Sunday, January 06, 2008

The universe as virtual reality

Does it get any cooler than this? This, expressed as Mind Only, has been a central tenet in Buddhism for centuries, of course, but this is the first time I've heard of a physicist entertaining the subject.

What does it mean? Well, for one thing, Hitler may turn out to be no more than a character in a book, so to speak, which corresponds to neural nets that store both negative and positive outcomes in order to guide behaviors. We're perfectly willing to divest culture heroes, such as Jesus, of historical reality. Why not historical villains, too? At the end of the day, close the book and put it back on the shelf.

But of course we can also presume that historical personages can be invested with the most egregious nonsense without disturbing the underlying order of the Universe. Suppose, that is, that Mary really is a virgin mother (I know I do ;-), or that prophets do pull themselves up to Heaven by yanking on their own topknots. The realities we prefer are virtual anyway. Why not go for broke and test our protean fantasies against the philosopher's stone of modern physics? Isn't a taste for order just fear of the chaos we're dead certain, if we're honest with ourselves, lies at the root of all our lives?

Is that a license for doing whatever the @#$! you feel like? Hardly. Suppose the book is about bad guys getting their comeuppance, eventually. So you, as an evildoer even more blithely innocent than Voldemort himself, haven't got a snowball's chance of avoiding hell — aside from the surcease afforded by reader boredom, or, assuming the reader eventually finishes the book, satisfaction. By "reader," of course, one presupposes Bishop Berkeley's Auditor of trees fallen in the woods.



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