In a previous article called ‘The supernatural is a logical implication of Naturalism’ I introduced the idea of being able to create a virtual universe with intelligent entities in reference to which we as humans will be supernatural.
I want to elaborate a little further on this idea since I will be referencing it time and again in other articles. One of the biggest problems with discussions about the supernatural is that the supernatural is something we have no way of relating to. There is nothing in the natural world we can use as an illustration of what the supernatural is like. We each create our own mental picture of what we mean when we use the term and then have debates contrasting one person’s imagination against another’s. In my opinion, while this problem might have been understandable back in the middle ages, it is no longer acceptable today in the computer age.
Most people these days are familiar with video games and have seen the elaborate virtual worlds that video game designers are able to create. However, the kind of game where a person uses a joystick to move an avatar on the screen is not exactly what I am talking about here. If one avatar were to dissect another one, they would see nothing that would explain why an avatar looks and acts in a certain way. They are simply cartoons animated on a screen.
Instead, I am talking about a virtual universe that was engineered to function as a product of several fundamental forces. Our own universe can, for the most part, be boiled down to four fundamental forces (Electromagnetism, Gravity, Strong and Weak Nuclear) which can explain virtually everything else we observe.
I could be wrong but I believe we have the technology today to create a virtual universe that is programmed to follow a set of basic laws that we come up with which can be either similar or very different than the fundamental forces of our own universe. It might take some trial and error to calibrate these forces so as to prevent this virtual universe from collapsing in on itself. And, there’s probably a limit to the complexity such a universe would be able to reach with our current technology. But the potential here is limitless and it definitely makes for a good Theoretical Model to use in our discussions about the supernatural.
When it comes to the human mind, science still has a long way to go before it can fully understand how the mechanics of the brain account for our ‘personhood.’ But, even this is something it likely WILL figure out someday. And, when it does, we will be able to reverse engineer the brain and create similar machines in the real world or the virtual. And, if by that time we have managed to develop a stable version of the virtual universe described in the previous paragraph, these virtual personoids might be able to exist in their own virtual environment.
There is one key element I must emphasize if this Virtual Universe is to be an adequate Model for our supernatural discussions: the personoids mentioned above would need to be developed based on the same fundamental forces their universe functions under and as a direct continuation of these forces rather than like the Avatars in today’s video games. They would need to have organ-like structures which in turn are made of cell-like structures, etc. going all the way down to the fundamental level and all their capacities would need to be a product of these forces.
Now I must clarify I am not here suggesting that the God or the Supernatural most people believe in is exactly the same as we would be in reference to the virtual universe we create. This is simply a model that we can use to evaluate our methodologies for thinking about the supernatural.
For example, say a personoid we created was suddenly self-aware and discovered itself within its virtual environment without any recollection of us creating it or any further interference from our side. If this personoid was to start asking questions about its universe and how everything works, its ability to discover this will depend on the limitations of its senses and the speed with which it could develop technology to enhance those senses. It will also depend on how quickly it figures out the scientific method. And of course, the more complex this virtual universe is, the longer it will take to figure it out.
But how will it go about learning anything about the non-virtual or our universe? Its senses, its technology, the research methodology itself would all be based on the fundamental laws that we developed into its virtual universe. If it creates something like a telescope to observe distant objects, this telescope would rely on those same virtual forces to produce its results and therefore the results will be composed of VIRTUAL objects and not of anything in our realm. Thinking through these types of questions will help us evaluate our own methods and their capacity to provide insights into the question of the supernatural.
Another reason this model is important is because many atheists feel that the chance any kind of supernatural exists is so small as to not even be worth considering. The fact however that we are almost advanced enough to create something like this ourselves, shows that the idea of the supernatural is nowhere near as far-fetched as some make it out to be.
Now in case someone feels that my virtual universe analogy makes for a poor illustration for the supernatural, I am not the only one that has thought of it. Take a look at an article I linked to in an earlier post called ‘Fascinating Article about Methodological Naturalism’. Especially look at the second to the last paragraph before the start of section 5 – ‘Discussion and Conclusion’ where a very similar analogy is used.