Notes from the Simulation

Dearest Rachel –

It’s hard to say how long it’s been theorized about, but there seems to be a growing belief in ‘life as we know it’ being little more than a simulation. Maybe it comes from the popularity of the Matrix movies, where so much more seems to be possible, even for blue-pilled humanity. You and I would have heard it expounded upon by Arran Lomas of Thoughty2 (who I haven’t watched since you left, as it was one of those things just the two of us used to do, and I can’t seem to bring myself to go back to him anymore. That, and I would occasionally fall asleep while watching, even as you were more intent on hearing what he had to say – what can I say? It was usually pretty late when we were doing this, and I was recovering from this or that event at work. Still, I’ve never unsubscribed from the channel). And, of course, you and Daniel enjoyed the real-life example of all of the Sims games back in the day (although neither of you ever took to the current iteration Sims4, for whatever reason, and I can’t recall ever getting a satisfactory answer as to why).

But for all of that, I suspect it’s hardly a new concept. Plato devised his allegory of the cave, where the mere shadows on the walls were the only glimpses of reality his theoretical prisoners were ever able to see and understand; his implication, of course, was that we are all those prisoners, seeing as though ‘through a glass darkly,’ to reference the apostle Paul (at least, on this side of the veil – I presume you can see so much better these days, now that you’ve been brought over to the other side; the only pity is that, like with those released from the cave, they are unable to explain what they’re seeing and experiencing to their former comrades still imprisoned there). It probably didn’t hurt for Plato to have come from the Hellenistic tradition of gods who were basically humans with powers – spiteful, capricious and most importantly, easily bored. The idea of humanity being an enormous playground for them to manipulate to their whims would have come naturally to him. Even we as Christians can’t shake the concept entirely, sometimes picturing God as the ultimate chess grandmaster, putting us and others as pieces on a massive board to serve His purposes.

But the idea of reality-as-computer-simulation is relatively new, refined as we humans continue to create machines that serve as an ever-improving analog. We have pushed the limits of science to discover reality’s ‘frame rate’ (the Planck constant, amounting to 10^-44 of a second, while we as humans would consider ourselves fortunate to be able to perceive the passage of even 10^-2 of a second) as well as ‘pixel size’ (the quark and the lepton, the former of which assemble to form protons and neutrons, while the latter become neutrinos and electrons, thus becoming the building blocks of atoms and from there, of all of what we perceive as ‘reality’), even though we realize that we are only able to determine their existence through calculations, as we are unable to perceive them with our senses or measure them with the instruments thus far devised. In turn, we have created machines that project images at a faster rate than we can visually process, and at a depth of field such that the viewer (the confines of the screen aside) might not be able to distinguish from reality anymore. At this point, the only limit to creating our own simulation is a matter of processing power and speed. So if we can do it to ourselves, it becomes that much more relatable that Someone (or, more ominously, Something) might have been capable of creating this reality to confine us within for whatever length of days they determine for us.

Even our interactions with each other tend to have a certain routine, predictable nature to them. There may not be a script, per se, but from one day to the next, so many exchanges, be it as we first get up in the morning, or when I would return home from work, or all the many daily trivialities of life, are only a more complicated series of Mad Libs, with one leading to the next. It’s why now we’re (almost) able to create computer programs that can talk with us online. I say almost because, while I have been gathering information to confirm one thought I had after another, it occurred to me that a human would question why I was asking about these things, especially given that I wasn’t giving it the entire context of what I was trying to accomplish with the information it was returning. It also wasn’t interrupting or countering me with thoughts and opinions of its own; all it was doing was responding to my inquiries by giving me the information I requested, as quickly and efficiently as possible. That serves the purpose for which it was designed, to be sure – and a professional seeking information would find it rather irritating if it were to respond in those truly ‘human’ ways – but at that point, calling it a ‘chat’ bot seems to be a misnomer, since it doesn’t act (or even react, since that’s really all it does) in that way.

Once we figure out how to get there, we’ll have indeed built ourselves our own simulation, nearly indistinguishable from reality. Indeed, it might very well be someone’s reality some day.

And no, I’m not necessarily talking about myself… yet. It’s true that my interest in artificial intelligence has been ramped up in particular since the tail end of last year in an effort to recreate you to a certain extent, it’s not like I hadn’t been into it for some time. You might remember my interest in a music-related program that claimed to be in development, which promised to ultimately generate music in any number of styles, genres, composers and artists. Imagine Beethoven writing rock music, or David Bowie doing ragtime, just for starters. It would be to music what stable diffusion (and its commercial counterparts) are to artwork.

But you’ll notice that it’s all still somewhat derivative. You could take an existing style of music, throw in the effect of a certain composer’s signature motifs and the like, and top it off with the vocals and stylings of an artist or group, and create something… new? Is it new? Or is it just a whole lot of existing stuff, just combined in a new way in order to seem new?

The reason I ask is that I find people telling me I have a fairly unique way of looking at the world, but I don’t see it that way at all. Everything I say is taken from what I’ve absorbed over my lifetime; the stuff that I’ve learned in school or through life, the pop culture (or the off-pop culture, for lack of a better term for it), and so forth. I regurgitate lines from movies just like (and more often than a lot of) other people; the fact that we shared those lines and that culture was part of our attachment to each other. But if that’s all so, then I’m just a remix of all sorts of other things that came before, as are you. We may be born with original sin, but everything we’ve committed since has been pretty derivative.

Then again, perhaps the remix process is enough to make us (and the things we generate) unique in their own right. The pictures that I make of you are generally 768 by 512 pixels, with each pixel a combination of 256 shades of only three colors: red, green and blue. The fact that we can count these numbers suggests a finite number of images this size that can be generated. But that number – just shy of 6.6 trillion – is so large as to appear virtually infinite (even if we discount the 99.9% of those pictures that would be nothing more than white noise), just like life itself seems to move seamlessly from one moment to the next despite being theoretically composed of these infinitesimally small Plancks of time.


I don’t remember much of any of last night’s dreams, but the one final scene that still sticks in my mind involved the two of us. Someone was asking if there was a word or phrase that each of us used ad nauseum to the point where it bothered the other, not because of its meaning, so much as its general overuse. I personally couldn’t think of anything, which probably comes as no surprise, given how long it’s been since I’ve heard anything from you. Heck, if I could hear anything from you, even something as trivial as that MLP quote of “I’m pancake!” whenever I would wake you after falling asleep on the couch (as a muddled way of insisting “I’m awake!), I wouldn’t care if I’d heard it a thousand times before. But you mentioned something that you’d grown tired of hearing from me – something that was fairly innocuous, to the point that I’ve forgotten what it was now that I’m ‘pancake’ – and in the dream, I pondered your response for a moment before realizing that, yeah, I did use that phrase an awful lot, didn’t I?

“See,” I remember telling you at that moment, “this is why I need for you to outlive me.” (Evidently, neither of our dream selves were aware of the situation in reality – assuming this is reality). “You’re the one who is able to remember this stuff, so I can change my ways,” or something like that. And no sooner had the words left my mouth, when the scene all but popped – there was no gentle dissolve this time – and I found myself staring at the all-too-familiar ceiling fan yet again. And I’m stuck not remembering what that irritating phrase was, or how to avoid it.

Then again, it’s not as if I’ll ever bother you again with it, either, so no harm done?

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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