CTRL-Q: Quantum Time

Extropia DaSilva is back with another essay, and this time, she’ll be “going quantic” on Second Life. Explaining complex science using Second Life as an example, she’ll take you through a voyage through time and space, making you realise that “common sense” and “quantum mechanics” cannot be employed in the same sentence together. I hope you enjoy Extropia’s musings. Have fun! 🙂 — Gwyn
138604838_9da0d9833a.jpgHave you ever stopped to consider how the impossibility of logging off from SL might ultimately reveal the quantum physical nature of time?

Probably not. Quite a few people, though, have contemplated the relationship between the abstract space of SL and the physical world in which they live. In other words, SL challenges some people to consider the nature of reality. But in ignoring the concept of time, such speculations cannot help but be impoverished. Reality is, after all, comprised of space AND time.

Perhaps the reason why time goes unnoticed is because the way we experience it in SL does not differ from our experience of time in RL. Therefore, we are not challenged to define reality in a temporal sense in quite the same way that the different experiences offered by SL questions the spatial dimension. But that is a shame, because our everyday concepts of time appear to be quite contrary to the laws of classical physics, but the quantum cosmological concept of time appears to have interesting analogies with the metaverse.

First, though, that seemingly nonsensical introduction needs clarification. In what sense is it impossible to log off from SL? You select ‘quit’ and you are indeed logged off. But only partially, as a careful consideration of the way the mind works will reveal. To believe that SL is rendered by, and exists on, the computer is nothing less than a delusion. The computer does not render SL at all, it merely uses information encoded in binary language to send photons from the monitor to your eyes. These photons stream information to your brain and this enables it to construct a model of reality. Now, the way this model is put together naturally leads us to compartmentalise imagination, SL and RL. It appears as though imagination occurs in the mind, Sl exists on the screen and RL is ‘out there’ in physical space. But really, both SL and RL (in the form in which we perceive them, at least) exist where imagination does — in the mind.

Henrik Linden has pointed out that the residents of SL tend to consider the world to be an ‘immersionist’ or an ‘augmentist’ experience. That is, either SL is to be treated as a self-contained world, quite separate but no less real than RL or it is an extension of RL, no more separated from it than a phone conversation that continues gossip between friends. While it is true that SL can be thought of as either immersionist or augmentist, to insist there is a strict distinction between the two ultimately makes no sense because it is both at the same time. ‘Immersion’ has its roots in traditional concepts of VR, in which computer-generated signals allow the brain to experience another reality. Clearly, that is what is happening as your brain interprets the information carried on the photons that the computer’s screen emits. But then, the screen is not always emitting the requisite photons and in that sense, augmentation is right. The term refers to technologies that expand or enhance our natural abilities. We can naturally tune in on a particular wavelength of electromagnetism and that’s why we always perceive RL while awake. But we need additional equipment to convert the electromagnetic radiation that SL is transmitted on via the Internet into a format that our senses can tune into. Since we ultimately interact with RL purely by interpreting information transmitted by electromagnetic radiation, both could be said to be electrical signals interpreted by the brain.

It is once you appreciate that both SL and RL are electrical signals interpreted by the brain that you begin to understand why you are not necessarily logged off from SL after you quit. In order to be truly logged off from SL, all information impinging on the brain that is related to the virtual world would have to cease. Do you ever wonder what your SL friends are up to, or devise plans to make your in-world business a success, or wonder what events you might attend when you next log on? I bet you do. And whenever you do that, information related to SL is active in the brain.

Moreover, your existence in SL is part of an ever-growing network of relationships. So it’s almost inevitable that parts of this network will be affected by your offline status or actively thinking about you. If I am online, and my plans to visit you for some reason must be altered, then part of your social network is adapting its behaviour. So long as you are thinking about SL or somebody in SL is thinking about you, that means the electrical signals related to your existence in SL are active and you are not ‘logged off’.

You can be forgiven for believing that selecting quit is tantamount to logging off from SL, because the mind does such an effective job of modelling reality as if SL occasionally exists on the screen, RL exists in physical space, and imagination exists in the mind. It’s also true to say that the way we experience time compels us to distinguish between past, present and future. It is seemingly beyond question that RL is the reality ‘out there’ (a false assumption, as we now know) just as it is beyond question that the past moves perpetually forward to reach the present on its way to the future. According to our perceptions, time ‘flows’.

We saw earlier that SL residents supposedly hold two incompatible concepts. Our everyday use of time is also composed in such a way. When we talk about when things happened, events are described as having their permanent place on the timeline. They don’t come into being, only to disappear again an instant later, they simply ARE. Such a view does not require time to flow. But when we talk about WHY things occurred, we invoke the flow of time and now things do NOT have a fixed, permanent place on the timeline. This is because we see relationships between events that happened in the past and our current experiences and so we believe the predictability from one event to another implies cause and effect. One such chain of events might say that Neil Stephenson wrote Snowcrash, which described a metaverse that became the inspiration for Philip Rosedale to establish Second Life. Talk about WHEN Snowcrash was published and WHEN Linden Labs first opened and there can be no ambiguity. But the chain of events invoked by WHY SL is part of our modern society invariably invites us to wonder how different things would be if some link in that chain was altered. If Snowcrash had never been written, if Philip Rosedale had never been born, what then would have become of our fledgling metaverse? Would that term even EXIST? It was after all, first used in Stephenson’s influential novel.

Thus, WHEN things happened demands past events are fixed. WHY implies that the past could have been different. According to one framework time flows and events change. According to the other, events are frozen in place and permanent.

A similar situation holds when we look backwards towards the past, or ahead towards the future. The general consensus of opinion is that events in the past are fixed, cannot be changed and so time is not in motion. Conversely, the future is indeterminate and causes do move toward effects in a way that invokes the flow of time. I would argue that it is psychologically imperative that time be composed of two independent frameworks in this way, because morality and justice simply couldn’t exist if the future was fixed or the past was not. In a way, virtual worlds like SL give us some idea of how hard it would be to have morality in a universe that allows history to be re-written. It’s a fair bet that the people who cause such grief in SL are probably a lot less antagonistic in RL because the former ALLOWS THEIR PAST TO BE ERAZED. You just log on with an alternate account. Admittedly, that’s not quite the same thing as re-writing history, but if you COULD change the past wouldn’t that make psychotic behaviour as trivial as it appears to be in Grand Theft Auto? Who cares what you steal or who you kill if a reset switch erases such actions from history? Morality, then, requires our past actions to be a permanent record of our behaviour. Justice, on the other hand, requires that our futures are not pre-determined. If a griefer’s future actions were as fixed and unalterable as the past, then what choice did he or she have? such a person would be like a NPC ,merely acting out pre-scripted behaviour at the appropriate time.

That is not to say that the flow of time is something we invoke purely to serve our sense of responsibility. Subjectively, time IS flowing and past, present and future DO appear to be distinct from each other. But then, our minds fool us into believing dreams, RL and SL occur in distinct realms, when in fact they all co-exist in the mind. Similarly, our perception that time is passing is based on our CURRENT perceptions being different to our CURRENT memories of past perceptions. And, of course, our anticipations for the future are also current perceptions. Some people have argued that time itself does not move. Rather, our consciousness is what sweeps forever forward.

The grand illusion that humans live under is that RL exists ‘out there in physical space. Believe it or not, classical physics categorically states that our most basic assumption of time (that it flows) is also entirely false. That is because to say something flows is to say it is in motion, and we can only speak of motion when there is a frame-of-reference. Otherwise, any questions regarding motion are akin to asking ‘how long is a piece of string’? If time IS in motion, what, exactly, could act as its frame-of-reference? Pre-Einstein, when space was considered to be a separate entity to time, the former could have acted as the frame-of-reference to the latter. But in general relativity, space and time are unified in a single ‘block’ that we refer to as ‘spacetime’. If that is so, OUR spacetime would require an EXTERNAL spacetime to act as the frame-of-reference for the motion of past actions reaching future consequences. And the external spacetime would ITSELF require its own frame-of-reference and so on ad infinitum. But general relativity insists that there is ONE spacetime — ours — and that means our perception of time as something that moves is entirely wrong.

Often, one finds diagrams of Ensteinian spacetime that represent it as a three dimensional analogue, with space represented in two dimensions and the third representing the fourth dimension of time. Unfortunately, the human mind is ill-equipped to interpret such a model properly. For one thing, we are used to having a framework exterior to any physical entity we may be considering, and so naturally imagine any physical object as changing and therefore existing as multiple versions of itself at different moments. A representation of spacetime, though, is something exceptional. It cannot EXIST within the framework of time because it IS the framework of time. No time exists outside of it, therefore it is incoherent to imagine it can change or exist in more than one consecutive version. One cannot really comprehend such diagrams unless one views them statically. Unfortunately, our eyes move across the diagram, one moment seems to flow into another and our minds equate the actual movement of our vision with the impossibility of time itself being in motion.

Individually, we each glimpse a tiny portion of the Universe. Many religions state that God is omnipresent and can comprehend the whole of spacetime at once. In a very crude sense, the Lindens have demonstrated something similar for visitors touring their headquarters at San Francisco. They are able to show them pictures of what the world of SL would look like with an infinite draw-distance. Tim Guest has seen this and he says SL in its entirety looks like ‘an almost limitless jumble of construction that looked as messy and as captivating as a real city’. Taking into consideration the way the mind perceives SL as if it is separated from RL by the monitor, I imagine it would feel like you were seeing a self-contained universe as you comprehend SL with an infinite draw-distance.

As a resident, you are never afforded such a view, instead glimpsing only a part of the whole. Imagine that SL was covered with people and a person afforded an omniscient perspective asked each person to take a snapshot of their point-of-view, as a way of saying ‘I am here’. As each photo was made available, the first thing you would notice is that ‘here’ is an inherently subjective term. Each person has a different interpretation of where ‘here’ is and, of course, each is right. Another thing you would notice, is that if enough people had photographed the world from enough angles, you could in principle connect them all together and reconstruct your omniscient view of their world.

According to classical spacetime, ‘now’ is just as subjective a term as ‘here’. Harking back to that three-dimensional representation of spacetime, it might represent an event in the Universe as happening in one point in the ‘time’ dimension. This implies that this event definitively happened at a fixed point-in-time. General relativity then shows that this is a subjective impossibility. Observers moving at different velocities are not in agreement about which events are simultaneous and therefore don’t agree about which event should appear on which snapshot. Each individual perceives spacetime as being sliced up in a different way into ‘moments’, just as each individual in SL had a different subjective view of ‘now’. But just as photographing every conceivable angle of 3D space would build up a the original environment, so would every snapshot of ‘now’ stack up to represent the whole of reality. Past, present and future would be laid out once and for all, frozen in a single four-dimensional block. Subjectively, the contents of any point in this block can be different from one another and we call this change or motion through space. But objectively, nothing ever moves, relative to spacetime.

Going back to the omniscient viewpoint of SL, imagine that the Lindens decided for some unfathomable reason to divide the world up into sections and re-arrange them. Would the residents notice that something quite drastic had happened to their world? It seems blatantly obvious that they would. I would certainly notice if my home location, supportforhealing, was unceremoniously spliced in between Neufreistadt, just as Gwyn would quickly realise a tropical island looked somewhat out of place slap-bang in the middle of a Bavarian town. This would imply that if the Creator of Universe 1.0 was to divide up spacetime into chunks and shuffle their order, we would be just as quick to notice dramatic changes. In fact, if we could somehow obtain a viewpoint external to space and time, we would see that the temporal dimension was just as disrupted as the spatial. Objects would materialise without first being made, people would remember friends who had not yet been born or could visit their own place of burial. The world would be very topsy-turvy.

But that’s an objective view of spacetime, similar to the one we believe we have of SL. How would the situation look from the perspective of a person embedded in the environment, as we are in RL? Odd though it may seem, classical physics predicts that we would perceive no changes whatsoever. That is because the slices of spacetime have been reshuffled but their CONTENTS have not been tampered with. No history books have been re-written, no clocks or calendars altered. Each person’s current perceptions being different to current memories of past perceptions remain the same. Of course, this does not just hold true for YOUR subjective ‘now’ but for EVERY possible subjective ‘now’ that you have had or will have throughout your life. Each slice of ‘spacetime’ contains innumerable ‘clocks’ that give it a definite position in the ‘block’, things like radioactive decay, or the chemical composition of the Sun at any given moment. There is an intrinsic order to these slices, defined by their contents and the laws of physics. Any one of these ‘slices’ determines what the preceding and following slice should look like, just as a piece of a jigsaw puzzle fits in one location in the overall picture, and one location only.

Theoretical physicist David Deutsch points out that this has dramatic implications for our notions of cause-and-effect. If you were to print out a copy of the SL world map and tear it up into pieces, you could reconstitute it by putting the pieces back together again. Now imagine that another person observes one piece among the interconnected whole. They could see that each piece predicts where the rest should go but they could not tell if any particular piece was CAUSE or EFFECT. So, they observe the piece that represents the top-left corner. If that piece was laid down first, then that was the CAUSE of every other piece being where it is. On the other hand, if it were laid down subsequent to another piece, then the position of the piece observed would be an EFFECT, rather than a cause. View a completed puzzle and it is impossible to tell which piece is ’cause’ and which is ‘effect’, even though the rules of the jigsaw puzzle determines the positions of some pieces from those of others. Since there is no ‘flow’ of time, it cannot make sense to speak of one moment to be laid down after another. Applied to classical physics, this chain-of-reason says that, even though some events can be predicted or retrodicted from others, no event in spacetime CAUSED another.

So, to recap, according to classical physics, the whole of spacetime is laid out once-and-for-all. Exactly one thing happens in reality (Linden Lab launching SL at a particular point in the temporal dimension) and everything else is nonexistent fantasy (SL never launched and Anshe Chung’s primary instead became a hat-maker or something). The intuition that certain physical events are causes and effects of one another is incompatible with the laws of spacetime physics, since by denying the reality of the flow of time, it logically cannot accommodate common-sense notions of cause-and-effect either. This would also mean that free will is impossible, because even as we think we are making a choice, its ultimate outcome is already there on the appropriate slice of spacetime, unchangeable like everything else. According to classical physics, NPCs don’t just lurk in MMORPGs. They are the ONLY lifeforms that exist!

Which, if you think about it, is good reason to be relieved that classical physics is itself as impoverished a view of reality as contemplating the spatial dimension without reflecting on the temporal. We need to consider quantum physics.

We saw earlier how SL appears to be separate from RL by being contained within the confines of a monitor. In fact, both co-exist as information gathered by our senses and interpreted into a model of reality by our brains. Another apparent difference between the two is that there is one RL but SL is one of a great number of worlds that exist in cyberspace. It is, of course, perfectly possible to have a presence in multiple online worlds and maybe even cultivate a markedly different personae in each one. On the other hand, RL is clearly not comprised of alternate realities, with many versions of you leading lives divergent to your own. Well…so common sense would dictate, but we know better than to trust it as an infallible guide to reality by now. Actually, quantum physics seems to point to there being more alternate versions of RL than our current plethora of virtual worlds.

If general relativity applies to the universe’s largest scales, the theory that deals with the micro scale (the level of atoms and the fundamental building blocks of reality) is quantum physics. The first thing that needs to be said about it is that its success as a theory is unrivalled. Its predictions have been verified to many decimal places in thousands of experiments. It explains why the ground is solid, incorporates chemistry into the framework of physics and it made possible inventions like the computer. If the industrial age grew out of Newton’s laws of motion and Boltzmann’s laws of energy, the information age was made possible by an understanding of quantum physics.

It’s important to understand that this is a spectacularly successful theory because it has a dark side. The thousands of experiments that have verified its predictions seem to hint that the world of subatomic particles is radically different to the world we think we know. Fundamental particles seem to have the ability to be in more than one place at the same time, and to exist in many different states simultaneously. Perhaps the most famous experiment that reveals this bizarre behaviour is the ‘double slit’. It’s quite simple. You fire electrons or photons at a barrier containing two very narrow slits. Beyond that is a screen that can register where on its surface an electron strikes. Think of the areas where they do strike turning black and the unaffected areas remaining white. Run the experiment for a while, and the detector screen becomes covered in vertical stripes alternating black and white. This is called the ‘interference pattern’ because, in order to create it, an electron passing through one slit must interfere with an electron passing through the other slit. If there is only one slit, or an electron does not pass through a slit at the same time that one passes through the other, the pattern is not produced. Now the curious thing is that, even if you only fire one electron at a time, with a long wait between successive firings, the pattern is still produced. This can only happen if, somehow, an electron passes through both slits at the same time!

The implications are far-reaching, for it seems to be a basic property of subatomic particles that they can be in many places, and many states, at the same time. This naturally leads to the question, why don’t the objects we are familiar with (made up, as they are, by the very same particles) behave in the same way? There is a famous paradox in quantum physics known as Schrodinger’s Cat. It’s a thought experiment in which a cat is put in a box that contains a device that will kill it, depending on the outcome of a quantum event, which slit an electron passes through, say. But we know that an electron passes through both slits at once, so does that lead to the lethal device simultaneously firing and not firing and ultimately leading to a cat that’s both dead and alive? The trick is then to reconcile this conclusion (drawn, remember, from thousands of experiments designed to peek at reality at the quantum level. None of which feature cats, as far as I know) with the reality we know in which animals emphatically can’t be dead and alive at the same time.

One solution, devised in the 1920s, is known as the Copenhagen Interpretation. It states that particles behave differently, depending on whether or not they are observed. When not observed, the exist in a ghost-like state known as the ‘wave function’, an amalgam of all possible states in which a cat can be neither dead nor alive. The act of observation is then said to ‘collapse the wave function’ and the particles choose which of the possible realities will become ‘real’. The cat is definitely alive. Or not. The problem with this approach is that it is rather ambiguous about what exactly counts as an observation. The detector noting which slit the electron went through? The cat? The experimenter lifting the lid on the box? A solution was put forward that says the wave function collapses as news of the result spreads. So, to the person with the box the cat exists in a ghost-like state until the box is opened. For that person, the wave function has collapsed but the ghost-like state remains for people outside the room until they too learn the result. And so it goes on. At each step the wave function becomes more complex, spread across the universe in a tangle of ghost-like probabilities that only become one concrete reality when observed.

But if the wave function only collapses when an outside observer measures its state, who or what observes the Universe? By definition, nothing exists outside the universe so what, ultimately, collapses the wave function of the Universe? This question was asked by Hugh Everett, who then proposed a solution called ‘Many Worlds’. If the Copenhagen approach has the cat in a state of being neither dead nor alive, Many Worlds says that the cat is definitely dead AND definitely alive. In other words, the tangle of wave functions are not unreal until an observation picks out one alternative, they are ALL as real as each other. But the reason why we don’t see anything in two states at once is because each wave function corresponds to its own reality. That is, the ‘cat’ experiment ends with a feline safe and well in one universe, while in another universe a copy of that cat is observed by a copy of the experimenter to be dead. In fact, everything that can happen DOES happen, somewhere in the infinite multiverse.

Generally speaking, these parallel realities are like the self-contained worlds of cyberspace — pretty much cut-off from one another. But there does seem to be limited interaction between them. In the case of the double slit, the electron passing through one slit does interfere with another. Another, that is, from a parallel universe. Another example is quantum computing. According to theory, it’s possible to have a quantum computer that can perform more calculations than there are particles in the visible universe. That’s odd, because it would appear that the universe does not have the resources to enable the computer to do what it does. Many Worlds says that parts of its calculations are carried out in different realities and the quantum computer works in concert with infinite copies of itself existing in the multiverse.

According to classical physics, spacetime can be thought of as one single block in which one history of the universe (its past, present and future) exists once and for all in a single, unchangeable block. The Many Worlds theory posits an infinite number of such blocks, very weakly interacting with one another. This introduces a new core concept of time: ‘Other moments are just special cases of other universes’.

Theoretical physicist Julian Barbour has spent several years developing a model of quantum cosmology, in which the common-sense notion of time as a linear procession of moments has no fundamental meaning. What exists is the multiverse, which is nothing but an infinite collection of moments. This hypothesis is known as ‘heap theory’, because it asks us to imagine a heap containing an infinite collection of moments, like photos capturing a snapshot of the universe with its atoms in a certain configuration. In the classical view, an objective view of spacetime would show that there is one snapshot for each moment in time, and the laws of physics would imprint numerous ‘clocks’ in it that locate it at a definite position in the spacetime block. In heap theory, there are an infinite amount of moments but no real sense in which they can be ordered in time. The multiverse simply IS.

The multiverse itself can be thought of as a complex, multidimensional jigsaw puzzle. It neither consists of a sequence of moments, nor permits time to flow. In the multiverse perspective, when you log off from SL infinite copies of you living in infinite alternate realities log off from their SL. There are also infinite versions of you that choose not to log off (another reason why, objectively, ‘you’ never log off from SL). At first glance, this would appear to make free will as non-existent as it is under the framework of classical physics, maybe even more so. After all, no matter what you do in life, infinite copies of you will inevitably choose the alternative. All physically possible moments are real.

But having infinite numbers of you acting out every possible reality is what we need to restore cause and effect. This is because a multiverse with an infinite number of you can utilise a fundamental property of infinity: It renders certain questions meaningless, but not others.

Everyone knows that infinity is the largest number there is, but not everyone appreciates that some infinities are bigger than others. Consider the infinite list of even numbers. Consider also the infinite list of odd numbers. Every single member in the class of even numbers can be matched with a member from the class of odd numbers, and so both lists are of equal length. But now consider the infinite list of irrational numbers and that of the rational numbers. In this case, it is not possible to match every number in one class with that of another. It’s a proven fact that the proportion of irrational numbers is greater than the proportion of rational numbers, even though both sets have an infinite amount of members.

Once this is applied to the multiverse, it becomes apparent that some questions have no fundamental meaning. When you log off from SL, infinite copies of you also log off and infinite copies (and varieties) of you remain logged in. You might be tempted to ask, ‘which one am I?’ or ‘where in the multiverse am I located?’ but from the multiverse perspective such questions are meaningless. That would require the snapshots of you being arranged into different positions relative to some external space, but relative to the multiverse there IS no external space. You simply can’t speak in terms of ‘fifth one from the right’ because such terminology doesn’t make sense when there is no external frame-of-reference. In this context, what ‘right’ could that be? What does ‘fifth one’ mean? Is 5 the fifth member of natural numbers? Why not -5 or 5,000,0000,000? Each have infinite amount of numbers preceding and following them so they could all claim to be ‘in the middle’, whatever that means.

Since there are infinite copies and variations of you, the heap of snapshots will contain moments that correspond to other times in this universe and also snapshots of other universes. But, from the multiverse perspective there is no meaning to the question, ‘which snapshots from my universe happened at the same moment as a particular snapshot from another universe?’ because, again, that assumes an external framework. In actual fact, there can be no boundary between the snapshots of other times and the snapshots of other universes. According to David Deutsch, ‘snapshots we call other times are distinguished from other universes only from our perspective, and only in that they are especially related to ours by the laws of physics… These two types of snapshots — other times and other universes — have long been placed in different categories. Quantum physics makes the distinction unnecessary’. In other words, we talk about WHEN something happened and that refers to a snapshot from our universe. We talk about why it happened, thereby implying that things could have turned out differently (if Snowcrash had never been written…) and those events correspond to things that really happen in a parallel universe.

So we can’t talk about how many snapshots there are, or what happened simultaneously in this universe and another, or where in the multiverse our spacetime is located. But we CAN talk about what proportion of snapshots have a given property. This is what we need to establish cause and effect. It also explains why it is that, even though what will happen in the multiverse is determined, we inhabitants can sometimes only make probabilistic predictions.

Take a coin and spin it. We say that there is a 50/50 chance of the coin landing heads up, but how does that translate into the multiverse perspective? In this context, infinite copies of you see a coin spinning. Later, half of these copies will see heads and the other half see tails. It is the differentiation of identical copies of an observer into slightly different versions that gives rise to the probabilistic nature of our existence. You might be temted to ask ‘which half will I be?’, but infinite copies of you ask the same question and half will see ‘heads’ while the other half see ‘tails’. Since the question ‘which half will see heads’ is as meaningless as ‘which half am I?’ we must, for all practical purposes, regard it as a probabilistic prediction.

In the case of the spinning coin, the infinite snapshots of you diverge into groups of equal proportions. But it need not always be so, and that’s why our notions of cause-and-effect make sense in the multiverse perspective. Remember, that according to classical physics saying that Snowcrash lead to SL is nonsensical, because in the singular spacetime block SL is just there in its particular snapshot. Any alternate spacetimes in which Sl doesn’t exist are pure fantasy, according to classical physics.

But in the multiverse, variants DO exist, in different proportions and all obeying definite, deterministic laws. It is these varients that give rise to cause and effect, since causation is a property of VARIENTS of the causes and effects, as well as the causes and effects themselves. In other words, a cause is something that makes a difference to its effects. Snowcrash can be said to have had an effect on SL’s existence only if two conditions are met. One is that both Snowcrash and SL happened and the other is that if Snowcrash doesn’t exist, in most cases neither does SL.

David Deustch has pointed out that the multiverse allows free will, but that we need to redefine our language to better suit the new perspective:

‘After careful thought, I chose to do X’ means ‘After careful thought, some copies of me, including the one speaking, chose to do X’.

‘I could have chosen otherwise’ means ‘other copies of me chose otherwise’.

‘It was the right decision’ means ‘representations of the moral and aesthetic values that are reflected in my choice of option X are repeated much more widely in the multiverse than representations of rival values’.

‘I am good at making such decisions’ means ‘The copies of me who chose X, and who chose rightly in other such situations, greatly outnumber those who did not’.

Of course, the other universes affect our own only slightly, through interference effects. But as the metaverse progresses to the post-human era, it may well be that this notion of free will manifests in cyberspace. The human mind has a natural propensity to move into alternate realities. I have argued that RL, SL and imagination are objectively no different, on the basis that all are electrical signals interpreted by the brain. Subjectively, though, things are rather different but even here convergence seems almost inevitable. We are already projecting our imaginations into cyberspace, the network of firing neurons related to an idea translated into the firing of electrons that underpins SL and its numerous builds. As our world becomes more networked and we enter the era of wearable computing, we will be increasingly augmented by clouds of thinking substrates increasingly symbiotic with, and convergent on, our own pattern-recognition based forms of intelligence.

Beyond that lies the point when consciousness itself will run on distributed computing networks. How long will the period remain when, even if the Net were to guide all consciousness that had been converted to software toward coalescing, standalone individuals still won’t have converted to data to the extent that they can form unique components of a larger complex?

A singular consciousness, in which machine intelligences run billions of human-level intelligences embedded in avatars living in hyper-real cyberspaces. Billions of copies diverging and exploring the consequences of many choices, their life experience channelling back to the primary minds that spawned them, they themselves mere components of the global Brain? The sense of self finally convergent on its true form, split across the fabric of spacetime.

Picture by cenz reproduced under a Creative Commons license.

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