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What is reality?

The start of it all
It happens that on occasion I like to think about the origins of the universe, of reality. I recently saw a truly remarkable BBC presentation entitled What is Reality? and it inspired me to write about my own thoughts on the matter. The video is almost an hour long, but I highly recommend it if you're into philosophy and physics. Much of it was stuff I had already heard about, but there was one new idea that I thought was interesting; something about the universe being a hologram with all its data stored in a two dimensional plane, but that's not exactly what this blog is about.

By reading many books and watching many presentations and films, I've borrowed bits from each medium to propose that The Matrix actually makes a lot of sense. That is, what if we're all just part of a complex computer program? Does that sound silly to you? Perhaps, but open your mind for a few minutes while you read this and I think you'll see it actually isn't too difficult to believe.

The Matrix may not have been too far off the mark

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First, I want to get a couple things out of the way here. I'm not saying I believe this to be the case, I'm simply putting the idea out there. Second, I don't believe in a creator. I don't know how or why we're here; we just are. I guess that's what scientists across the world are trying to figure out. To me, "I don't know" is a better answer than "God did it." Finally, I fully admit that I may be wrong. Now let's jump in, shall we?

Your feature presentation
Here's the general idea behind this theory: I propose that there isn't one, all-powerful creator, but that there may be billions of them. And perhaps it would be more appropriate to call them users for this case. Take a look at The Sims from EA. The people in the game, are they aware of the users that create them? That control them? How would we know? Suppose a character in The Sims started to wonder about how he or she came to be. That character then starts performing experiments to discover the purpose of his existence. He discovers textures, underneath the textures he finds models, within the models he finds individual meshes, maybe bones, in the 3D modeling sense of the word. Perhaps he even discovers bits: 1's and 0's.

Now what? How does that character go further? Does he have the capacity to imagine that something else is responsible for the bits? Let's say he does. He now assumes there is a creator. There is an all-powerful being responsible for his world - a god. His assumption is not entirely accurate. There isn't just a single creator. There are billions of us - humans. Now consider this, what if that sim is you?

Our physicists have discovered amazing and wonderful things. Humanity has uncovered particles that we believe make up the very fabric of reality. Quantum mechanics - a strange and seemingly unexplainable realm of physics will make even the brightest of individuals concede that he or she has no idea how it functions. Maybe we have reached the bits, maybe there is nothing left to uncover (though I don't think we should stop trying). Maybe now we can think: what if there is an EA that created our universe and one of the developers simply thought "Hey! Wouldn't it be funny if we put our company in the game?" And thus we have our own Electronic Arts. You can substitute whatever development house you like for EA, by the way.

I think this explains a few things an omnipotent, loving god does not. For instance, we now have a reason for natural disasters and all the horrible things that happen in this universe. Would a loving, all-powerful god really allow his creations to harm one another in the ways that people do? I would have to say no because it either means he isn't all-powerful or he's not so loving afterall. However, would you? Sure you would. I imagine most of us do it all the time; maybe we shoot a squadmate in an FPS game or perhaps you build four walls around a sim and let the poor guy starve to death, or worse. I would hope that most of us wouldn't behave this way in real life, but in a game it's ok because it isn't real. Well, perhaps our universe is a game to someone else.

God might not allow this, but I sure as heck do

In his book, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, philosopher Daniel Dennet marvels over the DNA in our bodies: "Even to those of us accustomed to the 'engineering miracles' of the computer age, the facts are hard to encompass. Not only molecule-sized copying machines, but proofreading enzymes that correct mistakes, all at blinding speed, on a scale that super-computers still cannot match." He goes on to quote Bernd-olaf Kupper's work Information and the Origin of Life, "Biological macromolecules have a storage capacity that exceeds that of the best present-day information stores by several orders of magnitude. For example, the 'information density' in the genome of E. coli is about 10 [to the 27th power] bits/m" cubed. Here we have hit on something I find very interesting: DNA as a data structure.

Philosopher Daniel Dennet and a most gnarly beard

In computer science, there are many different data structures: linked lists, stacks, queues and hash tables are a few examples. Basically, these are just code structures used to store data. Perhaps DNA is the ultimate data structure. It holds a nearly inconceivable amount of information in a compressed space. Another way to look at it: maybe the program running this universe renders us based on the data in our DNA. I don't know about you, but I find that to be a rather fascinating thought.

Now that's a data structure!

When you're coding games, memory management is key - particularly with console and mobile development. You have to make sure you are freeing up system resources when objects are no longer needed. When a player defeats an enemy, you should give his resources back to the system for reuse since they are no longer required to keep the enemy behaving appropriately - he is dead. And so it is with living beings on Earth. When we pass away, our bodies decompose, providing materials that enrich the soil and help new life grow. In essence, we are deallocated from memory. The resources that were being used to keep us alive can now be recouped and used to power something else. Or at least they would be if we weren't sealed in caskets.

In astrophysics, there is something that continues to stump scientists: dark matter. Dark matter constitutes roughly 80% of the matter in our universe and yet no one knows what it is. Suppose it is simply unused harddrive space. What if galaxies are like sectors of a harddrive, or perhaps just random clusters of data. The vast emptiness of space is nothing more than blank harddrive space. Planets and galaxies could be little hubs of data. Maybe asteroids and comets are small, random files floating around the harddrive. What would harddrive space, or unused RAM look like to that sim we discussed in the beginning? Maybe it looks like outer space. Maybe we exist on a harddrive that is only 20% full.

Data on a harddrive

It's been a pleasure
It's fun to wonder about the origins of the universe. I think the idea of multiple creators, perhaps not wholly unlike ourselves, is at the very least, an interesting and entertaining thing to consider. What about you? :o)
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About zingerone of us since 1:16 PM on 12.18.2009

The first console I played was the NES in the mid to late 80's - great times! I've been gaming ever since. Some of my favorite games of all time include:

-Chrono Trigger
-The Guardian Legend
-The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
-Fatal Frame 2
-Final Fantasy X

What do I think of the current generation (so far)?

Best console: Xbox 360
Best new IP: Uncharted
Best game: Uncharted 2
Best under-appreciated game: Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
Best innovation: Achievements!

My iPhone Game: CherryPicker_ios