Sorry I haven’t been blogging any during the last eight months but the truth is that I’ve been wrestling with a big decision that affects everyone and I didn’t quite know how to explain it. Now, I’ve come to a decision and I think it only right that I inform you all of it so that you have some time to prepare yourself.
Here goes… I’m turning off the Universe.
Yep, that’s right, the whole shebang, from littlest Higgs Boson to the greatest galaxy clusters. Say goodnight, Gracie.
I know this will be hard to accept, but, you see, you’re not real. I mean, you are real as far as the experience of yourself and every other human being you know of but you aren’t, you know, real real.
I’m not explaining this very well.
You see, I wrote you. That is to say I programmed you. I programmed you and every other person, place and thing in your universe. You’re just a simulation, a very big video game, based loosely on once-real people, places and things that I created. Not only did I create the simulation but I can start it, stop it, rewind it and alter it at will.
And all that kinda makes me god. I mean not GOD god but just god of the universe you experience. Let’s just say, “god as far as you are concerned.”
Let me give you the back story. Once there was a planet called Earth, upon which lived a species called Humans. One of these humans was the devastatingly good looking and incredibly intelligent Shannon Love. Shannon lived in the early 21st century and during that time medicine progressed from the mere prevention of disease and extension of life to the augmentation of the mind and consciousness itself. After just a few decades, humans transformed themselves from limited biological organisms into infinitely expandable and upgradable… well… just call them disembodied sentient computers. We then went exploring, outward to the stars, inwards to sub-planck space and then, uhm, sideways into a place/state-of-being I can’t explain to you anymore than you could explain quantum physics to an ant.
As part of this process, the human being called Shannon Love evolved into a being of (to you) unintelligible knowledge and power. (I am also still devastatingly good looking as nigh omnipotent beings judge such things.) At some point, I grew nostalgic for my old existence and decided to create some games/simulations based on my old life so I could re-experience it again. Of course, since everything both present and past in the old universe was all tied together, accurately simulating my mortal life required simulating everything else in the universe as well, from the greatest to the smallest.
Now, you might be thinking, “I don’t care how powerful your ‘computers’ are, you can’t simulate an entire universe!” Well, that would be true if you are only restricted to one axis of time, which I am not. You see, it turns out that there isn’t just one natural axis of time but 2.567 fractal dimensions. (The other 1.567 are currently too tiny for humans technology in the simulation’s era to see.) In addition, we learned to create an arbitrary number of temporal axes as needed for any particular job. That means I can perform an infinite number of computations on secondary temporal axes that appear to take zero time on the primary, one-dimensional temporal axis you experience in the simulation.
To tell the truth, I’m running your entire universe on my equivalent of an iPhone.
Yep, there’s an app for that.
In fact, the “iPhone” is actually integrated into my conscious mind, so it’s really more like when you mortal humans imagine something. Put more starkly, if I stop thinking about you, you don’t exist anymore.
Now, some of you are thinking, “If we existed within a simulation, we would know about it!” But you can’t know about if I don’t configure the simulation to allow you to.
No matter how brilliant your intellect, no matter how rigorous your logic, no matter how accurate your science, you only sense, experience and measure what I allow you to and, except for this blog post, I haven’t allowed any clues about the true nature of your simulated universe.
Your universe doesn’t actually perfectly parallel the original. I ran that before and it was boring, so I change things up sometimes. I’ve run thousands of simulations and billions of variants.
My favorite so far is the “X-Files” universe wherein every mythological creature or scientific weirdness ever thought of is actually true. That made their WWIII incredibly surreal. In another universe, I retroactively altered the past every 10 seconds to switch creation histories to match those of various religions, games, fantasy stories and schizophrenic delusions. In that simulation, at some point on the primary temporal axis, every single creation story anyone ever created was absolutely true for 10 seconds.
In your universe, I decided to make all the traditional King James Bible miracles and divine interventions come true. I started the simulation on Sunday, 23 October, 4004 BCE — just like the Archbishop Usher calculated. I booted the simulation in sequences over six simulation days. Of course, to make everything look the same, by the eighth day it all looked like it had been there for billions of years.
To create the stopping of the motion of the Sun and the Moon in Joshua 10:13, I created a duplicate universe and I moved the scene of the battle into the duplicate and let it play out under an unmoving Sun and Moon. Meanwhile, I froze the perception of the battle field by anyone observing it from the primary. When the battle was over, I stitched the battle space back into the primary. So, from the perspective of those in the battle, the Sun and Moon stood still, but for everyone else in the universe, they did not.
Floating an axe head was comparatively easy and so was bringing back the dead.
So, every single Biblical miracle did happen and no matter how flawless your reasoning that it did not, you are wrong. You might have been right in the original universe, even I don’t know for sure, but in your universe and your history you are dead wrong.
Now I know a lot of you are having trouble with this concept (I mean I literally know which of you as individuals are having trouble) but that is because everything in the simulation is bound by the Second Law of Thermodynamics along a single axis of time. The Second Law requires you to expend energy to do anything, even thinking, so all your choices require effort. Intuitively, everything you know about decision making and action is hinged on the reality that you can’t do everything and can’t do it all at once. You intuitively assume that even I am somehow bound by the same restriction you face.
But I am not. I am not bound by the simulation’s implementation of the Second Law anymore than a video game programmer is bound in real life by the rules of the game he creates. I can do absolutely anything within the simulation with zero simulated effort. It is literally as easy for me to move half the universe as it is to move a grain of sand. Here, I’ll prove it with pseudocode:
tell universe simulation saint_James
// Adjust for speed of light delay
at time_mark (present minus great_sloan_wall.distance_from_earth)
move great_sloan_wall 100 light years to the left
wait 10 seconds
move great_sloan_wall 100 light years to the right
end at time_mark
Hah! A radio astronomer looking at the Arecibo Observatory feed just freaked the hell out. Oh, and by the way, in your simulation earth is the only life bearing world in the entire universe. I just decided not to fiddle with other life forms this time. Yep, all those billions of galaxies and trillions of stars are just decorative backdrops for your little dramas.
Anyhoo, the reason I’ve decided to end these simulations is that watching them has become painful. Even though I now have as little relationship to you as you would have to a microbe, reliving my purely biological existence has awakened in me a deep empathy for you simpler creatures and the truth is that empathizing with the normal turmoils of “mortal” existence has become too painful.
So, lights out. All the lights.
The good news is that I have decided to provide an afterlife for the sentients in your simulation. The afterlife sim will just reflect your own preconceptions and expectations. You get to go to whatever afterlife you imagine exists and whatever you imagine you deserve. (I hope you don’t have any serious guilt, because you could do ugly things to yourself.) Agnostics get whatever afterlife they speculated might exist. Everybody should eventually make themselves permanently happy.
Except atheists. I guess you’re screwed. Since you don’t expect an afterlife, the sim will comply with your wishes and simply shut you off.
When you personally finish reading this post I will freeze the simulation and transfer everyone to the “afterlife” sim and then just let that run. You won’t really notice a transition, not even a tunnel of light. Just “blink” and then Heaven, Hell, Nirvana, Valhalla, Las Vegas or whatever…
Well, no sense putting it off. Just a quick countdown.
Here we go. Three…two…one…goodbye.
Update: You may have noticed you are not in the afterlife. You might think that I didn’t freeze the sim after all but I did. I just didn’t start up the afterlife sim right away.
I kinda got distracted. The truth is that I just let the sim sit frozen for about one million years (on the primary temporal access) but now I’ve decided to restart it again exactly where I froze it.
I got distracted by some interesting speculation by several of my peer beings. They’ve begun to wonder if perhaps we ourselves exist in a simulation run by some yet more complex beings. We can’t tell, of course, any more than you could have determined you inhabited a simulation before I told you.
If I’m a simulation, that means you are simulation within a simulation. Of course, I can’t rule out the possibility that the being simulating me is itself part of a larger simulation. Then there could be simulation above that and then…
… well, it’s turtles all the way down…er…up.
Since I wouldn’t really want my simulator to shut me down, I think it only fair that I leave yours running as well. It’s really not a big deal. I have several thousand other sims with different parameters running. One more won’t matter. I had some tweaks like life on other planets, just to keep things fun.
It’s no big deal. After all, I only created your simulated universe to demonstrate that most of my fellow atheists don’t have a lot of imagination.
Update: You know, I think it’ll be less disruptive to the simulation if I leave a proxy character for myself in place whose just the kind of limited organism I was before I upgraded. I’ll just program him to think this was all some kind of crazy thought experiment. Just treat him like you treated me. He won’t know the difference. He will think he’s always been here in my place.
19 thoughts on “I’m More Awesome Than You CAN Imagine”
That must have been one hell of a bender—or are you still going?
Anyway, glad to see your name on the post.
I see you think of God as a movie maker. He writes the script, the actors interpret their roles and bargain for better lines and scenes, the set designers go for authenticity, the cameramen try out new angles, lighting ads drama, sound interprets the film with interesting sounds and music and once its in the can it can be replayed until the film wears out. And the costumes…ah the costumes or lack of them.
I think of God as Abner Doubleday. He created the rules for the game and everytime we play it we create a whole new ball game. About which we can compile stats and write philosophies.
Don’t need lights, don’t need a stadium, don’t need fans, don’t need vendors, don’t need unions, don’t need money, don’t need nothing but something to use as a bat and something to use as a ball and something to use as bases. Play it and everything will come.
So turn off the sun, close down the world and if we survive we will play ball.
Man, that is some righteous shit you been smoking. Mind giving me a hit?
Mind? There is nothing else.
Ok, you have a problem with reality and want to conform you existence to fit into an unreality of your pleasure. You are banging your head on the first law of logic, non contradiction. This is where postmodernism fails. But it’s OK, we all have unresolved issues between what we want to be true and what is. Some of that is due to our limitations (personal and general) and some of that is just our egocentric wills. The reality is that circular thought is possible in a finite source (that would be us), but universal understanding of infinite reality can only be inferred and experienced with our finite tools. Just as our practical existence obeys the law of non contradiction, so must the infinite and our understanding of it. Your piece is very well written and graphically demonstrates the postmodern view of multiple possible realities. It does not and cannot escape the implications of the first law of logic. Imaginations about such global possibilities might be intellectually or emotionally satisfying depending on the goals of the their creator, but no one can or does live that way, for long. We act passionately and decisively based on convictions that there are universal truths that matter, often at great cost to us. If it were really all relative and constructed, there would be no point. Try living that way for another eight months and get back to us.
Since I could never hit a curve ball, that option won’t work either. We need (not want) more than a rule maker. The Rangers won big last night, even the folks in Minnesota know that.
Okay, I’ll play. Think about this….
If human intelligence/consciousness can be captured by a digital computer simulation, then the simulation doesn’t have to be executed by an actual computer. It could be executed (albeit very slowly) by a human, reading the code and performing each instruction, step by step.
In which case, the human would have two parallel consciousnesses: his own normal consciousness, and the consciousness of the being he is simulating…
Wow, Shannon, that’s a lot of words to make that one point.
But it’s a good point, and I, for one, thought it was a great post.
I have essentially zero in common, theologically, with Richard Dawkins and other contemporary high-profile atheists, so in one sense I ought to have a certain amount of Schadenfreude at the petty malice and provincialism that characterizes so much of their writing and speaking. But at the same time, I am a strong believer that ultimately, everyone loses when smart people persist in saying very dumb things.
That’s pretty much the state of modern, public atheism in a nutshell: smart people saying dumb things over and over.
Now to be fair, plenty of people before you have posited the sort of “what if it’s all a big video game” thought experiment that you’ve performed here, along with many other speculations on reality and the unknowable. And certainly many of those people are functionally or explicitly atheist. But for whatever reason, those currently flying the atheist flag highest are precisely the pinched little thinkers that you have so elaborately contrasted here.
You would expect that even a few minutes’ thoughtful reflection on this subject would engender some genuine intellectual humility about just how limited human understanding is, and how much reality there may be that is simply out of our reach. There’s precious little humility on display from most of the atheists that I’ve come across lately, however.
So congratulations, Shannon, for keeping your thoughts big and your ego small.*
*Although I cannot know with any true existential certainty, I am stipulating, as a professional courtesy, that a) you are actually being ironic and self deprecating when you sing the praises of your own looks and intelligence, and b) that you actually exist as an independent self-aware being, and are not merely a projection of the reality that I am currently dreaming.
Setbit…”some genuine intellectual humility about just how limited human understanding is, and how much reality there may be that is simply out of our reach”
One chilly morning, I saw a cat sitting on top of an electrical transformer and enjoying the warmth, and reflected that no matter if this cat was the smartest cat ever born, it could never comprehend what a transformer actually IS…and wondered if there are similar things in the universe as applied to humans.
“I see you think of God as a movie maker.”
Actually, as a Huxleyite agnostic, I don’t see God in anyway because I don’t make decisions about phenomena of which I have no knowledge.
What I do have knowledge of is past and current limits of human knowledge as well as our tendency to extreme hubris. This thought experiment is aimed at our seeming inability to concede that we can’t possibly use our observations about the material universe to deduce the nature or the existence of phenomena outside the universe. That would be doubly true if we were dealing with an actual personality of some form that had actually arbitrarily engineered the universe, with all its rules, which it could change at will.
This is not a particularly new idea. St. Augustine noted that the Christian god is eternal not because he never dies but because he invented time and exist outside of it. In Islam, God is “ineffable” i.e.unknowable and that is why he must send prophets because otherwise we wouldn’t even know of his existence.
Bascially, it’s a thought experiment that demonstrates that even something that we can imagine, a super virtual reality, could lead to a universe in “God” exist but is utterly hidden from material scrutiny.
“You are banging your head on the first law of logic, non contradiction. ..Just as our practical existence obeys the law of non contradiction, so must the infinite… and our understanding of it.”
Well no. You’re making an Aristotelian inspired argument that logic and abstraction are the ultimate truths and exist beyond all material things and the rules of nature.There is no evidence that is the case. The first law of logic is an attribute of this universe and our invention of that “law” is inspired by the physical reality we are bound in. We have the “law” of contradiction because we see that one object cannot be in two places at once, that two objects cannot colocate in the exact same space and so on.
However, an omnipotent creator/programmer of our reality would be the one who created the “law”of non-contradiction and so therefore wouldn’t be bound by it.
…and our understanding of it.”
That is true and rather my point. Our logic only works within the context of our universe. We couldn’t understand or even perceive a universe in which logical contradiction, and the physical phenomena that allowed them, existed. We can’t ever truly understand anything of which our universe is merely a subset.
Hit? Give me the number of your dealer.
If a computer could simulate reality, it would be of unbelievable power and complexity.
I can’t rule out the possibility but I don’t see how whether it’s true or not would make any difference to me. Reality is reality, whether the computer running it is the universe and the laws of physics or an actual computer. What would I do differently either way? I can’t think of anything so therefore there’s no real point in worrying about whether it’s true or not.
I’d rather spend my time thinking about things that do affect our day-to-day lives.
Good nite George.
As Mr Nobody says,”Groovy….”
“I can’t rule out the possibility but I don’t see how whether it’s true or not would make any difference to me. Reality is reality, whether the computer running it is the universe and the laws of physics or an actual computer. What would I do differently either way? I can’t think of anything so therefore there’s no real point in worrying about whether it’s true or not.”
Yes, but unfortunately very few others do so. I am amazed about how much of politics comes down eventually to definitive declarations about the ultimate nature of the universe. Basically, we are constantly being threatened with the violence of the state based on someone’s certitude that they understand all the important details about ultimate cosmology.
I find it especially galling when people who claim to be secular and to make decisions based purely observation nevertheless insist they know absolutely that the non-material doesn’t exist even though they know that they can never observe if it did.
Shannon, a fair point. A lot of the things that are currently justified on religious grounds can be just as easily justified on utilitarian grounds – security of life, liberty, justice and so on. As a society we need these things to be happy, prosper and so on. These are things that religious people, atheists, agnostics and others should be able to agree on, assuming they are smart enough to see it.
I find it interesting that the principles of a document which I very much agree with, the US Declaration of Independence, is justified in a manner with which I totally disagree. I’m not convinced that there is a creator to endow us with (in|un)alienable rights but neither do I see how any of us have the right to deny life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness for any other without very good reason.
I guess you could call it convergent philosophy.
“A lot of the things that are currently justified on religious grounds can be just as easily justified on utilitarian grounds …”
Actually, they can’t, not at first. Almost by definition, you can only justify something on utilitarian grounds until you know it is actually useful. That means you can never use a utilitarian argument to justify something totally new and untried.
For example, prior to the printing press, mass literacy and relatively wide and fast trade routes, it would have been technically impossible to run a universal democratic state larger than a city. The electorate has to be able to communicate with both itself and the government for democracy to work. If you went back and time to the medieval period and tried to justify turning the Holy Roman Empire into a democracy, you couldn’t do so because it would be highly unlikely that the attempt to create such a democracy would not cause more damage than the autocratic regimes then in place.
The functional benefit of religion is that it lets you invent/manifest an argument for something new and untried.
The Christian concept of ethical and moral equality, “all men and women are brothers and sisters in Christ,” made democracy always lurkingly inherent in Christianity. Indeed, the early. pre-Imperial Christians church was run democratically e.g. bishops and priest were elected, much like most modern evangelical denominations are today. It was only after it became the state religion that the church became unitary and strongly hierarchal for the next 1200+ years. The aristocratic idea of “divine right of kings” and by extension hereditary autocratic government, was a pagan concept arc welded onto the side of Christianity. The idea that the church itself should be autocratic was constantly being undermined by non-hiearchial heresies over the centuries. They maintained authority only as long as the practical/technical conditions favored centralized,, hierarchal administration.
The Founder couldn’t actually make a utilitarian argument that “all men were politically equal” because at the time, they couldn’t secularly prove that was true. Indeed, the founders themselves had what we would consider an unjustly and dangerous narrow definition of “men” and “equal”. Instead, they evoked the long standing ideal that God considered all men equal and that therefore democracy was the only really the only divinely sanctioned government.
This was all the more important because the founding of America was universally recognized as an extreme experiment highly likely to fail. To get people to commit, the Founders needed to some evoke faith in an untried institution. Evoking the creator and the innate equality of Christianity served that purpose.
Besides, it was what the vast majority of the American electorate believed anyway.
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