Sunday, September 7, 2014

Reality Engine

Photo by Idaho National Laboratory .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
I've been thinking about the nature of consciousness, lately, and reading some philosophy on the subject. I was initially drawn back into this line of thinking by an interesting argument about whether we are living in a computer simulation. This argument presupposes that you accept that the human brain and consciousness itself will eventually be modeled by the advanced computers of the future. I don't accept that line of thinking myself (more on that below), but if you do accept it you can make a very interesting argument that you are living in a computer simulation of reality rather than a "real" physical reality.

The argument goes something like this. Assuming future humans design future computers that are powerful enough to model the functions of the human brain, chances are, given the nature of computing power becoming constantly more powerful and affordable, there will be numerous simulations of reality being run. So, simply based on probability, if there are X number of simulated realities and only one physical reality then as X increases the odds of you living in a "real" physical reality diminish rapidly.

The notion that consciousness is an emergent behavior of the physical matter of our bodies and not a separate phenomenon seems to be the vogue idea amongst scientists and philosophers these days. At least, that seems to be the prevalent viewpoint I'm reading and hearing expressed on the internet. While I find the arguments for this to be interesting, I don't subscribe to them. I certainly listen to them, though, because the people making them are often very, very intelligent.

But I believe in the concept of dualism, which advances the theory that there is a soul and consciousness is (at least partially)separate from physical reality. Now, I consider myself to be a proponent of empirical reality versus faith based takes on reality, so you may wonder how I can accept this notion of dualism.

 If you accept that consciousness can be modeled by a computer then aren't you accepting that free will is essentially an illusion and we are all deterministic machines? Doesn't that crush the notions of morality and liberty and lead one down the path to nihilism? Beyond the philosophical arguments, life just feels too significant to me for me to believe it's just a mechanical procession of sensations and predictable reactions. Perhaps that's just my survival instinct or ego talking, but I believe that life is critically important and part of a path of spiritual evolution for all beings.

One thing that has fascinated me about this theory of living in a computer simulation, however, is how this could be true if we accept the theory of dualism. In my mind, these two theories don't have to be mutually exclusive. Any computer simulation has data about data. This is called meta-data, and it's not observable from within the simulation itself--it exists outside the simulation but governs behaviors inside the simulation. I think this is how theories of additional dimensions outside of human perception might integrate with the computer simulation theory.

 And what is a computer other than a computational engine? Why wouldn't a deity use a computational engine to create a subordinate reality like ours? After all, something has to enforce the physical laws of our universe. The mathematics of the world are perfect. It's not incompatible with the notion of the divine to consider that we could be living in a reality of divine origin created using a divine computer.

These are big ideas and have been the subject of many books and papers. If you are interested in these topics, please read up on them and forgive me any shortcomings that may exist in my explanations of them.

The word count on Hemlock book four stands at about 36,000 words. At risk of being redundant, I must comment that I am having a blast writing this book! Writing a series finale means that you are writing scenes with very significant events occurring. And that is always fun!

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