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Imagine that technology
continues to advance
into the future
. Past genetic engineering
, past molecular nanotechnology
, past artificial intelligence
, past everything we can imagine
. Then it goes further and further. Can it continue to do so indefinitely
Surely you'd think that such a thing was impossible, right? We've got the laws of physics staring us in the face, and surely those laws are inviolable (not counting changes due to new theories replacing existing ones). At some point, we have to reach a limit, where we know everything that can be known, and can create everything that can be created, right?
I'm sure that most people, if you ask them to really think about it, would agree. There has to be a limitation on what can be accomplished, somewhere. Just because we can't actually place one somewhere doesn't mean there isn't one.
Not everyone agrees. Paul Hughes has proposed the idea that the opposite is true. That there are no fundamental limits on what sufficiently advanced intelligent life can do. He has dubbed it the Sans-Ceiling Hypothesis.
When you think about it, this is a pretty darn big concept. That no matter what, humanity - or any other form of life, for that matter - is not fundamentally constrained by any physical law. This carries impications on various levels. For example, that nanotechnology is not the limit, but that we can move into picotechnology - technology operating on the scale of quarks. It also suggests something with a much greater impact - that we can advance beyond the universe we inhabit, and reach to the point that we could create our own custom universes.
Wait a minute! you may say. There are things such as the Bremermann Limit which seem to imply that there are fixed limits that cannot be passed. Well, take a minute, and look at those limitations you point out. All of them depend on various rules - usually the laws of physics as we understand them. What if we find a way around those rules? Then the entire limitation disappears. Does something have more requirements than are possible in this universe? Well, what if you were to create a baby universe with laws customized to making whatever it is you wanted possible? Of course, if you can find something that can not be worked around, then you've managed to disprove this hypothesis.
What is the value in proposing such a hypothesis? There really doesn't seem to be a lot, other than for people who enjoy thinking and talking about the distant future one more concept to toss around. It also gives them a way to not have to consider what is possible when talking about future technology - after all, if you posit that there are no true limits to what is possible, then EVERYTHING is possible. And even if it is true that there are no limits, humanity seems to be far enough away from any perceived limits that thinking this way doesn't seem to buy us much.
Regardless, when you do get all pondery and such, sometimes it's more fun to stop worrying about "is that possible" and just let your thoughts go where they will.
Hughes, Paul, "Reality 3.0: Hypermediation & Paradise Engineering", February 25, 2004, http://www.singularityawareness.com/hyper.html (June 16, 2004).