Monday, April 06, 2009

Playing God

This was a completely random post, inspired by a friend's status update.

Why did God place the Tree of Knowledge in such an easily accessible place? Why does He make it so easy for humanity to face temptation? Why does He, to put it bluntly, screw around with our heads with the whole issue of 'Does God Exist?'
The whole concept of Faith - believing in something greater than ourselves, moral codes, denying our natural instincts - raises some pretty deep questions. Foremost among which is that if He really existed, wouldn't it have been all too easy for him to completely and unequivocally answer all these issues once and for all? Why does He screw around with our heads?

I think there are 2 answers.
  • The sociological answer: God does not exist. We created an anthromorphic personification of the needs of society, some rules to make sure society can survive, with guilt and fear as the stick and life beyond death and paradise as the carrot.
  • The gaming answer: God does exist. He created the universe as a gaming map, laws of nature as game rules, and intelligence as a collective AI. He then created scenarios that unfold according to those rules, just to see what happens.
    Think about it. Ever played Red Alert? Or any RTS war game? Scenarios, rules, behaviors, certain responses to certain stimuli. Get too close to an enemy soldier, and he will shoot at you. Built-in speeds and firepower. Objectives and goals. But the fun comes from the randomness created when large numbers of these rules interact with each other. When you do a tank rush, are you really controlling each unit? No. You've just unleashed them. You can send a spy into an enemy base, but even though you have the power to make him invulnerable, and the enemy deaf, blind, dumb, and weak as kittens, would you do it? It takes all the fun out of the game.
    When a game protagonist plays with cheatcodes, he knows that God exists. God is stopping the bullets, letting him fly, achieving superhuman feats, untouched by fire, falls, teeth and claws. But is the gamer having fun? No. Fun comes with the unexpected. With setbacks. With risk. When you have something to lose, you feel that you have everything to gain. Winning is a rush. When nothing can kill you, you're just a rat wandering through an empty maze.
Maybe there were super-civilizations, masters of the Earth and all creation, intelligent, aware, kind, caring, responsible, in harmony with nature and with each other. Enlightened, perfect, and utterly, butterly boring. What more is left to achieve? A perfect civilization will never go beyond it's city, it's kingdom, it's planet at the most. Even planet is unlikely; they will be smart enough to control birthrate, eradicate threats, handle all contingencies. A civilization under constant threat of destruction fights, struggles, spreads, creates backup plans, fallbacks, contingency bases. DNA spreads. Launches generation starships, sets up lunar bases and buried bunkers with hibernating colonists. Reaches for the stars because the planet is on the edge, reaches across galaxies in the face of all-destroying interstellar war, slips into parallel dimensions when the fabric of this reality is likely to be torn.
Perfection is stable. Imperfection, combined with intelligence, explodes like a bomb across creation.
Sweden, with social security, order, sufficiency, and all amenities and comforts has a negative birthrate, because people have all they need. India, with it's near-billion starving and barely able to feed itself, has a population explosion.
A perfect, harmonious civilization, at it's pinnacle with no possibility of a fall, looks like a giant bulls-eye from space, with cosmic arrows all around pointing to it marked Asteroid Strike Here.
Innate imperfection. A flawed human being is unhappy, greedy, fearful... and drives ambition. Knows that life is unstable. Knows he is surrounded by other flawed creatures, by frightening randomness and intransigence. Knows he must amass resources far greater than his immediate need to prepare for this randomness. Establish his escape routes.

And for a gaming God, this is entertainment. Not perfection. Not stability. With an entire universe to explore, why would he tolerate a game protagonist who does not go beyond his own self? Wouldn't it be so much more fun to watch how the randomness manifests in extraordinary leaps of intellect, art, beauty, strength, achievement, skill, discovery... beyond even what He may have originally conceived?
When we do leave the planet, we will meet Others. They will be like us. They will be flawed. Galaxies will sparkle with a million wars, extinctions and escapes, dominions and insurrections, and everything else that is this infinitely varied, kaleidoscopic, random, churning, intoxication explosion called Life.

After all, anything else is so boring, isn't it?


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