Printed: 2019-08-21

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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No Mans Sky: A Deist Simulated Universe

Giulio Prisco

Turing Church

August 24, 2016

I don’t play No Man’s Sky (yet?), the pictures here were taken by my friend Extropia DaSilva who is busy exploring the simulated universe. Perhaps I will follow, but perhaps not: I am sure I would love No Man’s Sky and find it addictive, but I prefer to develop visions of hope for everyone to visit, one day, the big No Man’s Sky out there. However, No Man’s Sky is the richest simulation that we have developed so far, and an impressive technological feat.

No Man’s Sky is a simulated universe with more than 18 quintillion planets – players can explore 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 different planets, with unique geography, features, and strange life forms (see one in the picture below). Now, how could the game developers code that much detail? They didn’t: the simulated universe is procedurally generated, with the generation driven by overall design specifications and mathematical templates.

So No Man’s Sky is an example of a Deist universe: the creators set overall laws and parameters the would generate an interesting universe, and let the creation unfold.

God did something like that, too:

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures… Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” – Genesis

These passages in the Genesis can be interpreted as saying that God didn’t create life (the sea and land animals) “manually,” but rather created the universe (the waters and the earth) in such a way that it would bring forth life.

Of course No Man’s Sky is only a first attempt at simulating a universe: the game has only crude macroscopic physics, no chemistry and biology, and no evolution. The life forms that can be found on No Man’s Sky planets haven’t evolved, but have been placed there as finished products.

But a long road starts with a short step, and it’s interesting to speculate about future simulations. For example, imagine a future No Man’s Sky -like universe on steroids at the end of the century. It seems plausible that the simulation – let’s call it NMS 2100 – could include evolutionary algorithms to generate life forms from basic simulated biochemistry. Also, some life forms could be – but that remains a big IF until a viable theory of consciousness is developed – sentient beings, perhaps not smart like people but smart like pets. If so, wouldn’t you want to take care of Pokemon-like critters on a lonely planet lost in the immensity of NMS 2100, and perhaps copy them to a better place?

Is our reality a super NMS-like simulation computed in a higher level of reality? Some imaginative scientists and thinkers are persuaded that it could be, and Elon Musk of Tesla Motors (and soon Mars colonization) fame has recently said that he considers the simulation hypothesis as very probably correct.

I think reality can be thought of as a hugely complex computation (“sim”) running in an even more complex computing system (let’s call it “Mind”) beyond our understanding, and consciousness could be able to somehow interact with the underlying digital reality – for example, your favorite pet could poke you and send you a distress signal in case of need. The reality-sim could be a Deist job like NMS, generated procedurally by physical laws and initial conditions (actually, that sounds trivially true) and unfolding more or less automatically. But perhaps there are hooks in the physical laws of our sim that “players” like Extie can use to intervene a bit in the sim, now and then. For example, the reality-sim could have its quantum physics driven by processes that seem random to us, but can be tweaked by the players.

So we can recover Theism – the idea of a personal, caring and loving God – at the level of the players, if not at the level of the overall system design. A more complex being can “descend to the level” of a less complex being (for example, I am perfectly able to communicate with my doggy in ways she can understand). In particular, the players – Gods – could answer our prayers and grant resurrection in a better sim.

Giulio Prisco is a writer, technology expert, futurist and transhumanist. A former manager in European science and technology centers, he writes and speaks on a wide range of topics, including science, information technology, emerging technologies, virtual worlds, space exploration and future studies. He serves as President of the Italian Transhumanist Association.


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