< Has Heaven Died and Gone to Physics? or The Gospel According to Frank

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Has Heaven Died and Gone to Physics? or The Gospel According to Frank

A Book Review of Frank J. Tipler's The Physics of Immortality

book review

We first encountered Frank J. Tipler, Professor of Physics at Tulane University and highly regarded cocreator of the anthropic principle in relativist cosmology, at a point in our investigation of the relationship between science and spirituality when we thought we had heard everything. But despite having waded through almost every conceivable variation on the science-meets-spirituality theme, we found ourselves completely unprepared for what awaited us between the covers of Dr. Tipler's recently published treatise, The Physics of Immortality, which opens with the following declaration:

"This book is a description of the Omega Point Theory, which is a testable physical theory for an omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent God who will one day in the far future resurrect every single one of us to live forever in an abode which is in all essentials the Judeo-Christian Heaven. Every single term in the theory . . . will be introduced as pure physics concepts. . . . I shall make no appeal, anywhere, to revelation. I shall appeal instead to the solid results of modern physical science. . . . I shall describe the physical mechanism of the universal resurrection. I shall show exactly how physics will permit the resurrection to eternal life of everyone who has ever lived, is living, and will live. I shall show exactly why this power to resurrect which modern physics allows will actually exist in the far future and why it will in fact be used. If any reader has lost a loved one, or is afraid of death, modern physics says: Be comforted, you and they shall live again."

If Tipler is right, The Physics of Immortality may one day in the distant future be regarded with such piety and reverence that the sacred texts of the modern world's most cherished religious traditions will seem like the relics of a prerational, superstitious and barely scientific era. If he is wrong, we can at least delight in his extraordinary imagination by daring to fully experience the profound implications of his frighteningly materialistic spirituality. Tipler, ever the unrepentant reductionist, tackles without hesitation what he considers to be mankind's three fundamental spiritual questions—"Does God exist?," "Do we as human beings have free will?," and most importantly, "Is there life after death?" According to Tipler, modern science has very good news for all of us: the answer to all three of these questions is probably "Yes."

It is not only Tipler's considered opinion that each of us will one day be resurrected; he claims to offer the closest thing possible to scientific proof that well before the end of the next century we shall have been able to transfer our entire minds, with the full sensuous enjoyment- and feeling-capacity of our biological inheritance, into self-replicating nanotechnological computers weighing no more than 100 grams each, in which form we will ultimately succeed (after several million million years) at colonizing the entire universe. At that stage the vastly expanded collective intelligence of this colonized universe, which Tipler calls the "Omega Consciousness," will have at its disposal the unimaginable energy of "gravity-shear," giving it the power to arrest the universe's eventual and otherwise unimpeded contraction towards the "big crunch." As a result of our inevitable intervention, he claims, time will finally be brought to a standstill, thereby creating a stable cosmic paradise of truly eternal finite life.

According to Tipler, this cosmology in no way conflicts with those of the world's great religious traditions, which he regards as mere prescientific intuitions of his own Omega Point theory; in fact, Tipler asserts, his theory represents the ultimate and literal fulfillment of their promise of eternal life. His certainty stems from the seldom-considered axiom that humanity's drive for survival must determine what the far future will look like if our species is to exist literally forever. The doctor (whose mastery of computer complexity theory far surpasses the Ph.D. level) expresses his ideas with a degree of confidence in science which is compelling and terrifying at the same time.

"We physicists," he declares unapologetically, "are by and large an extremely arrogant group of scholars. Our arrogance stems from the reductionist perception that ours is the ultimate science, and from our undoubted achievements over the past few centuries. What we promise, we generally deliver. Whatever one thinks of the social significance of the nuclear bomb, there is no doubt that it works. Solar eclipses occur exactly when we predict they will. As one who has spent his entire life as a physicist . . . I not surprisingly share this arrogance. In my previous publications on religion and physics I have attempted to conceal this arrogance (not very successfully). In this book, however, I have not bothered, mainly because such concealment in the past has prevented me from presenting the strongest case for reductionism. And reductionism is true. Furthermore, accepting reductionism allows one to integrate fully religion and science."

Our investigation into the relationship between science and spirituality began with the question of whether a scientific perspective could ever be truly compatible with the spiritual dimension of human life. The one possibility we had never considered was that scientific reductionism might itself turn out to be the very ground upon which our own spiritual destiny would have to unfold! Even more surprising was the fact that when we dared to seriously entertain Tipler's promise of immortality, we actually began to experience for ourselves the strange yet liberating certainty that we would never die. And once we knew beyond any doubt that we were immortal, it hardly seemed to matter that our experience of infinite personal cosmic existence might be confined to cyberspace:

"Let me illustrate the richness of experience available in the afterlife by analyzing 'elbow room.' It would be possible for the Omega Point to simulate an entire visible universe for the personal use of each and every resurrected human ('In my Father's house are many mansions . . .' [John 14:2,KJV].) The required computer capacity is not measurably greater than that required to simulate all possible visible universes
(1010123 x 101045 ² 1010123;
remember that all exponents add, so that
10123 + 1045 = 10123).
Each private visible universe could also be simulated to contain 1010 separate planet Earths, each a copy of the present Earth, or the Earth as it was at different times in the past. (There are about 1020 stars in the visible universe, so replacing a mere 1010 solar systems in a visible universe would be a minor modification.) This is more Earths than a single human could explore before exhausting his/her memory storage capacity of 1015 bits, to say nothing of the memories stored while visiting other humans in
their private universes."

Is Frank Tipler serious?

"I am quite serious. But I am as surprised as the reader. When I began my career as a cosmologist some twenty years ago, I was a convinced atheist. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I would be writing a book purporting to show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact true, that these claims are straightforward deductions of the laws of physics as we now understand them. I have been forced into these conclusions by the inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics. . . ."

As Dr. Tipler concludes, "Religion is now a part of science."


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