Some years ago, I had this friend. His name was Erik, and he was a lawyer, living down in Texas, and we’d met and hung out during one of my stays in the area. We kept up off and on via email, and let me tell you, this guy, he was crazy smart.
Not just in the way lawyers are smart, but with theoretical stuff. Thought experiments and the like. Stuff that’ll keep your brain tripping about for weeks. We still talk now and then, but life being what it is, we don’t get the chance much these days.
The reason I bring him up is because we exchanged a few emails recently, discussing my girlfriend, Storm, and her health issues. Erik being Erik offered to do whatever he could to help, but he lives in New York now, so it’s not like he can make a few hour drive to be here. During our conversation, I asked him about something we once discussed.
You see, Erik has this theory that’s kinda weird, but at the same time, kinda makes sense. Well, theory is a strong word. I don’t get the feeling he believes it himself, so much as he finds it an interesting thing to think about.
It goes like this. What if the universe itself is an intelligence, pondering its own existence, and we are just brain cells in that intelligence. Little computing nodes, you might say. All intelligent life, or even semi intelligent life, in the entire universe, only exists to add processing power to the universal intelligence, so it can try to figure out what it is, and what its own existence means.
Now, like said, this is just an interesting thought experiment. The way Erik always frames it, this is why people believe in high powers. All the ancient Gods of myth, to the modern belief systems, only exist because people sense this great, universe spanning intellect, and in their desperate grasping to understand such a thing, create their mythical deities.
Kinda weird, but in a way, it kinda makes sense, right?
Erik’s always coming up with these kind of things. I could give you a list of his out of box theoretical ideas and thoughts, but this one, the universal intelligence, is the one that I always find myself coming back to and really thinking on. Cause as out there as it is, it does make a weird kind of sense, ya know?
What got me thinking on it again was a recent video I watched on multiverse theory. While I’m no quantum physicist, I do find the various theories of the field rather fascinating, and none more so than multiverse theory.
For those of you not well versed in comic book mythology, multiverse theory basically postulates that there are an infinite number of universes, that exist parallel to each other. Each major decision we make in our lives creates a new, branching alternate universe, where the results of that decision play out. This creates a never ending array of alternate possibilities to our own lives, in which every possible outcome can be realized.
Yeah, I know. Heavy, right?
What fascinates me about this theory is that for every choice we make, an alternate outcome can be found by a different version of ourselves, meaning we all live thousands, or millions, of lives. That even when we make a bad choice, somewhere out there, we made a good one, and things went differently.
Now, the argument against this is that it creates an extensional crisis. If every choice we make creates an alternate universe where we made a different choice, then any choice we make is meaningless. The concept of free will vanishes in a puff of quantum weirdness, and we are left with a sense of our own existence being pointless. We are one of many identical copies, and there fore, redundant to our own existence.
Which sounds to me like some people have been overthinking things. Or under thinking them, depending on your point of view.
Look, here’s how it is. I’m me. The choices I’ve made, and the life I’ve lead, has made me who I am. Out there, somewhere, there may be someone with my name and face, but that guy, he’s lived a totally different life than I have. He’s not me. He’s somebody else.
Because we are the products of our experiences, that means that even if there are multiple universes where every outcome can be realized, no two versions of a person will be the same. It is an infinite variation on a them, yes, but it’s not identical.
Let me put it to you this way. When I was seventeen, a door to door saleswoman came by where I lived, selling cleaning supplies. I remember her very well. Really pretty red head, very flirty. Actually asked me to come with her, since their next stop was Hawaii.
I chose not to do that. For all I know, she was part of some cult or something. I mean, odds are she wasn’t part of some human trafficking ring or anything, but still, there was enough doubt in my mind that I opted to stay where I was. Which lead me to where I am now.
However, let’s suppose an alternate me did go with her to Hawaii. I can’t imagine what his life was like. I mean, really. I’ve no idea what kind of person he may be now, or where his life took him. Maybe she really was being flirty out of interest and the two have a life together. Maybe she really was part of a cult that sacrificing him to the unnamed god they worship. I have no idea. I mean, she was flirting with me, and that’s kinda suspicious, ya know?
By the way, if you were that red head, and somehow you’re reading this, please don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.
Likewise, let’s suppose my acting career hadn’t been cut short, and that I had ended up in L.A. Where would I be now? A junky living under a bridge with his failed dreams? A successful actor? Maybe I’d even have gotten into voice work and be part of the Critical Role cast now. I don’t know, because there’s too many variables to even begin to fathom where I would have ended up, who I would be, and what I would be like as a person.
What I do know is that I wouldn’t be the person I am right now. I wouldn’t even recognize that person, and odds are, we’d be so radically different, we wouldn’t even like each other. I would not, I know, be me. I’d be them, and they wouldn’t be able to fathom the life I’ve had. Because we’re two very different people, who just happen to share a face and a name.
In many of these alternates, I wouldn’t have met Storm, and she’d possibly be facing her cancer alone, without a single person to care for her. Or maybe she would have caught it early and be fine, because she wasn’t concerned about making me worry for her. A reality where we never met is one of people we can’t imagine, or even understand.
And all of that isn’t even touching on the staggering number of alternate realities where I was never born. I mean, think about it. Each of us exist because of an extremely precise series of decisions made by people going back to the dawn of the human race, and probably before. Any one of those change, and a world exists where we don’t.
Hell, a wold exists where none of the most famous historic figures never existed. No Bach. No George Lucas. No George Washington. No da Vinci. So on and so on. Worlds so different from our own, they would be almost like alien civilizations to us.
Even worlds where anime never became the medium we know, just to give you the most nightmarish scenario.
My point being, even with an infinite number of realities, the odds of a world where any of us exist is infinitesimally small, making the number of alternate worlds you can find a duplicate of any one of us a speck of sand on the beach that is the multiverse. So, even in an infinitely expanding multiverse, our existence is still unique, made all the more so by the specific variation that is us, as we exist, here and now.
I dunno about you, but I feel pretty damn special right now.
Not as special as the me that lives in a universe where B.B. King became President of the United States of Blues, but still pretty special.
Damn you # 819,567, you just had to get the smoothest universe, didn’t you?
So, what does all this have to do with Erik’s weird little theory of a universal intelligence?
Well, let’s think about that for a second. That’s what thought experiments are for, after all.
Let’s suppose that there is but one universal intelligence, using the infinite number of ever expanding alternates as additional thought processing nodes, each one populated by an endlessly expanding number of computing cells, known as us.
That’s a lot of raw thinking power, ain’t it? The kind a universe sized intelligence would need to ponder it’s own existence, and ask the big questions. What am I? Where did I come from? Why do I exist?
Now, obviously, I’m not saying that’s in any way true. It’s just something to roll around in your head and think about for the fun of doing it. Well, okay, that’s something I consider fun, but I’m a fantasy writer and make up whole worlds for the shits and giggles of it.
Or do I? What if I’ve just tapped into the universal intelligence’s unconscious, and caught a fleeting image of a universe that really does exist? What if that’s what all fiction is?
See why it’s fun to think about now?
You don’t, huh? That really is just me?
The point I’m really reaching for here is to say something very simple to you. Which is, to be blunt, that you matter. Your life matters. Even if there is an infinite multiverse where every choice you make is realized, the you reading this matters, because those lives aren’t yours. Your life, and everything that has led you to right here, right now, reading this, is something only you experienced.
That makes you incredible, unique, and wonderful.
Try not to forget that, okay? It’s pretty important.