How my dog formed my hypothesis about the universe


I sort of came late to dogs. I got my first dog (a cairn terrier) just before I got married, and had a series of dogs thereafter. After interacting with dogs I formed some opinions regarding them; foremost among these was that dogs had no concept of sharing (and therefore sharing seemed maybe to be uniquely human). This lack of sharing behavior was most apparent during feeding; I never saw any of my dogs sharing.

One morning as I was getting ready to leave for work, one of the two dogs we had (a corgi) was in the backyard barking. We had two dogs (the other was a golden retriever) and left them in the backyard during the day, so barking was not that uncommon. However, I realized the barking was unusual in that it was both incessant and alarming; so I had to check out what was going on. In the back yard the one dog that was barking (the corgi) was standing beside the other dog (the golden), which was lying on its side. Long story short, the golden was bloating (another concept I had never heard of before having a dog, but which is a life-threatening condition involving a twisted gut). I realized the corgi was trying to let me know that the golden was in a bad way and needed help. This, to me, was remarkable in several ways. I had only known these dogs to be antagonistic (mostly around food). Until we got the corgi it was impossible to make the golden angry in any way (even if the kids pulled it by its ears across the floor); however, the corgi was remarkably adept at pissing off the golden. I had never heard the big dog growl in any way, but the corgi could somehow do this just by looking sideways at the golden.

But back to the situation at hand… I rushed the golden to the vet, but it sadly passed right after I got there (it was the second time it bloated). But I started thinking about the behavior I had witnessed. I concluded that the corgi knew something was seriously wrong with the golden and was trying to get help by barking. To me, this was entirely unexpected behavior; perhaps expected for people, but unexpected for a dog (which might actually stand to get twice the food if the big dog died). The corgi exhibited concern, care, compassion for its compatriot, and barked like hell when something was obviously wrong with it. In its own way, to me, the little dog exhibited a tiny form of “god-like” behavior – from the standpoint of compassion and caring for others. I didn’t think dogs could do this (after all, my dogs certainly lacked the altruistic concept of sharing). And so now, the inevitable train of thought began.

I figured planaria are not capable of such behavior (planaria being familiar flatworm organisms to biology students). And I figured that humans were capable of a greater extent of such behavior compared to dogs. In fact, I concluded that the most “god-like” organism I knew of was a human being (even though dogs have a small degree of it, and planaria have none). Although no one is perfect, people like Mother Theresa, and Mahatma Gandhi were remarkably altruistic. And so, “god-like” behavior (for lack of a better description) is an emergent property in evolution (planaria have none, dogs have some, humans have the most). Now the thought process continues. What about millions of years into the future?

There are some similarities perhaps with technological advancement. Clarke's Third Law states: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. And so a related law might be “Any sufficiently advance being is indistinguishable from God”. This seems like a legit hypothesis: evolution of humans might produce a being that is further advanced along some perceived God-like time-line than current humans (and could perhaps even utilize advanced technology, indistinguishable from magic). This seems pretty reasonable if one assumes that we can improve (i.e. evolve) over time. This also is based in a fundamental optimism: we can be better people tomorrow than we are today, or were in the past. Of course, if there is intelligent life on other planets, and they have had a billion years longer than us to evolve, what would they be like?

If we consider that the universe began as a quark-gluon soup (whatever that is…), given sufficient time, it creates some pretty remarkably organized systems, with some pretty remarkable characteristics (e.g. human beings and the best that humans have to offer). If we believe that the arc of evolution will continue, then it is fair to ask what will exist in the future. One simple answer is “a being that is more god-like than what exists today”. This should be no more difficult to accept than emergence of an advanced technology that is better than anything we have today.

Now, is this situation related to anything we are familiar with? In other words, a system that starts out remarkably simple, with basic laws (i.e. instructions) that over time lead to emergence of something vastly more complicated than hinted at by the initial system? The development of a complex organism from a single fertilized egg comes to mind. In other words, what is the consequence of the basic physical constants established at the beginning of the universe? Initially it is quarks and gluons, then protons, neutrons and electrons, then atoms, then molecules, then living systems, then humans (or something complicated like that), then… what? Something more “god-like” than humans (if we assume that is the trajectory). So, from this standpoint, the “purpose” of the universe is the creation of god (or the nearest equivalent). Thus, god does not (yet) exist, but will eventually, and this is the purpose of the universe. As more complex systems are created in the universe, the capacity for “good” and “evil” increases. Does good or evil exist in a quark-gluon soup? No, they are both emergent properties of the complex systems that come along. And even more is yet to come…