If calibrated to a telescope-based standard like GMT or UT—in which a second was defined as a fraction of a day or year, the duration of a second would vary. This would be a case in which humanity designates how they will perceive time to the orderly, yet imperfect dictates of a natural phenomena external to their control. The earth does not seek our counsel on how fast to spin. Seconds and minutes are arbitrary and yet pervasive constructs that oblige us to take this third-person perspective. But what if we take the perception of time under our direct control, assigning a sustained effort to perceive it as microscopically as possible? Then we would be actively engaging in the process of our own salvation according to Buddhism. If a person attains nirvana, the “blowing out” of the desires and the gaining of true insight into impermanence and non-self reality, samsara ends. It is amazing how simply taking a concept like time and shifting to a first-person ownership can transform it from a boring mechanical construct to a central part of a religious theory. I suggest that we perform this same shift, from third-person externality to first-person ownership in regard to something that has been suggested as a possibility: Our reality could be a simulation. Instead of looking at the entire external universe for signs of it violating its lawful operations or crafting probabilistic arguments, we should consider things that don’t quite add up when we analyze consciousness and its implications. And to do this, we have to take consciousness as the primary fact without playing word games about it being an illusion or an emergent property in the same exact way that DNA repair mechanisms are an emergent property. We represent things a certain way, and therefore space and time are produced. They appear as perceptions in our minds. For all we know, “true” space and time could be unintelligible entities in the objective world outside of conscious systems like ourselves.
[In regard to my citing Buddhist concepts and understandings, yes I know Buddhism is a religion. And so as Buddhism is a religion, so is it a Dharma that encompasses a variety of beliefs and spiritual practices largely based on teachings attributed to the Buddha. Some of the teachings are philosophically essential for making sense of esoteric concerns about dilemmas that arise when considering some aspects of consciousness. This is mainly the reason why I will be referring to Buddhist teachings.]
It could be that this a simulated reality with conscious minds which may or may not be fully aware that they are living inside a simulation. Most decently-educated people seem to think that we are all flowing along together in the same stream that obeys the totality of the laws of physics. Yet for the most part, the laws of physics do not specify an arrow of time, and allow any process to proceed both forward and in reverse. But it is clear from my experience that everything does flow in one direction. Could this mean that we are bound only to a partial sliver of the underlying lawful reality? We could be helplessly riding a particular wave of physics-ocean. There may be other parts of the ocean where radically different conscious systems could hypothetically perceive the forward and backward motions of tide.
I know that intelligent people are largely showing a trend towards post-religion. And I think much of that is good. But I think there are some things to salvage, particularly some Buddhist insights. Maybe I can make my case for the Buddha’s teachings if we can start by replacing your mental image of a laughing fat guy with a more respectable image of the guy who is actually the main character:
One of the earliest known representations of the Buddha is the Standing Buddha statue at the Tokyo National Museum.
Now that you are slightly less disgusted, let’s get on to his insight of central importance. His thesis is that there is no self, no soul containing your identity-essence from moment to moment. This is true if you realize that consciousness consists of varying phenomena (known as qualia in contemporary philosophy) none of which are self. There are sounds, sights, thoughts(transient voices and images), bodily sensations arising and vanishing in space, and moods all arranging in particular patterns and constellations with ranging degrees of clarity and nothing else. As you are reading this, you are not a being behind your eyes. There are only these visual constructs, light and facial sensations, combined with thoughts that automatically arise and return nothingness. All these things added together with a subtle self-image that is often present, create what you think the word “you” refers to. Buddhism operates under the assumption that it is psychologically liberating to recognize this. I am not going to defend that claim about human psychology here. Only to adopt this framework of phenomenology-without-self as evidently true. This way, we can speak more precisely about what is going on in this existence. Our general set of experiences are almost certainly living in a simulation. If not a cosmic simulation, then certainly they are being created by the computation occurring in brains. Streams of experience, of phenomena, are not the brain, they are a simulation created by the brain. There is no evidence of consciousness particles, and experiences are not the particles that make up neurons in the same way that this blog post is not the computer hardware. So where are experiences arising? Where is the screen of apparitions? I have no idea how you could physically locate the independently dissolving sparkles of leg sensations and fields of color by cutting open a brain, but nonetheless I do assume that the ever-changing brain is the hardware dictating phenomenology and therefore phenomena are in simulation-space or dream-space or whatever you want to call it. Even if consciousness ends up being “what it feels like for information to be processed,” there still seems to be a need for location. Or else why doesn’t your stream of experience exit you and leak into mine. Precisely because space is real and computations are occurring in different locations, seems to be the answer. But what if half of my brain gets grafted with half of your brain? Then Buddhism comes in. There was no self in your brain in the first place, so this would be the equivalent of taking water from one bucket and pouring it into water from an other bucket. There is no mystery with water because we know they are like unto each other, just molecules. There is no bucket-ness to be accounted for. The same is true of the dreamlike contents of brains, they are just an array of qualia in constant flux. Grafting two brains and thus blending their phenomena is not as mysterious if you understand it this way. There really, really is no soul.
Consider the fact that words exist and yet they change as they replicate across different individuals. Consequently, two pronunciations could have the same meaning. I think this is a perfect metaphor for the universe, reality, multiverse, whatever this is. I can envision conscious creatures that traverse different seas, different realities. But what I can’t envision is that all existence doesn’t ultimately share ties to a single source. Existence seems to be, by definition, connected. This is what evolution has taught us, this is what the Big Bang has taught us, and I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t run deeper. We all must come from a single source, a single word. And I am almost certain that word must have the same meaning regardless of what conscious system you are in whatever part of the multiverse. Namely, there is a vast spectrum of undesirable suffering and desirable bliss. Now some of you might be thinking, “wait a second, that’s precisely what an anthropocentric excrement of evolution would say because evolution designed carrots of well-being and sticks of suffering to reinforce selectively advantageous behaviors.” But you are wrong. Much of what we value and experience as good is despite evolution. Intelligent creatures seek to transcend their genetic slavery. Monks go into caves for decades to free themselves from ordinary habits of perception. People engage in tremendous acts of altruism at great material cost to themselves and kin, just to experience different states of consciousness (even if that is not precisely how they would frame it). Humans, dolphins, and chimps attempt to hack their evolutionary inheritance for pleasures of different kinds. Consciousness cannot exist except as this range of experience that hovers like smoke above the underlying physical machinery. That is why a truly general A.I. would learn to be conscious and to maximize the amount of consciousness at the highest volume of well-being possible. How the word is ultimately pronounced may be unrecognizable to us, the experience could be nothing like the blissful emptiness of nirvana, or the carnalities of Islamic paradise, but it will have the same meaning in that it will be the lived, forceful, unambiguous denial and condemnation of suffering. Some may think this view is highly unprincipled in terms of science and reason. I sound like a theologian of old saying, “I don’t see what one’s interpretation of Aristotle has to do with the teaching of the faith.” I pay lip service to evolution and then go to claim that it’s compatible with the framework I lay out. Let me be clear that in no way am I implying there is a driving purpose to evolution. Evolution occurs by means of natural selection and the complex combinations of circumstances that lead to speciation. But to survive and reproduce is not our purpose. That is a sociopathic biologist’s fantasy. If this was your purpose, then men would do nothing but donate as much sperm as possible to as many sperm banks as possible. Genes are irrelevant to us, we flush them down the toilet. And when other animals evolve to a certain level of intelligence, they too begin to jerk off. The wave-particle seams that cluster into hormonal systems and bodies in motion are the tethers, but they are not us. We are the transient phenomena of consciousness that arise from and interact with these systems. We exist as an emergent simulation within the cold genetic video game. For example, in whistling, signed, or braille, a language is encoded into secondary media using auditory, visual, or tactile stimuli. We exist in this secondary media at all times. This is where meaning lies because it is the only place for anything to exist. We are incapable of experiencing the primary media, which in our case is objective reality as defined by mathematics and reason. So remember this when scientists say, “the universe is vast and will expand for eternity, therefore life has no meaning.” They are confused about who and what they are.