How does reason emerge in a chaotic universe of barely-explicable physical laws?
Quite easily, a researcher has claimed.
The emergence of life, reason and rationality are perhaps far more common than we have assumed, Kelly Smith of Clemson writes in a paper for the journal Space Policy.
And when would this sort of knowledge be handy? If we meet aliens.
Smith, who is an evolutionary geneticist and more recently a philosophy PhD, writes in the paper ('Manifest complexity: A foundational ethic for astrobiology?') that complexity theory might offer a unique way to understand how morality might be virtually universal across the universe.
The essential idea is that if complex systems emerge naturally in our universe - as appears to be the case - then any evolving lifeform would naturally trend towards developing rationality, and society.
The result of this process would be something that looks like - or is indistinguishable from - culture. And from that, morality - or a set of shared values - would also naturally emerge.
"If this is right," says Smith in a press statement: "You can look at the universe as a kind of 'complexity machine', which raises all sorts of questions about what this means in a broader sense."
Smith argues that if chaotic particles naturally engage in chemistry that produces suns and planets, then those same simple systems also lead more or less directly to life, morality and... social media websites (or any other form of moralistic mass self-reflection). And if that's true, we might have much more in common with any alien life in the cosmos than you might expect.
"For example, does believing the universe is structured to produce complexity in general, and rational creatures in particular, constitute a religious belief? It need not imply that the universe was created by a God, but on the other hand, it does suggest that the kind of rationality we hold dear is not an accident."
Needless to say, this - the 'G' word - is where it gets tricky. Does an innate trending towards complexity in the universe imply a complex cause at its heart - IE, a creator? Or does it imply precisely the opposite? Does it even mean that the universe itself, on some level, contains the blueprints for universe ethics?
Ultimately this is probably the point where science cedes ground to philosophy and theology. But it's interesting stuff to chew over - at least until we might our ethical alien overlords and they give us all the answers.