Tipler is a mathematical physicist and former agnostic, who while attempting to debunk the notion of a resurrection, inadvertently convinced himself that life after death was not only possible, but inevitable. His methodology was similar to a process mathematicians have, for centuries, used to disprove a false premise: First accept it as true and then show how such acceptance leads to a logical inconsistency. In this manner, Tipler considered ways the resurrection might occur, looking to prove its impossibility. Along the way, he developed a theory that he subsequently called the Omega Point, which he claims is a logical proof of life after death. How is the resurrection to occur? Essentially, we’re brought to life as part of a computer simulation that is so accurate that all possible quantum states for all human beings—including everyone’s DNA—is part of the code. Tipler shows how this could happen by “proving” that:
- At some point in the future there will be sufficient computing power to accomplish the task
- Until such time, all information about the universe will be preserved
- The preserved information will be used in a virtual reality emulation of infinite experiential time that will simulate the universe and all the intelligent creatures that have lived in it
- All of this must occur to avoid breaking known physical laws.
To me, the thesis is intriguing, but it doesn’t make me any less uncertain of immortality than I was before reading the book. Specifically, I have two problems with it. First, I don’t understand the logical leap Tipler makes by showing how the resurrection is possible then asserting it’s inevitable. After reading a few peer reviews, I can happily say I’m not alone in this regard. The theory includes what Tipler calls an Omega Point Boundary Condition that results in the inevitability of the resurrection, but other physicists have not found the idea compelling. Second, the theory assumes that any emulation that precisely models the DNA of individuals will essentially create (or recreate) the humans emulated. In other words, there is no perceived difference between reality and a perfectly accurate simulation. As a consequence, Tipler claims there is no such thing as a soul—that DNA determines everything about a person that experience does not, including sentience and self-awareness.
While I’m open to the possibility of the non-existence of the soul, I’m disturbed by the idea that DNA describes everything about us. It seems to me that while DNA puts constraints around our development, growth is representative of a chaotic system that leaves considerable variability, even if the genetic code is identical. One need only observe identical twins to find proof of that notion. While they share the same DNA and may resemble each other, they can exhibit a range of physical and behavioral differences. The same can be said of a cloned pet that may have different mannerisms—even coloration—than the Fifi who provided its genetic material.
The study of such chaotic systems (sometimes referred to as chaos theory, which is a misnomer since it hasn’t resulted in a practical or workable theory) is the study of systems that are bounded but unpredictable since they are not subject to any physical laws we understand. These systems include, for example, weather and turbulence. To illustrate their unusual qualities, let me mention that the great physicist, Werner Heisenberg, once said he had two questions for God. They were:
- Why is general relativity so weird?
- And how do you explain turbulence?
Heisenberg claimed he was certain God would know the answer to the first question, but not so the second. This is from the man who, as author of much of quantum mechanics—including the Uncertainty Principal that bears his name—was arguably as familiar with bizarre physical systems as anyone. To him, however, turbulence went beyond weird into the realm of inexplicable. It’s not a deterministic system. In other words, try to predict the movement of a grain of sand moving through a water pipe, and it quickly becomes apparent that there are no discernible physical laws guiding it. Such is the case no matter how precisely one models the imperfections in the pipe, the weight and dimensions of the grain of sand, the flow and pressure of the water, and all other possible variables.
Weather, too—which has been modeled with as much precision as is humanly possible—is another chaotic system. Climate simulations that measure the precise interactions of thousands of variables, including geothermal, solar, air current, tidal and others, have done little to accurately forecast weather more than two to three days into the future. In fact, time and time again, such simulations have predicted that the earth will freeze over and remain in that condition. Why? In the course of its normal range of climate variability, the earth will eventually receive an unusually high amount of snowfall, which will deflect the sun’s rays and lead to a cycle of even greater precipitation and falling temperatures. Yet, experience teaches us that there are moderating influences directing changes in climate that we don’t understand.
The same lack of predictability is true of growth. After inception, the subsequent division of the fertilized cell first resulting in a zygote, then an embryo, then a baby, is a chaotic process that is subject to great variability. This variability can’t be understood by referencing known physical laws—including DNA replication or even the probabilities associated with quantum fluctuations. Like weather, growth can’t be simulated in a computer, no matter how sophisticated the program. That’s just my opinion.
I suppose in the end, Tipler’s book contributes to a debate that the writings of Plato and Aristotle first introduced. Do we have souls independent of our bodies as Plato claimed? Or are our souls simply the actuality of our bodies as is the opinion of Aristotle? These are perhaps more examples of questions that can only be answered on an individual level through a leap of faith. Like I said earlier, Tipler’s book is intriguing, but it doesn’t reduce the uncertainty of life after death. Maybe uncertainty was always meant to be.