# How to Create a Universe – Instructions for an Apprentice God

Estimated Read Time: 6 minute(s)
Common Topics: device, let, souls, label, task

(-: ##~~~## A fantasy to be read at leisure time ##~~~## :-)

Written October 7, 1999 to relax from the strains of working on a new interpretation of quantum mechanics – at that time only an actively pursued dream, which took nearly 20 years to fully materialize two weeks ago!

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1. Let us begin with a universal Turing machine (in Penrose’s variant). It consists of a ‘tape’ and a ‘device’. The tape – taken to be infinite in both directions – consists of little squares containing labels 0 or 1. The device is positioned above one of these squares, moving forward or backward on the tape, changing its own state and the tape’s labels – all according to universal rules that depend on the current state and the current label of the position of the device only.

These rules are complex enough so that, provided with a tape that contains the right set of ‘instructions’ prepended to a ‘task’ at hand it will perform this task – any task that is computable in the sense of mathematical logic.

To properly start working, the device must be in a special environment: the tape must have been prepared such that to the left of the device are zeros only, while to the right of the tape may be initially zeros, then the instructions, then the task, then again zeros only. But in fact, it is enough that there are ‘sufficiently many consecutive zeros’ to the left of the device and to the right of the end of the task.

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2. We shall make the device somewhat more flexible by extending its tape space. Instead of letting it move only along a one-dimensional tape, we provide a higher-dimensional checkerboard made up of ‘boxes’ in place of the squares – say, for the sake of definiteness, one with 3 dimensions – that extends infinitely in each direction. Instead of moving forward and backward, the device is allowed to move from one box to any neighboring box, again according to prescribed rules. We also allow each box to contain any rational number as a label, not just 0 or 1.

To properly start working, the device must again be in a special environment; we may require for example that the instructions are coded by negative labels, the task by positive labels, and there are enough zero labels surrounding these; the device moves in its initial state in the sea of zeros (without changing anything) and starts working as soon as it hits the boundary of the instructions.

The theory of algorithm tells us that the new machine is not able to perform more tasks than the original Turing machines, but it can do them more efficiently if the code provided is efficient.

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3. Let us make our device even more comfortable. We remove the borders between the boxes so that the tape becomes a 3-dimensional continuum, and instead of giving labels to each box, we give labels to each point, allowing these labels to be now real numbers – thus forming a label field. The device is still assumed to be extended, and its rule for moving depends on its state and the values of the label field within its extension. It now moves by changing its shape in an amoeba-like fashion, changing the values of the label field within its extension; again according to fixed rules implemented in the device. Instead of having it move in discrete steps, we have it move (and modify the label field) continuously, with laws described by differential equations.

To properly start working, the device must again be in a special environment; we still require a sufficiently well-isolated environment containing instructions and the task, but leave details (that would have to be specified exactly in building such a machine) to our imagination.

At this stage of evolution, the machine (now consisting of the 3D continuum tape with the label field and the amoeba-like device outside the tape) is no longer equivalent to a Turing machine – perhaps it is able to perform tasks that are not feasible for a Turing machine, but perhaps it can again do only the old tasks but more efficiently.

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4. To make the machine even more interesting we assume that the label field changes with time according to rules independent of the device. We also allow several label fields, some of them vector or perhaps tensor valued – a small change compared to what we already did. For the sake of definiteness, let the label fields be the fields familiar from physics, the matter fields, the gravitational field, and the electromagnetic field.

The other things don’t change much, but since the gravitational field and the electromagnetic field nowhere strictly vanish we relax the conditions when the device starts working; it suffices to assume that there is a definite rule for recognizing working conditions.

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5. Things get truly interesting if we place additional copies of the device (let us call them ‘souls‘) moving – well separated – in the same 3-dimensional continuum (let us call it ‘universe‘). They err through the universe in an initially inactive state until they reach an environment containing instructions (let us call them ‘genes‘) that they understand.

These instructions, together with the soul’s built-in rules, compel them to localize their activities to the neighborhood of these genes, encouraging them to organize the matter around them into purposeful activities, long enough to perform the tasks they find prepared for them in the environment.

The task is done once the souls reach their final state (let us call the final states ‘heaven‘ and ‘hell‘). Depending on their final state, the souls find joy and peace in eternally satisfying further activities that cannot be expressed in words, or err restlessly through the universe, without ever finding again a task for which they are fit. (Details depend, of course on the programming; this is just a crude scenario that doesn’t claim any connections with reality.)

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6. Remarkable things happen when a soul finds itself given the task of investigating its environment. The latter turns out to be quite predictable in its outlines (one finds ‘physical laws‘) but unpredictable in its details, just as it should be for a task-oriented universal computing machine that the whole system (souls plus universe) represents.

Some of the souls (let us call them ‘reductionists‘) end up priding themselves with the claim to know that everything in the universe is determined by the laws of physics….

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7. Really surprising things happen when one of these inquiring souls (let us call it a ‘philosopher‘ or a ‘physicist‘) observes other souls. While usually, the universe they observe behaves according to standardized rules, certain spots in the universe, let us call them ‘humans‘ (maybe also call some ‘animals’ or even ‘plants’?), seem to be different, purposeful, just like the small immediate environment the soul is able to control (let us call it the soul’s ‘body‘). And within some of these souls (let us call them ‘dualists‘) the suspicion – no, the compelling belief – arises that these moving spots in the universe are occupied by souls more or less like themselves.

Closer examination shows that it is possible to communicate with these spots in a way in which is impossible to communicate with the remaining matter in the universe. Moreover, this communication turns out to be meaningful, as if the other spots were indeed other souls, with access not only to the physical fields (including the physical extension of the souls’ working space, their bodies) but also to the internal state processor (let us call it ‘consciousness‘) that governs their activities.

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8. Unfortunately, physical laws forbid the too detailed look at what happens within a body without destroying the environment necessary for a soul to carry out its task. Thus the poor dualist soul is never able to prove its belief to nonbelievers. The dualist souls remain the focus of mockery of those reductionist souls who claim that there is nothing else than fields; that souls – the very devices that make the whole machine interesting – are only figments of the imagination, epiphenomena of the local irregularities of the label fields….

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11 replies
1. A. Neumaier says:
A. Neumaier

But maybe consciousness is not preprogrammed and allows for some user decisions

Lord Jestocost

Decisions with respect to what in a pre-programmed world?Well, in the toy model described, there is the dynamics of the universe (the 3D tape) in the absence of the souls (the modifiers). In addition there is the dynamics of the soul-universe interaction (the Turing machine) which modifies the universe within the confines of the bodies of the souls, and the souls themselves. From the point of the world alone, these are nondeterministic decisions. From the point of view of the apprentice God, there are different ways of programming these interactions. The transition table of a Turing machine can be deterministic or not ; both variants are studied though the deterministic one is the far more common.

2. smokingwheels says:

Number one I think is describing how the toolbox works, in my mind.

3. A. Neumaier says:
Buzz Bloom

I am guessing you are considering the simulation computer to be created by a future version of something like our human culture in our universe.Yes, since our universe is the only one we have reasonably reliable information about.

Buzz Bloom

I was assuming that this computer is created in another universe by other sentient beings (gods?), and with possibly much more ample supplies of other kinds of materials. Also, the time rate of similar activities in this other universe might be much faster or much slower than the time rate being simulated. Are these assumptions consistent or not with the assumptions of your essay. With these assumptions, would such a finite computer simulation of our extended observable universes (for all of the multiple sentient beings) be consistent with your assumptions?Well, one can only speculate about what kind of technology is available in another universe.

In another fantasy (unfortunately available in German only – perhaps someone here would like to translate it to English?) I described a dialogue between God and John von Neumann, where God talks about using machinery where already the addresses are (infinite byte) real numbers rather than 64 byte integers (and most likely computers are capable of an infinite number of Turing computations per unit time), thus leaving a host of possibilities theoretically explored in our universe under the name of hypercomputing. In such an environment, (my toy universe or) the universe we live in can be simulated in finite time, I guess. On the other hand, God describes Eternity (the name of this universe) to von Neumann as timeless, time itself being a simulation product. How to comprehend this is beyond my imagination.

4. Buzz Bloom says:
A. Neumaier

In general, to store the detailed state of a system to be simulated needs equipment with much more degrees of freedom, so that as a matter of principle, within our universe, only a tiny and coarse-grained subsystem can be simulated.I am guessing you are considering the simulation computer to be created by a future version of something like our human culture in our universe. I was assuming that this computer is created in another universe by other sentient beings (gods?), and with possibly much more ample supplies of other kinds of materials. Also, the time rate of similar activities in this other universe might be much faster or much slower than the time rate being simulated. Are these assumptions consistent or not with the assumptions of your essay. With these assumptions, would such a finite computer simulation of our extended observable universes (for all of the multiple sentient beings) be consistent with your assumptions?

Regards,
Buzz

5. A. Neumaier says:
Buzz Bloom

At my advanced years I am no longer able to grasp the detailed logic and implications of your essay. However, I get an impression that it provides a plausible conceptual model of a finite (but very large) computerized simulated universe in which all of the "reality" of our actual universe, including the minds of all sentient beings, are part of the simulation. I conclude that a finite computer is is sufficient because it only needs to include events of a finite universe for a finite time. The finite space of the universe is limited to a sphere large enough to include all observable universes of all the simulated sentient beings. The finite time includes that between an detailed initial condition at some time in the past and a time in the future when there are no longer any sentient beings.

Do you agree that this conclusion is consistent with the concepts in your essay?I go from finite to continuum in Step 3 of my instructions, in order to get more closely to something resembling the universe we live in. For simulation, you'd need to resolve space and time (at least near high resolution equipment) to very small scales, which brings a computer far beyond its limits, even being extremely generous with the future development of computer capacity.

In general, to store the detailed state of a system to be simulated needs equipment with much more degrees of freedom, so that as a matter of principle, within our universe, only a tiny and coarse-grained subsystem can be simulated.

6. Buzz Bloom says:

Hi @A. Neumaier:

At my advanced years I am no longer able to grasp the detailed logic and implications of your essay. However, I get an impression that it provides a plausible conceptual model of a finite (but very large) computerized simulated universe in which all of the "reality" of our actual universe, including the minds of all sentient beings, are part of the simulation. I conclude that a finite computer is is sufficient because it only needs to include events of a finite universe for a finite time. The finite space of the universe is limited to a sphere large enough to include all observable universes of all the simulated sentient beings. The finite time includes that between an detailed initial condition at some time in the past and a time in the future when there are no longer any sentient beings.

Do you agree that this conclusion is consistent with the concepts in your essay?

Regards,
Buzz

7. almostvoid says:

ah the soul, sentient activity and the universe. I like the idea of Vedic Vishnu who encouraged his like minded beings to obliterate the image they carried within they thought was a soul. Later Buddhists claimed on through indepth meditative states, they were not the first, that there is nothing—-there in the sense that thoughts are immaterial even if the image is so convincing as it resides, generated by the mind in our consciousness. Leading us to assume the obvious. What we think is real we think is real. Except when we do not. Your article was a delight to contemplate.

8. ftr says:

As I was toying with making some kind of universe. After resting my mind from the complicated ordeal, I thought to myself suppose you succeeded in creating a universe like ours. Then in this universe you see a person pushing a 5m high trolley ( as in poor countries) and this guy with a big fat cigar on a leather couch. What is your decision I thought. Well I change the rules/design, but I could not create a universe except that one. What should I do?

9. Klystron says:

Very clever and thought provoking essay.

Once 'universe' is defined item #5 paragraph 3 has no basis. Put in question form, Where are heaven and hell located? In which direction from the field or the ameoba-like 'reader'? How does a 'soul' transit and what basis for a bifurcation?

[This reminds me of an article in ThinkProgress or MotherJones (?) that some modern 'christians' envisage 'heaven' as a front row seat for observing eternal suffering and torture of damned souls in hell. Nothing in my early religious training contradicts this view. See 'stations of the cross' or any crucifix.]

10. greswd says:

Point No. 8 is a pretty interesting point. Though it's at odds with divine omnipotence, and the history of religion has involved reported incidents of direct contact with the divine. Well, some people have reported divine contact.

But I digress, this is PhysicsForums, not a theistic debate forum. :smile:

11. A. Neumaier says:
AlexCaledin

So, according to the thermal QM, every event (including all this great discussion) was pre-programmed by the Big Bang's primordial fluctuations?Did Laplace have the same complaint with his clockwork universe?

Yeah, God must be an excellent programmer who knows how to create an interesting universe! But maybe consciousness is not preprogrammed and allows for some user decisions (cf. my fantasy ''How to Create a Universe'' – written 20 years ago when the thermal interpretation was still an actively pursued dream rather than a reality)? We don't know yet….

In any case, the deterministic universe we live in is much more interesting than Conway's game of life which already creates quite interesting toy universes in a deterministic way by specifying initial conditions and deterministic rules for the dynamics.