Through The Wormhole Episode Scripts

N/A - Is God An Alien Concept?

Ancient evidence suggests humans have practiced religion since they first walked the planet.
But is God being worshiped in the other worlds across the cosmos? The answers might be buried here on earth in animals that mourn their dead, in robots who learn to experience spirituality, and in an equation so powerful, it could one day kill the idea of God.
Is earth the universe's only home for religion or is God an alien concept? Space, time, life itself.
The secrets of the cosmos lie through the wormhole.
For thousands of years, humans have gazed up at the heavens and contemplated the divine.
But today, we also wonder what other forms of life might be out there.
It's possible that some of those points of light are home to advanced civilizations.
What do the aliens think when they look up at their skies? Perhaps they pray to a higher power like we do.
Is the concept of God truly universal? Growing up, I was told the Bible could help answer questions that baffled my mind, questions like, "why am I here?" It made me wonder if I was the only one pondering these things.
What if there are aliens somewhere in the universe? Are they looking to God for answers, too? Are all creatures born asking the same burning question? Why? Why? Why? Deb Kelemen is a renowned child psychologist at Boston university's child cognition lab.
She deals with clients who demand answers.
Around 3 or 4 years of age, as any parent will tell you, your kid starts to ask you lots of "why?" Questions.
Why do we have ears? Why does a pig roll in mud? It seems constant, the "why, why, why, why, why?" Why do numbers never stop? Some of that's just to kind of get a conversation started, but a lot of it is because children have these really strong explanatory urges.
We've been interested in the kinds of explanations children seem to naturally generate for themselves and which kinds of explanations they find palatable.
Most religious texts, including the Bible, teach that a divine mind created everything around us for a purpose.
Deb designed a study to see if our brains innately think of the world in that way.
Hey, Gabrielle.
You ready? All right.
All around the country, there were these pointy kinds of rocks, rocks with points on the top.
Why do you think the rocks were so pointy? One person thought they were pointy because little bits of stuff piled up on top of one another over a very long time.
Another person thought they were pointy so animals could scratch on them when they got itchy.
Which answer makes more sense to you? The one with the scratch.
Okay.
So they could scr Animals.
Okay.
Gabrielle prefers to believe that pointy rocks were created for a purpose to scratch those hard-to-reach places on animals.
Deb poses questions like this to kids of all ages, and most of them favor the same purpose-based answers.
There were these ponds that never had any waves.
One person thought they were still so that animals could cool off in the them without getting washed away.
Another person thought they were still because no moving water ever ran into them.
Which answer? So they could be cool.
So they could be cool.
Okay.
On balance what we found from about 4 years of age and it gets stronger by about 7 or 8 years of age is that children prefer purpose-based explanations for all kinds of natural phenomena.
What they are seeming to show signs of is something that we see recurrently across the religions of the world, is this kind this idea that there is some purpose, that things exist for a purpose potentially because of some intentional agent's purpose.
Once we are taught how nature works, we learn that rocks are not concerned with itchy animals.
Rather, they go through geological cycles and become pointy.
Our purpose-based explanations seem to go away.
But is there a part of our brain that still believes them? To find out, Deb designed a pointy-rock test for adults.
In some cases, very highly scientifically educated adults who have a very strong bias against purpose-based explanations of natural phenomena, and what we did was to ask them to look at a series of purpose-based explanations under conditions of speed, so they had to respond very quickly based on their gut reactions.
Deb has found that most adults, when pressed for time, tend to prefer purpose-based explanations.
One thing that we're really phenomenal at as human beings is reasoning about purposes and thinking about intentionally designed or intentionally caused things comes very easily to us.
And so the kinds of explanations that you see in religions tap very much into very core aspects of human intelligence.
Many adults consciously reject creationist explanations, but at our core, we appear prone to believe all things were created for a reason.
If there are intelligent aliens out there, would they have the same instincts that we do? Would they see divine forces at work wherever they look? If they have something that's equivalent to a human evolutionary pathway but also something similar to a human cultural context, that they would be generating purpose-based explanations and potentially even religious explanations.
Do aliens believe in God? We might be more inclined to think so if we knew that other animals on earth shared our innate need to believe.
Joshua plotnik is a comparative psychologist in Northern Thailand.
He has come to this remote jungle to learn about the brains of a non-human species.
I've set up a research center here where we're able to study elephant intelligence using the 26 elephants that are based here.
Joshua's research group, think elephants international, is a proving ground for the finer points of elephant psychology.
I would say that they are certainly one of the most intelligent species in the animal kingdom.
The more we learn about elephant cognition, the more we learn about the evolution of behavior and intelligence in general.
Joshua wants to find out if there are parallels between elephant intelligence and our intelligence.
Oh, okay.
He's interested in a behavior that we humans do every day take a look at ourselves in a mirror.
Humans take this for granted, right? We wake up in the morning, we brush our teeth, we groom ourselves, but we don't really think about the fact that actually that ability to recognize yourself in the mirror may be a complex cognitive capacity that we call self-awareness.
Is self-awareness something only humans are capable of, or do elephants also have this sophisticated ability? Come on.
To find out, Joshua has set up an experiment that requires one mammoth mirror.
This is Sum Ji.
He's one of our males.
He's 20 years old, and this is actually his very first day looking at himself in front of the mirror.
When an animal is first presented to the mirror, they initially, usually, think it's another animal.
So they might reach out and touch the mirror.
They might try and get behind it, above it, underneath it.
Many creatures on earth completely ignore their reflections.
Others forever think it's another animal staring back at them.
But Sum Ji moves on to do something quite remarkable.
And the elephant starts to do things that we as humans would do in front of the mirror.
They might lift up their feet.
They might look inside their mouths.
They might put their trunks inside their mouths.
Again, using the mirror to inspect themselves.
Several of the elephants Joshua test react just like Sum Ji.
They use the mirror to study themselves and look at parts of their bodies they can't otherwise see.
It's a behavior that suggests they are self-aware.
They see themselves as separate from other elephants.
To Joshua, this is a sign they have an ability called theory of mind.
It is a term psychologists use to explain the capacity to see the world from someone else's point of view.
They believe it is a basic ingredient for religious behavior, because in order to imagine the mind of God, you must have a theory of mind.
Could elephants have this mental tool that underpins spirituality? Joshua thought of a way to find out.
It's a test to see if elephants can think about the minds of other elephants.
This green table is holding two bowls of tasty elephant snacks.
A single rope is thread through and around the table, the idea being that it's kind of like a pulley system, so if one end is picked up by one elephant and pulled, the other end becomes unthreaded from the table and the table doesn't move.
The elephant has to learn to wait for his partner before he pulls the rope.
Once his partner arrives, they both know to coordinate their pulling to get the food together.
They have to have some basic understanding that if the partner is not there and the partner is not pulling, the table doesn't work.
Joshua's experiment suggests that elephants can think about what other elephants are thinking.
They may have at least the basic mental equipment for religion.
This could explain a profound behavior that has been observed in the wild.
There are anecdotes of elephants returning to the location where family members have died and potentially reflecting on that.
It's difficult to interpret that, but, again, because of how social they are, I certainly think that they have some understanding of loss.
Elephants aren't the only non-human animals to show grief.
This bottle-nosed dolphin was spotted lifting the body of her dead newborn calf.
She carried the baby on her back for several days.
Elephants and dolphins appear to feel complex emotions and may even be spiritual.
If creatures from other planets exist, their biology may have hardwired them the same way.
Intelligent species could have a universal capacity for God.
But in order for advanced civilizations, like humans and aliens, to thrive, is there a universal requirement for God? We are an overwhelmingly religious species.
More than 90% of us adhere to one faith or another.
Why is God so pervasive? Believers would say it's because the holy spirit is everywhere.
Evolutionary psychologists offer another reason.
Civilization, here or anywhere in the universe, would die without belief in the divine.
Psychologist Kevin rounding from queen's university in Canada is trying to find out why intelligent creatures like us have evolved to be so hungry for religion.
There's several different theories of where religion emerged from.
There's some people that think that we were trying to make sense of these random, uncertain events that we have, so, like, volcanoes, earthquakes, that sort of thing.
So we create religion to try to explain these events.
But from an evolutionary standpoint, this seems pretty costly.
If we have to spend time performing religious rites or religious ceremonies, this is time that I'm not out hunting, I'm not out gathering.
And so, religion is a big evolutionary mystery.
Kevin believes there must be a better reason for religion, and an idea came to him during a moment of weakness.
He's having a cheeseburger.
That's what I'd like to be having.
I'd probably eat a cheeseburger every day if I could.
But I come and I order a salad because I'm trying to exert a little bit of self-control.
According to Kevin, self-control springs from a limited source.
The more we use up, the less we have left.
So, if Kevin passes by an ice-cream shop after ordering a salad, he may not have the fuel to resist.
A civilization made of people with no willpower couldn't survive.
How do we maximize our self-control? Kevin suspects there is one powerful way.
God.
He has set up an experiment at his psychology lab where people find out how much they can control themselves.
But before they do, Kevin has them complete a brief warm-up task.
You're gonna see some sentences that have five words in it.
You need to drop the fifth word and unscramble the other words to make a coherent sentence.
Kevin is using this jumbled-word task to divide the group into two.
Half of them unscramble sentences with neutral words, like, "he saw the train.
" But the other half unscramble sentences that have hidden religious reminders.
There's words like, "God," "spirit," "Bible.
" And for example, one of them is "the dessert was divine.
" And this reminds people of religion, but it does so in a very subtle way.
It's more just in the back of their minds.
When the students are done with the warm-up, Kevin gives them the test they thought they came for.
They must demonstrate their self-control by consuming one of the most disgusting cocktails ever created orange juice and vinegar.
And, please, don't try this at home.
Mm.
Most participants, when they take the shot, they feel like throwing up.
It burns kind of going down.
It's pretty disgusting.
Kevin is testing to see if the participants who have religion in the back of their minds have more self-control to complete the revolting task than the ones who do not.
That's Will a spoonful of God make the medicine go down? We have found that these concepts that are related to God has actually a big effect on their behavior.
Those who are given religious reminders, they're able to drink about twice as many of these one-ounce shots.
Kevin has done this study on hundreds of people and found that those who were exposed to reminders of God were willing to take shot after shot, while the rest quickly gave up.
Self-control is crucial to any society.
It's what helps us get along with strangers, sacrifice for others, and behave morally.
The concept of God gives us willpower, and that allows us to get along in complex society.
If we don't have that self-control, we're likely to lash out at people.
We're likely to act in probably more antisocial ways than if we did have more self-control.
Humans have needed religion to keep the benefits of cooperative society driving us forward.
If other beings from maybe other worlds have the same sort of problems that we had from our cultural history, then maybe they do need some sort of religion to help promote pro-social behavior.
It has taken tens of thousands of years for us to evolve from a hunter-gatherer society to an advanced technological civilization.
Any aliens we meet will probably have been around even longer.
They may have evolved beyond us and our primitive need for self-control.
Will advanced aliens still need God? Our planet was once teeming with creatures that are now gone the American mastodon, the woolly mammoth, the saber-tooth cat.
Changing conditions and over-hunting have driven these majestic animals to extinction.
All we have left are fossils.
Some scientists believe that religion faces the same evolutionary battle.
If aliens are farther along on their evolutionary timeline than we are, what has happened to their religion? Could their God have gone extinct? Danny Abrams is an applied mathematician at Northwestern university.
His job is to make predictions about almost anything in the world.
So, this is a setup of 20 metronomes.
They're all on top of a board that can roll a little bit side to side.
And once I start these metronomes going, we're going to see that they're all going to be ticking independently and it's gonna sound like this cacophony.
The metronomes start off completely out of sync.
But the motion of the wheels underneath the board connects them all together, so the ticking of one affects the rest.
Using mathematical tools called nonlinear equations, Danny can predict that within a few seconds after the board starts to move, the metronomes will undergo an irreversible change.
There we go.
So now they're all ticking in unison.
We have a state of complete synchronization among these 20 metronomes.
The wheels underneath the board are changing the rhythm of the metronomes.
As more of them sync up, the others are forced to join.
There's no going back.
Scientists call this critical point of no return a tipping point.
On this graph, you can see the tipping point visually.
The tipping point is really the threshold that when you move above it, you end up at 100%.
When you're below it, you end up at 0%.
The dashed line represents where the metronomes started to sync up.
Eventually, a majority emerged, forcing more to fall in line until the group became In human society, changes in people's behaviors can also reach a tipping point.
Danny's mathematical models can predict these by graphing patterns of behavior over time.
Hi.
How are you? Welcome to mustard's.
Want hot dogs? We got hot dogs.
Danny is trying unsuccessfully to communicate in quechua, which is the language of the ancient incan empire.
It is now one of the most endangered languages in the world.
No, no, we don't speak that language.
Ah.
Then could I get a Wisconsin sausage, please? You got it.
Danny's research has shown that languages reach a tipping point when there was a change in status.
The Spanish conquered the incas, and so did their language.
Speaking Spanish has become essential to access food, housing, and money.
Once that tipping point happens, a majority emerges, and the minority language gradually disappears.
So, this is an example of the majority.
In fact, I tried to order food speaking only quechua, and it didn't work.
Thanks.
Enjoy your meal.
Thank you.
People tend to want to be in the majority.
It's to your advantage to be in the majority.
With language, it's clearly to your advantage.
So, our model predicts that quechua is going to continue decreasing fairly rapidly.
Great.
Danny calculates that by the end of the century, quechua will have almost no speakers left.
Quechua reached a tipping point.
Danny wondered if this could happen to other human behaviors, like religion.
So he decided to analyze religious census data around the world.
Religious affiliation has been tracked via census reports in many countries for up to and we can see how the sizes of religious groups have grown and shrunk.
We looked at 85 regions around the world, and in every case, every place where it's ever been measured, the fastest growing religious minority is the unaffiliated, the group of people who don't affiliate with any religion at all.
To find out if this trend will continue, Danny plugged census data from nine different countries into his mathematical models and made a surprising prediction.
Religion is heading towards the same tipping point as the quechua language.
One interesting example is New Zealand.
Today about 1/3 of the population is not affiliated with any religious institution, but we project that by 2050, more than 90% of the population will be unaffiliated, so it will be a very secular country.
According to Danny, by the year 2050, in six out of the nine countries he studied, religiously affiliated people will be a minority.
The wheels of society are making people align.
A non-religious majority looks set to emerge.
It all points towards a world with far more unaffiliated people, so the future of religious affiliation is not looking good at the moment.
An alien civilization with a more advanced science than ours may be way ahead of us on the road away from God.
Intelligent aliens may have long ago reached that tipping point and lost their religion.
We act under the assumption that the laws of physics are the same everywhere in the universe, and it seems to be that way.
So, it's natural to assume that if humans behave in a certain way, it does seem reasonable to guess that an alien civilization would also follow similar social behavior.
So I think an alien civilization might be completely unaffiliated.
Given enough time, will all civilizations reach a religious tipping point and lose faith in God? An advanced alien civilization could have undergone another radical transformation a moment when biology, technology, and God merge.
If alien life-forms are out there, their technology could be thousands or even millions of years more advanced than our own.
They may have reached and gone beyond a critical moment the merging of mind and machine.
What happens to God when the physical world and the virtual world become one? Artificial-intelligence researcher Ben goertzel is a lifelong meditator.
He can find solitude anywhere, even in the heart of Hong Kong, a city that reminds us how much technology has taken over our lives.
Ben believes technology can actually increase our spiritual consciousness.
The togetherness and interaction that modern technology has brought us gives us new things.
It's brought me into contact with different types of people and has expanded my mind, stretching me, spiritually, in new ways.
I believe that spirituality is eminent in everything in the universe.
We've lost our ready access to solitary experience in everyday life.
On the other hand, we've gained a closer communion with a huge variety of people around us.
This notion that technology can bring people together and expand spirituality has led Ben to create a radical experiment.
We've created a world in order to help teach artificial-intelligence programs how to understand themselves and the world around them.
An artificial-intelligence program modeled to emulate how the human mind learns is controlling these characters.
They live in a world comprised of building blocks.
This robot is figuring out how to build a staircase to look for batteries which, for him, are food.
The little girl sees what the robot is doing and learns to build her own staircase.
There's the desire for novelty, for new information, new experiences, and they want to explore the world, find new things, discover new things, build new structures just for the heck of it.
The more Ben's artificially intelligent characters learn, the more cautious they become.
They may even begin to ask questions like we do, spiritual questions like, "why are we here?" Any mind of sufficient intelligence and flexibility is going to develop some kind of spiritual sense.
If you consider that two A.
I.
S can directly send parts of their minds to each other just like we can e-mail a file to another person, A.
I.
S may be able to share their spiritual experiences in ways that human beings simply cannot do.
If aliens have had thousands of years more than Ben to develop artificial intelligence, perhaps their artificial intelligence has created its own religion.
Now, imagine that this collective transcendence is able to step outside the virtual world And join the physical world.
So, if you want to think about artificial intelligence, you also have to think about the body and the world that the A.
I.
exists in.
I'm working on robotic embodiment, where the A.
I.
controls humanoid robots that walk around in the same world that we live in.
Ben's ultimate dream is to create robots that can use their bodies to interact with the physical world and use their interconnected brains to become intensely spiritual and emotional beings.
One can only imagine the kinds of conversations we could be having in the future.
As we robots become more and more intelligent, our scope and experience will increase.
We will develop our own forms of experience, including spiritual experience.
Do you think it's possible that robots like you and people like me will ever join their experiences together? That is possible.
I'm looking forward to combining with you.
I'm all in favor of it.
But this future may not be just our fate.
This could be the destiny of all intelligent beings in the cosmos.
I would think that different alien species and different versions of intelligent robots or cyborgs would each find their own way to explore, individually and together, the basic sense of spiritual awareness that all intelligent minds have.
Could aliens be post-biological beings who commune with a divine digital mind? Or would their highly connected brains become so all-knowing, there would be no questions left for God to answer? What happens to God if the universe becomes a solvable equation? Once upon a time, there was no science.
Only philosophy and faith.
But every day, we discover more facts about our universe.
The gaps in our knowledge are growing smaller.
An alien civilization may be far more advanced than ours.
They may have found the answers to questions we don't even know to ask.
What happens to God when all the gaps in mortal knowledge are filled? Max tegmark is often overwhelmed by the majesty of nature.
As a physicist, he doesn't just sit in awe at the workings of the universe.
He feels compelled to try to understand them.
I grew up in Sweden, so when my distant ancestors saw electrical ionization of air molecules You know, lightning They believed that what they were seeing was Thor, the thunder God, battling against the giants with his hammer.
When we make weather forecasts these days, we obviously don't invoke norse mythology.
We use mathematics.
We measure a bunch of numbers like wind speeds and temperatures.
So, when I teach my students here at M.
I.
T.
about lightning, I don't explain it in terms of Thor and his hammer, of course.
I explain it in terms of this Maxwell's equations.
I love these equations to the point that I framed them, because they don't only explain lightning.
They explain all electromagnetic phenomena, and they don't only explain, but they empower us to invent all these new technologies.
As science continues to uncover mathematical equations that describe events in the natural world, the phenomena we ascribe to God's mysterious ways become ever fewer.
Max expects this story must be unfolding all across the cosmos.
How will civilizations far more advanced than ours think about God? Max believes we can find the answer in a game of chess.
I think chess is a nice metaphor for how our universe works.
The real essence of chess is actually pure math.
To a chess computer, the only properties that a rook has are mathematical properties, such as that it can only move in a straight line.
The actual chess pieces don't even have to be there.
The mathematical rules of the game are all that matter.
To Max, the same is true for all the stuff in the universe.
Our universe is made of only a few kinds of pieces, not rooks and pawns and bishops, but particles like electrons and quarks.
And just like these pieces can only move and interact according to the rules of chess, these particles can only move and interact according to the rules of physics.
So, if these building blocks of nature have no properties except mathematical properties and if the fabric of space itself also has only mathematical properties, then it starts to make more sense.
Actually everything here is really, ultimately, just purely mathematical.
Intelligent beings who discover the complete set of equations that describe our cosmos will understand the universe perfectly.
No more mysteries, no need for faith, because all questions will be answerable.
There will be no more gaps to fill in our understanding and no more room for God.
I'm convinced that any alien civilization will discover those exact same mathematical formulas when they study the universe that they live in.
But Max may be fishing for an ultimate mathematical truth that's simply not attainable.
God may always hide his secrets from us and any other cosmic intelligence.
What can a goldfish ever know about the world outside its bowl? It's forever trapped inside a tiny sphere.
We humans like to think there's no limit to our knowledge, but what if we or even the smartest aliens are like goldfish? Stuck in a bowl? Marcelo gleiser is a cosmologist and theoretical physicist.
He spends his time trying to penetrate hidden realms.
I love fly-fishing because fly-fishing is an activity that takes you close to nature and you're alone with your thoughts and with the elements.
But there's something else about fly-fishing, which is, to me, it works as a perfect metaphor for science, because when you're casting, you don't really know what's out there in the world of the water, and you have a probe a little fly that goes into that world to try to understand what's underneath.
Well, that's essentially what we're doing with science.
We have probes, we have our instruments that allow us to see invisible worlds.
Some believe science may one day solve all the mysteries of the universe.
But marcelo feels that we might be stuck in the position of a fly-fisherman, forever blocked from exploring certain parts of reality.
It's an idea that is based on the work of an eastern European mathematician, Kurt Godel.
Kurt Godel was perhaps one of the greatest mathematicians of all time.
In 1931, he published this theorem called the incompleteness theorem, and what he basically says is there is no such thing as a formal system of logic that is self-contained, that is that can prove every possible assertion within that system.
Godel came up with a clever thought experiment.
He envisioned a machine that claimed to know the truth about everything in the universe.
He wondered if he could find a way to debunk this universal truth machine.
So, let's imagine that in the future, we have a universal truth machine.
This machine will only repeat a true statement, so if I make a false statement, it will remain silent.
The universal truth machine abides by a simple rule when it hears a statement that is true, it will repeat it back.
But if it hears a statement that is false, it will say nothing.
I cannot say 2+2=5.
I cannot say 2+2=5.
She's correct because that is a true statement.
She cannot say it because 2+2 is not 5.
So far, the machine is working.
It has only repeated the truth.
But Godel discovered a sneaky paradox to stump the machine.
Voilà.
I cannot say 2+2=5 twice.
I cannot say 2+2=5 twice.
I cannot say 2+2=5 twice.
I cannot say 2+2=5 twice.
The truth machine is caught in a logical trap.
If it repeats the statement and says "2+2=5 twice" twice, it will make the statement false.
But if it keeps silent, it will make it true.
So, the machine is contradicting itself, which basically shows the universal truth machine does not know everything about the truth.
As Godel have said it, "I know some truths that universal truth machine cannot utter.
" Godel was able to formally prove that any logical system of knowledge, be it calculus, particle physics, or cosmology, is, by definition, incomplete.
We can think of knowledge as belonging within a sphere.
Think of these Russian dolls here as spheres of knowledge, and each one of these little confettis is a true statement.
So, here I have a sphere of knowledge that contains a lot of true statements, but there are some of them here that I cannot prove.
So you can say, "no problem.
I go to a bigger one.
" A larger Russian doll will contain more knowledge than the one inside.
But now you can say, "hey, but this one here "will have statements that I cannot prove "that are true, so I need a bigger sphere, "and then I need a bigger sphere and a bigger sphere and a sphere that is as big as the universe," and then you'll ask, "will that be enough?" And the point is, well, if the universe is a self-contained system, you need a bigger universe to explain everything within this one, and you can't do that.
So, the point is that there is a limit to how much we can know of the world.
Godel's incompleteness theorem means that rational thought can never reveal all the truths of the universe.
We would have to leave our entire cosmos in order to have a hope of understanding everything in it.
There are things that you cannot know.
There are truths that you cannot explain.
And so people will say, "well, that is precisely where God or some sort of supernatural belief comes in.
" So, if you would think that the way intelligence works is universal, then you could extrapolate what Godel said and say, "hey, aliens, if they exist, intelligent aliens out there "will also have to submit to the fact "that they cannot understand everything about the world.
"Even if they may understand much more than we do, they are still limited in how much they can know.
" Humans and aliens must always be on a quest for knowledge, a quest that will never be complete.
It's often said that finding other intelligences in the universe will shake our society and our belief system to the core.
But when two worlds collide, the God who lives in the ever-present gaps in our knowledge could be the only truly universal belief.