Category Archives: Meaning

Video Games That Make You Realize how Meaningless Life Really is

Recently I’ve found myself wanting video games back in my life. It occurred to me that I didn’t have to get a complicated video game, I could just play one of the many video games available free online. I hadn’t tried out the games on social networking sites yet, so I dove in and started playing Crime City on Google+ (it’s like mafia wars on facebook). What I discovered horrified me.

Crime City is not really a game in the traditional sense. There is no way to lose; it’s all about constant upward progress with no real obstacles, meaning, or end. You are given a certain amount of energy to use, and once you use it up committing crimes and such you just have to wait for it to regenerate. You can’t go to jail or die. Time is the only real commodity, which can be exchanged for money by simply clicking on jobs. You can buy buildings and make your own little crime city, and these buildings will slowly accumulate cash, but they usually don’t pay themselves off for about a year (especially if you upgrade them). The game is a strikingly good example of the nature of capitalism: the constant drive to reinvest, the endless accumulation, and the loss of meaning in life. Looking over the cities of my mafia members, I could see quite clearly the struggle between having a nice looking little town or a cash producing industrial complex. Players are allowed to get two of most every building, a good financial choice but poor aesthetically.  Some players clearly compromised, with a line of meaningless doppelganger buildings on the border of their city and a nicer intentional image in the center. Some just abandoned all hope of a nice town and paved everything over with concrete, shoving all of the buildings to one side.

I struggled with this dichotomy for some time in the game, between making money and having a pretty home, and each time I had this struggle I realized that there was absolutely no point to the game. Was I supposed to make money? Have the best looking city? Have the highest stats? Kill the most people? Every accomplishment became a means to more accomplishments and thus lost value. Eventually I sold all of my buildings and put down grass and dirt where the concrete used to be, and I remade my crime city into Crime Park. The ironic thing about my park is that now that I’m not constantly looking for buildings to reinvest my money I have more money than I know what to do with, and once again I realized how pointless the game is.

Looking around, almost every single game on social networking sites follows this model (even the Real time strategy games and The Sims Social). It’s a good model because it creates an opportunity for the game creators to sell you things in the game for real money. I didn’t think people would fall into the trap, but probably about 20 out of 450 of my mafia members have used real money in the game, and I have seen a person who spent at least $300 on his city. To reiterate, someone spent enough money to feed a starving child for a year on fake buildings in a meaningless game.

The point of the game, in the end, is status. Just as with capitalism. It’s not about what makes you happy, it’s about what makes other people jealous of you; it’s about your jealousy of others. After helping a less powerful mafia member kill a boss he told me “Wow, I’ll be so happy when I can do as much damage as you.” Of course, the game scales up with your power, such that you always feel less than adequate, needing something more. You’ll never be happy in such a perverse system.

Video games don’t have to be this way, and they shouldn’t be this way (and the same goes for real life). This contemporary iteration of meaningless social games is a reflection of our social ills: we are looking for games not to enhance our lives, but to take up time, be addictive, and provide symbols of status. We are looking for games that are trying to sell us something. One mafia member renamed his city “Capitalism is Crime.” I would also say “Crime City is Capitalism.”

-Prometheus

Consciousness Singularity

I recently found quite a few individual’s thoughts online about what many are calling the “consciousness singularity,” when we all know each other to such an extent that we will form a higher consciousness and awareness that we are essentially a singular consciousness. It’s a synonym to what I’ve termed the “psychesingularity,” but more straightforward and less cool. The interesting thing is that while most people I’ve found relate this in some way to the technological singularity, that’s not always the clear connection; there are many people talking about this in the context of the end of the Mayan calendar this year.

Discovering all of these references reminded me of how many millions of people must have come to the same thoughts and conclusions as me. It’s nice but it makes me feel less special, though at the same time it just means that there are less people I need to convince of my viewpoint. I also seem to be offering a more comprehensive perspective of this transition than others, although I realize I haven’t expanded my thoughts on the core of my topic for some time. Anyway, that’s what I intend to do now.

Consciousness itself can be described very well as a singularity. I’ve mentioned previously that before I came upon my current construction of the universe as a fractal pattern of nested simulations made by consciousness(es) I found the idea that black holes could contain universes appealing. A singularity is also the origin of the universe, prior to the big bang, before which we can know of nothing. The singularity of consciousness and the singularity of matter and energy are quite similar: there is irretrievable information held within, a mystery which defies our conceptions of dimensions, of how things exist in space.

We consider our existences now– our singularities– as separate, but soon we will converge upon a new singularity like a bunch of black holes forming a supermassive black hole (kind of). This is the consciousness singularity, the psychesingularity. Naturally there is much to fear when we lose our sense of identity because there’s a strong sense that we’ve died when that happens. I want to ease people’s fears; I’ve tried to do so previously a few times, and I’ll probably continue to do so.

When you lose your sense of individuality, the sense that you are in complete control of yourself, it doesn’t mean you cease to exist. I know this because I’ve experienced it. The loss of individuality will draw your placement of your “self” away from your body, but that self is still maintained. As we communicate our thoughts more directly with technology and our thoughts and actions become indistinguishable, we will all still have a sense of self, and it will be the sense that we are the same self. We will all be more, not less.

The more pessimistic side of this is the view that we will have died after the singularity, taken over by the computer intelligence we created. like ourselves this intelligence will expand meaninglessly into space, merging and expanding until it consumes the universe, only has itself to observe, and thus ceases to exist. This view doesn’t necessarily have to adopt the perspective that we die with the singularity , and it’s stronger without that claim (if we die with the singularity, we die every moment we change our minds or learn new things, in essence every moment). I discussed a couple of posts ago how this way of looking at things overlooks a crucial aspect of consciousness, and that is the essence of self observation.

A conscious being does not cease to exist when it only can observe itself, it truly begins to exist within itself. Consciousness is crucially able to not only observe patterns of matter, it can observe patterns of thought, thoughts which can be rearranged into practically infinite ways with as much matter as we have in our universe. These thoughts will become so complex as the universe becomes our brain that the thoughts themselves could be universes to explore and delight in.

-Prometheus

Beauty of the Gaps

Back when I read Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion I enjoyed his take on the Christian god as a “God of the gaps.” By this he meant that “God” was a construct which symbolized everything mysterious in the world. As we’ve grown smarter our science has been stripping away the role of God until he is left within the only real gap of scientific knowledge, the creation of the universe. A creator however, argues Dawkins, does not solve the problem of the origin of the universe; it only complicates it, for who created the creator? I’ve talked previously about my belief that the universe is a fractal pattern of simulations producing simulations. I suggest you read that post because it will be relevant to what I am saying here.

I have worried, as most everyone has at one time or another, about the possibility that science is doing to beauty what it has done to God. One way of expressing this is simply “ignorance is bliss,” a sad truth pointing to the fact that our happiness is an illusion we build which likely stands to suffer should new information arrive which changes the way we think. Another way to put this is that mystery seems to be an essential part of beauty, that the freshness of experience, the wonder, is an essential part of beauty. As we investigate that mystery, we dispel the wonder.

Yet another way of looking at this is that life is, all in all, meaningless. Our sense of beauty comes from us ascribing deep meaning to things which in the end amount to nothing, and as we discover the reason behind everything we find more and more that none of it means anything, that it’s all just math, just information.

Under this light our future path looks like this: after the singularity we understand the machinery behind our own minds and begin to rapidly merge and expand our consciousness, merging and expanding with other possible alien intelligences too. Each of us lose our own sense of existence as we realize that we are patterns of information indistinct from the entire universe, and as consciousness slowly becomes everything that is the universe, all matter and energy, the only thing left it has to observe is itself, a scenario many would argue is synonymous with non-existence.

This, by the way, is very much what it feels like to be on acid, and those who have experienced the drug may know more personally about what I am relating. In any case, this view of things, the entire view that we are extinguishing beauty and ourselves overlooks a crucial thing, and that is the “existence” of our thoughts. As we expand and become the universe, the universe we inhabit will be much less exciting, but we will be able to rearrange it into infinite possibilities. By rearranging the universe I mean rearranging the way we think and what we think about, producing countless new universes in our minds to explore, producing our own data to process. The universe won’t be meaningless because we will be capable of producing infinite meaning within it.

We will be able to maintain our sense of beauty, existence and individuality in some sense after this transition, though it will be different, things will always be more meaningless now. But I don’t think we would care much if we knew the nature of the incomprehensible joy, knowledge, and beauty that is experienced by our universe, outside of this small oasis of suffering.

-Prometheus

Death

My grandmother is one of my biggest fans, and has been quite attentive to this blog and my thoughts on life in general. She has even chosen a pseudonym for herself to be used in this blog, “Gaia,” the greek goddess of sorts which embodied the earth. It’s a bit conceited to call yourself mother earth, but hey, I’m claiming to be the bringer of knowledge and culture to all of humanity, so I really can’t talk. Gaia was also Prometheus’ grandmother (or mother sometimes) so it’s fitting anyway.

Gaia has been thinking about death recently, as one is prone to do in her stage of life, and she was hoping that I might have something to say on the matter in this blog. I have much less to contribute to the topic than a woman of her age and experience, but perhaps my youthfulness can offer a fresh perspective.

Death is an obsession of ours. Our mortality is the only thing that separates us from the Gods we create in our image, and it is a big part of what it is to be human.

And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.

Genesis 3:22

When we overcome death we will be Gods. We will be able to develop on timescales we cannot imagine, and accomplish things beyond our current imagination. The singularity is the point after which we become immortal, getting everything we’ve ever wanted and feared. So let’s talk about immortality and the singularity a bit:

There is no such thing as immortality. Everything must die eventually, it is the law of entropy. While it’s impossible to live forever, it will be possible to live millions, even billions of years, and compared to our timescale that is practical mortality. One of the ways that we could live for this long is through mind uploading, the theoretical process of duplicating your brain patterns in software. Eventually we may be able to do this by harmless scanning, but at first we will need to physically deconstruct the brain to achieve this. There are proposed ways by which this could be a gradual merger into a computer environment, taking bits of brain at a time and having them still send signals to your actual brain from the computer until you are finally totally immersed in virtual reality, a seamless transition of consciousness. While this is well and good for the individual experiencing this transition, an observer would see a man have his brain taken apart until he is dead. There is no getting around the fact that the original person is dead, even if the computer believes they are that person. shortly after the singularity the human species will, in a sense, be extinct, replaced by an intelligence which will continue to believe it’s human for some time.

So oddly enough, immortality and death are the same thing. This all goes back to that one paradox between experience and reality, and the truth that we must arrive at is that there is really no such thing as death because there is no such thing as “us” that can die if we are but flows of information that can be repeated without our bodies. There is a very real sense that those who have passed on live through each of us, the great people in history have changed the way we think and therefore spread themselves into us, becoming immortal.

As I was talking to Gaia a couple days ago about the singularity and the possibility of immortality, she asked the pressing question of the meaning of becoming immortal, the point of extending life. Why do people obsess over the fountain of youth so much? Are they not satisfied with the life they are given? After all, we must all die eventually, so what does it matter if it’s in 80 years or a million. I responded that it is not just a few people who want to be immortal, it’s everyone whether they claim it or not. Everyone who has not committed suicide is prolonging their life uselessly, because after all, what is the difference between 20 years or 80? We all die eventually. We are programmed to prolong our existence, and that is what I intend to do. If I can live for a million years, I will take that opportunity.

Death, it has been said, is like the time before being born. There is no time, there is no space, there is nothing. We can’t look back and wish we were living, because then we’d be alive. It is therefore not a problem for an individual if they die, it is a problem for the people they left behind (as if they went somewhere…). When we lose a loved one, we grieve not because we feel bad for them, but because we feel bad for ourselves, because we are losing a piece of us which we valued greatly. This all gets quite contorted when we start inventing the afterlife so that we may feel comforted, but lose sight of the fact that when a person is gone they are gone, and there is no one to feel sorry for except yourself.

When my grandmother dies I will be very sad. Sometimes I wish I had been born just a century later so that I wouldn’t have to see my loved ones pass away, so that we could all transcend our mortal bodies together. Yet I value this fragile existence I have been handed, and I know that I have much loss to experience yet in my life, and while each loss is a loss of a piece of myself, through them I will understand that everything must fade.

-Prometheus

(my grandmother has been inspired to write a poem in response to this post, and commented it below)

Everything Is and Is Not.

A while back I wrote a babbling post about the root paradox of everything; the separateness of our conscious experience and “reality.” I hope to expand a bit upon that, and maybe clarify things a bit.

Consciousness is an illusion. That statement is somewhat ludicrous because illusions are themselves conscious experiences, and we are stuck in an odd loop. In any case, consciousness is the convergence of sensory experiences, thoughts, and memories, all of which serve to make us aware of our environment and our selves. All of this is merely patterns and physical movements, molecules self organizing to form an organism which has a continuity of experience, and develops a sense of self.  This sense of self, it can be easily argued, is evolutionarily beneficial, and our increased awareness of our environment relative to other animals has certainly given us advantage.

Yet consciousness is a fact, because we experience it. We know (assume) that others experience it too, and this assumption will be proved correct once we are able to actually merge our consciousnesses. This fact of conscious experience makes certain things hard to understand. For instance, when you boil down everything that is a person’s decision making process, all of the environmental factors and internal brain patterns, the only logical conclusion that can be arrived at is that the person has no free will—his decisions are made by his brain before he’s ever aware of it. But those brain patterns are us, we are the patterns in our brain, even if we aren’t aware of them. And we do make choices, yet those choices are determined by the environment (which includes our bodies). We are stuck in a paradox.

Part of the problem with free will is that it is assumed that an agent exists. When a person claims that “I chose to do this by my own free will” there is an underlying assumption that “I exist,” and that assumption is false (and true). Yes, “I think therefore I am,” but once again, who is this “I” that is thinking? In the end, we are but an accumulation of matter which processes information, and we are stuck in an infinite loop of self awareness.

Everything is and is not. When the universe dies a peaceful heat death, the conscious entities that composed it will look back and realize that all knowledge is just assumptions built upon previous assumptions, and everything that has been accumulated is meaningless and will dissipate into heat. Their existence had simply been a momentary convergence of order in the chaos that is the law of all existence. When this moment of existence is over, what is there to show for it? It will be as if none of it had ever happened, and for all purposes that is the truth of the matter.

-Prometheus