This is the second of a two-part musing. Read the first part.
Part Two: The consciousness inside online worlds
Videogames are part of the modern world that almost everyone takes for granted. I remember over a decade ago watching an entire game of football being played out by two CPU-controlled teams on a Sega Game Gear. This entirely computer-operated game was calculated and brought to life in real time by something that we created to effectively think for itself.
We're now in an era of games such as The Sims and massive online worlds such as World of Warcraft, where characters don't physically exist but effectively have an existence as a result of a greater being's artificial consciousness (a computer CPU carrying out the programmer's instructions, in this case). These characters, if it was possible for them to think consciously, would believe they exist in a four-dimensional world within which they exercise a life of free will, reacting to whatever comes their way. Obviously they're just the result of something greater than themselves -- a CPU, its memory and its ins and outputs. But is that actually as obvious as it appears?
To refer back to Sagan, imagine you are living in a four- dimensional world. You could never go to a position where you could look down at your fellow beings and see them as something different. Sound familiar? A mystical being appears at your side one day and takes you outside of the confines of what you perceived as normality. You see that everything you experienced was only an element of what the full reality is, and in the ultimate picture, you're just living inside something else's imagination that gives you the impression of free will and a life you call normal existence.
It's as if I was the mystical being and I took my little characters out of their expanding online existence and allowed them to look through a flat surface -- an LCD computer screen -- and see their entire world from a previously inconceivable angle.
Extrapolating this outwards, someone, sitting in one of the seven other dimensions that string theory would prove, could potentially lift us out of what we believe to be everything there is to see. Could we look in at what we call reality and discover -- to our utter disbelief -- that we're just the result of something's manufactured consciousness, nothing greater than an artificial construct within the fabric of the universe? Could we be nothing more than characters in a game?
Maybe we should just go back to Pong. At least that ball would never evolve and wonder whether there's more to existence than two gradually growing and shrinking white strips on the horizon.