What are we? What are we doing here? What is the Self? Can we become conscious of it?
In “Gravity Waves of Love from Motown,” I suggest an approach based on game theory. So we substitute an easier question — “What game are we playing?” — for the more difficult question of “What am I.”
It’s helpful to think of thermodynamics as the game we are playing here in reality, where “reality” is defined as our existence in the three-dimensional world. I think what we perceive as “consciousness” or “awareness” — what makes us sentient, as opposed to simply intelligent — is the understanding that the game is being played on a couple of different levels.
Game theory is game theory; it applies to all games. So think about playing poker for a moment, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
When you first sit down to play poker, you think you’re playing a card game. You think the game is to draw a better hand than your opponent, and thereby take all his chips. Simple, right? Learn the hand rankings –> bankwire.
You’ll notice at the table that people are doing weird things. They check and sometimes even fold good hands, and they bet hands that aren’t worth anything. You might call them out on it; “What the heck were you betting that for?” At first, you think these people are idiots, and the reason you’re losing money to them is because they are lucky. But that’s actually not true. Your problem is, you don’t understand that the game is being played on a couple of different levels.
Advanced players are of the opinion that cards don’t matter; they see the cards as nothing more than a system of randomization. That’s not precisely true, but these players are definitely not playing cards; real poker is a decision-making game. (Like life.)
In poker, it eventually dawns on you that there’s a bigger game going on, something bigger than a card game. This is, ironically, the point of maximum frustration. It’s a point where many people really want to quit playing. They’ll practically give their chips away sometimes, just to get out of the card room.
The evolutionary biologists are telling you that life is a game, and they are even telling you what kind of game it is. The thermodynamic game is actually kind of like poker; so much so, they sometimes even use the term “chips” to refer to energy.
I encourage you to make up your own mind on this. Let’s do a thought experiment.
Imagine you’ve been dropped by helicopter into a giant stadium. (Or shot up through a tube, like in “Hunger Games.”) There are a bunch of people on the playing field with you, looking around in bewilderment. A voice over the loudspeaker says, “Ready, set, go!” And all of you just stand there. What? What are we supposed to do?
Eventually it’ll be obvious that the game is to survive. The rule is, try to kill each other. You can either kill them directly, or let them starve to death because you have all the stuff. The goal is to get all the stuff and hang on to it as long as you can. You’re all eventually going to die, but you can still sort of win by making babies who will go out there and win one for the ol’ Gipper.
So you play that game for a while. But eventually, you realize there are elements in the game-world that just don’t seem to fit. People are doing things that are puzzling, that seem to have nothing to do with the game.
For example, look at those two old people over there in the corner. Instead of killing each other, they became partners. And weirdly, the purpose of the partnership isn’t to reproduce. They just sit over there and make music together, and have been for many years. Funny thing is, the other players love the music. Not enough to give those two folks resources. To be clear, players will give resources to people who make useful music, meaning music that helps them reproduce, and helps them compete. But this old couple’s music is not practical at all. Not worth any chips, and yet people are drawn to it. It seems meaningful to them. Why is this happening?
And then there’s a group of people sitting in another corner. Their eyes are closed but they aren’t asleep. They seem to be just thinking. If you ask them what they are thinking about, sometimes they say they are thinking about nothing. Sometimes they say they are thinking about the game; but they aren’t thinking about how to fight or steal resources, or how to spread their seed as far and wide as possible. It’s that they are wondering why they are here. Who was driving the helicopter, and who hired him, and why.
And those are good questions. You sit with this group of people for a while, because you need answers to those questions. Because here’s the deal. You’re getting tired of the game. You don’t see the point. In fact, you’re about ready to quit. You’re at the point where you’d rather spew off the rest of your chips, than to sit in this arena for one more minute.
Both groups will tell you not to despair. They feel the same way you do. They just understand there’s another game going on. Maybe several games, on several different levels. They will tell you not to get frustrated by your sense of despair. All it means is that you are ready to wake up.
Waking up means becoming conscious. Assuming that’s a good thing, the possibility seems optimistic. It’s certainly good to wake up from a nightmare, and the thermodynamic game sounds like a nightmare to me. It just seems ironic that the last thing you feel before you wake up is a sense of despair.
Despair is probably inevitable. Freud hypothesized the existence of an instinctual drive that some call the death wish. Camus said that the matter of suicide is the only legitimate philosophical question, and I’m kind of coming around to the idea. (Just remember, he was only asking the question, he wasn’t trying to tell you what to do. You can watch the cartoon version, which will explain the whole thing.)
Inevitable, but necessary. And not the end-point. Just don’t give up prematurely, because the alternative might not be any better.
Here’s how I look at it.
In researching “Ego and the Problem of Death,” I’ve had to grudgingly admit that reality exists. Out there in the chaotic multidimensional infinite, there are (apparently) islands of three-dimensional space floating around called “branes.” Branes come complete with all the matter and energy you would need to create a universe, stuck right there to the grid. All the brane needs is some information to get things going.
You can look at gravity as a form of information. It’s pretty darn important information at that; it’s the sort of information you need to turn matter and energy into planets and star nurseries. We wouldn’t have a home without it.
Theoretically, if you set the initial conditions right, the evolution of intelligent life in 3+1 reality is inevitable. If you’re convinced human beings are completely a product of the thermodynamic game, you can stop reading here. But if you think there are other games going on at higher levels, then I think you have to conclude that there is more information to a human being than can be stuffed into a 3- or 4-dimensional space. We know that curious things result when you try to stuff a 5- or 6-dimensional information lattice into a 2- or 3-dimensional space.
Maybe that’s what we are. We can see how we manifest in local (3+1) reality, but we are having a hard time interpreting the pattern. Doesn’t quite fit with our notions of symmetry, nor with our notions of causality. Sometimes it seems like there are too many missing pieces, sometimes it seems like everything is a missing piece.
That’s how I look at it. I tend to think of human beings as being multi-dimensional chunks of information that are travelling through the brane. Remember, the brane is only three-dimensional, so the most you can manifest in that reality is a body. Well, a body with a history and a future, if you count time. Although as you know, I tend to prefer to look at the speed of light as the fourth dimension of space, and I tend to look at time as a projection artifact. Either way, I suspect there’s a lot of information that can’t be crammed down into the reality we can see and touch.
I figure, information can be thought of as something whole, or something divisible. Nothing fancy, I’m just talking about basic set theory. Don’t get hung up on the set of all sets, it’s just everything, “the whole.” Once you start dividing information into sets, the question arises, how do those sets come to be? If you think that some sets are real, you are a person of faith. If you think sets are arbitrary — or in other words, that intention is involved — you are even more a person of faith. Intention is real, folks.
Consider the possibility that someone, or something, is chunking up information and hurling it (us) through the brane. If you can grok that image for a minute, I have a question.
We tend to project features of our Self onto the Higher Power or Creative Principle. Personally I think that’s fair enough. We are related, and so there should be more than a passing resemblance. Not everything we project is accurate. When we project gender or race, or the capacity for random acts of violence onto the Creator, I think we are deluding ourselves. But when we project our capacity for love onto the Creator — where “love” refers to something more than “reproduction” — I think we are on to something.
When you read creation myths from around the world, some (not all) say that mankind was created on purpose. I find it interesting that these stories project upon the Creator the emotion of loneliness. And I wonder if there’s not even something more to it.
Without going all anthrocentric, let’s just imagine a place out there in the fifth dimension somewhere, where information lives. And let’s think of information indivisible; or in other words, we will think of the place where all is one. Let’s call that information “Consciousness”; because if three definitions are good, four’s gotta be even better.
Seems to me like the fifth dimension is a pretty lonely place. You’ve been lonely; you know what it feels like. You know that after a while, loneliness evolves into longing. Especially if you understand what love is.
Sure, Consciousness is lonely. But I think it’s longing too. It longs for companionship. It longs to be touched. It longs to be caressed. It longs to be loved. Maybe it longs to be made love to.
Takes two to tango. You need interfaces to interact. You need surfaces in order to touch. To me, this is the third-order game we are playing. Multidimensional nuggets of Consciousness — sets that have been cleaved off from the whole — are flying through the void, looking for form, so they can make surfaces and interfaces to please and interest each other.
To summarize, the game of life, carried to the third level:
- F&F. The thermodynamic game of the here-and-now. Fighting and — erm — having sex for the purposes of reproduction.
- The thermodynamic game in four dimensions, where time matters. This is the game of culture.
- The game of sentient entities interacting along interfaces.
The game of sentient entities interacting kind of sounds meaningless, until you consider the alternative.
Yesterday I posted a notion of the afterlife as a place of justice and happiness. I’m not sure everyone sees it that way, and I discussed how and why some people might see it that
way. I suspect there’s an element of truth in it, and it’s a beautiful truth at that.
But I also suspect there’s an element of our tendency to understand multi-dimensional objects and spaces by unfolding them. I’ve posted a GIF of a 4- dimensional cube, or tesseract, and what it looks like unfolded (like a cross) and in its natural state (like a box). We also see reality unfolded in the Minkowski diagram, where “The Bulk,” or in other words the fifth dimension where gravity lives, is located outside the light cones. In reality, all five dimensions are present everywhere. The fifth dimension is not “over there,” it’s “right here.” It’s just hard for us to imagine it that way, so we draw pictures that show all of these dimensions located apart from each other in space and time. We imagine them that way and we might even have to experience them that way, to the extent our bodies and at least part of our brains are trapped in a three-dimensional matrix.
When you’re standing in the brane, the fifth dimension looks like heaven, and life on earth looks like hell. From the fifth dimension, the idea of becoming a sprite flying through the universe, interacting with other intelligent entities, adopting forms that are interesting and pleasing to each other — that sounds like loads of fun. I think the challenge is to understand that heaven and hell are all around us, all the time. That life is a precious gift being acted out somewhere between the extremes.
If you’re hung up on the thermodynamic game, find it tiresome and meaningless, I’m with you. Just understand that’s not really the game you’re playing, any more than poker is a game of cards.
The cartoon I referenced above? Listen again to the woman who doesn’t want to be an ant. If I really were an ant, I guess I wound’t mind it. If I really were a human pretending to be an ant, and that’s all there were to life, I would feel a sense of despair and wouldn’t see the point in living. I think the key is to not be an ant.