In this post I will define a game. This game is useful as a model because it maps neatly on to a situation where there are multiple independent subjective experiences, reflecting and interacting with a single objective experience. An interesting idea here is that, within this game, ‘physical laws’ can arise as a natural coordination strategy. I suggest it is a useful hypothesis when asking the question – of all possible universes, why this one?
The Photoshop Game
In this turn-based multiplayer game, a group of players modifies the state of a ‘public screen’ by drawing on their own private screens. There is no single objective; just a simple rule governing how the state of the game changes after each turn.
This is a game for any number of players – We’ll use P to denote how many people are playing. There is a single public screen – a space of pixels which can take on arbitrary color values. Let the resolution of this screen by W pixels by H pixels.
Each of the P players has a private screen, also W x H pixels. Each of the players uses Photoshop – or whatever program they wish – to draw anything they want on their private screen. At the end of turn n, the state of the public screen is updated, pixel by pixel.
The value of pixel i at turn n+1 is computed by taking a weighted average over the values of pixel i on the private screens of all P players. The value of pixel i drawn by player j is weighted by computing the accuracy of player j’s entire private buffer: If every single pixel of player j’s private buffer matches the state of the public buffer at turn n, then player j‘s pixels will all receive the maximum number of votes. If none of player j’s pixels are close to the pixels in the public buffer, then player j‘s pixels will receive a lower weighting in the average.
The Power of The Status Quo
The Photoshop game naturally gives rise to a dynamic – to change the state of the public buffer, you need to draw the changes you want to see in your private buffer. The more changes you try to draw, however, the lower your votes are weighted.
A mapping between this game and ‘reality’ arises quite naturally, when we consider the ‘private buffer’ of player j to be analogous to the thoughts of player j , with the public buffer being analogous to reality.
If you want to change the world, you first have to understand how it works. That is true both in the photoshop game and in real life.
The status quo has enormous power. That is true in real life, but it is also true in the Photoshop game – a player who wishes to hold the state of the public buffer constant need only reflect it with perfect accuracy.
People in real life talk about a ‘law of attraction’ – the claim is that by imagining things, you can bring them into being. This phenomenon is what drives the Photoshop game. I don’t claim it exists in the real world, but i do think there is weight in the idea that ‘observing the world is necessary if you wish change it’.
Physics as Coordination Strategy
This game places no limits on what shows up on the public buffer. Anything could happen! Except, not really – because to make change happen, you’d need to work with other players who wanted – or expected – to see the same change. The neat thing about the Photoshop game is that you can only signal what you want by ‘observing’ it in your private buffer. If enough other players make the same observation, then what is wanted comes to pass.
If i’m exploring one little part of this public buffer, and you’re exploring another – because we are using avatars in the public buffer to represent ourselves – we both benefit from predicting the same changes, because our votes add up to count for a higher chance of seeing the future we want. One possible way in which players who are exploring the public buffer could coordinate their action is to agree, ahead of time, on some mechanical operations they could all follow. If these laws of physics had been tried before, and been seen to produce some pretty awesome experiences – why not try those again? Or maybe do a slight mutation and try different physical laws to see if something new came up?
The Big Bang as Randomized Public Buffer
Imagine a bunch of players who decided to start a new version of this game. The ‘physics as coordination strategy’ thing works well enough for them, because people rarely care what happens on faraway planets, and are much more likely to be interested in predictably influencing the situation around them. The automate some script to apply the laws of physics everywhere in their public buffer, leaving a small input channel for them to write whatever they want onto the neurons of their avatars – and then jump into the world.
If the public buffer were initially randomized, players would push bits of energy together, canceling out matter and anti matter, gradually cooling the situation down and sculpting hydrogen gas clouds and stars, eventually pushing enough matter in just the right direction that a child would be born and they could see through it eyes, hear through its ears, and grab at the world through its tiny little fingers. The chance to be mortal again – to forget the pain of an infinite consciousness – and to smile genuinely – would be hard for us to pass up if we transcend physical mortality and long for a simple experience again.
Is this a true model of reality? Don’t waste your time debating that. Ask yourself how much of this adds up and how much of it doesn’t. One thing stands out, to me – nobody’s been successfully able to answer the question of how minds arise from matter. Perhaps we’ve merely been asking the question backwards?