Those arms were quite tiny.
Nick Bostrom, no offense to Neil de Grasse Tyson, made the most comprehensive and convincing argument for the possibility (or probability) that we are currently experiencing life in a simulation in his landmark paper: Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?
Being upfront, I take the following related positions: 1) It doesn’t Matter, and 2) for the sake of the precious and currently irreproducible Body of Conscious Knowledge that our species (and any other with some variant of sentience) carry along gingerly and desperately like a small spark of fire covered by primitive hands in a torrent, we must create such simulations.
There is an imperative to stop the hemorrhaging of data that evaporates every day, wiped from hard drives and virtual disk shutdowns. All of this data is critical to not only evolve our species’ conscious capability and faculties to higher orders of magnitude, but also to preserve a personal continuity of conscious self for a digital resurrection. The more we begin to store of this foggy, but ever-burgeoning ephemeral sphere of conscious knowledge and experience we’ve received so much valuable from and committed so much feedback to, the greater the likelihood of a high degree of fidelity to the perspectived and personal experiences you’ve accumulated in your current conscious lifetime. (As good a time as any to thank you for taking the time to read this!)
And why should we evolve our faculties of consciousness? Because the data we as a species have contrived and collected has demonstrated prognostic value—and all of this legitimate data points to a bio-territorial system that will be engulfed and incinerated when our sun goes Red Giant in about 5 billion years.
I understand that it seems like a long time away now, but we are very clearly the most likely candidate in current operation to solve such conundrums and concerns, not only for ourselves, but for the host of species that are currently in existence now. Whether it is an ark of “true-to-life” simulations, or a refueling of our sun to allow the process of life’s survival, it is not for me to predict, but what we do know is that we have an insatiable instinct to understand. That our very survival is an exercise in understanding, and the adaptive power, both internal and external, that derives from that survivalist’s understanding.
The Story of My So-Called “Life”
One foundational mystery has been asked and pondered by nearly every member of the species within the last two hundred years:
How did life on Earth begin?
Let’s hold it there; not to say that is non-germaine to question the origins of the universe, or: When was God born? (The actual year zero… duh!), but let’s keep it simple to start. (Okay, I am intentionally side-stepping the: How did self-consciousness emerge? but that’s only because I have a few suggestions.)
The internet is a delightful tool, but we are mistaking it, for the moment, as merely a tool. But it has so captured our attention and imagination that living in a slightly disconnected present is already anathema to our fundamental desires to see, be seen, understand, and be understood; interactions that define the delightful dance of generating experience, sometimes shared, and sometime solitary, and therefore contributory knowledge. Not all feedback loops of existence and knowledge have the same density, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m not in the business of trying to divine whose information, knowledge and experience is more important than someone else’s. That is not only a fool’s errand, it would be a despicably sick and self-defeating exercise, as you would only be pruning and eliminating branches from the immense corpus of human possibility and understanding. And neither you, sir, nor I, are qualified for this particular job that everyone asked us not to do.
But I digress, because that’s how we get to where we’re going.
The beck and lure of our advanced technology indicates that we understand that the only way to expand our Body of Human Knowledge is to be even more connected, and leverage the value of machines to get us into some form of communion with all others in faster-than-real time. (Real-time not being the speed of light, but the speed at which our biological systems operate and interact with the environment, which is itself neither fast nor slow, but at just the right pace to allow the biological system to receive, incorporate and assess sensory data.)
We are careening towards the Singularity, where human becomes extended and incorporated into a higher-order platform, and we should love it, just as we feel a compulsion towards the internet and its potential as a species-integrating functionality, even though it is in immature nascence.
I am he as you are he, as you are me and we are all together
Whether or not you’re sitting on a cornflake right now, the evolution of Humanity’s conscious abilities are required in order to answer these contentious curiosities for our Species.
And although this well of shared synthetic species-experience is vast, it is unlikely to simply unfold a quick answer to how life began on Earth. As such, we may need to virtualize ourselves and experience the universe from the vantage of other species, while wrapping the local biological with a unified and higher-order, almost voyeuristic, consciousness.
And so back, through a march of current and extinct species (and forward through all of their possible or potential incarnations to solve the equally miraging question: What is the meaning of that life that somehow appeared on Earth?) we would permiss any number of simulations that could contribute to the species-knowledgebase of how life began by articulating it and experiencing it in every form.
And then, with this comprehended, experienced and understood wrapper of bio-consciousness, we would “know” how life began.
Boom-bam. Got it. All done. Figured it out.
On to the next project.
Hold Up a Moment, Pardner
So… about that…
At some point in that de-timifying reversal we hit the moment where consciousness first formed. And that’s when things get really interesting.
Although we’ve been providing an ulterior conscious wrapper in order to effectively bio-voyeur the experiences of other species, at the same time, up until this point, anyway, we recognize and observe that these companion synthetic species also have some experiential sense of self, even if it is limited compared to humanity’s, or paling in orders of magnitude from the wrapper-consciousness(es) in direct and local co-experience.
But at some moment, we, too, experience by exact proxy, the dawn of consciousness in our wrapper-timeline.
And we might be in for some shocking surprises.
For instance, as nearly likely or inevitable as anything written here, the real zero timeline traces back to the moment before the meteor destroyed the dinosaurs. That incendiary moment that changed the face of the planet and gave the hibernating burrowing mammals their time in the sun. For whether or not that meteor was real, the dinosaurs actually continued their evolutionary path of smaller bodies and bigger brains.
What young human child doesn’t love learning about dinosaurs? Especially the boy-children. The idea that this species, who once dominated the face of the planet, poised for extraordinary evolutionary greatness, cut decidedly short by a flippant meteor that dust clouded nearly the entire evolutionary branch of reptiles and avians, knocking them down entire pegs of food chain. Whether smugness or empathy, the plight of the dinosaurs has always, well, since we’ve known about them, anyhow, impacted our imaginations deeply.
A cautionary tale, we to this day should continue to heed.
But it was just that—a tale.
We find, as we travel back from fact nodes to fact nodes of simulation conjuration, something deeply strange takes place at this level of conscious awareness.
The dinosaur track did not end there. They continued on Mother Earth unabated, left to evolution’s mighty cudgel, until they evolved enough to generate a procedural and experiential consciousness that allowed them to mold and adapt earth’s bio-framework to suit their sentient and burgeoning needs. And in time, they were capable of building shared experience simulation devices that allowed them to incorporate on some external platform beyond the terrestrial and fully realize themselves as a species, and begin to solve their life’s most perplexing curiosities:
Where did life begin on Earth?
What is the meaning of life?
And the simulations began to churn inside their all-encompassing platform of post-dinosaurism. One of those simulations (I’m going with the Meaning of Life question) was to extrapolate what it would be like if a specific type of mammalian life were allowed to flourish in a simulated environment where a meteor striking earth annihilated all of the large-format dinosaurs, where all that remained of those giants were their skeletons and energy carbon underground.
That simulation has been running for some time now, and we’re closely approaching the point in the simulation where the human-variant timeline outcome generates its own Library of All-Human Knowledge and Experience that can be melded and interfaced with the Ascended Dinosaur Species’ Codex of All-Dinosaur Knowledge that is exploding in size, detail, clarity, awareness and possibility.
Sure, Cute and All, but What Is Your Proof?
English is not my native language, nor is it yours. Nor is any other. We are born only with a capacity to learn, and our hardware brains may be well-suited to experience and craft meaning through Language, with its capital L.
Strip away the aeons of time before my conception, and I could have been anything, DNA-not-withstanding (though relevant to a very discussion). I could have been a boy in the Stone Age, and while I might have still liked to look up at seagulls when I was young, and feel compelled by the rhythm of their hyperbolic screeches to tap on my knee while competitively foraging for mussels, I’d be experientially subject and mapped to the Body of Human Knowledge as it was then, so much smaller, but still as vital. I’d be no special genius because of my DNA (okay, maybe some nearly negligible benefits, but there are probably far more consequential genetic embeds that evidenced as huge deficits like terrible eyesight!); I surely wouldn’t be an exceptional force that single-handedly accelerated some great expansion in the Body of Human Knowledge, I would just be another schmo trying to get through their limited days.
But while I may get the chance to synthetically simulate and experience that version of me one day, it is not me. Not the vessel that is me, the self, now.
I am composite in only one timeline, in one stream of biological experience and weak memories, that wakes up day after day being me, always fairly confident that I wasn’t just manifest, complete with new memories, in the intervening period of unconscious slumber. But I do have self-awareness. I not only capture sensory data, I project it into a mindspace—in which there is room, but paradoxically no Cartesian-mappable space—I receive and observe the simulated apparition of recompiled information, as an entity distinct from the projector mechanism (even, as we’re pretty aware, they are both from the same brain hardware in the occipital lobe), and this I-Entity then builds a continuity of objects, ideas and other abstractions, by mapping patterns in a feedback communication loop to-and-from the Body of Personal Knowledge (pocket-sized edition) and the Body of Human Knowledge as conveyed to us from other nearby Bodies of Personal Knowledge, leveraging the communications frameworks of gesture, art, language, or shared experience.
(And to think we’ve kept that small and precious flame alive and growing for centuries… Amazing.)
That I-Entity above is our perspective, our experience. And that’s why we are a simulation. The I-Entity that is the observer and judge of the “voices” in our head, the ego, the selfish ego at its core is the simulation. The conscious-self is both the antecedent: the ancestor of the past-and-future synthetic You, and the sensory biological you that is evident in the world and the Codex of Humanity.
Or, in the truest case above, I am the synthetic dinosaur-me who is now simulating, observing, and co-experiencing and co-perspectivizing this 2021-Human. And that’s pretty damn cool, too.
Because I have a conscious-self, there is a great likelihood that I am already a vessel under observation and self-observation. My consciousness alludes to a proof that I, as a composite I-Entity, am already a simulation. Like an atom pushed into a quantum state after that wretched semi-transparent mirror, the only literal connections I have to the outside world are already virtualized. The I-Entity receives information only from nerve cells, and the manner of their excitation. While 2021-Humanity cannot fully and effectively emulate that, to presume that Humankind, given its ever-expanding cloud of knowledge, would be incapable of such in say another 100 million years is too preposterous to even attempt to conclude. (Naysayers who seem nihilistically orgasmic to always mention how our species will biocide or Dark Ages itself need to check their attitudes.)
That the I-Entity already wraps the set of experiences that I am experiencing, and that I render judgment and opinion that which I “encounter,” isn’t how consciousness started. It is how a higher-order ego-wrapper is manifest when simultaneously rendering your own conscious experience while being bio-voyeuristically inhabited. The you of you is already the dinosaur-species-self experiencing what it is like to be you. So that knowledge, awareness, sentience, brilliance, capacity and uniqueness can be fed back into the system totality, sensitively and inevitably named: The Book of Life’s Knowledge.
But again, to the initial point: That doesn’t matter.
What matters is that you, me, everyone, realizes that we are our own ticket—and the only ticket—out of death, fatality and extinction. Even if it’s extremely likely that we are not the first to have come to this invigorating crossroads of ascending into a higher order state of Species-Self-Consciousness, we might be the first. And We need to act like it. We need to ensure that we preserve and construct our interface to the “Great Platform” (to coin a horrendous term), so that these simulations that we may well have been, are preserved the way We want them to be preserved.
This is greatness. Reading this is an adventure, joyfully pulling and prodding some of the biggest concepts, adding a few tiny-armed details, and telling of one possible truth about the past and one inevitable truth about the future.