StatCounter

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Paranoid Thought Experiment #3058: is God a computer?

Thought Experiment (noun): What unemployed insomniacs come up with when they lie awake in bed after eating too much Mei Fun with boneless pork spare ribs & extra duck sauce, & should not be taken seriously by anyone.

Nick Bostrom of the Department of Philosophy, Oxford University published a paper in Philosophical Quarterly in 2003 (read it here) postulating that life as we know it may well be a computer simulation. (This line of thinking is referred to as Simulism.) In August 2007, John Tierney wrote an article in the New York Times about it, Our Lives, Controled from Some Guy's Couch. Tierney goes on to suggest that if we are living in a simulation, the world may end if we ever come up with a computer as powerful as the one supposedly running the universe now. (I'm going to call it "gOd" for the rest of this thought experiment.) Creating such a computer would put exponential strain on gOd's processor to the point that it would crash, causing the end of the universe.

Perhaps this is what The Forbidden Tree of Knowledge stands for in the book of Genesis.

Now, this is nothing new. There was a whole crappy movie series (with admittedly cool special effects) about life being a computer simulation called The Matrix (which was itself a rip off of the 1976 Dr. Who episode, The Deadly Assassin. Nyah.) But lets look at some possibilities here. Keep something in mind- we don't actually experience the world; we experience a model that our minds make of the world from our senses. All gOd would need to do to run our simulation is to provide our brains with the sensory data when needed. Lets take this one step further. To sum up the whole Schroedinger's cat shtick in a nutshell, things only exist as probabilities & possibilities until you observe them. Therefore, gOd wouldn't need to simulate every atom or even every cell in your home. They would only need to be simulated when looked at through a microscope. Heck, it wouldn't even need to simulate the dusty Atari 2600 in the back of your closet except for the times you opened the door and saw it. As far as cellular activity that was going on unobserved (let's say cancer,) - that's something gOd could calculate on a probability basis. This all may also be the reason that scientists have not yet come up with a "Theory of Everything."(If you don't know, the Newtonian laws of physics don't apply at the subatomic (quantum) level, which really drives physicists apeshit. They've been trying for the last century to come up with some sort of theory that holds everything together, so far with no success.) Quantum particles jump from one electron shell to another instantaneously, their distance apart possibly marking the limit of gOd's processor's ability to divide.

Ok, lets get out of the very tiny and into the very large: Space, the final frontier. Well, if gOd is running the universe, it would be! Ask someone if they beleive there is life on other planets, and they'll probably say that as there are- according to the ESA- about 1 x 10^23 (thats 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) stars in the known universe, (space is infinite, after all... isn't it?) it would be pretty darn silly for only one of them to have intelligent life on it. But isn't it rather convenient that planet Earth is so isolated from the rest of creation? Why is ours the only planet in our solar system capable of supporting Life As We Know It? Why do our bodies have such physiological needs that is it logistically impossible to send a manned mission to the even nearest planet, Mars? (I could get into it, but there's an article that explains it all here. To make a long story short, a two year round trip, 3 million pounds of supplies, atrophying muscles & brittle skeletons. I'd love to see my geeky sci-fi dreams come true, but it just ain't happening.) Why does E=mc^2 make the speed of light an impossible velocity to achieve, keeping humans and the residents of other solar systems apart forever? Could it be so that gOd does not have to waste processor power & memory on a detailed simulation of other planets and civilizations? Hmmm...

OK, enough of the paranoid science stuff. Let's get into the paranoid paranormal. There are schools of religion & philosophy that believe that we are all one with the universe, & that with meditation we can get closer and closer to the "source." What if prayer/affirmations is the ability (or attempt) to influence gOd's programming through the subconscious? What if it was possible to actually re-write your own history, or at least your current "character stats"? Would you get away with it, or would there be some sort of "reality police" that would discourage & even eliminate (say with freak accidents, acts of nature, or even reprogramming the offender's mind with thoughts of suicide) such deliberate reality reprogrammers? Are those who are "lucky" people with more natural control over gOd than others?

What happens when gOd crashes? Or when the mother of the geek playing Sid Meyer's gOd tells him to shut it off, it's time for dinner?

I'm off to bed. Feel free to add your own ramblings, paranoid or otherwise.

TTFN
-Tony

10 comments:

Aravis said...

What happens when his mother tells him to shut it off and come to dinner?

We go to sleep.

*G*

So, if we're a video game, that might explain the whole "Life after death" and/or reincarnation thing. When your character dies in a video game, you usually have at least one more life to play out...

Anonymous said...

You weren't on the subway when thinking about this, were you Tony!

Craig J. Clark said...

If God is a computer, let's just be thankful it isn't the HAL 9000.

Keith Ryan said...

OK.. Since I work with computers for a living, I'll chime in with my comments. If the "God" program were to have a problem, we would never know about it. Any intelliget being who is smart enough to design the program to run the a universe simulation would have the smarts to insist of a backup solution. So lets say the entire universe crashes because we decide to create an event that the simulation can't handle. They would simply restore the universe from a backup , or what we call a hourly "Snap" (short for snap shot) and the residents of the universe would have no clue that there was ever a crash.

String said...

Ahh but they would, it would be a slight blip in reality...for those nano-seconds when it went to backup! I am convinced we can re-write or re-structure - who knows, it might just be in a parallel universe...there is probably some sort of energy glue that holds certain past events in place.

Keith Ryan said...

Of course that assumes we are not part of the program that gets backed up. In that case we would be restored along with the rest of the universe and would never know it happened. Of course I believe that everything we see around us is just in my imagination, so when I go to sleep, all of you cease to exist.....

Tony LaRocca said...

Well, if life IS just a computer simulation, then a solipsist view (the idea that I am the only person in the universe and you are all figments of my imagination) makes even more sense. (The only brain that gOd would have to make sensory information for is mine.) However, if there is no computer simulation, then I pray the universe is not solipsistic, as it would be extremely boring to be the only thing in existence. The same goes for reincarnation. If I have to do this all over again, I am going to be SO pissed!

Mandie (From the Future) said...

The g0d theory would then definitely explain the other phenomenon out there such as deja vu, ghosts, energy signatures replaying, psychics, and so on. The only point that takes me off tangent is: "What happens when his mother tells him to shut it off and come to dinner?"
Who says that this being has a mother?
Then again, it would fit with most human religious history out there and Aquinas' "billiard ball theory": There has to be a beginning and end to all things; including great sims that make our lives run.
Last question for now: where would the being who created g0d get spares? Or the parts to build g0d? Having a "hot spare" for g0d just won't cut it.
Great ideas, but you might want to cut back on the Chinese Food! ;)

Tony LaRocca said...

Hello, old friend :) The thing about Aquinas' billiard balls is, what happens when the balls stop moving and it's someone else's turn? Does the cue ball of gOd send ripples of probability in a whole new direction & purpose? When the 8 ball is sunk, does the next drunken bastard put in his 50 cents & start a whole new game? I don't know about spares, but maybe every few months the audit dept. makes gOd online create a backup. Even worse than the kid's mother telling him it's time for bed, what if gOd is like the CIV games, and the simulation automatically ends after the year 2020?

Matthew said...

I think this site is thought provoking: http://www.podtycoon.com/shutdown. It explores the old question of whether we are living in a computer simulation in a new, interesting, and fairly humorous way by speculating on how we might find out this fact. It also calls for a kind of vote on the beliefs and desires of its readers. It's worth checking out. There is a discussion group for it at http://groups.google.com/group/pod-tycoon .