1. $18.89 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

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Tech Q&A

James Gardner

Describe your latest project.
The Intelligent Universe is the story of the probable future history of the universe. It is a vision of life's vast journey from the very first moment of the Big Bang — a moment pregnant with the possibility of the emergence of living matter — to the final cosmic consummation. That consummation, I believe, will be a moment when life and intelligence will dominate the universe as thoroughly as life currently dominates the terrestrial biosphere. In my view, the universe will end neither in fire nor in ice but rather in intelligent life. That is the essence of my vision.

What inspires you to sit down and write?
The universe itself is my muse. As Galileo famously remarked:

Philosophy is written in this grand book — I mean the universe — which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the characters in which it is written.

I have accepted Galileo's invitation to gaze into this grand book — I mean our cosmos — and tried to learn the language and the characters in which it is written. In the process, I have discovered something truly amazing — that this grand book is not only a tale of the dimmest past but also a story about distant tomorrows. Above all, it is a book that, carefully deciphered, foretells the incredible journey that intelligent life will make across the vast expanse of the cosmic future as well as the probable consummation of that voyage — the emergence of an intelligent universe.

What could be more inspiring than that?

What do you do for relaxation?
I don't really relax except when I am at our villa in the south of France. On those rare and precious occasions I spend day after day tasting exquisite wine and cheese, hiking through the Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range, strolling through Côtes du Rhone wine villages like Gigondas and Séguret, and whiling away the hours in wonderfully light conversations with our French and expatriate friends. No discussions of cosmology or philosophy.

What's your favorite blog right now?
I love KurzweilAI.net. It has an incredible collection of "Big Thinkers" and contains first-rate discussions of their ideas. A local favorite is www.urbanhonking.com/universe.

What was your favorite book as a kid?
I was really captivated by Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. In this book Clarke tells the story of a future time when all the children of the Earth are transformed into a collective mental being — a kind of incorporeal superorganism being prepared for assimilation into something Clarke called the Overmind. It is a poignant novel because it chronicles a final farewell to all that we hold dear as human beings, especially the dream of a human future embodied in our physical progeny. I wondered for years whether Clarke's vision was unduly pessimistic. And I finally concluded that it was. As I state in The Intelligent Universe, I now believe that it is probable that humanity and its progeny species are likely to persist side-by-side with whatever forms of living beings (natural, artificial, or hybrids of both) may emerge in the centuries and millennia ahead.

What new technology do you think may actually have the potential for making people's lives better?
Many emerging technologies have this potential. One in particular that I have focused on in my scientific writings is human germline genetic therapy. It offers the potential to "edit out" of the DNA of our progeny many genetically based predispositions to diseases like breast cancer.

What are some of the things you'd like your computer to do that it cannot do now?
I would like to be able to speak to my computer and have it not merely recognize and transcribe the words I am saying but actually understand my speech, at least in a rudimentary way.

Describe the best museum of science and/or industry you've ever visited and what made it great.
The Hayden Planetarium in New York City. What makes it so great is not merely the whiz-bang display technology but the fact that the institution hosts very serious astrophysicists doing cutting-edge research (like exo-planet hunting and modeling the Big Bang) and also provides an incredible series of public lectures by leading scientists and science writers.

By the end of your life, where do you think humankind will be in terms of new science and technological advancement?
I don't have a crystal ball, but I think we will be a lot closer to answering the deepest question in all of science, which is this: Why is the universe life-friendly? And if the answer turns out to be what I suspect it will be, then a radically new vision of a life-centered cosmos will emerge. If this new vision of nature turns out to be correct, then in the words of Paul Davies it will represent a shift in the scientific world-view as profound as that initiated by Copernicus and Darwin put together.

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