A summary I just wrote for my blog

From: Michael Rosefield <rosyatrandom.domain.name.hidden>
Date: Tue, 10 Feb 2009 17:27:14 +0000

I wrote it for my friends, but feel free to criticise!

Perhaps it's time I had another go at explaining all that weird stuff I
believe in and why.

Well, for those few that don't know, I reckon that all possible universes
exist and that everyone's immortal.

I admit, this does sound rather odd. It would have sounded odd to me about
10 years ago, too. Since about the age of 8 I was a pretty hardcore rational
scientific naturalist: everything is simply matter and energy, and we but
its dreams. What was *real*? Well, a chair. An atom. Something you can *
touch*. After all, when you think of reality, you think of something...
there. Something that sits there, quietly existing to itself.

But what does that mean, really? Everyone knows that matter is almost
entirely empty space, anyway - the solidity is just the feather-touch of
far-extended electromagnetic fields. Electrons popping in and out of
existence as the energy fields knot so charge can be transferred in
quantised lumps. Particles do not behave as billiard balls - they are
ghosts, obeying strange equations, lacking hard and fast surfaces or
reliable locations. Matter, energy, space, time... they all begin to seem a
bit ethereal when you look at them.

Time. There's another one. I don't really believe in that, either. Spacetime
is just a barely distinguishable fabric woven by the universe. Events do not
occur at a time or a place - most of the observables we see arise
kaleidoscope like out of an intricate web of possibilities, their form
imposed by our own consciousness. And by that, I mean that our minds are
embedded within the universe, constructed in such a way that the
metaphysical structure of the cosmos is implied by our design - the word
without reflects the world within. This has an aspect of the anthropic
principle to it - that we observe a world capable of supporting our
existence because if it didn't, we wouldn't.

But this still has no bearing on how I started thinking things like this, so
I shall get that out of the way.

The short story is that I read some stories by a science-fiction author
called Greg Egan. Before you laugh too much, a lot of sci-fi is essentially
just window-dressing to convey an idea - the implications of some item of
technology, turn of events or scientific/philosophical argument. And Greg
Egan is a 'hard' science-fiction author, an ideas merchant. Well, you get
the drift.

The first story I read was called Wang's Carpets (later included as a
chapter of the book Diaspora), in which some spacefarers (themselves
software) find a planet whose major life-form are floating mats that take
the form of Wang Tiles - tesselating objects whose patterns can implement a
universal turing machine. But that's just the set-up for the *idea*: when
someone analyses the Carpets, by taking various abstract variables
(appearance of certain tiles and features, etc) and putting them through
frequency transforms, it turns out that the computations the Carpets encode
as part of their reproductive habits give rise to a fully realised
n-dimensional space containing self-aware creatures.

The thought-provoking part here was not that consciousness could be
digitalised and run as software - I had already pretty much accepted that -
but that the mathematical transformations necessary to do this could be
pretty strange, and come from processes that were essentially plucked
arbitrarily from the environment. That, largely, consciousness could be a
matter of perspective.

The second story was the book, Permutation City. A great deal of this book
concerns one of the protagonists who wakes up one day and finds he is simply
a downloaded copy - and that the 'real' him is running experiments. After
being run at different speeds, and distributed in space and time, backwards,
in chunks of different sizes, etc., the argument becomes that it doesn't
matter what or how the program is run - it is all the same from the
perspective of the consciousness being implemented, and that this is so
abstract that one can find the relevant computational processes within
*any*physical substrate. That
*all* consciousnesses can be found within a grain of sand. That there is not
even any physical bedrock to fall back upon - there is no way ever to
verify, even in principle, that one is on the 'fundamental' metapysical
level. At the end of the book, the characters have escaped into their own
computational world, completely divorced from any physical hardware. Their
universe contains a simulation of another world, whose very alien
inhabitants find their own physical principles for the cosmos they observe -
principles radically different from the computational ones 'running' it, and
so compelling they start to take over the character's world, too.

So when you get down to it, I no longer believe in the physical world - or
rather, I believe in all of them. While I used to require reasons to believe
in the existence of parallel worlds, I now require them not to. Existence,
after all, can have no overseers. No arbiters to conjure it from nowhere.
Time, remember, is just something created from within our cosmos - on a more
fundamental level, nothing changes, nothing is created or destroyed. Things
simply are, or are not. Either they satisfy the criteria for existing, or
not. Either they are possible, and exist, or they are impossible, and do

Assuming just our world exists is like, to me, saying just the number 532
exists, and that there is no proof for any other number.

The Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics is like a very diluted
version of this. All it says is that the equations of QM and our
observations are consistent with the idea that, rather than the myriad
possibilities inherent in a quantum system mysteriously collapsing into one
observed outcome, all outcomes are realised. At first, this seems a little
too much to believe. Where do they come from? Well, the key word there was
mysterious. Nowhere in the equations of QM is the collapse predicted. That's
our own kludge, inserted to explain the fact that we somehow only see
single, classical, outcomes. QM predicts that all these outcomes exist
anyway, interacting within the wavefunction. The MWI simply asks: what if
they don't stop existing? What if the act of observation simply causes our
own wavefunction to split along those pre-existing lines? If those decohered
elements don't interact much, we would get precisely what we do see anyway.

Now, if I exist in multiple worlds, how many me's are there? I would say:
only 1. My consciousness, such that I observe it, is unique. While it might
appear in an infinite number of possibile realities, it is a constant, a
fulcrum. I carry along with me a train of all possible universes. So I don't
think of myself as existing in 'this world', not really. I am in all of

Now: immortality. Or 'quantum immortality', as the idea is known. I am
running out of time, so I shall just say this: amongst all these universes I
inhabit, there are possible future trajectories that take me into universes
in which I am dead. However, I shall not be around to observe this; I can
only witness universes in which I am alive. And there will always be
possible trajectories into sets of universes in which I *am* alive. And that
is what I will witness: I cannot die. Not in my world, anyway.

Anyway, gotta dash now.

- Did you ever hear of "The Seattle Seven"?
- Mmm.
- That was me... and six other guys.

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Received on Tue Feb 10 2009 - 12:27:21 PST

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