Is God a Computer Programmer?

Wednesday night I saw the first episode of the series Through the Wormhole, hosted by Morgan Freeman exploring the question “Is there a Creator?”

Some scientists try to find God biologically, as a side effect of the human brain. Others work on an integrated field theory,  like physicist/surfer, Dr. Garrett Lisi who proposes a Theory of Everything with a novel solution to the nagging question, “What the heck is Gravity?”

The most mind-bending moment of the show was a look at Simulation Theory.  First there was an interesting interview with The Sims creator Will Wright, whose uncanny Strategic Life Simulation game emulates the complexity of existence. Then we’re introduced to Rich Terrile, of the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. Terrile postulates that if God is an inter-dimensional being who can change the laws of physics at will, that definition is awfully close to what computer programmers like Will Wright do, when building simulated environments.

After Terrile demonstrates an ongoing quantum physics experiment involving interference and diffraction of particles, he points out that the pattern of the particles and how they scatter is evidence that the universe may be assembling itself only when we observe it, and disassembling when we aren’t paying attention… sort of like a computer game.

He also points out that as we move closer to any image within a computer environment, we encounter circular pixels in exactly the same way particles construct our three dimensional world.

This viewpoint aligns Quantum Physics, Simulated Reality and two fundamental elements of Buddhist thought; Śūnyatā, or emptiness and Pratītyasamutpāda or Dependent Origination.

Emptiness is the theme of The Heart Sutra; form is emptiness, emptiness is form. While  Dependent Origination states that what arises in Samsara (the cycle of birth, death and rebirth), whether emotional or physical, is relative, conditioned and dependent on other phenomena, manifesting in repeated patterns and connecting elements such as the observer and the observed.

The Simulation Argument also appears in a 2003 paper by Professor Nick Bostrom of Oxford University.

The Simulation Argument

Not only does Professor Bostrom theorize that we could be living in a simulation; as if channeling Phillip K. Dick, he goes on to say it is likely we are already in a simulation being run by a “post human” civilization in our own future.

Here’s is one of my favorite excerpts from Dr. Bostrom’s paper.

It may be possible for simulated civilizations to become posthuman. They may then run their own ancestor-simulations on powerful computers they build in their simulated universe. Such computers would be “virtual machines”, a familiar concept in computer science. (Java script web-applets, for instance, run on a virtual machine – a simulated computer – inside your desktop.) Virtual machines can be stacked: it’s possible to simulate a machine simulating another machine, and so on, in arbitrarily many steps of iteration. If we do go on to create our own ancestor-simulations, this would be strong evidence against (1) and (2), and we would therefore have to conclude that we live in a simulation. Moreover, we would have to suspect that the posthumans running our simulation are themselves simulated beings; and their creators, in turn, may also be simulated beings.

Did you feel that weird sensation inside your head? Like your brains are being sucked out? That’s the emptiness I was talking about…Śūnyatā, a favorite technique of Zen Buddhism.

So, enjoy a little brain yoga with Through the Wormhole. Episodes air Wednesdays at 10pm on the Science Channel, or just surf over and watch clips on your computer.

Through the Wormhole

Photo by John of Dublin

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  1. Caitlin says

    I dunno…in agrarian societies, god was a farmer. In imperialist states god was an absolute ruler. Descartes’ god was a clockmaker. The god of industrial America was an architect. It seems our perceptions are really just projections of the intellectual zeitgeist in which we dwell.

    Or maybe we find the essence of god mirrored back to us everywhere we look…but such possibilities are a little optimistic and loving for my taste.

  2. Daniel says

    Each coin has to sides. The coin of life has two, aswell. Side one is creationism, side to is darwinism. In common thought, the existance of one, means the complete disproving of another. Two sides, completely seperate, or are they? Life is a pretty big coin, and a big thick disk may, under the correct cercumstances, land on it’s edge. Today, you’ll here about a rather tantilizind proposal, I call it, Programmer Theory…

    Acording to Darwinism, modern man has walked the Earth for roughly 200,000 years. Judaio-Christian belief says about 6,000. Creationism dictates that man was mad as he is today without change. Think of man as a product: We have an origional concept (god’s image), than we have a series of prototypes before the product is released. Think of evolution, not as a way things are made, but a way they are tested. Think about it like this: I decide to make a computer game, so I lay out a concept for the player charecter (PC), I first create a wire-frame skeleton, I test it. Because I don’t want to deal with the physics of standing upright, I make him crawl, not common, but plausable, now we have primates. Now I set him aside and start to wok on functions, like breathing etc. I test them out in simple creatures. After I see they work, I move on to systems (many functions working together), which require more complex creatures.

    Now to do all this, we need standards: standard objects (legs, eyes etc.), and scripts (tiny programs that define simple, routine functions, like your eyes constantly checking for new stimuli). We’ve created the scripts in the form of amino acids and enzymes. We need a centeral aplication, or an “engine” to mannage all the scripts and objects, that takes the form of DNA.

    Now that we’ve tested systems, and we have standards, we can populate the Earth with simple organisms (bacteria), than more complex (bugs), than fish, birds, cats dogs, and finally, primates. Now that all these things exist, let’s define the laws of physics. We start working on a walking man, Homo Erectus. Next on the list is intelligence, time for AI. Now we have thinking man, H. Sapien. Now we have a functioning ecosytem. Now completely functioning, we have not much need for change, so “evolution” halts, and the game begins.

    These to things can function in harmony, as long as you detach youself from the common belief, and think outside the box.Some religious people may say “does this mean god isn’t perfect?”, no, it meanes he apreciates a good test of his ability, he wanted perfection. But his greates creation, man, has betrayed him by fighting over things such as this.

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