No, I’m not talking about a certain boy who enjoys laughing gas, I’m talking about the nature of reality! A few months ago I tried to see how close to not existing the universe, and yourself, could possibly be. I’ve heard a few people do something similar, but I’ve never heard someone go as far as I have. I start with one assumption about the universe that makes it much simpler than it probably is: the cosmos consists only of particles and the like; there is no supernatural. I don’t agree with this, but it made the experiment much easier. I hope you can follow my absurdity, and I hope even more that you enjoy it.
Some notes: “Universe” means the thing we are living in, perceiving. “World” means the place where the program/math is taking place, the thing that exists as we know existence. Just a little tool to more easily distinguish the two and imagine what I mean.
To start, I want to make clear what one consequence of naturalism is. In this idea, souls in the traditional sense do not exist. I touched on this in the argument from free will, but I’ll explain further. In the traditional sense, souls are not in the physical realm, but in the supernatural realm. This usually means that they are not bound by mathematical laws the same way the universe is. But since this I made this assumption, this is impossible. Souls reside in the brain, which is obviously bound by natural laws alone, because everything in the universe is. Under this idea, everything in the universe can be described and predicted perfectly using mathematical models, including souls and emotions.
The first step away from reality is to put all of nature into a computer program. Perhaps the world where this program resides has completely different laws of physics, and this universe is just an experiment. Think of it like a complex Conway’s Game of Life or the Matrix. Somewhere a supercomputer is computing a set of equations for every fundamental particle in the universe, and each time-step it calculates it represents one septillionth of a second so we could never notice it. It may even take centuries to calculate this one time-step, and we would still never notice. To us, time would be passing as usual. Our universe is now a computer program, and nothing about it has changed.
Now let’s think about this computer program. It is one big loop, in which a bunch of variables (particles) are sent through equations that change their value (location in space, velocity, etc.), and so on. In other words, it’s a bunch of math. That’s what we said the universe was in the first place wasn’t it? Well, not exactly. We said that it could be perfectly described using just math, but what’s the difference? What’s the difference between particles existing and behaving according to mathematical rules, and particles seeming to exist because math is being performed on variables? I would say that there is no difference, or at least that it would be impossible to tell the difference. Which brings us to the next step. Instead of a computer doing the math, our universe could be a person doing MANY calculations. Simply doing the calculations, nothing else. Our universe is now a person doing some math, and nothing about it has changed.
This next step is where I depart from what I’ve seen others do. We have said that the universe is a person doing math, but could it not also be already finished math? A mathematical truth does not suddenly become untrue or irrelevant just because nobody is currently doing it. So, our entire universal history could be a book of completed equations lying on a shelf someplace. There is a problem in this step however. If we are no longer being calculated, how do we observe particles changing state? The answer is that our “consciousness” is still moving through the calculations, even though they aren’t being done in the world. A single state doesn’t really have consciousness, traveling through the states is where consciousness resides. Therefore if we are sensing, that means that we moving. Now, can we move through time even if no one in the world is making us move? Sure, because that is the nature of the equations. Will a graph of a parabola still have a curve if nobody is watching? Same concept. Remember that we are simply mathematical truths, we are still true even if nobody is thinking us. Our universe is now a book of completed equations and values, and nothing about it has changed.
This is a fairly short step. We were completed equations, now we can see that we could easily be uncompleted equations. Use the graph metaphor again. It’s good. Let’s say the graph is created like this: “Start with x=1 and with each step have x=x*2, until x>20.” It is easy to see that this produces the same result as this: “The graph is (0,1)(1,2)(2,4)(3,8)(4,16)(5,32).” Same with us: “Start with these particles, follow these rules for a long time.” Same exact thing as doing the actual calculations. Our universe is now unfinished equations, and nothing about it has changed.
The final is a short step in our mind, but a huge step in metaphysics. With the last step, we have never been observed. The rules creating us were observed, but we are created when these rules are performed, and since they haven’t been, we haven’t been observed. So if we haven’t been observed, why do the equations that create us have to be observed for us to still exist? They could easily be an undiscovered mathematical truth that no one has ever thought of, written down, anything. We are not even a thought. Wow. We are just a piece of math out there, waiting to be discovered, or not. The history of the universe could possibly never be observed by anyone. Our universe is now an undiscovered mathematical truth, and nothing about it has changed.
Phew. What a journey. We started as particles, became a computer simulation, then a person doing math. We moved from observation to a book on a shelf, to a set of known equations and start values, to merely a mathematical truth that could or could not ever be perceived. All the while, our universe doesn’t change at all, or at the very least we would never be able to notice the change. Unfortunately, I don’t think naturalism is right, so I can’t think this. It is also a bit absurd and I’m sure it is chock full of awful mistakes. But it’s still fun think about. I hope I wasn’t so confusing that nobody will ever follow my thoughts. Sigh. We will see. Thanks for reading!