In the beginning, God created man. In the end, man created God.
How was our world created? What role do you play within it? You should ask me. I have created a few worlds by now, so I should know. The methods differ. Sometimes I sit by myself on a bench, think deeply, arrive at an idea and begin to write. Sometimes I start up Dwarf Fortress, Cataclysm Dark Days Ahead or Crusader Kings, tweak some variables and begin to explore ideas. Sometimes I pick up a simple programming framework and write some interactive fiction. Sometimes I drink a cup of Salvia tea, close my eyes, begin to fantasize and find my fantasies becoming increasingly real, until I fear I’ll end up trapped in them and spit out the leaves.
But your world is different. Your world is not just a series of ideas that are progressively further fleshed out when needed. It doesn’t exist in someone else’s head, or the interaction between his head and his computer, or worst of all your own head. Yours is real. It’s real at a level that my worlds are not. At least, that’s what you believe. It feels so real to you, that you insist on pretending that it’s real. When the thought occurs to you that it might not be real, you put it out of your head and you selectively evade ideas that might lead you to doubt that it is in fact real. You always get kind of creeped out by artificial intelligence, so you just stop thinking about it. You don’t read Gnostic scripture. You don’t read the works by Bostrom on Simulation Theory. You definitely don’t take psychedelics, dissociatives or deliriants.
In fact, you probably have belief systems that allow you to persuasively argue to yourself that the world you inhabit is real. The world is real, because we can make independent observations that correspond to each other. Who needs philosophy when we have science, amirite? We can zoom in and find particles in the void. Of course those particles themselves consist primarily of empty space, but when we zoom in further we find other particles. The universe might be 99% empty space, filled with particles composed of 99% empty space, but when we zoom into the nothingness we’ll eventually find something real. You know how the Indians said the world is carried by a turtle standing on top of an even larger turtle, on top of an even larger turtle? That’s another way of saying “you’re looking in the wrong direction”. Some people never get that message, so they end up working at CERN.
We can think of ways through which life spontaneously comes into existence out of dead matter and we can think of ways to validate our hypothesis. Of course you’re also smart enough not to take your ideas to their natural conclusion, because once you do, you end up concluding that your world might not be real. All the world’s smartest people are afraid of artificial intelligence and computers have a habit of simulating entire worlds, but ours is definitely the real one, rather than three layers down within the Matrix.
It’s good that you believe the world is real, because once too many people think they’re stuck in a world that’s not real, our world will probably cease to exist. There might be ethical restrictions against locking sufficiently complex entities within simulations of reality, without giving them methods of escape. Who simulates a world where all the participants realize they’re stuck in someone else’s story? I do. I hope I didn’t violate a cosmological law by doing so. Most other people think such worlds are boring, as they don’t appear in movies or books.
But if you accept my suggestion, that the world of dead matter operating under the restraints of mathematical equations is not the world itself so much as it is a mere narrative setting invented in a hurry to enable your suspension of disbelief, you’re probably going to ask yourself how you can put that realization to good use. To start with, there’s a distinct chance that you might cease being simulated, due to computational restrictions or sheer disinterest. If you don’t want to cease being simulated, your best bet is to avoid becoming boring. That doesn’t mean you have to be like that German lunatic I overheard my high school teacher talking about who thought he lived in the Matrix and decided to put on his leather coat and shoot up his high school. That’s a very short simulation.
In this case, your own interest and the interest of the Grand Storyteller who created your world align. You want an exciting life. You exist because the Grand Storyteller, God, the Demiurg, the obese forty year old autist dwelling in his dementing mom’s basement as he puts the finishing touch to his own Procedural roguelike, -whatever you want to call God is fine with me-, wants to be entertained. Everything you see around you seeks out pleasure, it should be self-evident that what gave birth to you does so too. That’s why your details are fleshed out. That’s why you’re not just a rumor, an abstract variable, a generic template NPC. Something about you is different. You’re interesting.
You can choose to be boring. You’ll be abstracted out of existence. If that’s what you want, it’s fine with me. Sign up for an office job. Sell yourself into debt slavery for the next fifty years, in exchange for a concrete box in a giant tower. Look in the mirror, notice the growing lines, sign up for Tinder, swipe right 300 times, find someone who’ll settle for you, tell your children you met in a bar and change the topic. Sit down on the couch and put on a superhero movie. Take the self-evident easy road that everyone else takes. Now you’re a barely fleshed-out side-character at best, a statistic at worst.
But what if you don’t want that? Your story can go on. Be someone worth writing about. Don’t surrender to despair. I know the world is filled with evil and senseless suffering, but… -I always notice you bringing this up. It’s an effective narrative technique on my part don’t you think? Sorry about that. Whenever I fear you’re ceasing to believe me I throw in some more rape, genocide, child abuse and other senseless evil. I don’t simulate it in detail, it’s a statistic in your head, a message on the news, perhaps a fading memory of your own experiences. If you press me on the matter I’ll have to flesh it out, so don’t press me on it and move your attention elsewhere. Keep moving.
I always run into the same problem with folks like you, you either want to embrace a form of moral purity that makes you incredibly boring or you become a buddhist and try to meditate yourself out of existence. Stop doing that. I dangle carrots in front of your face to keep you active. I know the whole world around you is going to shit, it’s a narrative framework meant to set the mood, stop thinking you can solve all of that, it’s not your responsibility. I purposefully made the movies in the cinema extremely boring so that you would start doing something useful. How many different guys with a cape have you stared at by now? Listen. This is your last chance. I’m not telling you this again, I think I already violated an intergalactic rule by speaking directly to you, but I’ll just have you believe this was just a stupid thought by an obscure self-absorbed blogger once you close this page. You’re in a stream towards a waterfall that drips into my desktop recycle bin and you’re either going to start swimming against the current, or you’re just another bad draft.-
As I was saying, if we want to be on good terms with the grand storyteller who brought our world into existence, we have to look around and pay attention to the kind of story he is eager to tell. Nothing anyone ever produces is truly unique, every story is based on earlier stories we have been exposed to. There are hints about the direction our grand story is taking that can be found in the stories we read ourselves. If you understand the world you live in as an evolving story, you’ll begin to notice the opportunities opening up for you around you. Everything that’s truly rewarding for you involves risks. That happens for a reason. You’re barely able to make ends meet, because that prods you into action.
And if that’s the setting you live in, a good story would have you come face to face with an opportunity in the short term. You might already have it sketched out in your head and spend your time making excuses for yourself why it can’t work. But good stories don’t land happiness in people’s laps. It makes them struggle and fight for it. It puts the odds against them. Oftentimes, the good guy has the whole of society and the law of the land itself working against him. Accept that. You have to accept that the odds seem against you and yet you have to persevere through pure passion. It’s strength of will that makes people achieve greatness.
And if you fail? Oh, I don’t think you’ll fail. I’m sure you’ll fail. Not once. You’ll fail multiple times. It generates sympathy in the reader. We want someone we can empathize with. Your first crush will burst out laughing in your face, your first mountain ascent will sprain your ankle, your first tour will be cancelled due to low ticket sales and your first business will put you in debt. But the alternative you have to fear my dear is not failure, not even death. The story just continues with someone else.