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Modeling God

November 1, 2016

I recently heard about the Simulation Theory, which posits that existence is not a natural state but instead we are living in a virtual reality similar to that depicted in the movie The Matrix.

The logic goes like this: if one tracks processing power against the time since humans invented computers, the graph points toward exponential progress which – if continued without interruption – will bring us to a time when processing power is virtually unlimited. With such power at our fingertips, we would undoubtedly create an ancestry simulation to discover the true path of our racial and genetic heritage.

Therefore, either: a) we don’t survive long enough to attain infinite processing power, b) we are living in such a simulation, or c) this is the prime reality and no one has ever attained such power before.

There are some logical – and scientific – fallacies inherent in this line of reasoning, to be sure. It’s not a testable theory, it doesn’t prove anything, and the survival caveat is blatantly human-centric. But let’s put these arguments aside for a moment and explore the potential consequences of a simulated universe.

The first consequence that pops out at me is that a simulated universe must have a creator. But unlike the western concept of God, the simulation’s creator didn’t make mankind out of any patriarchal feelings toward mankind: it made us in order to learn about itself. Which means the creator isn’t an omniscient being.

This gives rise to the second consequence: an ancestry simulation requires a policy of non-interference, similar to that of Star Trek’s Prime Directive. In other words, the creator didn’t build the universe with the intention of meddling and may not have the ability to do so. It may be that the only power the creator has over the simulation is to shut it off.

The third consequence has to do with our relation to the creator. In these times there is a perceived dualism about human ancestry – did we evolve or were we designed? – which has polarized our worldview. I think the simulation theory has the ability to alter human perception about our origin and offer a different way of looking at our place in existence.

To explain, let’s explore what an ancestry simulation would look like. You’d start with a void, like a blank canvas. You’d take everything your civilization had learned about existence, all the knowledge of time and motion and mathematics and conservation of energy, and transcribe it into lines of code – the building blocks of the universe. You’d look as far back in time as you possibly could and construct your simulation to emulate those conditions, and then you’d let it go. You’d reenact the history of the universe. You’d be the intelligent designer of evolution.

How would this appear from the inside? Not indistinguishable from reality; it would be reality, as viewed by the inhabitants of the Matrix. But the metaphor doesn’t extend to a machine civilization milking humans for their energy and physical bodies in the ‘real world’ we can step into if we learn how to wake up. There may be many levels of simulations (see the movie The Thirteenth Floor), but for all intents and purposes this is the real world. The probability of escaping the simulation is roughly equal to the chance of ours being the prime reality.

Where does that leave us? Are we puppets, fated to replay our overlords’ past? Are we mere evolutionary aberrations, historical side notes? Are we digital beings whose plug could be pulled at any moment? What sense of meaning survives if we accept that we’re living in a simulation?

Two things strike me. First: Homo sapiens aren’t the end goal of evolution. This goes against western religious – and to some extent scientific – beliefs, and can be a humbling thought.

Second: it doesn’t matter. I say this because our relevance to the simulation isn’t the issue. What this epiphany can alter is our perception of its creator. As far as this simulation is concerned, God hasn’t been born yet. The creator is not some eternal being; it’s our great-great-great grandchild.

Now, humans will draw their own conclusions. New ideas spark diverse opinions and I don’t have an overarching litany of behaviors we should follow based on these philosophical musings. But I would be remiss not to mention that, if God lives in the future, so does the spectrum of human emotions and motivations.

We may live in a simulation some naughty creator decided to mess with as a social experiment. This may be a hypothetical simulation in which we’re a dead-end life form that needs to be maintained as a control. Or – and this is my favorite – God may have created these simulations in order to find a way out of its own predicament.

If this has all happened before, we are the literal embodiment of a divine second chance. How will you spend yours?

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