There’s a growing body of evidence that suggests that the structure of our universe is not as cold and mechanistic as science once thought it was: Many scientists have begun to question whether this reality is an artificial product, with its physical laws directed by some underlying intelligence, an intelligence that possibly even has an artificial nature itself. Recently, a scientist with Columbia University has gone a step further, and is postulating that previous extraterrestrial civilizations may have integrated themselves into the very structure of the universe — making reality itself intelligent in the process.

Writing in the publication Nautilus, astrobiologist Caleb Scharf discusses his theory that ancient extraterrestrial civilizations may have become advanced enough to be able to integrate their very existence into the fabric of the universe, bypassing the need for their respective biologies to rely on ordinary matter, and instead taking advantage of different physical laws.

If such a concept were true, we would be virtually blind to such lifeforms, simply assuming that whatever we perceived of these intelligences to be part of the universe’s regular structure and function. But Scharf also goes one step further, and theorizes that these intelligences may have altered physical laws to suit their own agenda — remember, at this point the intelligence in question is indistinguishable from physics itself, meaning that this intelligent "physics" should also be able to alter itself, in a manner similar to how we might change a train of thought, or our mood.

He uses the elusive concept dark energy as an example: dark energy is a theorized exotic energy that is supposed to be responsible for the expansion of the universe. However, instead of following an otherwise steady rate of this expansion since the Big Bang, the universe suddenly experienced a sudden acceleration in its expansion 5 billion years ago. This has left physicists with the question of why the expansion waited until nearly 9 billion years after the Big Bang to happen, and, perhaps not coincidentally, a mere 500 million years before life began on Earth.

This correlation lead Scharf to ask the question: did an extremely advanced civilization, one that could imprint its existence into physics itself, alter the laws of reality to make them more favorable for the formation of biological life?

"Life absorbs low-entropy energy (such as visible light from the sun), does useful work with that energy, and dumps higher-entropy energy back into the universe as waste heat," Scharf explains. "But if the surrounding universe ever got too warm—too filled with thermal refuse—things would stagnate. Luckily we live in an expanding and constantly cooling cosmos. What better long-term investment by some hypothetical life 5 billion years ago than to get the universe to cool even faster?

Many of you that are reading this will recognize Scharf’s idea as the basis for many existing cosmologies, where the Universe itself is an intelligent being. And he’s not alone: aside from the numerous ancient spiritual practices that teach such a concept, physicists like Albert Einstein and Michio Kaku both view the mechanics of our reality to be a product of such an intelligence. But this leaves us with the age-old question: did intelligence come from the cosmos, or did the cosmos come from intelligence?