I just finished a 13,000 word contribution to Nick Bostrom’s new anthologized nonfiction treatment of calamity, to be titled GLOBAL CATASTROPHIC RISKS, containing articles on everything from nuclear war to nanotechnology “gray goo” to cometary impacts. I plan to serialize my draft here, seeking feedback before putting it online, either on Amazon Shorts or Jim Baen’s exciting new zine ASTOUNDING SF. (Yes, he has the title.)
Won’t that be a nice break from politics?
But first, before I start in on that heady tome, let me weigh in on what I consider to be the worst possible catastrophe of them all. One that would explain every stupidity in the world today. That we are living in a very poor simulation.
Come on, guys, face the evidence. Science fiction (starting with my own stories "Reality Check" and "Stones of Significance") has been toying for some time with the notion that we are living in a simulation. This notion has been supported from two directions.
First, witness our own burgeoning ability to create vividly realistic simulations, using computers, making ever more plausible the notion that simulations might someday become so detailed that the entities within it would experience ersatz emotions and memories indistinguishable from the "real thing."
Then there are strange results from science. Physicist Alain Aspect and his team discovered that under certain circumstances subatomic particles such as electrons are able to instantaneously communicate with each other regardless of the distance separating them. It doesn't matter whether they are 10 feet or 10 billion miles apart, apparently violating standard notions of "causality connection" which are supposed to be limited by the speed of light. University of London physicist David Bohm believes that Aspect's findings imply that objective reality does not exist, that despite its apparent solidity the universe is at heart a phantasm, a gigantic and splendidly detailed hologram. Stanford neurophysiologist Karl Pribram has also become persuaded of the holographic nature of reality, from the completely different direction of explaining the power of the human brain. (For more, see Michael Talbot's book The Holographic Universe.)
All right, the notion is gaining some degree of plausibility. But suppose it's true. In that case, whose simulation are we living in? Some vast future Omega Point consciousness? Aliens, simulating weird alternative life forms? (Plausible, since human beings are so crazy.)
Naw, it should be simpler than that. And much more consistent with the irrationality we see around us?
Simply look around and see who has been impossibly fortunate, vastly out of all proportion to personal talent and competence, or even family privilege, or even any possible intervention by anomalous good luck!
Next, consider that a long-lasting Holodeck experience will not just be about being lucky, winning every poker hand and getting every girl. Heck, that's boring. Sitting around in a harem on a pile of jewels? feh. Gets tired quickly, take my word for it!
Anyway, if you simply win every hand, it's hard to forget that this is a simulation. If that is your aim -- to live in a wish fantasy while still being able to pretend it's real -- well then you want all the cool stuff to happen in ways that at least marginally let you fool yourself... into believing that you earned it all. Not because you dropped a lot of quarters into the Holodeck slot, but because you're more deserving. Because you’re gooder. Because you're better than everybody else.
Yeah! That’s the ticket. Tell the Holodeck computer to simulate real opponents - all the smug, assured, brainy types you hate. Only in this new universe they will lose despite all their fancy book smarts.
And your allies? Fun guys who know how to party and help you give wedgies to the smug, smartypants nerds. Yeah! As for luck? Well, set the game to easy, of course, but with LOTS of nerds to overcome and lots of social rules to flaut. And while victory should follow victory, it should never be TOO obvious. Make it gradual enough to last. So you can avoid the real enemy. Boredom.
All right, then, folks. Can YOU see anybody around you whose life we must clearly all be revolving around, in his personal holodeck program?
Continue to Holodeck Part 2..