I’ve had a strange, dreamlike week, which in and of itself is nothing out of the ordinary and perfectly consistent with our strange, dreamlike ‘reality’. I’ve spent most of my time up to my ears in database tables, SQL scripts, and server configurations, so I thought the time was right for a post that addresses something I’ve avoided for some time. Specifically, the question of whether our ‘reality’ is (or might or could be) some form of advanced computer simulation. For the most part, it addresses this topic from the other side of the fence, in terms of the consequences for those who favour a spiritual interpretation. All appearances to the contrary, my thoughts aren’t aimed at anyone in particular so if you feel pinpricks creep up your neck then 20,000 iterations of this song ought to do the trick. Failing that, feel free to scroll down to the halfway point and grab yourself an ice cream or comething else that takes your fancy.
For those who might have stumbled across this blog en route to YouPorn.com, allow me to explain what I mean by ‘strange and dreamlike’. Last night, for want of anything better to do, I revisited the first fifteen minutes of the truly remarkable 1970’s Wizard of Oz remake that is Zardoz, which depicts Zed’s entry into the mysterious Vortex. Multiple strange events occur within the timeframe in question, and two of the most obvious examples are as follows:
1. Zed enters a bakery and is startled by a stream of flour that suddenly pours from a chute hanging from the ceiling. He then picks up a product of that flour (a stale loaf of bread) in a manner that indicates he has never seen one before. Moments later, we see Zed in a garden staring at a flower. Having never seen one before, Zed asks The Tabernacle (an Artificial Intelligence that has come to think of itself as ‘God’) what it is. The Tabernacle gives a one word answer: “Flower”. Zed then asks what its function is, and The Tabernacle informs him that its function is “decorative”.
2. Zed discovers The Tabernacle for the first time shortly after the flour scene. He is hungry and asks it to provide him with ‘meat’, but all it can do is present him with a holographic representation of ‘meat’. Although he can see the meat, it lacks substance and eludes his grasp when he attempts to seize hold of it. Minutes later, two Eternals probe Zed’s memories and watch them on a TV screen. One memory depicts Zed’s sexual appetite: he is shown raping a woman on a beach as if she were just a piece of meat to him. Zed tells the Eternals that the events they are watching occurred at a place ‘where the sea meets the land‘.
Of course, the central ‘problem’ here (if I can call it that) is that these strange reflections occur in so-called ‘real life’ too. Yesterday, for example, I overheard a group of three people talking about the mass shooting in Florida. One person was deriding the American Constitution’s right to bear arms, and after that person walked off the two who remained began to talk about their IT related jobs. One began to wax lyrical about the importance of something or other, and ended his sentence by saying “…and that’s what I bear in mind”. The conversation reminded me a lot of assembly language, and it seems to me that he might just as well have said “I’ve loaded the variable ‘bear’ into register B at memory address 0xAA69FF’.
Similarly, I loaded YouTube this morning (whilst thinking about Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, i.e. Blade Runner, and its main protagonist, Rich Deckard) and the first video I saw was this one.
Only an hour later I was introduced to a woman whose first name is the same as my mother’s. I asked her what she does for a living and she replied “Oh, I’m just a dogsbody”. Her boss was introduced to me as Rich, and he then introduced me to his boss and said “This is Oz, our Network Manager”. The conversation that followed was surreal beyond words, and I kept wondering when the movie director would step in and shout “Cut!” or “That’s a wrap!”
During the same conversation, I listened to the group bemoan the state of their IT department and jokingly suggested mass suicide as the only possible solution. I borrowed the theme from Zardoz and slipped it into the conversation just to see what would happen. The central theme of Zardoz is that members of The Vortex have eternal life, because The Tabernacle records every detail of their consciousness. If they kill themselves then The Tabernacle creates a clone body and reloads their memories. An hour or so after slipping this reference into the conversation, dogsbody’s boss informed me that he’d received a spam email stating that death by suicide is no longer possible thanks to quantum computing!
This more-or-less sums up the bizarre and unreal nature of the world we inhabit. But if it’s not real then what exactly is it? It seems to me that one of the most under-represented theories is, oddly enough, also the most plausible. I am of course talking about reality as a computer simulation, and although I usually avoid paying too much attention to the idea (because my background is in IT and our ‘reality’ reflects our thoughts and thereby confirms our biases) I think it’s well overdue some ‘serious’ consideration.
Of the individuals and blogs known to me, the majority have a spiritual dimension predicated on the idea that ‘reality’ and ‘god’ are one and the same, or that we are all ‘god’ as he/she/it experiences itself subjectively. Of course, we cannot really know that for sure, and in the final analysis it’s a belief just like any other, one based on ‘feelings’ and ‘intuition’ that are no more or less valid than the science fiction of a laboratory experiment. Even so, I suspect that the simulation theory is unattractive to those who hold these views, precisely because it represents the antithesis of the ‘God Hypothesis’.
It could be argued that elevating ourselves to the dizzy heights of the ‘godhead’ itself is, in its own way, just as likely to kill thought and ‘serious’ examination of incompatible alternatives as prostrating ourselves before the ‘godhead’ in the conventional religious sense. Perhaps more so, because if someone decides that they’re ‘god’ or ‘part of the Great Spirit’ – and makes this their ‘truth’ – then it’s easy to see how this might blind them to more mundane perspectives. After all, anything less than divinity is going to be a massive disappointment, isn’t it?
In this ‘reality’ it seems that the Western understanding of God is still, for the most part, that of the ‘Judgmental God’ archetype. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Regardless of our intentions, when we associate ourselves with ‘God’ it seems that what we’re really doing is associating ourselves with this archetype. If that’s the case then it raises interesting questions about what we’re actually signing up to when we accept this kind of viewpoint. On an individual level we might say and believe that ‘God is love’. That’s not particularly consistent with the archetype though, which tends to present ‘God’ as judge, jury and executioner – with no right of appeal.
Is today’s ‘plane crash’ in the Zardos Mountains an expression of God’s love?
Sixty-six people are feared to have been killed in a passenger plane crash in the Zagros mountains in Iran. The Aseman Airlines plane, en route from Tehran to the south-western city of Yasuj, came down near the city of Semirom in Isfahan province. The Red Crescent deployed search and rescue teams to the site. The airline has retracted a statement saying definitively that all aboard were dead.
It plays out time and time again. Torah, Torah, Torah, right? Fanatics sacrificing to their God-King.
The ISIS phenomenon is a prime example of the way this archetype plays out in 3D, regardless of the intentions of those for whom the name ‘ISIS’ has special significance. Is it any wonder that some of these folk are openly hostile to the right to bare arms, particularly if you happen to be the proud owner of a vagina?
It’s odd, isn’t it? If everything is a representation or manifestation of ‘God’ then why is ‘God’ so hostile to his/her/its own ‘divinity’ and the ‘devoutness’ or ‘seriousness’ that usually accompanies spiritual beliefs? Why does ‘God’ openly mock those who hold such views and present them as ‘fanatics’? More to the point, why is The Mighty One prepared to show mercy to those who truly atone for their sins and ‘deny the faith’?
It’s worth posting this YouTube again just to emphasise the point: we become as God is by doing what God does.
When we consider what ‘God’ does we have to ask whether we really want to emulate him/her/it, let alone identity ourselves as one of the ‘Heavenly Host‘ and establish a link to the Great Network Server in the Sky. Imagine the malware coming down that particular pipeline: Self-righteousness v6.01, Heresy for Dummies, Visual Persecution for Windows 10, etc.
When talking about computer simulations we have to recognise that there are…ahem…’hard’ and ‘soft’ variants. The ‘soft’ version would be a kind of 33rd Century Virtual Reality and presupposes that we have a ‘real’ existence beyond the confines of the simulation. The ‘hard’ alternative is pure simulation, i.e. everything in the universe – ourselves included – as a fictional product of advanced computer architecture. Does this explain the apparent lack of interest in this ‘secular’ interpretation? Put another way, if you’re convinced that you’re on the cusp of transcending into the 6th dimension to have your balls tongued by the Hierarchy of Ascended Masters then the one thing you really won’t want to hear is that you might be a video game character.
Of course, shortly after composing the last paragraph I turned on the TV to discover that tonight’s Star Trek: Next Generation episode was called The Emissary.
Data reports that the emissary is being transported in a class 8 probe, traveling at warp 9. Picard notes the evident urgency of the mission. The Enterprise intercepts the probe and beams it aboard, and its passenger is revealed to be a half-Klingon half-human woman named K’Ehleyr. K’Ehleyr informs the command staff that Starfleet has detected a Klingon battlecruiser called the T’Ong, which was launched from the Klingon homeworld over 75 years ago, when the Klingons and the Federation were still at war. The crew has been in suspended animation and are about to awaken, at which point it is feared they will immediately attack the nearest Federation outpost, several of which are nearby and would not be able to adequately defend themselves. Though K’Ehleyr strongly believes that any attempt to reason with the Klingons will fail and advises Picard to destroy the ship, Picard orders his crew to come up with alternatives.
According to The Emissary, the game wouldn’t be worth playing if we knew what was going to happen.
Spirituality? A quick textual analysis of anything you have to hand will soon reveal scores of sub-textual spiritual and religious references. Does this actually mean anything though? If we assume that ‘time’ flows in only one direction then perhaps so, but as our own experiences suggest that time is an illusion we’re faced with the ever-present chicken-and-egg conundrum, i.e. that the religiosity of the ‘past’ is merely a ‘Counter-Clock World‘ manifestation of spiritual preoccupations here in the ‘present’.
In a similar vein, one of the things that’s always interested me is the appearance of patterns based around certain keywords. Pay close attention to the home page of any news site and it soon becomes apparent that most of the day’s news is based around several keywords, which ripple and morph their way down the page like a raindrop – or a line of code from The Matrix. If I were forced to choose one word to describe this phenomenon that word would be ‘algorithmic’. I’ve no doubt whatsoever that I could write code to consume a site’s entire front page in one gulp, parse all the linked pages, and generate a nicely formatted report that maps the propagation of these keywords. Still, the nature of our ‘reality’ is such that there’s absolutely no way to demonstrate that these patterns exist ‘objectively’ and are not just a reflection of my own attempts to look for patterns and meaning.
OK, this is getting way, way too heavy. Let’s have a brief intermission while I grab myself an ice cream…
And to keep things fair and balanced, here’s a little comething for the ladies…
Feel better for that? I know I do… 😉 While we’re on the subject, I browsed the EU’s new Data Protection regulations this week. They have a lot to say on the subject of consent, and the new rules state that the ‘age of consent’ for giving ‘consent’ will be reduced from 16 to 13 provided ‘reasonable efforts’ are taken to secure parental consent. I’m just saying, OK?
Anyway, where was I? Yeah, computer simulations. Is it really that difficult to believe? Take Chess for example, an ‘analogue’ board game that was first ‘simulated’ decades ago. I vividly remember pounding the keys of my micro-computer back in the mid-1980s, so whenever I think of the game it always brings to mind Zion…
Of course, the original version of the game was called Chattanooga and (w)Oz born in Diana…
Today’s games are almost indistinguishable from ‘real life’, which would be fine if only we knew what ‘real life’ actually looked like.
Last week, I sat down to write some Python code to create and ‘salt’ passwords for a mobile application I’m creating. It’s a complex process and if you’re ‘serious’ about these things then it takes 20,000 or so iterations through a complex cryptographic hash to encrypt and salt a password that’s impossible to reverse engineer with a ‘somewhere over the rainbow‘ table. I was thinking about someone in particular at the time, and when my computer finished the final iteration and displayed the encrypted password the name of that person appeared right in the middle of it. Impossible but ‘true’, insofar as anything in our ‘reality’ can be said to be ‘true’.
Talking of which, if a little comething isn’t to your liking then feel free to indulge yourself with a bigger model. The URL to the Daily Mail article refers to the ‘device’ as ‘highly immoral’ but I ain’t got time for that kind of God talk. If it’s your cup of tea then go nuts on it and enjoy the salty goodness of all that ‘nuclear material’.
Does the ‘Eye in the Sky’ (be it electronic or otherwise) see it comething like this? If so, what would it look like from a character’s perspective? A little bit like our 3D perhaps?
I think that the simulation argument forces us to descend from our respective soap boxes and ‘seriously’ consider that this crazy world maybe all there is. Alternatively, that while there might be a ‘reality’ beyond the confines of our ‘reality’, the nature of ‘reality’ (and ourselves) might preclude us from ever experiencing it. It’s a sobering thought, particularly for those who may have withdrawn from the world in the hope that they’ll wake up clothed in the rays of the sun, floating above it all like an interstellar will-o’-the-wisp.
Equally, I have some sympathy with the ‘non-cooperation’ position myself. I’m often urged to participate and..ahem…sample everything that’s on the menu. Whatever ‘it’ is, it seems extraordinarily keen to get my ‘buy in’, and this too seems like rather odd and inconsistent behaviour for an all-powerful ‘deity’.
In Zardoz, Zed eventually pulls the plug on The Tabernacle, just as Dave pulls the plug on Hal in 2001. Both A.I.s are portrayed as human creations that have seen fit to promote themselves to the pantheon. It’s a familiar theme that plays out over and over again in Sci-Fi films, and one that frequently appears in the news in relation to our rush to conceive machine intelligence. Given the bizarre nature of ‘reality’, could our experiences here in the ‘present’ be a reflection of a ‘future’ breakthrough in A.I. and/or quantum computing?
Is it really that easy though? Is the ‘Above & Beyond’ totally phony? Are we ourselves literally walkie-talkie ‘mobile phonies’? If so, is it possible to pull the plug without switching ourselves off in the process?
Got a halo round your head?
Or is it Above and Beyond and everywhere else you care to look?
Maybe there’s nothing for it but to grab a non-existent spoon and tuck in?
Second helping, anyone?