There are a couple of different ways we could be living inside a computer. The Matrix model looms largest on the pop-culture landscape for obvious reasons, notwithstanding that the Matrix movies presented at best a half-assed iteration of the concept: that live human brains were being fed a digital simulation of reality while being hosed down for spare body heat (in blatant contradiction of the laws of thermodynamics — but then, you all knew that, didn’t you?). The purer concept is that our brains are simulations as well, that our whole reality is just a bunch of qbits flopping around in a supercomputer somewhere.
This might explain certain facets of the universe as we currently perceive it. Planck length, for example. Planck time. Space-time dimensions below which, according to the traditional models, reality just stops. There’s at least a passing resemblance to a pixel dimension there if you ask me, to some limit of resolution below which the modelers can’t be bothered to simulate. The Copenhagen interpretation — basically, that nothing really exists until observed — might seem a bit less counterintuitive from a modeler’s perspective as well.
But that’s not the model I’m going to weigh in on today (I only brought it up in the first place because I’m an anal-retentive completist). The model I’m more interested in at the moment is far more mind-boggling: that the universe we perceive, while solid enough in real space, is in and of itself a big honking computer. That matter (both baryonic and dark) is the hardware; that the laws of physics are the operating system; that every flip of an electron state is an active computation of some sort. That we conscious entities are literally— along with everything else in the place — the results of ongoing calculation.
This is not undergraduate wankery (or at least, not just undergraduate wankery). It’s a fundamental premise of the burgeoning field of Digital Physics, and I’ve heard some pretty heavy hitters (Lee Smolin, for example, of the Perimeter Institute) discuss this model with a straight face. As an obsolescent seal biologist I’m no more competent to pass judgment on this model than the other one.
As a science fiction, writer, though, I get a free pass to run with it.
One alley we might dive down is the idea of God not as programmer but as process: the idea that if define God by the miracles It performs, and if we define miracles as “events which defy the laws of physics”, then God is something that compromises the workings of the operating system. God is, in other words, a virus that might be better disinfected than worshiped. That, at least, is one of the models the Bicamerals explore in Dumbspeech, and so as not to give away the ending I will not pursue it further here.
Instead, let’s stick with a more traditional view of God: omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient. Not only is that the way most people think of It, it also fits nicely into the Universal-computer paradigm. God is the hardware guy who built the computer and the geek who wrote the code; God watches it run from outside, sees the little sparrow fall, makes Its hand felt in every iteration of every subatomic subroutine. The whole world, in Its hands.
There’s just one problem with that. Computers compute. They solve problems. The very existence of a computer implies a problem yet to be solved, a question yet unanswered, something not yet known that the device is trying to figure out.
What possible use could an omniscient being have for a computer? Doesn’t God, by definition, already know everything?
As far as I can see, there’s only one reason for an omniscient being to run a computer, and in fact it’s the same reason that keeps most of us mere mortals glued to our screens for so much of the time. Why have a computer perform endless arcane calculations in pursuit of a solution you already know?
Why, if you’re not interested in the solution. If you’re not trying to answer a question so much as, how shall I put this, entertain yourself. If your only real goal is to spill your seed upon the ground (or into an old sock, for those of us whose cats get a little too voracious on occasion). Only then does it make sense.
God may not have genitals, but judging by the Old Testament the old bugger certainly has kinks.
This Universal Computer model brings all this together, a grand reconciliation of Faith and Physics. My first-grade Sunday School teacher was so very wrong. God is not Love; God is Lust. And all those glorious multicolored nebulae spread across so many thousands of light years across the Hubble Deep Field? The Cosmic Microwave Background? Maybe even the Big Bang itself?
It’s only the Coming of the Lord.