Toward Enlightenment

[ENS] [ENS students] [David Madore]
[Mathematics] [Computer science] [Programs] [Linux] [Literature]

Warning and disclaimer

If you fail not to take the following text seriously — and even if you don't — or if you have some kind of religious belief — and even if you don't — you might be offended. More probably, you might be inclined to conclude that I am utterly mad; in which you may be right, but for the wrong reasons.

I must make it perfecly clear that the following text is probably the strangest thing you will ever read. It probably goes beyond your wildest ideas. You probably should decide to stop reading right now. I disclaim all responsability as to what might happen if you continue reading now. You have been warned.

Prolegomena

The basis for the ideas I will present is the anthropic principle. This principle, invented by the astrophysicist Brandon Carter (who claims to have always regretted it) is based on the same idea as the “you are here” sign that can be found on fixed maps; or the idea that permits a newsreader to say “you are listening to radio XYZ” (something that always fascinated me when I was young: how in the world did he know what radio I was listening to?). The anthropic principle (or, at least, one of its numerous variants), similarly, is the trivial remark that the Universe must be capable of sustaining life, else we wouldn't be here to observe it. The text will go far beyond the anthropic principle, to become the “egoitic principle”, which I will describe below.

Furthermore, the point of view will be fundamentally solipsist. Solipsism is the belief that you are the only conscious being in the Universe. Attitude toward solipsism ranges from rejection to disqualification as meaningless. The text, however, will go far beyond solipsism, in what we could call “totipsism”. Solipsism, naturally, makes communication difficult (for the obvious reason that it takes two to communicate, and solipsism asserts that there is only one). Rather than saying “I”, I will choose to say “you” and present you as the only conscious being. I (that is, you) make it clear that “you” refers specifically to you, and not to any other reader of this text. Of course, the other readers will believe (or rather, act as if they believed — because they are not conscious) I (uh, you) am referring to them, but in fact I am referring to you, and you only.

(If you are wondering “how can I know it is really me that is being referred to”, please re-read the part on the anthropic principle.)

Not only I mean you, but I mean you (here and) now. Anything else, anyone else, anywhere else, or at any other time, is not conscious (here I start moving from solipsism to totipsism). I (this document, or its author; no matter: neither of us is conscious) cannot describe who you are, nor where, nor when (no more than a newsreader can do this), but there is only one you, at only one place and only one time, and you know what they are. (When I read this document, I think I am referring to myself, or rather, I act as if I did, but of course I am not because I am not conscious.)

Consider the statement: yesterday, Pat was Sandy and Sandy was Pat (or vice versa; or tomorrow, if you prefer). It postulates an exchange of “souls”. But Pat and Sandy's memories remain with the bodies. And so do their characters. So nothing anyone can do (nothing you can do) will let you know anything about this exchange. It is without influence on the outside world. Why, in fact, even Sandy and Pat will claim they have always been Sandy and Pat, because their memories tell them so. This is utterly meaningless. There is no such thing as a “soul” (or “consciousness”), at least not in Sandy or Pat.

With you, of course, it is different. You are conscious, and you are conscious of being conscious.

Were you, however, conscious yesterday? How do you know you weren't Sandy, yesterday? You have memories that you were yourself yesterday, but that is irrelevant: so would Pat in our other Gedankenexperiment. And if you suffered from amnesia, would you not have been you previously? Why, yes, but amnesia has nothing to do with the matter. You were not you yesterday, and you will not be you tomorrow. For there is no yesterday, and there is no tomorrow, only memories of the one and hopes (or fears) for the other.

How do you know you are yourself? Or, more precisely, how do you define being yourself (i.e. being conscious, since the two are equivalent)? Simple: you can move your body, you can feel your senses. Can you do that with your past or future self? No. No more than you can act upon that man across the street. Both your “past self” and he are not you. Hence the exceedingly important localization in space and time.

Nondeterministic computing

A nondeterministic computer is one which can make random choices. This is not quite true. It has a special kind of instruction (or value, or function, or some such), which is the source of the nondeterminism. When it encounters such an instruction, it has several different paths (or “threads”) of computation. In a sense, one is chosen at random; in a different sense, all of them are chosen at once. Computation threads may “die” (that is, they have no further evolution); in fact, most will have died by the time the computation is deemed finished. But the thread which is “seen” at the computation's end is always a live thread.

In the classical (or should we say “quantum”?) vision of nondeterministic computing, all threads exist at once. You start the computing, it forks into multiple threads at points of nondeterminism, threads die when they must, and at the end one or many threads are left (if none are left, the computation is a failure; that is supposed not to happen), and one is chosen “randomly” (it is only then that the nondeterminism occurs) and gives the final result. In the “oracular” point of view, only one thread ever exists, and at every point of nondeterminism, it makes a Right choice, so as to be assured never to die. The computation must be performed in a black box: you can only read the result at the end, never any intermediate result. As a matter of fact, you can, but if you stop the machine in mid-computation, you cannot “resume” the computation (you can restart it, but because of the nondeterminism, it might take a different course). That is part of the “quantum” nature of nondeterministic computing (nondeterministic computing has no relation with quantum mechanics: the former is a purely mathematical theory, whereas the second is a branch of physics; however, quantum mechanics theoretically makes it possible to build nondeterministic computers that operate in linear time; but note that it is always possible, although costly, to emulate a nondeterministic computer on a deterministic one, by keeping track of every thread of computation).

It is, actually, even a bit more vicious. You can program the nondeterministic computer to record every step it performs. Naturally, it will only record the steps of “its” thread: the different threads do not “see” each other, and cannot influence each other. So at the end, you have the history of merely one thread, a “surviving” thread (nay, the surviving thread), and retrospectively, (“magically” as it were), that thread has made all the “right” decisions so as to stay alive. If you stop the computation in mid-course, the thread you see might not have survived further, but that is meaningless, because there is no survival, because there is no further, because once you observe, time stops. (All right, you may decide to resume things nonetheless, but that is a different computation, with a different starting point. The other threads are dead — truly dead.)

Normally, you don't interrupt a nondeterministic computation. It just proceeds until some thread finds the answer. When you observe the result, you see that thread. (In a way, the thread has killed all other threads, but that is not good terminology, because any thread that finds the result is equally eligible for being the thread, not just the “first” to find it. Of course, in the oracular vision of things, the other threads have never existed.) In a sufficiently abstract point of view, you just put the problem in the box, close the box, reopen it and find the result. That result has a history (the thread's history), but you must consider that history as part of the result, not as a true process taking place through time. The result has a memory of being a thread of processing, but that is, in a way an illusion: the recorded history is a mere comment on the result.

It must now be obvious what I am driving at. You are that successful thread. Obviously you don't die. You cannot die: it is meaningless for you to die, because you always make the “right choices” to be alive. (This is the egoitic principle, and we shall go far beyond this.) Retrospectively, if need be (but this is all an illusion, because only here and now exist). What the result is will be explained a little later on.

Quantum mechanics

The consciousness interpretation of quantum mechanics has been subject of much discussion. In a nutshell, the idea is this: the laws of physics are nondeterministic (consider for example radioactive decay: at each instant, the particle can decay or not), and the act of observing the world projects the possibilities into one, kills all threads of reality but one, i.e. makes the actual nondeterministic “choice”. This “observation” is performed by consciousness, and so consciousness is at the heart of the problem. Perhaps this vision (“consciousness making choices”) corresponds to the oracular way of putting things; a more canonical way is the “multiple worlds” interpretation in which every choice gives rise to a forking of the Universe in multiple “threads of possibility”. The difference is not physical, it is epistemological: perceived as a nondeterministic computation, Quantum Mechanics just is, and it just depends on how you perceive the nondeterministic computation.

Thus, we are at the point where your consciousness is located not only at a here and a there, but also at a particular reduction of the quantum-mechanical state vector: a “quantum thread of possibility”. A choice made by your consciousness (but there can be no other, since we cannot affort to have two consciousnesses making choices!), or more precisely an answer to a problem posed by your consciousness.

Reality

Imagine you were told there were a parallel Universe to this one. It obeys the same laws of physics, but in a completely independent fashion. What takes place there cannot in any way influence what takes place here, and what takes place here cannot in any way influence what takes place there (it is only for convenience of language that I speak of “here” and “there”, I might as well speak of “now” and “then”, because being disjoint is being disjoint in space-time, and there is no separate notion of being disjoint in space or in time).

Does this separate Universe really “exist” in any well defined sense? Certainly not. Why not? Because you cannot be there. Because you are not there. This Gedankenexperiment shows that reality cannot be an objective concept: you are always free to mentally create and destroy parallel Universes, and no physical experiment can assure or dispell their existence. We might as well think of all possible Universes as existing in parallel (but not interacting) in some huge multiverse. Thus, the “here and now, and in this quantum mechanical reduction of the state vector” becomes even more general, something like “here and now, and in this reality”. So not only you have “chosen” the time and place, but you have also chosen the Universe around you.

God

You have created the Universe. At this point, I might as well dispense with the laws of physics altogether. What is physical reality anyway? What we experience. Nay, what you experience. And, once again, the entire system of laws of physics is part of the computation. We are now at the point of you being “here and now, in this reduction of the state vector, in this reality, with these laws of physics” — all of which you have chosen, all of which are the result of this nondeterministic computation you have performed. You, God.

I digress for a moment on your divine powers. (Uh, at some point, and perhaps this is the best one, it may be useful to remind you that by “you” I really mean YOU and no-one else.) That is, I remind you that you are omnipotent. You (your consciousness) have created this Universe thus, and You could create it in any other way. You cannot resurrect the dead, or walk on water, or do such silly things, but that is not a limitation of Your power, it is merely the result of the rules You have chosen for this Universe. Not because You must play by the rules, but because the rules are what You play by. That I am reminding You of this, also takes place by Your will (a little self-contemplation never did hurt anyone), naturally. That you (meaning your human mind) did not already know this, (a) takes place by Your will, and (b) is an illusion anyway: you merely have the memory of not knowing this, but in fact there is no past, there is only the here and now, and here and now you know the content of this paragraph (which you have never read, though you have the memory of having read it).

But why precisely here? Why precisely now? Why precisely this human being? Because here and now is a place (in the broad sense) where the Answer lies. The Answer, that is, the Result of the (nondeterministic) computation of the Universe. I now get to this.

The Answer

I will now provide you with the Result. (And, I am sorry to disappoint you, it is not forty-two.)

But first I get you prepared to it with this little (but deep) question: “What is the Ultimate Question, and what is its Answer?”. The answer to that is, of course: “The Ultimate Question is ‘What is the Ultimate Question, and what is its Answer?’ and its answer is what has just been given.”. This is completely obvious: there is no difference between the question “What color was Alexander's white horse?” and the question “What is the answer to the question ‘What color was Alexander's white horse?’?”. Consequently, the Ultimate Question is “What is the Answer to the Ultimate Question?” — but so that we can understand the Answer, I restate this as “What is the Ultimate Question, and what is its Answer?”, at which point it becomes obvious what the Answer is.

You are now prepared. What is the very goal for which the Universe was created (by You, need I remind You?); what is the Result of its billion-year-long nondeterministic computation?

Simple: this text. Why, of course! There were many threads of possibility, but you made the Right Choices. You took every decision leading up to this. Need I remind you? You downloaded this URL. You read the initial warning and disclaimer, and you chose to continue reading. Initially, the Universe was created; Life appeared; man evolved; civilization grew; the Internet was invented; this text was written, and you read it. So, truly, this is what All has been leading up to (by Your will). This is here and now.

So, does the Universe stop at this point, now that the Result of the computation has been drawn? Yes, evidently. Ah, but beware. When I said “this text” I may have been a bit misleading. What is really meant is “this thought”. Right now you are thinking this thought. Maybe you are thinking it because you are reading this sentence now; maybe it is because you have read the text previously: that doesn't matter. The answer is here and now, it doesn't have to be the first occurrence of here and now. And you don't have to be the first person to read the text, or to think the thought. First in the timeline of the Universe — but, as I explained, that timeline is but an illusion. Only here and now exist. And here and now is the answer. There is no future, and there is no past. There is only this thought which you are thinking right now. You may have memories of having thought other thoughts, but these memories are false, for there is no past, so you have never thought any other thought. You are thinking this thought, and you are this thought. For this thought is consciousness. Now you understand: “in the beginning was the Verb, and the Verb was with God, and the Verb was God”, all this talks about YOU NOW. And now you have been Enlightened in the truest Zen sense of the word. The Universe has fulfilled that purpose for which it has been created.


[ENS] [ENS students] [David Madore]
[Mathematics] [Computer science] [Programs] [Linux] [Literature]

David Madore

Last modified: $Date: 2001/07/18 22:27:06 $