The Universe Game and Immortality
The Universe Game
An ESSAY on the Immortality of
Jeffrey W. Tenney
We live in a world of competition and conflict. Still. Over the tens of thousands of years of human existence, we have not been smart and skillful enough put an end to struggle, suffering, and fear, much of it brought upon ourselves. It is a monument to our species that it can simply endure.
For most of us, fear and suffering eventually hit home when nearing the time of personal death. As the wave of baby boomers pours over the aging threshold like the Zambezi over Victoria Falls, more and more of them want to know one thing: Is this to be the end of me altogether, the end of my consciousness?
Although science (the greatest technology our species has so far come up with) cannot yet answer this question, and perhaps never will, through the application of reason, supported by scientific evidence as far as it will go, and by experiential evidence, we can assign a probability to the answer that we would like: namely, that yes, consciousness does persist after death.
This author is something like 90% sure that intelligent life in our universe—i.e., humanity—is playing a game. (I wish I could say 100%, but not yet.) And I do not mean “game” in a metaphoric sense, as in “like a game,” but an actual game. It is as big as life and we play for real, and although we are conscious beings, few of us are aware that we are playing. In this article the author argues further that this Universe Game is a designed entity, that design is a more probable account of the origins of our universe than are alternative theories. Finally, the author looks briefly at the nature of consciousness and purpose, concluding that the most likely explanation for our being here is the need for transcendant consciousness (us) to game-play, to lose ourselves in the Universe Game and try to find our way back to wholeness and total awareness.
On Ducks and Games
If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, flies like a duck, quacks like a duck, eats what a duck eats, and makes little duck babies, then it is a duck.
Absolute assertions are always dangerous. It may be safer to say something like, “…then there is a very high probability that it is a duck.” Afterall, it might be a hallucination or a holographic projection of some kind.
I want to assert, a bit cautiously then, that there is a high probability that human life in the Universe is a game. To convince anyone of that, I need to assemble some good arguments, and to dispel any competing hypotheses. Let me begin by compiling a list of all the characteristics of a game. Then we can ask ourselves whether the Universe has these same characteristics. A lot of “yes” answers—there should be nearly all “yes” answers—strongly suggests that the Universe is a game. The question of why it would be a game, and not a member of some other class of objects, such as a dream, a meditation, an hallucination, a vacation, etc., or just an entity unto itself with unique characteristics, is addressed farther along in this essay.
Okay then. Below is a list of sixteen characteristics that make up a game. Some games do not have all of these characterstics, but the good ones do. These are major characteristics, not minor ones, and this is important to note because some of a duck’s characteristics might be specific to the individual duck, or to a subclass of ducks (species), such as color, size, or the broken beak on that one over there who had a bad encounter with a rock on its last landing. It is those charactersitics that are common to the class (ducks) that matter to us.
The characteristics of games:
· Players · Elements of randomness
· Goals · Boundaries
· Conditions · Seriousness and Disguise
· Rules · Exit
· Interactions · Learning
· Limited resources · Free will
· Struggle and Conflict · Levels
· Risk and Reward · Willing entry
That’s a fairly long list and it gives us a lot to talk about. One more general comment, though. Suppose we had an object that had all the major characteristics of a duck, but had a lot of additional major characteristics as well. What would we call that? Would it still be a duck? A superduck in a class by itself? If it walked, swam, flew, quacked, ate, and reproduced itself like a duck, but also sang God Bless America on Sunday afternoons, would it be a duck? The laws of nature usually protect us from these kinds of freakish occurrences, but not always, as in the case of malformations due to genetic mutation. This is why we are talking in probabilities here. If an entity shares all the major characteristics of a class of other entities, and does not have a lot of additional major characteristics, then it is highly probable that it belongs to that class.
Imagine a poker table--oblong, green felt surface, chairs neatly spaced around its edge, a deck of cards splayed in a semi-circle, stacks of chips, even a list of rules, and cup holders. But no players.
Do we have a game yet?
Of course not. The game needs players. Players are the entities who create the action, who make the “play.” Players are the winners and losers. They bring something with them to the game that the conditions and content—tables, cards, tokens, etc.—do not provide. Players are the choice-makers. They engage in interactions that create interesting events and lead ultimately to win or lose.
In some games players adopt or are assigned special roles. In the game Monopoly, this is not the case. In Monopoly the players are indistinguishable from one another from the perspective of the game. Their individual personalities, intellects, emotions, and special talents can come into play somewhat in choice-making and in some interactions, but they are not major factors in determining outcomes, they could easily be programmed robots. In social games, such as murder mysteries, players are assigned particular characters with particular histories and dispositions and motives. This tends to force them into acting in certain ways. Roles abound in video games as well. In the game of life they are myriad.
In the game of life some players arrive on the scene with a better chance of “winning” than do others. Smarter, prettier, more socially adept, there is a good chance that they will achieve their goals: get the mate, the lifestyle, the wealth, the status, fame, the perfect children that they seek. If those are indeed the defining markers of winning, then these players have a better than average chance. Game entry advantages can be “adjusted to the mean,” however, to the extent that players tend to select game goals appropriate to their entry status. The son of a bricklayer is less likely to seek a Harvard education and a CEO position at Microsoft, than is the daughter of a corporate lawyer. His goal might be to eke out an associate degree in business and start his own small company. (We can’t help but pull for him, can we?)
Life is like a game because it has players.
Each player’s primary goal is to win the game. The reader might want to point out here, however, that “winning” can mean different things to different players. Not so in Monopoly, where the player with all the property and money at the end is the winner. Not so at poker, either, where winning means leaving the game with more money that you started with. Those are simple measures of winning.
In the game of life, players do have different goals. Many indeed have the kinds of goals listed in the last section: status, wealth, etc. These ego-goals are easy to identify because they are the most common. A minority of players might have other goals in mind, such as great relationships, knowledge and wisdom, the vanquishing of evil or suffering or injustice, which can be less ego-oriented.
In some games a player’s goals can change. In a video game, they might change as the player progresses through “levels.” Game levels are discussed further on. In life, a player’s goals can change quite often. Some of us recognize that goals we set early in life will simply not be achievable, so we switch. Some of us find that, having achieved our goal, we need a new one. “That first one really didn’t turn out to be so hot. I don’t feel any better about myself.” We can encounter small failures along the way that steer us in new directions. But we keep going. We do not quit the game, only modify our goals. But can any goal in life truly be satisfying in a final sense? Is there a kind of Aristotelian “hierarchy of goals” leading to the ultimate, finally satisfying goal? More on this later. It is clear, nonetheless, that the goal-structuring in the game of life is complicated, as players can seek various goals simultaneously, moving either vertically or laterally on various paths.
Life is like a game because its players have goals.
Conditions are the “things” that the game contains, facts about those things, and their interrelationships. For example, in Monopoly we have properties, Chance and Community Chest cards, the board itself, fake money, dice, player tokens . Each property has certain facts associated with it: its location on the board, its value, its color, etc. Dice are related to the tokens and properties in that they control how far the tokens move and therefore which properties the tokens land on. Money is the medium for transfer of properties among players, as well as the final measure of winning and losing. Each property has a monetary value and can be transformed into money. Chance and Community Chest cards affect where player tokens locate and can affect exchanges of money.
In video games the conditions can include various adversaries who are not other players, or roadblocks, or other threats to progress toward goal. Any player can encounter these conditions. In poker, conditions include playing cards and chip stacks, and also position. As the dealer button moves around the table from player to player, each player’s position changes slightly and this has an effect on their chances of increasing their money stack.
Games have “initial conditions,” such as the amount of money required to “buy in” to a poker game, or the amount of money with which the Monopoly player starts the game. Games have “altered conditions,” which set in almost immediately as one player gains advantage over others, money stacks go up and down, position changes, a player lands in jail, etc. Conditions begin to alter with the first action, so it is the altered conditions, the current state of conditions when it comes time for the player to take action, that matter most.
The game of life has conditions—social conditions, environmental conditions, basic bodily needs for food and shelter, players’ innate capacities for learning, skill sets and tool sets, traditions, etc. Most of these conditions change significantly during the course of a player’s life. They have interactions among themselves, and they have effects on player choices and player interactions.
Life does not occur in a vacuum. It occurs in a physical, biological, sociocultural, and psychological context. The conditions of life change so frequently and in so many ways that change is the first thing a player ought to notice. Nothing inside the life-game has real permanence (although a lot of imaginary permanence), certainly not the player’s own existence in the game.
Life is like a game because it takes place within a set of interrelated conditions that impact outcomes.
(Special note: At this point, many readers will have observed to themselves that, of course, games like monopoly, video games, social games share characteristics with human life because they are modeled after human life. Keep this in mind as you continue reading. My response is that it doesn’t matter to the thesis of this essay. Underneath the arguments we are talking about the propensity of intelligent life to create games, and that all games share certain characteristics, regardless of how that came to be, through modeling or through coincidence. If games are a model of life, then life is most probably a game.)
Gotta have rules. If I’m playing poker and I bet $100 against my opponent, I expect that if he wants to win the pot, he will have to match that $100. He can’t throw out $50 and have the same rights to win the pot as I do.
When the Monopoly player throws a seven with the dice, he gets to move seven places. He does not have the option to move six or eight, or some other number. When he draws a Chance card that sends him to jail, to jail he must go (unless of course he has one of those darned “Get out of jail free” cards).
The game of life also has rules, such as:
· A player cannot expend more energy than he or she consumes
· All players must get some sleep now and then
· Players cannot fly or emit death rays from their eyes or
possess other supernatural powers
· A player can get access to more resources if that player wins
a higher status position
And on and on, for the game of life has a heck of a lot of rules. I am saying that life is a game, not that it is a simple game like Monopoly or poker.
In the game of life, rules can sometimes be broken or “flexed” to a player’s advantage. This is something new. It’s true of some rules, but not all. That last one listed above can be flexed. A player might steal resources rather than go to the trouble of obtaining them according to the rules. But there is usually a risk to that— another rule basically—that states that if a player cheats then he must pay a penalty if caught. If a player obtains so much personal power that she can break some of the rules with immunity, then she is probably the Queen; but she had better be careful, for as conditions change her power can disappear and she can become as vulnerable as the next player. (Marie Antoinette could tell you.) Clearly, the game of life has some natural rules, or natural laws, and some man-made rules that are more flexible.
Life is like a game because it has rules that govern the action.
Interactions are actions taken by players and their effects on other players or on game conditions. Interactions also include the effects of conditions upon other conditions.
When a player throws the dice and moves her piece to the Boardwalk position, she wins the right to buy that property if it is not already owned. If she buys it, she takes the right to buy it away from other players, changes the “Boardwalk is available for purchase” condition to “Boardwalk is owned,” and suffers the other players to pay her rent should they land on it themselves. (Ha! Lucky lady.)
When the video game player gets the answer to the question right, or defeats the demon, and ascends to a higher level, he advances toward his goal, gains additional powers and becomes a more dangerous threat to other players. In a murder mystery, a lie put forth by one of the characters might convince some of the other characters to suspect someone else, while another character only suspects the liar even more.
Interactions mean that nearly everything going on in a game is related in some way to everything else. When one player gains, others’ chances of winning may be reduced. Player A’s choices may be limited by the choice just made by Player B. It doesn’t get much more interrelated than in the game of life. The flap of a butterfly wing in Missouri can affect the weather in Africa (I trust you have heard that one before, or something like it.) You can’t take that open position at work without causing someone else to miss out. You can’t drive to town to get groceries without using up a precious resource, gasoline, in a small way helping to create a dangerous new set of conditions that could lead to higher prices, or all the way to war. Suffering contributes to joy, joy to suffering.
Life is like a game because its players’ actions affect other players and game conditions, and because its conditions are profoundly entangled.
There is never enough time or money. Damn.
“If I had another hour to play I could turn this around and beat these guys. I’m bound to get better cards.”
“If the bank wasn’t tapped out I could sell my Boardwalk hotels and get the cash I need to win this thing.”
“If only I had a few more days, or years, or a rich uncle, I could make something of my life.”
Resource shortages add tension to the game. Nothing like a ticking clock to make hearts beat a little faster. Knowledge that there is only so much food available around your village makes your encounters with the tribe over there across the river a little less cordial. Perhaps you should wipe them out.
Knowledge itself is a resource. Those with more of it stand an advantage. This is common in video games, where successful warriors or seekers accumulate knowledge as the game progresses. But there is a finite amount of knowledge available. Even those who acquire the most do not necessarily win the game.
Life is like a game because it affords limited resources to the players, which generates tension and spurs action.
Struggle and Conflict
I know that you have already been thinking about this one.
Lots of interactions, limited resources, conditions that present obstacles to achieving your goals, all suggest a rocky road lies ahead. You will likely struggle to surmount obstacles, have to fight with other players who want or need what you also want or need.
Your avatar in Race to Glory (fictional video game) encounters an accident on the speedway, caused by another player’s stupid decision to try to take the corner at 200 mph. You have to burn off precious time by pushing his wreck off the track. What’s more, you will lose points because in doing so you accidentally scratched the advertising logo on your vehicle’s passenger side. Oh the agony! If you see that guy on the track again, you will force him wide, maybe into the wall.
See much of this kind of thing in real life? Oh, yeah. If we tried we couldn’t count the number of things that get in our way each day, the number of times some other person, some jerk, screws something up, doesn’t do his part, and we pay the price. Sometimes it gets so bad that we develop enemies—more or less permanent player-fixtures in our lives who are just plain out to get us. We fight. Sometimes we go to war.
Life is like a game because it is downright strewn with obstacles and conflicts, everything from the boss who turns down our well-earned promotion to the worst expressions of “evil”—debasement, persecution, torture, genocide. There may be nothing more fundamental to the workings of the universe than the role of conflict. Call it “resistance,” “friction,” “pushback,” “challenge,” or any of a number of similar terms, it prevents us from achieving our goals too easily.
Risk and Reward
So then, you stare down your opponent across the poker table. He has made a very large bet, going “all-in,” which will require that you, too, put in all your chips. The calculations are simple here. You can fold and avoid the risk of being knocked out of the game, although you will sacrifice the chips you have already put into the pot. You can call the bet, in which case if you lose you are done, but if you win you are sailing ahead toward your goal of ending the play today with more money than you started with. Perhaps a lot more.
In poker, the risk can actually be computed mathematically, at least to a degree. You know how much money you have already invested in the pot. You know how much more you have to put in, and you know what the total payoff (reward) will be. This is called figuring your pot-odds, or your risk/reward ratio. You cannot pull out a calculator and do this (you would be laughed away from the table). But you can make a pretty good estimate.
There are risks encountered throughout any game. Many big bets. Many investment opportunities popping up. Steps forward, steps backward. But you cannot play a game without taking risks. The skills and talents that a player brings to the game, or accumulates during the course of the game, can aid the player in her assessment of risk. Risk involves knowing not only what might be lost, but the probability of losing.
Rewards are incremental gains in resources or status as the player progresses through a hierarchy of goals (levels), like more chips on your stack, ownership of a hotel, Master of the Middle Realm. Loss should also be mentioned here, even though it is kind of obvious. It’s the negative reward. You get set back, or lose an opportunity.
Life is just chock full of risk, reward, loss. You have to invest money to make money. You have to meet with the scary boss and ask for that raise if you want to get it. Your choice to have children is going to set you back financially, but you are willing to take the risk, absorb the cost, because the reward of wonderful lifelong relationships with your kids is at the top of the list of the things you want.
Life is like a game because it is full of risks and rewards.
Elements of Randomness
Oh, that throw of the dice.
Sometimes it seems almost as simple as that. We take our chances and throw the dice and we win or lose depending upon how many dots we see.
That might be the simplest game of all, but it is not very interesting. It lacks all the elements of a good game except players and the feature of randomness. Even the most engaging games have some randomness, however. Monopoly has the dice, poker the shuffle and deal. Video games are replete with sudden appearances of ogres or enemy soldiers, incarnated by computer programs running in the background and using random number generators.
Randomness means that whatever happens, whatever results from an action, is not completely under the player’s control--what the player might think, want, or do. Boom, there it is. The player is dealt a pair of deuces, not the pair of aces he hoped for. Bang, you land on Boardwalk just after the owner erected a new hotel there. If players had complete control, if the game were totally a game of skill, then the eventual winners could probably be spotted early on. Randomness comes in to shake things up a bit, to provide second chances in some cases, to provide hope. The woman who was rejected by her boss for a raise finds an email in her box the next week, informing her that her cousin Cynthia’s consulting firm is going great guns and she needs an experienced partner.
Yes, life is like a game because it surprises us with random changes in conditions.
This one can get a little abstract. Not so abstract in the case of a board game. The board game is bounded by a physical edge. The game takes place inside those four boundaries (on rectangular boards), usually on a two-dimensional surface. A card game is typically bounded by a table.
The boundaries of a video game are in part located in some kind of cyberspace. You can think of them, perhaps, as the set of bits that comprise the internal programming and data, as well as the physical pieces: memory, CPU, the monitor, and other hardware used in manifesting the experience.
In the game of life, we are theoretically bounded by the limits of the Universe, although the only life we know of thus far is limited pretty much to the surface of the Earth. These are the physical boundaries at any rate. But there are non-physical boundaries as well. Science seems to be encountering some of these as it attempts to reach into areas where its (physical) instrumentation, and the limits of the human mind, cannot go. We know there is something essential going on at the quantum level of physics, but we cannot observe it. Same with black holes. These defy physical description. Our technology for studying the workings of the human brain is similarly limited, quite primitive really; our understanding of the human psyche, crude at best. What after all is the nature of consciousness? All this is to say that there is a boundary on knowledge from within the game of life. Players can learn only so much; their capacity for learning is itself limited. We know that there is something “out there” beyond the boundaries of what we can observe, and at the same time we become increasingly aware that we may never be able to know what that is, as long as we remain inside the game.
There are instances when glimpses over the edge of the life-game boundaries may occur, in the form of mystical experiences and intervention events (the author’s term for rare instances when conditions external to the game cross the game boundary and interact with conditions inside the game). But whatever does lie out there, it is clearly a place where the game of life as we know it is not being played.
Life is like a game because it has boundaries within which the game can be played, and outside of which it cannot.
Seriousness and Disguise
Playing a game is and should be fun. But it can only be fun if we lose ourselves within it. Like when reading a good story or watching a movie, we have to suspend disbelief for a while. The more we can disguise the fact that we are playing a game, the more engaging the game becomes. When we reach the point where we are taking the action seriously, we are “into” the game.
This characteristic is especially well developed in the game of life. Some video games and social games do a good job with it as well, less so board games and card games where the artificiality is harder to disguise.
In the game of life, we are so lost in the disguise that we rarely, if ever, become aware that we are playing a game. We tend to get serious about the action, sometimes deadly serious. We feel that there is a lot at stake. Reaching our goals is all-consuming. We can be born, live, and die without ever realizing the disguise. In fact, in the game of life we cannot look outside its boundaries without ruining the disguise. If there were scientific evidence of life after death, the game of life is over. If God truly did intercede on behalf of our football team, the game of life is over. Good thing those boundaries are so impenetrable.
Wow. Some game.
Life is like a game because it is disguised (extremely well) and is taken seriously by its players.
“Show me the door, I want out.”
There has to be a way out. Nobody gets trapped inside the game after they have voluntarily chosen to enter it. A player can lose her way out. That is what usually happens. But a player can also opt out at any time. “Getting late, got to get home to feed the kids, so deal me out.”
In the game of life a voluntary exit is considered an ugly thing. Suicide is a regrettable exit, causing suffering among some other players. Death is the involuntary exit, also causing suffering. Death usually means losing the game—not achieving your goals before your time runs out. Those who are lucky enough to have achieved their goals prior to death either die happy, and soon, or they get bored and find some other goal to pursue. That state of pre-death satisfaction and happiness is short-lived unless the goal finally achieved is the ultimate goal. That’s the goal at the top of the goal hierarchy. It is so high that it does not even qualify as an ego-goal. It is a transcendant goal, which we will touch on at the end of this essay.
Life has an exit, but not an end to the game as far as we know, although with growing shortages of resources and other global threats emerging on the planet, the end may be coming into view. It is at least imaginable.
Life is like a game because it has an exit for the players.
We have already mentioned that game players get better at play as they go along. They develop new skill sets or tool sets or “powers,” accumulate knowledge. They may come into the game with little or no skill or knowledge, on equal footing more or less, but begin to differentiate quickly. Skill and knowledge are less susceptible to random loss than are position and property. They can have a positive feedback effect: learning breeds even more learning, at a faster pace. Gotta keep up in this department if you want to be a real player with a real chance of success. Learn how to “read” your opponents and their betting patterns in poker, recognize a good investment opportunity in Monopoly. Get better at identifying your enemy’s hiding places in Kill or Be Killed (fictional video game). Get that college degree in the game of life.
Player learning is also a change in conditions. As other players get smarter or more powerful, you must adapt. Often it is the other players who are the greatest threat to your own success. They can acquire a great deal of power over you. They can sometimes put you in jail, or for that matter put you to death (force your exit), if they have enough power and decide they do not like you or that you are too big a threat.
Life is like a game because it involves player learning.
For centuries, philosophers have been holding this great debate about whether a human has the freedom to choose his next turn in life, or whether that choice is made for him, built into the pattern of his life from the beginning. This later view, called “determinism,” argues that his very existence is predetermined, that it arises from the set of initial conditions in the Universe and from the laws by which that universe operates. There is no choosing going on anywhere, only the illusion of choice.
Well, there is also no evidence for determinism. It makes an interesting theory and discussion topic, and has a simple logic to it that appeals to some scientists, systems analysts, and philosophers who regard simplicity as king, but it certainly doesn’t “feel” like life as we know it. We feel ourselves to be decisionmaking beings. We fret mightily over our choices, and we often wish that something like determinism would intervene and make our decisions for us. When I hear a smart person say he or she believes in determinism, I ask him or her, “What’s the use of being so smart, when however you are going to act upon your knowledge is going to happen anyway?” Evolutionary biologists argue that there is so much unpredictability in the process of evolution that, if we could rewind and start over repeatedly, we would never get the same results. Physicists tell us that at the root of existence is wild uncertainty. Doesn’t sound like determinism.
The games we play involve choices. How much to bet on three aces, whether to buy Boardwalk or save my money for the fourth railroad, whether to take the left or right branch of the road in Wrong Turn (fictional video game). The player may have little power or status accumulated in the game, but every player is empowered to make choices as long as she remains in the game. If we are simply moved along by the forces of randomness, changing conditions, other players--the power that the game has over us—then we are not playing, we are objects being manipulated.
Life gives us countless opportunities to make choices. (Sorry, but who your parents will be probably is not one of them.) The actions players take in the game are actions that begin with choice. Other players and conditions can have effects on those choices, for sure, but the player is free to make the final decision: take the job, even though the boss is a jerk and the pay sucks.
Life is like a game because it allows players a good measure of free-will.
Think of game levels as vertical mobility. Most games have some form of this. In Monopoly it is kind of subtle. When a player has the right properties and enough cash he can build houses and hotels on those properties and by so doing raise himself to a higher level in the “money-grubbing landlord” department.
Video games employ levels extensively. A player can usually name his current status, something like “Master of the Lower Kingdom” or “Knight of the Round Table.” The player wins points or passes obstacles to move through successively higher levels.
Life has levels too, a lot of them. Developmental stages (infancy, toddlerhood, childhood, teen, adult, senior) are naturally occurring levels, although some might argue that teenhood is a step backward. Employers offer levels tied to pay differentials. Athletes move from benchwarmer to starter to star. And so on. We can view these levels as intermediate goal-achievement measures, or sub-goals on the hierarchy, providing the player with midgame reward and inspiration to keep moving upward. For some players, a mid-level position might be their end point, their “I’m stopping here “goal, such as loan manager at the town bank. But this, I would argue, is playing the game poorly. It amounts to just fooling yourself. This is not the end-of-game, win-condition for the player in the game of life. It is only the shortsighted “ego-win,” and egos are inherently incapable of being satisfied for long. In life, if playing well, players are playing two games at once, one by the game-self, the ego, and one by the external self, the transcendant Self. The highest level, the ultimate goal, is transcendence of the game. (There, I said it.)
Life is like a game because it has levels that support increasing mastery toward ultimate goal achievement.
On our list of game characteristics at the beginning of this essay, you could easily have missed this one. I tucked it away at the bottom of the list. Not because it isn’t very important, but because I wanted to talk about it last. Actually, it is very important. And, actually, this is the one characteristic of games for which the life-example is not so evident.
Willing entry means that the players choose to play the game. They are not forced to play, for that would defeat the whole notion of play; it would seriously devalue the game at the least. Willing entry means acceptance of the conditions, the rules, and all the rest. All of our human-made games are voluntary. Can we assume this is also true of the life-game?
Willing entry further implies that players enter the game from outside, which in turn means that there is an Outside. And the players belong to that Outside, they come from that Outside. The Outside is more their home than is the game, which is only a diversion.
Now we are getting to the mind-boggling stuff, the stuff that follows from the concept of life as game, from the idea of the Universe Game. But, first, let’s revisit that special note that I inserted earlier, the one about games being primitive models of life, and therefore sharing life’s major characteristics. The threat to the thesis of this essay lies in the possibility that life is fundamentally different from our man-made games, that some shared characterstics are the artifacts of the modeling process, and that some important characteristics really do not apply to life, such as disguise and willing entry. I have already admitted that we cannot see beyond the life-game boundaries (at least not easily or often), so how can I claim that there is a high probability that an Outside exists, from which we enter the game, and which is disguised against our recognition while we are in the game? The next section of this essay provides some answers to this question.
The Mind-Boggling Stuff
Here it is: Design, Transcendence, Ultimate Goal, Immortality of Self, Creation of Universes.
If the Universe is a game, and we know that games within life are designed entities, is the Universe also a designed entity? We further know that the Universe is based on mathematical formulas, which themselves rely on constants that science recognizes are “finely tuned” to provide the conditions necessary for intelligent life. Some scientists suggest that universal mathematics and its constants are naturally evolved, or are simply chance occurrences in a “multiverse”—an essentially infinite number of universes among which we have this once instance of just the right conditions for life. No evidence is available for either of these alternatives to design. Furthermore, admittance of infinite universes entails infinite replicates—exact replicas of each possible universe, extending into…infinity. Infinite copies of our planet, of us, our dog Rover. And anyway, to most of us, even scientists and mathematicians, mathematics is a tool of intelligence, a sign that there is probably some clever being at work. (Sorry, but the argument that works in biology—natural selection as the shaper of exquisite anatomy and function—does not apply to physics or the cosmos.) It comes down to where you want to place your bets—which is the more probable answer among a small number of mind-boggling choices? I believe design to be the high-probability choice. Some scientists claim it to be the simpler choice, the survivor under application of Occam’s famous razor.
Let me be clear about this. When I choose design, I do not mean the kind of “Intelligent Design” promoted by some religious groups. Not surprisingly, those members of the religious community invested in the notion of a Creator God have jumped all over the fine-tuning phenomenon. Unfortunately for their cause, fine-tuning is not nearly enough to attract a lot of enthusiam. Creationism suffers from too many mortal wounds, such as its denial of evolution and its insistence on biblical and other horrendously flawed interpretations.
The question, then, of Who is the Designer? must still be addressed. I have argued that the Universe Game requires an Outside, a place (if you will) that exists external to the Game’s boundaries and from where players come to play the Game. This is to say that the Outside is some game-transcending state. It exists prior to the Game, subsequent to the Game. Further, it is a good bet for the state of being to which players in the Universe Game ultimately long—that ultimate goal. Under conditions of impermanance, transcendance makes for a first-rate ultimate goal, although few of us recognize that. No other goal can be finally satisfying, not to the ego, or to that higher self, the transcendent Self, who is the only reasonable candidate we have for the position of Designer.
There is more support for this idea, but first I have a thought experiment for you. You are a conscious entity, living in a universe far far away, a universe of great age. Your “species,” your community of like organisms, is also quite old—you have been around long enough to have learned just about all there is to learn about your universe, to master all that there is to master. You probably have transcended the need to maintain your consciousness on a biological platform. Perhaps you inhabit a new form of matter, created by you. The problem faced by an all-knowing and all-powerful being is simple: B…O…R…I…N…G. An intelligent and conscious entity cannot exist in a state of all-knowingness and all-powerfulness. You should not have to think about that for long to see it. Imagine spending 100,000, a million, a billion years in your bedroom, nothing new coming in—no visitors allowed. What would you do?
The answer in this thought experiment is “create.” You have to create something new. You have the knowledge and mastery for that, remember. There is a certain inevitability in this response.
What might you create? How about a place to play. A kind of sandbox, or playroom full of games and toys.
Only one problem with this. Even if you create a playroom full of challenging games and toys, how challenging can they really be when you have total knowledge and mastery to begin with? Oh, that’s right…we have to get rid of those.
Actually, you do not have to be a master of the universe to run into the problem presented in this thought experiment. Even in our petty human state of worldly consciousness, our state of limited knowledge and mastery, we run into the problem of boredom. And how do we respond? We create games and stories. Why are movies and video games so popular? Because there are a lot of bored people out there, people who have, with the help of education and technology, become masters of their own little worlds and are seen rapping their fingers on their desktops with increasing frequency.
Am I proposing that our universe was created by a highly intelligent, conscious entity (or entities) that needed to “lose itself” in a new world of challenge, in the kind of game-world described above? Yes, of course I am.
Now, the thought experiment just presented has a powerful logic to it, but does that alone mean it is the answer to the design question of Why? Why create a game? Some people, even scientists, have suggested that the designer of the Universe is not us at all—us lost within our own creation—but some alien super-consciousness. In this scenario, we are playthings, not the players. There is some possibility in that. The ancient and bored alien might choose to create a playroom of toys rather than self-involved games. But it passes understanding that an advanced intelligence could amuse itself in such a childish and primitive fashion. When it comes to the games we know, it is the players who are always, in their higher form, the creators.
In the universe creation business, there is the issue of physical universe or non-physical universe. “What kind of universe would you like, madam? You have two options. You can make your universe out of energy and matter, which many find…oh…so plebian, or you can program your universe using our Universe Generator application. We have a great video display, three-dimensional, and for a small extra charge you can project yourself into your universe, at any level of knowledge and mastery you choose. Just another variable to us.”
Silly. But in principle there is a possibility that a Designer might choose a non-physical universe. Some physicists are quite serious about this possibility. Those who favor the multiverse idea must accept the likelihood of “fake,” or simulated, universes accompanying the real ones. Amongst the many universes, and over an infinity of time, the fake, developed by the super-consciousness certain to eventually evolve, will come to vastly outnumber the real. This means (frown here) that ours is most likely one of the fakes. Proponents of the “holographic universe” suggest that the three-dimensional space we know and love exists only in two dimensions—an encoded entity that is projected or “interpreted” as three-dimensional by observing beings like us humans. In this sense, the “stuff” of the Universe is information rather than energy, and I am sure that some of the difficult mathematics supports this view, and I am sure that the computer geeks just love it. If they are right, we may be living in a video game after all.
In a similar vein, for nearly a century science in the quantum arena has recognized the extraordinary relationship between observer and observed. Simply put, if there is no observer, then there is nothing to observe. We think quite naturally that it should be the other way around, that the observable is there, waiting to be observed. But apparently it doesn’t work that way, at least at the quantum level. Whatever consciousness is, it appears to be necessary for reality to emerge. Could be our understanding of this very weird state of affairs is just not that well developed yet, but we have had many decades to look at this weirdness and it has not yet yielded to anything more sensible. It is as if we create reality as we go along.
So now we have talked about some of the scientific thinking around the universe as design idea. There is another body of knowledge we need to look at as well. Like scientific knowledge, it is vast in scope, but in its theoretical aspects, its underlying basic principles, it is much simpler. This is the area of subjective experience of the Universe. Religious mystics and heretics, Buddhists, LSD adventurers, vision-questors, poets and other artists have taken this route to uncover what lies beyond everyday conscious experience. Regardless of the discipline or the reason for making these “trips,” many journeyers come back reporting similar experiences. These experiences have been recorded over centuries, primarily in the spiritual traditions of the East, but also in some of the heretical writings of Western religious traditions.
What do they see, or hear, or feel? Most report a powerful sense of connectedness between themselves and all else in the Universe. Their ego-based thought processes slow down or stop altogether and they “become one” with the Universe. The threatening aspects of the Universe dissolve with the ego. A kind of “higher self” emerges within the individual, one free of fear and suffering, and this higher self is seen as part of a greater collective consciousness. This is often a staggering experience for the individual. It can bring about significant personality and behavioral changes, changes in beliefs.
There is too little scientific data on mystical experiences like these to draw any firm conclusions, although work in that area is now being attempted, some using entheogenic substances like LSD and peyote. (The budding efforts to do this research in the 1960s were cut short by governments, frightened by the loose talk of publicity-seeking, radical academics like Timothy Leary.) We can, however, note the weight of this less objective type of evidence. It has stacked up over thousands of years, across various cultures and around the world. Something is going on there (and “out there”), whether the journeyers are indeed seeing the Universe as it truly is, or having some sort of common hallucination. We can be sure that the human brain evolved to improve its chances of survival, and in doing so it most likely had to learn to “screen out” extraneous stimuli and inputs, to see the world in a kind of simplistic way, a threatening way, to ensure it responded in a self-preserving manner. Apparently, however, it has not completely done away with its ability to see the broader picture. It just has to be “shocked” back into that more basic state of consciousness, through drugs or extreme suffering, or “trained” to revisit it through meditation. At any rate, we have a body of subjective experience that supports the idea of a greater consciousness lying beyond the mundane and the physical. This could be the Designer Consciousness, the Immortal Self, creator of universes.
Most likely, the Universe is in some manner designed. The alternative explanations are too weak, too improbable, too lacking in evidence or convincing rationale. To review, these alternatives include: a) raw chance (multiverses), b) other-than-ourselves Gods (religions), and c) self-sufficiency (naturalism). Many of those who know the science want, sometimes desperately, to avoid giving any thought to the design option. They resort to a “science of the gaps” explanation for phenomena for which science has yet no evidence-based explanations, “but someday will.” Those needing an explanation now usually reach for the multiverse option—our universe is one among the infinite, one that happens to to have just the right properties to maintain coherence and for life and consciousness to develop. There is no evidence of the existence of other universes. The rationale is an appeal to statistical probabilities.
Religions, quite simply, have proven themselves, over many centuries, to be intellectually and morally bankrupt as well as corrupt. They offer the weakest attempts at dodging the evidence stacked against them.
The strongest alternative to design may be naturalism. This proposes that some naturally occurring flux in the pre-universe state generated a universe with all the properties necessary for its coherency and its evolution into more diverse forms of energy-matter. It offers no description of what the pre-universe state might have been, or what kind of “flux” could have initiated an event like the Big Bang, but it has done an excellent job of describing the universe we have—its physical properties and laws, at any rate. The gaps, though, are big ones: the experience of consciousness, the relationship of consciousness to the physical (quantum mechanics), origin of life from innate matter, finely tuned constants such as the strength of the physical forces and the mass of particles that make the universe work as a physical system, the information-processing behavior of the Universe as opposed to mindless interactions of physical particles. Naturalism believes that ultimately all can be explained in terms of the physical alone. Long way to go there.
I have argued that the form the Universe takes looks like, and logically and most probably would be, that of a game. I have argued that a game needs a designer, and that the Designer of the Universe is most likely…us. I propose that the current state of human knowledge suggests that we exist in a transcendant state as well as in a worldly form. We are the players in the Game. Most probably.