Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Spy's God

A famous European philosopher once said people these days don't travel, they spy. Google Analytics says the U.S. Dept. of State is reading my stories. Last week the diplomatic corp had a chance to talk things over with me in person, but escorting their words under the screen of bulletproof glass at the Embassy is not as interesting as trying to second guess why I wrote what I did and what it means.

I see on Analytics that someone in Manassas, Virginia is reading my story, How Do You Make A Computer Not Want To Be A Computer? On Wikipedia's Manassas, Virginia's entry, one "notable resident" is a philosopher. I type him into the spy machine, and Google decodes a page of posts on the subject of how to know if we are living in a computer simulation of life.

Very suspicious. Coincidence? This must be investigated!

A linked Oxford philosopher argues that probably we are a computer simulation.* Another philosopher says that could be, but all it means is that in addition to what we know now, which remains true, there is a whole another world to learn, the world that made the simulation we are in, knowing about which is a sort of theology or knowledge of god's intention. One Virginia linked philosopher argues that if we are a simulation knowing it might lead us to change our behavior. If we want our game to be kept operational, turned on, we have to keep it interesting. We have to be big. A game player's attention is drawn to scale: to the most exceptional, the biggest influencers: of course, players want the highest score. Another linked Virginia philosopher argues that social inequality is unimportant because most people don't want equality, and the purpose of government is to operate efficiently as representative of the people's wishes.

First conclusion: these are the kind of people you want to be separated from by bulletproof glass, and we can thank our programmer god we are spying from the comfort of our computers.

Second conclusion: the philosophers are making an argument for progress at the cost of everything else important in human life. It turns out then that if we are being played, if we are no more than computer programs, we would act exactly as people are encouraged to act now! Make progress, get the money, get the fame, and care nothing about anything else! That is the "theology" of the philosophers your children's tuition pays the salaries of! The professors think they are themselves the biggest and best in their profession. Income inequality? No problem, that is staying in the game insurance!

In fact, in fact! what is god but chief spy? Looking down at his computer screen like we and the mortals at the U.S. Dept. of State, searching for the most interesting, the anomaly, the exceptional something or other?

But what about Socrates, the exception, the philosopher who said he knew nothing special about anything, never got anywhere, accomplished anything, made progress playing only his own game, yet mysteriously won all the arguments? In his days the question was what was the life worth living, but here now it'll be what game is worth playing?

To our spy god's tastes whose life would be more interesting, the rich, successful, famous professors of philosophy and computational theology, or spied on Socrates, suspected of worshiping strange gods? Who is more exceptional, more powerfully fun to play, mocking, provocative, winning Socrates, or the professors? You know the answer. We might find it compelling, this game of seeing who can make the most progress while forced to do this under sentence of death, but our programmer god knows better what makes an interesting story.

The big news of the week is the arrest of the highest ranked gamer of the most popular computer game in the world, who also directs the biggest download site in the world. The biggest and the best of the world are at at each other's throats in the fight over money and power. It's not much of a show.

* The argument for probability is false: continual progress in programming is assumed, when not even a beginning has been made on programming the relation between emotion and ideas that would be necessary to simulate our lives.

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