Science versus ID: Message in the sky

A while ago I discussed the relevance of motive in determining whether or not something may have been designed. A good example of how this can be turned into a scientific concept is given in a paper submitted to Arxiv called “Message in the Sky”:

“It’s a crazy assumption that there’s a supreme being that wants to send us a message,” said Steve Hsu, an associate professor at the University of Oregon, admitting that believing in a message involves a leap of faith. “But, if you could create a universe in your laboratory, wouldn’t you want to leave a message inside?”

(Seed Magazine article)

Remarkably (or perhaps not) this ‘tongue in cheek’ paper has attracted Dembski’s attention. Remember that Dembski is still struggling with how an Intelligent Designer could inject information into our universe with zero energy:

Dembski wrote:

What’s more, the energy in quantum events is proportional to frequency or inversely proportional to wavelength. And since there is no upper limit to the wavelength of, for instance, electromagnetic radiation, there is no lower limit to the energy required to impart information. In the limit, a designer could therefore impart information into the universe without inputting any energy at all. Whether the designer works through quantum mechanical effects is not ultimately the issue here. Certainly quantum mechanics is much more hospitable to an information processing view of the universe than the older mechanical models. All that’s needed, however, is a universe whose constitution and dynamics are not reducible to deterministic natural laws. Such a universe will produce random events and thus have the possibility of producing events that exhibit specified complexity (i.e., events that stand out against the backdrop of randomness).

For those who are more familiar with information theory, it is clear that an infinite wavelength signal would have zero bandwidth. In other words, it will take infinite amount of time to even send one bit of information, showing once again that when philosophers venture into unfamiliar areas they may end up making some interesting mistakes.

Okay, back to the paper. In an almost tongue in cheek manner, the authors seem to mimic ID’s attempt to deny a supernatural designer. And what better way than refer to science fiction:

How would they send us a message? That the universe was started by superior Beings is not only the province of religious thoughts from the earliest days of the human race, but has also been a staple of science fiction. In one of our favorite scenarios, our universe is a school-assigned science experiment [1, 2] carried out by a high school student in a meta-universe. Perhaps he or she or it even started an assortment of universes like ant farms and stashed them away somewhere in the basement, out of his or her or its parent’s way. Perhaps by now he has lost interest and forgotten about the universes, leaving some to expand, others to collapse, in complete futility and silence. But, perhaps not without leaving a message for the occupants…

So what motivates the authors to explore this concept? Well:

If one of the present authors had gotten the universe going and if he had wanted to announce this fact, he would clearly want all the advanced civilizations, not just in our galaxy, but in the entire universe, to know.

Since ID insists that it cannot address motives, it thus remains scientifically vacuous. The authors also consider what the message would be and conclude,

The next question is what might the message be. We thought of various possibilities and decided that the best choice would be the following. We now know, and we suppose that any civilization advanced enough to detect Cl in the comic microwave background would also know, that three of the four fundamental interactions are governed by gauge theories, based on the Lie algebras (formula omitted) Thus, we suggest that the coded message would simply be an announcement along the line “Hey guys, the universe is governed by gauge theories, and the relevant algebras are such and such.”

As to other possible messages, the authors mention:

[5] For example, another suggestion might be the sequence of prime numbers, but this strikes us as not informative enough. (One may even conceive of civilizations for which the prime numbers may not hold as much fascination as for our own.)

Oh, the irony must have been totally lost on some…

But in the message Dembski sent us, another interesting acknowledgement is being made, namely:

All that’s needed, however, is a universe whose constitution and dynamics are not reducible to deterministic natural laws. Such a universe will produce random events and thus have the possibility of producing events that exhibit specified complexity (i.e., events that stand out against the backdrop of randomness).

Random events and the possibility of producing events that exhibit specified complexity… Wow, quite an admission and quite a problem for those who thus believe that the complement of regularity requires an intelligent designer to produce specified complexity.

PS: The authors are not the first one to think of the message opportunity:

You might take this all as a joke,” he said, “but perhaps it is not entirely absurd. It may be the explanation for why the world we live in is so weird. On the evidence, our universe was created not by a divine being, but by a physicist hacker.”

Linde’s theory gives scientific muscle to the notion of a universe created by an intelligent being. It might be congenial to Gnostics, who believe that the material world was fashioned not by a benevolent supreme being but by an evil demiurge. More orthodox believers, on the other hand, will seek refuge in the question, “But who created the physicist hacker?” Let’s hope it’s not hackers all the way up.

A followup paper title, “The real message in the sky”, exends the findings of Hsu et al.:

A recent paper by Hsu & Zee (physics/0510102) suggests that if a Creator wanted to leave a message for us, and she wanted it to be decipherable to all sentient beings, then she would place it on the most cosmic of all billboards, the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) sky. Here we point out that the spherical harmonic coefficients of the observed CMB anisotropies (or their squared amplitudes at each multipole) depend on the location of the observer, in both space and time. The amount of observer-independent information available in the CMB is a small fraction of the total that any observer can measure. Hence a lengthy message on the CMB sky is fundamentally no less observer-specific than a communication hidden in this morning’s tea-leaves. Nevertheless, the CMB sky does encode a wealth of information about the structure of the cosmos and possibly about the nature of physics at the highest energy levels. The Universe has left us a message all on its own.

As ID relevant research go, these papers should be an inspiration to any aspiring IDer.