Volume 3, Issue 21
Recently a great friend sent me this link and these questions:
NY Times: A Quantum of Solace
Is time an illusion? Is there a universe, or multiverse? Finite or infinite? Will we ever know, and does it matter?
All of these are interesting questions. Let’s however focus on the last one — does it matter?
It matters because one’s view of the universe shapes one’s thoughts, feelings and actions.
If one is betting there is a multiverse and that individuals tune into certain branches and experience different lives as universes branch off into variations on themselves, one is always careful to tune one’s mind to the universe one wants to be living in. Such a person probably would have not built a bomb shelter following the Cuban Missile Crisis. Because that degree of concentration on the universe in which the missiles would come could switch one into that branch, which — if multiverse theory is accurate — probably really exists having branched off back in the 60s.
If one is betting there is a single universe that happened by accident, such a person might have built that bomb shelter. If the person is wrong and it’s a multiverse, despite being wrong that person would be lucky enough to be living in this branch in which WWIII did not happen in the 20th century.
We are not saying one is right and the other is wrong — merely that there are reasons why it does matter which view of reality one is betting on. Because our view influences our decisions, implying that all of us should spend at least a little time reaching one’s own position on the largest questions — something that Aristotle advised a long time ago.
If one is truly betting there is a God that is benevolent and likes Good acts, one is more likely to perform those even at self-sacrifice. If one is betting that life is a free-for-all then one is more likely to take care of number one first.
Given the pragmatic importance of a view of reality, it is amazing how little conversation there is about the nature of reality, and how infrequently there are articles like the one in The New York Times that started this post.
If one has no proof one way or the other about the nature of reality, what are the implications for optimal action and decision making?
Game theory dictates that one should adopt the position offering the greatest chance of success regardless of what reality turns out to be. In other words, if one had an optimizer running in one’s head, there would be a spreadsheet for every contemplated action in which the columns were the alternative possible natures of reality — Benevolent God, Accidental Materialism, One Self Living Many Lives at Once, Two Gods One Good One Evil, We Are All Gods in a Free-for-All, etc. The rows would be the alternative actions one could take in a given situation. Each cell in the table would contain a best guess about how well each action would fare in each type of universe. Calculations done instantaneously on the table would indicate the action with the greatest chances of serving one’s true long-term goals the best regardless of which type of universe we are living in.
This seems pretty far-fetched. Not only have people given up thinking about the largest questions, they have even given up self-observational/critical thinking about their own true long-term goals. This is the nature of the I Have No Time Culture.
Nevertheless it is probable that in the “gut” — the part of the intuition that manifests through the basal ganglia and holds a record of what has worked and not worked for us in the past (see last post) — something very similar to such a table is operating to provide realtime optimal recommendations in the way of gut feel.
Game theory in this case points to not foreclosing on any possible nature of reality. This puts the individual in the strongest position to be able to attune to intuitions, read minds or thought currents, and sense the future, because if one takes the more common assumption of Accidental Materialism (essentially a believed religion like any other), one tends to be shut off from the openness to having these useful experiences.
Now briefly to the other questions my friend posed:
Is time an illusion? I am betting that to the One Consciousness of which we are parts, everything is one instant, and the smaller minds of the slivers (us) have to break the whole down into a sequence in order to delectate it without being overwhelmed. That sequence is time.
Is there a universe, or multiverse? My bet: multiverse — otherwise one is assuming that we are naturally able to sense the entire universe through our instruments and senses — which seems to me to be just one more unwarranted assumption. Any processor capable of launching and sustaining the ornate universe we see is so awesomely powerful in terms of bits per second and other such objective information theory metrics that it is unreasonable to assume limits.
Finite or infinite? I’m with Heinlein on this — whatever is, must be finite, but a very large number so large that it might as well be infinity. Why “must” whatever “is” be “finite”? By definition of the word “is”. My definition is that something “is” if it is perceived by any consciousness. A consciousness alone in its own universe, since it perceives itself, is. A tree that falls in a forest in my view is, because the tree itself is conscious. So is a rock. Being made out of consciousness, everything must have some form of consciousness, no matter how rudimentary. We see evidence of “rudimentary” or “essential” consciousness in the victims of dementia for example.
Will we ever know?
If your consciousness survives death, there will be a vast increase in your own certainty and knowledge as to which universe descriptions have to be taken off the table. However, those left behind will still be in the dark until they leave this life.
Or is that necessarily the case? Some individuals have unexplainable experiences of contacting the consciousness above, and this convinces them of the existence of an Overconsciousness. Often these are infused with the symbols of a specific religion and as a set these are called “religious experiences”. Others characterize people who have these experiences as having flipped their wigs. This is part of the reason why people don’t talk much about the largest questions any more.
That’s OK with me, I would just hope that people think to themselves about the largest questions some more. Returning to where we began, it matters because one’s view of the universe shapes one’s thoughts, feelings and actions.
Best to all,
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