This is the story of what all things truly are, where they came from, and why.
And we’re going to start with the notion of thought; experience; subjective reality. Sentience. Let’s take the computational—or at least, physical, scientific, quantifiable, etc.—basis of mind and its interminable subjective experience as a given. I ask only that we agree it somehow depends on cause and effect in a way which is presumably understandable, even predictable, had we the knowledge and resources to bring to bear on it.
Suppose I know enough and have a fast enough computer to create and run a program that perfectly emulates all physical processes occurring inside Alice’s brain for a second. I gin up some fake experience for that second; maybe I am a particularly mischievous coder-neuroscientist, and so she farts in the simulation. I can run this program and the real Alice, sitting next to me, cannot reasonably be expected to have somehow experienced that simulation-moment herself, and would no doubt insist as much if put to the question.
It also follows, albeit somewhat disconcertingly, that some version of Alice’s mind seemed—to itself—to exist for a second (to say nothing of the fart); and this with no congruous prologue or epilogue. She had that second, everything seemed normal, and then regardless of however much or little that “subjective experience” can be said to truly exist, it immediately stops existing when the simulation stops, unbeknownst to sim-Alice.
A little weird, but sure, why not. If we accept this all so far, we come to the question: what if I run the simulation program once more?
There is perhaps room enough for metaphysical debate here. For my money, it’s essentially meaningless to argue that ‘another’ sim-Alice is instantiated to experience a somehow-distinct identical experience, before identically ceasing to exist. If it is indeed the computation (or whatever you want to call the physics involved) that causes it, that ship has already sailed. If I run the program on a loop forever, do I risk creating in some meaningful way an infinite army of identical-yet-separate simulated Alices? If there is an argument for this, I’ll not be the one to try and wangle it.
Let us agree instead that the computation, once conducted, has created the subjective experience of a moment’s sentience. I’m not sure how one argues against this, but if you accept it, we really start to get in trouble.
Suppose that the entire algorithm that simulates Alice for one second, through some titanic cosmic joke, simplifies to performing $3 \times 5$. That this is silly is a problem of degree, not of kind; the algorithm would be some finite set of atomic actions or interactions. (That’s atomic in the indivisible sense, not the things with the nucleus and the spinny bits.)
This raises all sorts of problems. Does it “count” as an experience-spawning event if I just “do” the computation in my head? What if I run a tiny program that does it? What if I solve it longhand? What if I decide to add 1 to both first just to take the scenic route, so I do $4 \times 6$ and then subtract $(3+5+1)$ to correct for it, still arriving at the necessarily correct answer. What if I ask Clara to count on her fingers and toes over Skype for me?
Is is the answer that matters, or the process? If it’s the process, on what possible basis could that be? Which of the scenarios named would qualify? What’s the magic line you need to cross to permit experience-creation?
And if it’s the answer, then god help us, because we all already know that $3\times 5 = 15$, as people have since, well, a while now. This is problematic, but it’s still not the trap.
Here’s the trap. What if I look out my window every day, waiting for three groups of five birds to join together suddenly into a little flock, then count the size of the flock. Does that qualify? If not, why not?
Okay, here’s the trap for real. If it does qualify, then what about random white blood cells bumping into each other in your body right now? What about viruses dividing (ha!) in a locally orderly way, enough to reasonably represent the computation $3\times 5$? And what about the countless cubic light years of space and things filling space combining and interacting in a potentially endless permutation of ways?
If one accepts computation as being, at it’s heart, sequential mapping between elements of sets of one sort or another—and I think that’s as reasonable a definition as any—then why can’t any collection of things be interpreted in some given advantageous way, and in a very real sense, be said to be computing such-and-such? Who are you to say it’s not?
I don’t see a reasonable offramp on this logical interstate, so my solution was to ride it to the end and conclude that all of existence implies itself.
The short version is that there couldn’t be nothing, since even the empty set is a thing of sorts; I don’t think there’s any way out of saying that nothing can’t exist without there being at least one thing for it not to be. That’s all immaterial anyway. The important part is what Descartes almost got right: it’s that obviously something exists. (Concluding anything more strikes me as arrogant.) Perhaps it is enough to note that something like a statement in first-order logic that $\forall x : \nexists x$ is a bit of a non-starter. (For all elements in some implied set, not one of them exists.) This is because the axioms of first-order logic (or any other descriptive framework you want) assert that something exists, without which it’s hard to get much of anywhere in formal reasoning. A Null-Everything with no properties, which cannot be referred to or altered or examined, is always a logical impossibility. I’ll leave it there since we don’t actually need this to continue.
So long as at least two things exist in some sense (I don’t think that’s asking much), any mathematical structure could be assembled by interpreting those two primeval bits in various ways, composing them upon themselves in ever larger and more intricate sets. Occam’s Razor is far, far happier with an infinite continuum of infinities than it would be with any subset thereof. The infinite easily dispatches any ridiculous theoretical mash-up where our universe happened to happen, a paltry offering aside our being here because all things are inevitable and always were; because obviously, everything that can be, is; and apparently, that includes us.
The leap of faith, if there is one, is that none of this simulation-siring computation had to be done; it was all automatic, or perhaps more precisely, inevitable. Implied, redundant, from the moment there was something and something else, which of course there’s always been, because there’s no logical alternative. Since this has always been the case, it incidentally solves the problem of the ‘first mover’ in any long chain of cosmological cause and effect: there wasn’t any, the status quo has always been, provided one adopts a less parochial outlook on time.
One important thing here, lest we lose sight, is that computations don’t have to be done to get any ‘side effect’ that arises from them, because in any way that matters, they’re all already automatically ‘done’. (Okay, maybe not the impossible computations; I haven’t worked that out yet.) There’s more, about how this explains the seemingly magical computational muscle of quantum computing. Also some half-baked ideas about how this all eliminates randomness and allows local determinism in quantum mechanics and stuff, but whatever, more later maybe.