Consider this fourfold train of thought.
1. Consciousness after oblivion is surely possible because every human being’s existence proves that this is so. Probabilistically, your singular and individuated experience of consciousness is more likely to exist for a reason than to be the result of infinitely random chance.
Is life possible devoid of consciousness, so that something can be alive but not even realize it? The existence of plants proves that this is so. Is rationalism possible devoid of sense perception, so that something can make accurate calculations but possess no conscious will of its own? The existence of automatons and computers proves that this is so. Is experience possible devoid of three dimensional consciousness? The existence of dreams proves that this is so. Is consciousness possible after total oblivion? Our own existences as human beings prove that this is so. After all, we were all effectively dead before we were born.
Thus, to begin with, our vantage point on the universe gives us good reason to be hopeful that chaos alone does not govern it. Again, we know that plants can be very much alive in our three dimensional world with no awareness of this fact—and so we, too, can potentially exist within a world of meaning that is all around us and yet beyond us. The existence of computers teaches us that the possibility of virtual reality exists—artfully constructed alternate worlds governed by the imaginations of their designers. But even beyond computers, every symbolic narrative is a sort of simulation, and every deliberate representation of nature a kind of virtual reality.
Is it possible that we could experience a vivid three dimensional reality that is in fact, to some degree, an illusion or a simulation? The answer must be yes. All that we know about our consciousnesses is that we came to exist after formerly not existing for a very long time, over which entropy increased. And so, if we have anything to go by, it’s that life after death in the face of rising chaos is certainly possible, insofar as it happened to all of us. Still, your existence here in this time and place seems infinitely unlikely. At the same time, even if someone with your general biographical details and attributes should exist, this does not explain why your consciousness should be the one experiencing their life. But can it be that everything else in the universe with the sole exception of your being trapped in your individuated body has some cause? It seems improbable.
For now, we’ve established that consciousness after total non-existence is possible, and that plant-life, the existence of computers, and the fact that we dream prove that a being can exist in one realm but be completely unaware of its greater context and purpose in another. In a world of great randomness, the central Cartesian insight cannot be denied by your imagination—cogitas, ergo es. It would seem more rational to assume that you exist for a reason, which would give rise to your existence, than that you exist for no reason, which is almost infinitely more unlikely. If chance alone governed the universe, the odds would be too highly stacked against life in general, let alone the evolution of your individual consciousness—I’ve read that even forming a protein would be (2) (10^-32) unlikely.
2. You are more likely to exist within a simulation than to inhabit a designer-less universe; a future simulation is a more likely cause for your experience of consciousness than sheer chance.
We know that it is possible (and likely common in the greater context of the universe at large) to create machines which simulate conscious experiences of reality. But could the universe itself be a simulation? How can we even begin to think about this question?
Cogitas ergo es. Yet you seem far likelier to have been born a bacterium on a distant planet than a rational consciousness reading this narrative. Your existence is against the odds. But what might increase the chances of being born as you are in a universe such as this,which must contain many simulations of itself once rational consciousness evolves? Now, some say that there must exist a far greater number of simulated realities than non-simulated alternatives within our universe, insofar as every civilization would produce several simulations for every one reality. Yet the logic is unsteady. Even if our universe contains many simulations, there is no real reason to think that there exist more simulated conscious experiences of reality than conscious experiences by agents randomly born into it. Moreover, even if the universe itself contains many simulations, this in itself does not necessarily mean that it itself is a simulation.
Nevertheless, I think that the preponderance of evidence still favors simulism. It could be the case that we are all born in a random and infinitely complex universe governed by no designer. But be that as it may, given that a simulation of a universe engineered by conscious design would by definition to be less complex than an entire “real” universe, it seems more likely to me that we exist in a localized simulation within the sum total of reality than that our consciousnesses are random accidents in a needlessly complex random web of causes in a single unique universe which contains the sum total of reality (shades of Boltzmann). In a simulated universe, all that would need to be programmed is that which is sensed by consciousness; that which is unobserved could remain in an ambiguous probabilistic soup of less complexity. The model of being in a simulated reality designed so that only that which is observed must exist in a state that can be measured seems simpler than the alternative. Certain interpretations of quantum mechanics are compatible with such a view. Indeed, the very mathematical order and regularity of the universe, permeated throughout by order and progress and invariable laws, seems fully compatible with conscious design.
Yet for reasons even independent of these, I think you are likelier to exist in a simulation created by intelligent design than to exist alone and unique in the universe because of sheer chance. Consider Mario. He might imagine that he is completely unique in the universe and randomly came into being by a process of pixels spontaneously assembling (that is, he imagines that he is the one and only Mario on the one and only television set on the one and only game device in the entire universe, and all these devices came into being by random chance), or he might guess that he is one of a large number of similar beings conveyed on a large number of things called game cartridges that are deliberately designed. The latter is likelier than the former. Consider this scenario. If in the future, an archeologist discovers a single book from the lost civilization of 2015—and no other books survived—on what would you place a bet? That the book would be a popular one like The Bible or Harry Potter, or that the book would be someone’s single copy of a lost doctoral thesis? The former is likelier. For analogous reasons, Mario is right to begin to be suspicious that he is a unique thing. He is right to guess that he is likelier to be only a version of himself than the one and only version. And if he came into being by some process that worked over time, it is likely that the process would operate more than once and not only in his unique case. And the same is true of you—if you won the chance to be yourself, you are likelier to be one of many such winners than the one and only winner, because in any game of chance, the existence of more winners means more chances to win.
Remember, your possession of your conscious will in the form of an individuated consciousness is a separate fact from your mere existence. David Kimel might exist somewhere in time and space because a sperm and egg came together, but this fact is distinct from my actually being the one experiencing his consciousness as a singular rational entity. It would seem rational to assume that you exist as who you are for a reason, which would give rise to and raise the probability of your existence, than that you exist as who you are for no reason, which is almost infinitely more unlikely. If chaos alone governed the universe, the odds would be highly stacked against life in general, let alone the evolution of your individual consciousness—I’ve read that even forming a protein would be (2) (10^-32) unlikely. We need to begin imagining some kind of a process that could give rise to the experience of individuated conscious wills.
Now, think about Mario again. Even if he realizes he is more likely to be one of many Marios than the only version of himself, this would still not explain why he acts as he does–for example, why he leaps over a pit rather than into it. Of course, the answer why he jumps over the pit is that he is simulated to do it; someone is playing him. Simulism, or the ridiculous idea that Mario is basically a video game, doesn’t just explain why something called a “Mario” exists and that there are likely very many versions of him, but also shows why Mario is this particular Mario; why, for example, he grabs the coins that he does. The same is true of you. It could be the case that we are all born in a random and infinitely complex universe governed by no designer. But even if a sperm and egg came together to make you, this does not explain why you are experiencing your consciousness and not somebody else’s, or infinite other ones. Only simulism gives the answer. The only implausible alternative is that everything else in the world is something caused, except your possession of your own conscious will. The only answer to why you are yourself is either “this is the only thing in the universe that has no reason” or “I’m probably one of many versions of my consciousness, and I am being simulated to act in one way and not another, in the same way that Mario decides whether to grab a coin or not.”
The question arises, even if we realize that our possession of our individuated consciousness is a fact that is distinct from the facticity of my being (that is, the fact that David Kimel exists somewhere in the universe is a distinct fact from “my” (the author’s) actually being the individuated consciousness writing this document), and even if we concede that it is likelier than not the case that this fact exists for a specific regulated reason which increased the odds of my coming into existence as a member of a non-unique class rather than the unique result of random chance,(for the same reason that Mario should suspect he is a non-unique thing and that a random book from the world of 2015 is likelier to be The Bible than a random thesis), why should we suspect an intelligently designed entity is behind it all and not just some natural process we don’t understand (karma, etc.)
Now, imagine this possibility. What if in the whole history of the vast original universe, at least one original civilization existed that was so advanced, it started to deliberately construct simulations, even of its own past. Why would it do it? Perhaps to cure boredom. Perhaps to figure out all the secrets of the past. And perhaps even to download the conscious minds of all the poor suckers who lived in history before simulations allowed people live out their dreams. Regardless of the reason, imagine it happened even once in the whole history of the universe. What would happen when the simulation of history reached the point when the simulation itself was created ? The answer is, it would create a simulation of itself. Then, there would be infinite simulated realities. Now, what is likelier? That you are a single random combination of atoms that came together by chance and that you experience your specific life equally randomly, or that you are one of an infinite number of versions of yourself created when a single very unlikely simulation in an original universe simulated itself? The upshot of this is, that it is likelier we exist in a universe designed by a rational will than that we are alone in random space, and that life after death might really be possible. The original simulating civilization began an infinite regress; it itself came into existence by chance, or a regulated process beyond our knowledge that favors order over disorder and the rise of consciousness. But even if this kind of process operated at least once in the face of rising entropy in the universe, it’s likelier than not our own consciousness is in fact simulated; even the original simulating civilization would be right to guess the odds are against its being the originator.
What this implies about my “free will” is a separate discussion–for just as the eternal reflections of two mirrors facing each other fades away to nothing over time, each degraded version of the simulation might be a bit different from the previous one.
3. The existence of virtual reality can provide human beings with meaningful heaven on Earth.
If we can simulate intricate virtual realities in which individuals learn and interact as if in three dimensions, we can surely maximize happiness and minimize pain in the long run. Moreover, empowered by genetic engineering, we can, over time, produce a healthier and more able species less subject to the random brutality of the wheel of fortune. So, even if you don’t believe in God, technology promises you all the potential of heaven and even a kind of immortality if you believe in the power of computers to simulate reality.
We were not born against all odds into a world of chaos—we were born now, on the cusp of a great technological innovation that will come to change the very nature of human history. Unlike our ancient ancestors, we can declare confidently that the universe is not only scientifically tailored to allow for the possibility of conscious experience and the emergence of rationalism through evolution, but also that technological innovation equips consciousness in short order with the ability to effectively alter its own programming in accordance with its wildest dreams and concepts of the Good.
It could be that all this is random, but it seems more likely that we exist within a universe governed by a providential force that goes against the increase of entropy. This providential force, over millennia of evolution and centuries of technological development, can guarantee a kind of immortality in virtual paradises. Indeed, were society at large more rational than it is now, contemporary science should be frantically focusing on two goals—technology to allow bodies to be preserved awaiting the development of virtual reality, and the development of that virtual reality itself. On a universal stage, very many civilizations likely focus on just such goals, perhaps even more than on space-travel technology, providing a potential solution to the so-called Fermi Paradox.
4. Science itself can be meaningfully deified insofar as human experience can culminate in virtual heaven.
Ultimately, we do not simply inhabit a universe of random cruelty. In order for consciousness to evolve on planets in this reality we call the universe, generation, destruction, and change were necessary prerequisites, though these processes can result in heartache for individual human agents. But in short time geologically speaking, Nature equips consciousness with the means of its own salvation. Is the sole law of the universe that entropy increases? As humans, we know this is not the case. Atoms developed from their building blocks, stars formed, planets came into being, and life evolved, with complexity and the capacity for imaginative experience increasing rather than decreasing over the history of the universe. Insofar as this is true—since we were born after meaningful death, since virtual reality is possible and likely, since we are equipped to develop it, and since we know that we inhabit a universe in which all of this is possible despite the chaotic laws of thermodynamics, from the perspective of human consciousness, it is more likely that God exists in the form of a benevolent higher power than that we inhabit a truly random and aimless universe that exists for no other reason than a painful chain of endless cause and effect. What we call God can be synonymous with an advanced future civilization, the laws of science, or some greater force we can scarcely imagine. However we define it, though, it is surely a more noble entity than “nothing.”
So much for my defense of God, and so much for atheism—I now stand open to your cross examination.
Next Entry 10/1/2011 (Sorry for the delay…)