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Sentience of the Universe

by David Sims

THE QUESTION was asked: “Is there a belief that revolves around the idea that life will continue to evolve until the entire universe is a sentient being?”

Yes. It’s called Cosmotheism, whose most famous proponent, as far as I know, was Dr. William L. Pierce, who is chiefly known for his racial and political views.

But the idea isn’t that living things will get bigger and bigger. Rather, the Cosmotheist principle is that matter forms into more complex systems as time goes by, and, with regard to living things, that implies a progression:

From inanimate matter comes molecules that can copy themselves, by attaching atoms from their environment.

From these molecular replicators come cooperative systems of molecular replicators, and now the whole system cooperates in copying itself.

From such systems come the first true single-celled organisms.

Single-celled organisms begin to cooperate in symbiosis, or in symbiotic colonies, forming the first multi-cellular organisms.

Multicellular organisms spread themselves around, competing with each other for resources, and diversifying as they adapt to different environments. Out of the competition come the species, genera, and phyla of all life on a planet.

The competition continues, eventually on land as well as in the sea. Specialized adaptation has already been a factor in evolution, and new specializations continually occur.

Eventually, one of the specializations is intelligence — which first appears when an organism is able to take consciousness of itself. This is the first moment when a creature is able to choose its behavior instead of reacting to external conditions in strict accordance with genetic programming.

Provided that they don’t choose to do something really stupid and become extinct, the self-aware species gradually evolves. It diversifies into races, which compete with each other.

Intelligence isn’t without costs. A species that depends on it has advantages, provided that there is time for their greater mental abilities to be put to use. In an emergency, where there is no time to think things over, animals that lack a sapient level of consciousness usually do better than intelligent beings do.

But, when there is time to think, intelligence has proved to be a decisive advantage in the competition for resources. Most of the time.

Humanity isn’t the end of the evolution of consciousness. In fact, not all humans are fully sapient. Our species straddles the sapience line, with some above and some below. And the highest of us are, just barely, able to see above the evolutionary struggles, to look down the road to see what glories might be ahead, provided that we do our parts correctly.

But we can still go extinct if we make a blunder.

If that happens, then Nature may, at some other place, in some other time, enable another species to do what we failed to do. And the glory will be theirs.

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