I am currently reading about concepts of the universe as a vast quantum computing machine /evolutionary engine, and what this might mean in terms of our concepts and understanding of life itself. Of course such topics tend, inevitably, to lead up to the big ‘OK then, so what is God?’-type question.
It all reminds me of a ‘formula’ that I came up with when I was younger, and at a crossroads between lots of competing philosophies, ideologies and religions (not to mention science itself) that attempted to explain what ‘God’ might be.
To help wade through the quagmire of competing ideas I decided to generalise like hell and see what was left behind after that process. In addition to that, I tossed anything that was too anthropic in principle or a tad anthropomorphic in its descriptions. So what was I left with? My teenage mind was left with something rather disembodied… the idea of something without substance and yet permeating everything.
The mother of all processes
I settled on the idea of a process, or mechanism of some sort. A process doesn’t really have a body or any substance, yet clearly a process (a way of doing/being something) can:
- Arise anywhere
- Exist anywhere
- Control anything
- Respond to anything
Those were pretty close to the omnipresent/omniscient package deal that comes with most interpretations of God. In fact the only ingredient missing was that of infinite compassion – which, since I had completely denuded this ‘god’ of all anthropomorphic qualities, was something I would have to leave out of the equation for the sake of consistency alone. Compassion would have to… I dunno, arise out of something else, if it had to. But in the meantime I had something that felt right somehow, and I settled on my own ultra-simplistic idea of God:
Where T is time, U is the entire universe, x is anything in it, and Gamma is the ‘God Function’ itself. It was the process by which one moment turned into the next. Yep – that’s like saying nothing at all, but it felt like it tied all the loose ends. I didn’t write it out like that at that age, mind you. It was more like ‘f(x)=x_t+dt’. But armed with an equation editor, my older self has re-thunk it somewhat. Which should make this all the more embarassing (and it does).
For a while, I distanced myself from my little ‘god function’, finding it embarrassingly mechanistic. I didn’t want to be one of these soulless individuals who reduced ‘The Great Spirit’ to a terse statement in wonky math. And yet here we are in the new millennium, and a new generation of ‘pseudo-mechanistic universe’ proponents are feeling confident once more. They don’t even bother to get into skirmishes with the Intelligent Design camp, in much the same way that a bad Christian would rather just chill until Judgement Day when, presumably, they’ll mutter something like “sucks for you” as they flap off into heaven with their newly minted wings.
An emerging consensus
With titles like The Intelligent Universe and Programming The Universe on the bookshelves, it’s clear that several systems-theoretic disciplines have been brought to bear on the old-fashioned clockwork universe paradigm, yielding something more subtle and satisfying. The notion of the universe as (the unfolding of) life itself; the idea that the simplest, tiniest (quantum-scale) processes interact to create ever more complex (macro-scale) ones, that these processes are ultimately computational in nature… it’s mind boggling what the implications are: not just for the future of our humble planet or its supposedly dominant species, but for the entire universe.
As someone who invoked ‘the god function’ in her teens, albeit as a coping mechanism, I have to say there’s something a bit more ‘holistic’ about this new breed of silicon-/quantum-/DNA-induced animism. I like it, and I feel a little vindicated.
picture cred: Hubble photo of Arp<i-forget-the-number> galaxy.