“If you know the position, spin and velocity of every particle in a given volume, you can not only predict every future state and interaction between those particles…you can also reconstruct every prior interaction and state, as far back into the past as you care to compute.”
The simulation continued to move in reverse, faster and faster. Though really, I’d never have known it was going backwards if I hadn’t seen the reversal occur a moment earlier. That raised all sorts of questions in my mind about whether the direction of time’s movement is a matter of perception.
Questions the two men seated before me didn’t answer, instead carrying on about particles, predictions and computing power. “Now, if the past and future interactions of a small set of particles are predictable, then necessarily, the past and future interactions of any number of particles are predictable, no matter how numerous. It’s just a question of how much computing power you have at your disposal.”
No. He couldn’t mean…? But he did. The visualization now depicted a network of satellites around each body in the solar system. “It’s not enough just to scan the Earth, of course. Even down to every last subatomic particle. Because the Earth is not a perfectly closed system. There are external influences which must be accounted for if the simulation is to yield accurate results.”
An entire solar system? Mapped down to every last subatomic particle? Impossible. But I suppose no moreso than the technology I enjoyed in life, even though it would have seemed like magic to a preindustrial peasant. To a chimpanzee, even gunpowder or automobiles would seem miraculous.
“Once you’ve sufficiently accounted for all the variables, you’ve got yourself a simulation of the Earth and all outside influences accurate enough that you can either predict the future or reconstruct the past…as easily as you might fast forward or rewind a video.”
Indeed, a timeline slider appeared with which he was able to scrub back and forth through history. The planets whizzed around in their orbits with almost imperceptible speed as the slider moved. He stopped at a point of apparent interest, then zoomed in on the Earth.
Closer and closer he zoomed into the North American continent, until I could make out an old fashioned town. He input the name “Benjamin Franklin”. A selection of possible matches popped up of people with that name, alive at that time. He chose one of them.
The view immediately accelerated into one of the houses, and there he was. Not exactly as the history books depict, but close enough to be recognizable as the genuine article, having a beer with his buddies. “Not only that” the tall one said. “Watch this.”
He zoomed in further, and further, and further until I was looking at the individual cells comprising Ben Franklin’s skin. Then even further, until I was looking at a grid of atoms. “Wait. So you can retrieve the exact atomic configuration of anybody in history?” The bald one corrected me. “SUBatomic. And not just people. Anything at all.”
The big picture began to form in my head. Blurry, initially, but sharpening little by little the more they clarified my situation. “Now as you might expect” he added, “if a society has the technology needed to do all of this, they also have the technology needed to assemble particles into any desired configuration. Or…REassemble…”
I puzzled over the significance for a moment…then gasped. “You could recreate him! Is Ben Franklin actually in this building??” He shook his head. “No, he’s out there somewhere, living it up like you wouldn’t believe.” My gaze followed the direction he was pointing in. The city?
“So this really is the afterlife” I marveled. They both nodded. “Then why did you bother with the costumes? Why the theatrics?” They looked uncomfortable. “Well, you see…most of the people we bring back died with certain expectations about the afterlife. They were very, very certain of those beliefs. If we tell them the truth, they become agitated. Hostile, and suspicious. They cannot accept they were wrong, so they become convinced this isn’t the real afterlife. That it’s some sort of diabolical illusion they’re trapped in.”
That didn’t seem entirely out of the question, even to me. “So, what? You put on the right costumes according to their religion, welcome them back from the dead, and send them…where?” He gestured again, and the visualization switched to a view into a golden palace more luxurious than I have any basis of comparison for.
A man of Arab descent sat on a throne being fed grapes by an improbably busty woman wearing only gilded slippers, diaphonous silk and jewelry. Dozens of other women with equally extreme bodily proportions lounged here and there. Some on velvet cushions, others swimming about in a marble pool.
“Jannah, the Muslim heaven” he exclaimed, barely concealing his pride. “We spent more time than I care to admit designing all of this according to user feedback. Anything they said we got wrong was corrected. Then we deconstituted and reconstituted them from the exact moment of their death so they could experience it with fresh eyes, none the wiser. Their bodies made young, strong and healthy, and any mental infirmity of old age is cured so they can properly enjoy themselves.”
The view changed to an interior view of a spaceship of some kind. Various happy, healthy looking people in fancy robes conversed with stereotypical movie aliens. Grey skin, huge heads, almond shaped black eyes. “Heaven’s Gate” he said. “They wanted to catch a ride on a UFO, leave behind their old bodies and ascend to the next level of existence with their alien buddies. So we made it happen, at least as far as they can tell.”
The view then switched to a bizarre series of stacked, floating cities. Those higher up were made of more precious metals and gems, while those further down were increasingly drab. “Mormon heaven” he explained. “Celestial kingdom, terrestrial kingdom, telestial kingdom, it’s enough to make your head spin. Whatever you might think of the Mormon church, they’ve got some really elaborate, creative theology.”
I asked if that meant the ones who believed they would become gods of their own planets actually got to. He nodded. “No actual people live on those Earths however. They’re like NPCs, but convincing enough that you can’t tell the difference. We also only recreate instances of Earth itself for those people, not a replica of the entire universe, too computationally expensive.”
I rubbed my chin, lost in thought until that last bit made my ears perk up. “Computationally expensive? What do you mean? They’re in virtual reality or something?” He once again looked nervously at the taller fellow with the curly hair, and tugged at his collar.
“Ah, well you see, what I meant was-” the one with the curly hair elbowed him. “Just tell him the rest. He doesn’t hold any beliefs it would conflict with.” So he did. With another wave of his hand, the visualization changed to an aerial view of the city around us. It zoomed out, further and further.
…Until I could see the city, suspended amid black nothingness. Not even on the surface of a planet, nor in space that I could tell. I gasped. “What the fuck??” The bald man urged me to calm down. “The business of scanning every life bearing planet in the universe, including their entire solar systems…it’s very tedious, wasteful and time consuming. However, if the universe is a simulation to begin with, that entire process of scanning and re-creation is unnecessary. All the information you need to reconstitute people who lived and died long ago is already there someplace, in the simulation back end. The specific details of where every particle was, from the big bang all the way until heat death.”
My head hurt. I held in in my hands, trying to absorb all of this. “Surely you’ve heard of simulationism?” he pried. “It was an increasingly widespread concept when you lived.” In fact I have. The argument that because physicists routinely simulate aspects of the universe for scientific purposes, and because computational power continues to increase, that civilizations with sufficiently powerful computers would be able to run perfect simulations of the universe for research purposes.
Then, because the laws of physics in the simulation are accurate to the laws of physics in the actual universe, life would arise in the simulated universe for the same reasons it did in the actual one. Then some of that life, on some planets, would become intelligent enough to invent computers. Eventually they would create their own simulations of their universe, and so on.
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