NB: The following is a story. It is not fact. It is based in facts, yes, but it is entirely speculative. This was an exercise I set myself to create a myth that is completely consistent with current scientific understandings. So, it’s mythology and science fiction. The latter has to be scientifically possible. That something is possible does not, of course, make it true.
Doubtless the most interesting species in the “actual” universe is the Lilatian/s, who are many and one. I’ll use the plural to refer to them going forward, but be aware that this is a mere convention for ease of readability.
A billion years ago, some of the Lilations’ ancestors worried that their peers were becoming too enamored of entertainments made possible by the primitive technologies of the day such as the transmission via electromagnetic signals of digitized moving pictures and sound (movies). What bothered these Lilatian pundits was the possibility that Lilatians would be so busy entertaining themselves to death that they would ignore political developments, enabling the unscrupulous among them to take advantage of this heedlessness and wreck their planet for short-term profit. This bothered the smarter Lilatians of the time for they knew that their own species (like us) had short lives and could be, as a consequence, shockingly short-sighted. And, indeed, the pundits’ fear was well founded, for the disaster they foresaw became, in fact, the fate of many civilizations throughout the cosmos that burst upon the scene and then quickly fizzled. Live fast and leave a beautiful young corpse, the saying goes.
Miraculously, however, the Lilatians squeaked through. That’s because they cured aging and death fairly early in their technological phase and started worrying that they would, themselves, individually, be around to see the consequences of heedlessness. They also developed, early on, several technologies for intelligence augmentation by means of brain-computer interface (BCI) prosthetics, which only strengthened this concern. A lucky break. And, as this illustrates, intelligence and virtue turn out, in fact, once a certain threshold is met, to be correlated, for it makes a difference if an entity is smart enough to image/imagine truly the suffering of another, so as the Lilatians grew in intelligence, they also became kinder–not that this made much difference, for they tended, increasingly, to interact only with their entertainments, which became, over time, THE entertainment (I”ll get to that in a bit). However, they remained addicts to their entertainments. They couldn’t give them up, even though they recognized the issue with them. That’s how it is with addicts, isn’t it?
As their technologies for entertaining themselves developed apace, and because of their increased intelligence, they soon realized that prior knowledge and experience increased the pleasure to be derived from entertainments and that they could increase both by merging, via their BCI prosthetics, with other Lilatians and with their machines, so that eventually, they became One and were spending almost all their time ENTIRELY within their entertainments, having developed reliable mechanical SUBS for “feeding,” or finding resources, and for “taking out the trash,” or recycling, and so running their world on autopilot.
Another civilization, elsewhere in the cosmos, less evolved, might well have wondered where the aliens all were, since the cosmos seemed to offer many harbors for life, but the simple answer to that question was that technological societies either kill themselves off fairly early on or, like the Lilatians, turn inward, for the worlds that they end up being able to create are far more fantastic and interesting to them than is some hunk of rock and water teeming with lowly lifeforms light years away. Obviously.
Other civilizations in the cosmos with relatively early stage technologies might have been able to use radio or even optical telescopes to figure out that the Lilatians had built a device to capture and use all the energy produced by their star and had converted their entire planet into computronium to run themselves on, but none close enough survived, so the Lilatians remained isolated though they didn’t FEEL that way because, of course, their consciousness was directed ALMOST ENTIRELY toward the fascinating simulation they were running, which is what their entertainments had evolved into. And that simulation, of course, was a universe, the SIM-U.
The biggest breakthrough entertainment-wise came about when the Lilatians discovered that the most engaging way to experience the SIM-U was, ironically, to enter into it as one of its SIM-Lilations, or persons, with all of his, her, or its LIMITATIONS of access to information and perspective—cognitive, sensory, and otherwise, for to the part of the Liliation ONE who had chosen to experience the SIM-U as a limited Person, when an event occurred in the SIM, this was a really big deal and therefore THRILLING. Wow, what’s that? A thunderstorm!!! Better get out of the way!!!
The biggest breakthrough, technology-wise, came about when the Lilatians perfected utility fog–swarms of nanoscopic, self-replicating bots that could be directed to disassemble anything into its subatomic particles and rearrange these into anything else (for, of course, an electron is an electron–it’s just the arrangement that matters). To the uninitiated (ahem, any peoples not at a Lilatian technological level), this looked like magic: “I command thee, sofa, become dinner and a cello!”
The biggest breakthrough with breakthroughs came about when the Lilations figured out that they could SUB out all this future discovery business and just check in with the SUBS from time to time to see what was cooking.
Interestingly, one of the limitations of the SIM-persons was that most of them thought that they were unique, separate, isolated ontological entities living in the “real world” rather than avatars of the ONE in a SIM-U. However, the digital nature of everything—the fact that there were physical limits beyond which everything was fuzzy—should have been a clue to them. The truth is that most of them, even the most benighted, felt that something was up, that there was something surreal about the reel of the real and that they, themselves, were more than most people thought they were, part of something BIGGER.
SIM-Lilations, or persons, of course, often worried about such matters as the “problem of evil”–if there is a God, why is there evil in the world?–a problem so vexing that they named a whole separate field of philosophy for it. Theodicy, they called it. But being infinitely long lived (yes, they solved the problem of the eventual entropy-death of the universe), Lilations knew that any momentary suffering of their avatars in SIM-U, however great it might seem to a SIM-Lilation, or person, approaches, in the limit, zero when divided by numbers approaching infinity.
And, of course, the SIM-U exists all at once–past, present, and future a completed whole, though SIM-Lilations, or persons, perceive it as unfolding. This is why persons in the SIM-U traveling at different speeds experience time as slower or faster relative to others, as predicted by the theory of Relativity. And, of course, when the Lilations reboot to make an adjustment in the possibilities for experience within the SIM-U, individual SIM-Lilations have no knowledge that this has happened. They simply suddenly exist with slightly different past experiences than they had before. All this was captured, long ago, in an epic work produced with in the SIM-U, the Mahabarata, which tells this story: The destroyer God, Shiva, was supposed to end the world when the cosmic cycle known as the Dream of Brahman had run its course. However, he so loved the world that he couldn’t bring himself to do this. So, he destroyed it and recreated it almost instantaneously, again and again, but so quickly that all this happened below the threshold of human perception.
Postscript: If he were still around, I would explain to Douglas Adams that Life, the Universe, and Everything is redundant, and he would say that he knew that and thought it funny, and I would explain that I knew that he knew it but wanted to hear it from his own mouth, and he would question my veracity, saying, “Come on. Admit it. You thought maybe you had me there,” and we would order a couple pints and agree to forget about it. And I would love him for his feeling that there is something ridiculous and altogether endearing about the fact that an entity as tiny and limited as a human–a random collection of vague motivations and sensory impressions, Adams called us–would make observations about something as big and varied and weird and unknowable as “the universe.”
Copyright 2020, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.
For more short stories (and essays about fiction) by Bob Shepherd, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/short-stories/