Tag Archives: Religion

The Sympathetic Universe Part 8

When The Entity reset its universe it noticed that the comet was still arriving in the same location and preventing Ta’s tribe from being attacked. Did The Cousin change the initial conditions? The Entity checked, and they were the same. It was not going to give The Cousin the satisfaction of knowing it had outsmarted it.

The Entity moved into a four-dimensional view, just to see if it could see something else it had missed. The whole path of the comet was according to the rules. It noticed something else, though, at the other end of time. The radioactive wasteland a few short aeons into the development of Sapiens was no more.

Looking more closely, The Entity saw that all of history was different. Some of the patterns worked out the same, but the names and dates were completely different. Now, in this version of the universe, nuclear disaster threatened, but was narrowly averted. It threatened again, and was narrowly averted. It seemed as if by sheer coincidence that sneaky cousin had nudged its universe onto a path where the dominant species just happened to make it through the most dangerous phase of its existence.

It still wasn’t going to tell The Cousin, but maybe it didn’t need to fix this comet issue. Since all the lives were different, it would even open up another batch of stories to live. Human stories were so popular, the one entity per person rule had turned out to be a serious limiting factor. There was always an entity ready to inhabit a mortal.

To limit the pressure on his universe to provide more people for entities to inhabit, The Entity had doubled down on its policy of letting other entities copy its universe and do whatever they liked with their own versions. This led to some very strange spinoff universes. Most common was an entity who wasn’t satisfied with how their life turned out.

Now The Entity had multi-layer rule protection and emergency shutoff mechanisms that stopped the universe and kicked out everyone living a life in it if anyone attempted to make an illegal change. It also identified the guilty party in an automatic mass message to let everyone know whose fault it is that they had abruptly been ejected from their physical journeys. After that, three more entities tried to save their unjustly executed children,  their prematurely perished parents and their cancer-stricken golden retriever respectively. Each was in short order cowed into a meek reassertion of the hand The Entity’s reality had dealt them, and then there were no more violations.

Its punishment scheme seemed so effective that The Entity didn’t even see the need to ban these three entities. However, each one took its offer to make their own universe where things were not quite so random and, well, cruel. Others followed suit. These were so common that they became a class unto themselves. “Guided universes” were ones where the entity on the outside behaved as a closely interested deity, making deliberate tweaks here and there as it saw fit.

For the most part, a guiding entity was satisfied just to help the people close to the mortal whose life it had lived. Occasionally an ambitious guiding entity would instead seek to create a utopia, ending all suffering for everyone within its universe. Some entities questioned the point of this, as these private universes seldom had any entities inhabiting them at all. Did the mortals in these universes even experience anything without entities in them doing the experiencing for them? “Kindness is wasted on an empty body.” became an aphorism among entities attempting to dissuade each other from trying to make utopias.

Why it was so important to so many entities that no one try to care about empty mortals for their own sake was an open question. The entity who created the first physical universe was now known for its obsessive protection of it from tampering and behind its back was called “Leave My Universe Alone,” or Lmua for short. Lmua’s position that consciousness only lay in entities had not even been a position before. It had just been taken for granted. It may well have made entities making their own universes uncomfortable to think that the “empty bodies” they were making actually felt and thought what they looked like they were feeling and thinking. For one thing, it might implicate them in some moral transgression to create such suffering, but for another, even the idea of a finite existence was inherently frightening.

So, an entity guiding a universe to maximize the happiness of its residents was frowned upon and rare. Those who did try it found themselves flummoxed by a human’s unfailing ability to be miserable even in the most pleasant circumstances. Entities that edited their mortals to not do this found they behaved much like entities that edited themselves to be always happy. An entity with an entire universe of satisfied humans laying on their feather mattresses in unending meditative joy can only remain interested for so long. At best, they leave that universe to its blissful stasis and move on to another project.

The most ambitious entities, through trial and error, struggled to make beings that will always be happy, but also will interact with each other in interesting ways, grow, and create art. To this day, they may still be trying to make such a being.

Advertisements

The Sympathetic Universe Part 7

The night was warm, and Ta was out underneath the stars. Ko was spending the evening with the other girls, and Ta was weaving baskets while Da nursed. After a moment, Da let go and looked up. He looked back and hit Ta on her chest with a tiny hand. “What,” asked Ta, “what is it?”

Da pointed up, and there was no mistaking what he wanted Ta to see. A brilliant arc strode across the night sky. It looked as if Ko had found a glowing white paint and drawn it there herself. Ta stared in wonder, Da babbling nonsense and hitting her and pointing and her hands weaving baskets on their own without need for her to even look.

The next day, the mood was different. The chief, always energetic, seemed to have even more of a spring in his step than usual. He shouted to call the tribe for a meeting. “Last night, many of you saw the sign from the Great Crocodile,” he boomed, to shouts and cheers. Ta cheered with them, holding Da’s little arm to show him how to shake it in triumph. Ko seemed to have learned something from her friends the other night – she put her hands to her face and howled like a wolf.

“A brilliant white mammoth tusk in the sky, pointing to the west. The Great Moon Crocodile has spoken – we must move west to the land of the mammoths! More mammoths, more food!”

The crowd’s response to this was mixed. Ta found the Moon Crocodile’s message strange. There were still more than enough mammoths here to feed the whole tribe for moons to come, and she had never seen her baskets so full of nuts and berries since they had moved here. Ko would be sad to leave her rhinoceros painting behind, but she could draw another one.

Over the next week, the tribe traveled west. Ta hated travel because she had to manage the transport of all her baskets and spears. When some got broken or left behind, which they always did, she had to work through the night to replace and fix them. She didn’t interpret the Moon Crocodile’s will, though, and it would not serve anyone well for her to be left behind, so she went along with them.

Eventually, the chief proclaimed that the tribe had arrived at “the land of the mammoths.” Ta didn’t see much difference from where they had left, but Ko drew an antelope on their new cave wall and it felt like home. Ta’s cautious nature helped her live a long and rich life. As Ko and Da grew into productive tribe members themselves, Ta grew to be a village elder, and her sage advice encouraged the tribe to become less nomadic and take advantage of staying in one place at least until the food began to get scarce. There was a scare when Ko came close to her deathbed in childbirth, but, thank the Great Moon Crocodile, surrounded by the love of her family and her friends she had known all her life, she pulled through.

Ta passed away at eighty six years of age surrounded by her great grandchildren and the countless people who she had helped during her long life. From far away outside time and space, The Entity looked on in consternation.

“WHO ALTERED MY UNIVERSE?” The message went out to everyone in the family, tinged with livid rage in a way not describable to one with only human senses. Just imagine that looking at seemingly ordinary text on a page you feel as if you are being screamed at. The text itself looks like it wants to bite your jugular out and leave you to bleed to death on the floor despite looking no different from any other text on your computer. You don’t want to look at it too long for the irrational fear that you might spontaneously combust.

By the time The Entity had noticed the break, over ten million cousins had taken trips through mortal lifetimes, many had taken thousands of trips. It did not go unnoticed, though, that Ta’s life had just happened to be much longer and more fulfilling. In fact, it was when Ta’s murderer complained that he never even got to meet Ta, let alone murder her, that The Entity had first realized something was wrong.

The Entity didn’t get a reply immediately. It doubted anyone had ever received an angry message in such a literal way before, and they probably were in doubt of how, or whether, to respond. It rewound the universe to see why the tribes never met. Here at this moment Ta’s tribe decided to move west for no apparent reason. The Entity took a low-level bird’s eye view of the action when it saw the tribe gathering. One man standing on a rock told them that the Great Moon Crocodile wanted them to go west. He wanted to because of a “sign” from the Crocodile that many had apparently seen last night.

Back up to last night. People are out, they’re looking up. Ok, let’s flip over and see what’s in the sky. A comet. Where did the comet come from? Move to the comet. Rewind, follow the comet’s trajectory, looking for it to wink out of existence or take an unexpected turn. The comet’s origin was when it formed from the meandering gas of the solar system. Then it flies a wide ellipse around the sun, occasionally coming near a planet and swinging into a different path. After a swing around Uranus it heads on its path leading to Earth, where a little over a year and a month later it makes the brilliant display in the sky that leads Ta’s tribe to wander a different direction. Everything looked to be in order except that the comet should not be causing anyone to move west and change the course of prehistory.

“I know you did this,” came an icy message from The Entity. Ta felt a chill wash over her reading it. She had never thought to include feelings in messages before and sent an innocent “did what?” with as much sweetness as she could muster.

“You know what. Now I have to restart the whole universe.” The disgust hung on every word.

“That sounds frustrating,” Ta sympathized, amping up the sweetness until it was like a whole mouthful of honey straight from a beehive.

“They’re going to die no matter what you do, Cousin. You may have lost your senses, but I can just keep restarting the universe as many times as I need to. You’re completely banned from even looking at it.”

Ta didn’t respond. After she figured out that her tribe would respond to a comet, she had taken only twenty-two tries to add an infinitesimal adjustment to one each time it rounded a planet. Enough adjustments later its course was dramatically changed, and her children were saved. When the Entity reset the universe, a set of rules inside its domain but outside of the universe would apply the same adjustments Ta had worked out. If The Entity found and disabled that, there was another one hidden elsewhere. Ta had constructed four hundred and fifty five thousand two hundred and seventy one such automated adjustment mechanisms hidden throughout The Entity.

Beyond that, she would just have to hope that it gave up finding them all and put up with Da living. She could satisfy herself that she had done all she could.

Meanwhile, in Ta’s own personal universe, she enjoyed another warm night under the stars. “Mommy,” asked the nine year old Da, wincing as Ta applied yellowroot to his scraped knee, “Why do bad things happen?”

The mortal Ta had dismissed this question, “The Great Moon Crocodile tests us in this life.” Ta chose to do something different this time. She took Ko’s face in her hands, “Bad things happen because people let them, my sweet baby Da,” she whispered, “Your mother will never let anything bad happen to you.”

The Sympathetic Universe Part 6

It was strange watching her own life play out before her, but Ta experimented with her duplicate universe, playing out possibility after possibility.

Don’t change anything before Da is born. The smallest tweak can prevent a pregnancy or change the children completely. You can’t save them if they don’t exist at all. Obviously, you can’t make a change after Da’s death if you want to do any good, so that limits the realm of possible changes to a span of a few years.

What could save Ta? Would it be simple to engineer the aggressive tribe never running into Ta’s tribe at all? Ta knew the tribe had a shaman that consulted goat bones tossed in the air. She had been surprised to know there was nothing guiding how they fell besides a few simple rules like gravity and momentum.

But what if something did guide them? She couldn’t do anything like moving the bones directly, that would be caught and reversed immediately. However, what if she could change the way they were thrown until a configuration came up that led the shaman to choose a different path?

Something as simple as sneaking a little serotonin out of the shaman’s brain that morning could be enough to slow him down and change how he threw the bones. Then she’d run her universe until she saw him say to go somewhere else, or if he said the same thing, she’d reset, change something else, and hope for the best.

After 100,000 tries, Ta realized that the shaman was a hack. Seemingly no configuration of bones had any effect on his decision.

This was especially frustrating because it was contrary even to his own conscious thought process. No matter where the bones fell he found a different interpretation and was utterly convinced he had divined the will of the spirits. The ultimate conclusion of his interpretation was always the same and, since Ta was now the closest thing to a spirit actually intervening in this universe, always wrong.

As the shaman delivered the decision to move south towards Ta’s tribe for the one hundred thousand and second time, Ta summoned a confluence of electrons above his head and watched a bolt of lightning strike him dead. While the tribe stared in confusion at their wise man’s smoking remains, Ta reset her universe once more.

Ta glowered at the tribe performing its morning ritual for the 100,003rd time. She watched the man who had killed her swiping at his friend with a club. As he had thousands of times before, the friend caught the blow with his own club and pushed her killer down. Her killer tumbled and leapt from the ground back at him, laughing. These guys were always fighting, and they would go on to defeat her tribe with inferior weaponry and kill her and doom her son to premature death once more.

Well, this time they wouldn’t. She summoned a mountain six feet above the tribe and watched it fall and crush them with an earth-shaking thud. As for the real tribe, she would just have to find another way to stop them.

The Sympathetic Universe Part 5

Breaking the rules would be the easy part. Ta understood as well as everyone else that rules were only inviolable to the extent that no one was particularly motivated to violate them. The trick was keeping the break there. If the master of the universe noticed, it would certainly be reversed, and no doubt harder to break again next time.

“It was a singular experience,” Ta told the Entity, “I was utterly convinced by the little system’s world and her motives.”

Without intervention, this is how the story played out after Ta’s death. Ko waited until she realized her mother wasn’t returning, then she ventured out, alternating foraging for sustenance and searching the caves for Da. It wasn’t until a few weeks in that she found Da’s body huddled in the back of a particularly twisted passage, the skin dry and taut beneath her fingers. After that, Ko left and found another tribe who valued her spear-making skills enough to keep her until she died in childbirth several years later.

“Do you think other entities would benefit from this experience?” asked The Entity.

“Yes,” Ta agreed, “I recommend the experience for all.”

In early universes, you couldn’t hide a break. They were so simple, it would be like if she tried to add an extra horn to Ko’s rhinoceros she had drawn on the wall. No one could miss an extra line in a painting made of five or six to begin with, especially if they admired it and rubbed it for luck every day like Ko did.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” asked The Entity.

“Isn’t what beautiful?” Ta asked.

“The immensity of it all. So much feeling in so little space. So many lives beginning and ending. Think of the joys we may not have ever experienced without knowing suffering. To think we could have never known true poignancy.”

“Yes.” said Ta. She manifested a mouth and ground so she could spit on it. The Entity had a painting of one hundred thousand quadrillion vigintillion strokes constantly in motion. More importantly, The Entity had already admitted that it couldn’t keep track of it all at once. Ta just needed to make a change that would save her children and then be swallowed up in the chaos unobserved.

The Entity spoke again, “Cousin, there are forty entities who want to be Ko, thirty-six who want to be Da, fifty who have identified another villager in that tribe, a hundred who want to be members of the conquering tribe, and a hundred and fifty who also want to be Ta.”

Ta’s blood ran cold. Even though she didn’t have any blood now, having lived in a body made you experience feelings differently. “No,” she said without thinking.

“You think I should limit it to one entity per person?”

Ta was tempted to say no one else in that section of the universe should get an entity at all, but she knew she couldn’t defend that without giving herself away. She considered the merits of fifty other Tas also vying to save her kids, but thought better of it. Secrecy was paramount. Numbers would not help.

“One entity per person,” Ta agreed.

“I’ll set up a lottery,” said The Entity.

Ta felt empty inside. Despite the eminent sensibility of letting no experience go to waste, the idea that her eternal cousins would draw lots for the experience of murdering her in cold blood and orphaning her children horrified her. What was more – how could she quietly save Da with a hundred entities watching?

Ta created a small reality. She was deep in a cave laying on soft animal furs. dancing flames lighting her and baby Da on her breast. She listened to the soft clatter of Ko throwing and retrieving her spear. She breathed in deeply – the smell of her child’s hair, the fragrance of duck fat dripping onto burning wood. She did not know how to tell her cousin The Entity – it was better here. The concerns of a human were petty and meaningless, but to embrace that emptiness was worse.

Ta watched Ko – it wasn’t really Ko. Ta willed the illusion to switch to practicing her art. To do so betrayed the fakeness of it all and her heart fell into her stomach. As Ko started a circle that would become a mammoth, Ta mulled over her options.

She could forget herself and return to being The Cousin. This was the worst option. Despite everything she knew, abandoning Da to his fate felt fundamentally wrong, a concept alien to Ta before she had been mortal.

She could alter her own feelings and simply choose to be happy. It seemed marginally better to keep the memory of Da and Ko alive if she couldn’t help them. She knew what happened to entities who chose to be happy, though. It seldom worked only partway, and she wouldn’t likely keep much motivation to do anything at all. It felt almost like committing suicide herself.

Ko completed her mammoth. She would never love it like her rhinoceros, but it still made Ta feel at home.

Ta could take The Entity’s offer to copy its universe and make whatever changes she liked to her own version. It would be easy to pretend that her copied Ko and Da were her real children, but she would be saving no one. In the back of her mind, she’d always know it was a lie. One of Ta’s father’s sayings – he was full of sayings that he offered while they wove baskets together – was that the worst lie was that told by the coward to comfort himself.

No – Ta would have to break the Entity’s universe and save her children. She couldn’t do it like she had planned, though – the evil men abruptly fall dead, the tribe’s spears strike true with every thrust, Ko never loses track of Da. None of these would escape the notice of entities watching from outside once and living it a second time. No matter how she managed it, they would certainly notice Ta’s failure to die.

Perhaps, though, she could prevent them from sussing out the reason. If the chain of events leading up to Ta’s botched murder was long and abstruse enough, no one could track down the break and fix it. Then there would be no way to force Ta to die without the Entity either breaking its own rules by changing something else or running the reality over again from scratch. The former would not happen, so she would only have to plan for the latter scenario. All she had to do now was use some trial and error to come up with precisely the right break.

Ta reached out to The Entity. “Dear Cousin, would you mind helping me construct a copy of your lovely universe?”

The Sympathetic Universe Part 4

Ta tipped spears. Spears killed mammoths. The tribe shared mammoth meat with Ta. Ta wove baskets. Baskets carried nuts and berries. The tribe shared nuts and berries with Ta.

Ta had two children, Ko and Da. Their fathers were not around, but she didn’t need help. She had plenty of food from her basketmaking and spear tipping, and the tribe took care of them while she was busy.

One day, a band of unfamiliar men appeared and began shouting at the tribe and trying to shoo them off of their land. They were wielding only clubs, so it would be a matter of time before her tribe could chase them off. Ta grabbed Ko and Da and took them back to her cave. It was a particularly safe cave with many winding passages to confuse an attacker.

Hurrying into the cave, Ta picked up a spear to defend her family. This left her with one hand for her children, so she bade the elder Ko to hold onto her hand and use her other hand to keep her little brother Da with them.

It wasn’t until they had reached the innermost section of cave that Ta learned Da hadn’t made it with them. Ko couldn’t understand where she had left him. In all the chaos she had simply lost track.

Ta left Ko in the cave and went all the way back out to search for Da. At the mouth of her cave, she ran into the enemy tribe. She saw the blood on their bodies, and in their hands were her spears. If she surrendered now, they might take her in and let her make more spears for them in exchange for sparing her children.

Ta dropped her spear. She fell to her knees and begged for mercy. One of the men walked up and took the spear. She pointed at the tip and pantomimed her chiseling process to make it sharp. The man lifted the spear and thrust it into her chest.

***

Ta stood in darkness. “Da?” she called. “Ko?”

No response. Ta felt cold, like when the wind swept through her cave in the winter.

Ta ran forward, heedless of walls or stones that might trip her in the blackness, but everywhere was exactly the same, and she sat down. The darkness never let up, and she couldn’t tell how much time was passing. She realized she hadn’t eaten in a long time and grew hungry. Ta clutched her knees and laid down, shivering.

This went on and on and on. Clearly, this was the afterlife. The cold and the gloom proved it. It was just like she had been told, except that she didn’t know how she was supposed to find the pit and the crocodile if everywhere was dark and flat. Da, Da, Da, Ko, Ko, Ko she mumbled to herself. She was gone. It had to happen, she understood, but what had happened to them, were they ok?

If only she could make sure her children were safe, Ta could allow the crocodile to shepherd her to the realm of ancestors. But it wasn’t even trying to do that. Nothing was happening. Ta shivered on the ground.

***

Then, the Crocodile appeared, or rather it just walked up. It moved silently, and Ta hadn’t noticed its approach. It glowed faintly, and Ta could see the ridges of its scaly back. “Ta,” it intoned, barely moving its mouth, “the time has come for you to let go of the Earthly realm.”

“Oh,” said Ta. She felt she had been huddled on the floor for so long she couldn’t remember what was happening. It came back to her, though, “Crocodile,” she stammered. Then she spoke, summoning strength from her endangered children, “Crocodile! Show me my children! I cannot leave life behind while they are in danger.”

The Crocodile was taken aback. Incredibly, the Crocodile’s confusion was even more upsetting than if it had simply said “No.” It occurred to Ta that she can’t possibly have been the first ever to have unfinished business among mortals. Surely there was some kind of method for dealing with such a situation.

Then the Crocodile said, “come with me to the Pit.”

Again, as she walked behind the Crocodile she had the unsettling sensation that the travel continued for years before anything changed. The Crocodile said nothing if she tried to speak to it, and if she ran ahead it stopped until she went back behind it.  Once she just ran for months in the direction they had been walking, but when she finally looked back it was right where she’d left it as if she hadn’t moved at all.

Finally, the Crocodile led Ta to the pit. She could see it only because it shimmered in moonlight that wasn’t there. A shallow decline, too small even for a person to fit in. The Crocodile walked up to it and settled in, a perfect fit. “Aah,” it said, “That’s better. Now, you will let go of your Earthly desires and let me lead you to the realm of ancestors.”

“No!” shouted Ta. This must be a test, “I care too much about my children. Punish me with this nothing realm forever if you must, but I will not rest until they are safe.”

The Crocodile said nothing for a year. Ta nearly broke her foot kicking it, but eventually it said, “Your children are insignificant. They are an infinitesimal part of an endless story.”

Ta tried not to think of what must have become of her children while this awful crocodile wasted time. “I don’t care about your story. Ko and Da are everything.”

The crocodile responded immediately, “Your limited perspective has made you passionate about such small things. It’s fascinating to see. You never told us where you backed up your memories, but we finally found them. I hope that they will help you to give up this notion that your children are worthy of altering my reality.”

Then Ta remembered. She remembered all of history and the future, and millions of universe-lifetimes of experimentation and creation.

Ta was The Cousin. Unbeknownst to The Entity, however, The Cousin was still Ta, the mother of Ko and Da and no less intent on saving them. The only difference was, now she knew how she was going to do it.

The Sympathetic Universe, Part 3

Whoops, the Entity had missed something. It rewound the reality. It couldn’t seem to get to precisely what it was looking for, so it switched to a four-dimensional view. Finally, it found the moment (measured in millenia in our time) where the Neanderthals got eradicated, and moved back to automatic progression through the time dimension. A slaughter. Geez, Sapiens is mean! 

The Entity received an invitation to participate in a shared reality from its sibling. It ignored it.

Sapiens went on to eradicate wooly mammoths and saber tooth tigers. Then it exploded in numbers, covering the entire planet, nearly eight billion.  Sapiens started flying through the sky and communicating via long-wavelength radiation.  Suddenly the planet was an uninhabitable, radioactive wasteland. Uh-oh, rewind.

Actually, let’s pause. The Entity considered its next move. Should it start a new reality and hope it generated interesting creatures that didn’t annihilate themselves? If it was to rescue this reality, what would be the proper intervention? The rules worked so well, it didn’t want this to end up just being another make-it-up-as-you-go reality.

The Entity decided to rewind for now and figure out what to do about the end of the world later. It liked woolly mammoths, so it put one in a glacier where Sapiens wouldn’t find it until it was ready to appreciate it.

The Mongols were decimating China when The Entity got another invitation from its sibling. This time it offered a counter-invitation. “Come look at my reality.”

“What? Just watch? That’s boring.” said the Sibling, “Those zero-player realities always collapse into boring patterns.”

“This one is different,” the Entity insisted.

Finally, the Sibling relented.  “There’s nothing here,” it complained.

“You have to be at the right point in time and space.” The Entity provided coordinates and a time to its Sibling.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” it whined, “I just see a bunch of shapes growing and shrinking.”

“You have the dimensions wrong,” said the Entity, “View in three dimensions, and play on the time dimension. Play slowly,” it offered a playback speed.

“Oh, I see it. What are these little things? What is that one doing?”

“Which one?”

The Sibling manifested a light on the head of a young woman in a hovel in France.

“She’s crying. Her husband died.”

The children in the hovel were staring at the woman and her halo of light.

“Now look what you’ve done,” cried the Entity, “Take that light away!”

The children watched the halo wink out, and startled the woman out of her reverie with their cries of wonder. The Entity rewound reality and ran it again without the interference. “This reality is fragile,” it snapped. “Don’t touch.”

In moments, the woman was dead of cholera and her children were sold into servitude. Just as was supposed to happen.

“What?” wondered The Sibling. “What is death? What is crying? What is cholera? How can the woman entity have children and still exist?”

“In this era,” quipped the Entity, “with great difficulty.” It had watched Sapiens make jokes, and liked to think it was getting pretty clever itself. The Sibling didn’t laugh, but it didn’t know what humor was, so it was a tough audience.

Soon The Sibling and The Entity were both ignoring invitations from their cousins. Eventually, they started wondering what those two were up to and they took a look. It was impossible for them to understand what was going on because their temporal-spatial orientation was all wrong and there was so much time and space in this reality that had absolutely nothing interesting in it. Fortunately, when The Entity finally looked at its messages, it offered the appropriate coordinates and play speed, and they were in. It also warned them not to touch right from the start, and made it a rule.

Soon, a good portion of the BABBBABBABABAABBBABABBBBABABABBBBBBBABABAA family was watching The Entity’s reality. This continued for some time. Eventually, a cousin complained, “I want to do more. I’m tired of just watching.”

“No.” said The Entity, and that settled it for a while.

Then another cousin complained, and another, and even The Sibling got involved. The Entity hadn’t realized his reality was going to be in jeopardy just because it was so popular, or it might have never shared it at all. It was a little-considered fact that “rules” were not completely enforceable. They prevented an impulsive Entity from doing something without thinking, but a dedicated Entity might well be able to find where the rule was coded and change that. If you protected those rules, it might find where that rule protecting those rules was and so on. Even if you made rules that protected themselves, in the end, they were all segments of the same entity, and enough intention might be able to break even the hardest rule. It had never happened, but it couldn’t be ruled out.

In an effort to placate, The Entity considered inviting its relatives to go make their own realities, or even make their own copies of its to do with as they pleased, but then one of the cousins suggested something else.

“These little systems, they look like they experience boredom and surprise like us. Do they really, or is it just an illusion? If they can experience emotions we experience, could we experience their emotions?”

This gave The Entity pause. An emotion like sadness or remorse simply couldn’t happen for an omnipotent entity. No, that wasn’t true. It had a distant memory of an ancestor who reached out to its sibling and never received a reply. Entities could feel lonely and sad. They could feel shame if they failed to create the goal state in a shared reality. It wasn’t the same, though.

BABBBABBABABAABBBABABBBBABABABBBBBBBABABAA family’s rule-based realities were fun because of the limitations they imposed. These wretched little systems in The Entity’s reality seemed to be composed entirely of limitations. If The Cousin really wanted to experience misery, why not let it? “Cousin,” The Entity said to The Cousin, “Take your memories and make a backup. To really experience what these little systems do, you will have to become one.”

 

The Sympathetic Universe: Part 2

The BABBBABBABABAABBBABABBBBABABABBBBBBBABABAA family, whom we shall refer to as the BAA family played hundreds of millions of “change one thing” games. This continued until a new game appeared. This game was special in that it could be entirely different each time. The initiating entity would create a reality. Much like “change one thing,” the entities would then take turns altering the reality. The difference, however, was that encoded in a nearby separate reality accessible to all players was a set of rules that governed what changes each player could make.

Sometimes these rules amounted to “change one thing” with just a few restrictions, other times the restrictions were so severe the game didn’t seem much different from just a one-entity reality. Over the course of this generation, the games became more sophisticated. Soon, rules were set up that led the reality to take automatic reactions to entities’ actions. Entities made puzzles where, following the rules, a player entity had to take the reality from its initial state to a given goal state. Entities developed realities where two players each had a conflicting goal state and they competed with each other to realize it. The new idea of competition allowed entities to feel pride and shame, each of which they thoroughly enjoyed.

Entities made realities with thousands of goal states, goal states shared by players, goal states that did not conflict, allowing several players to win. The rules became more complex, to the point that it would take libraries to describe them. The entities with rule-based realities that essentially no one else could play in were exploring simple rules that would create complex outcomes. The goal was to create a system that produced interesting behavior for as long as possible. This proved to be challenging, as these entities were notoriously difficult to entertain. The systems they created had a problem that they were always settling into predictable patterns or ending up diverging into nonsense that nobody liked.

One entity found a combination of rules that we might dimly recognize as a precursor to our laws of physics. After a few tries, it managed to invent matter, and then it developed rules that caused the matter to clump together into interesting lumps, some of which got big enough that they collapsed in on themselves. The pressure at the middle of these huge lumps was so much that the matter inside fused and generated energy. Smaller lumps turned into spheres. This was so interesting that this entity kept at it until it found several spheres near enough to stars that the energy bathing them made interesting phenomena without disintegrating them entirely.

One sphere had boiling minerals that rose into the sky and became rocky clouds before raining down molten pebbles. Another was just gases making violent storms all over the sphere. A small sphere had subzero nights and inferno-hot days. Sometimes a small lump would collide with a sphere and entertainment would ensue.

A sphere with a large amount of dihydrogen monoxide was of particular interest. Rather than a rock cycle, this sphere had a cycle of this particular compound, which we know as water, that covered most of its surface. The entity observed in fascination as this water system led to more complex systems, including little systems that began to appear inside it.

In the blink of an eye these little systems had become bigger and more complex, all on their own. They fought with each other over resources and the winners got to go on and make more of themselves, perpetuating their own small changes. The entity was amazed. It was omniscient in that it knew all the rules to the reality and it could pause at any point and observe the precise velocity and location of every element, but now the math was so complicated it couldn’t predict what would happen next. From the combination of small, simple behaviors emerged something magical. This entity was thereby introduced to wonder.

The entity continued to watch as the little systems grew. Occasionally something big would come along and destroy almost all of them, but some would always survive, and in moments they would take over the world and send the evolution on a new path.

At some point, the entity noticed a toucan trying to impress a mate. It brought a mango and tossed it to the other toucan, but the gesture was rejected. As the entity watched the toucan, it recognized an emotion. Now this was interesting. All of a sudden, the entity was not just observing, it was empathizing. As the little systems became more complex, there was more and more to empathize with.

And then we showed up.