The Sympathetic Universe: Part 2

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The BABBBABBABABAABBBABABBBBABABABBBBBBBABABAA family, whom we shall refer to as the BAA family played hundreds of millions of “change one thing” games. This continued until a new game appeared. This game was special in that it could be entirely different each time. The initiating entity would create a reality. Much like “change one thing,” the entities would then take turns altering the reality. The difference, however, was that encoded in a nearby separate reality accessible to all players was a set of rules that governed what changes each player could make.

Sometimes these rules amounted to “change one thing” with just a few restrictions, other times the restrictions were so severe the game didn’t seem much different from just a one-entity reality. Over the course of this generation, the games became more sophisticated. Soon, rules were set up that led the reality to take automatic reactions to entities’ actions. Entities made puzzles where, following the rules, a player entity had to take the reality from its initial state to a given goal state. Entities developed realities where two players each had a conflicting goal state and they competed with each other to realize it. The new idea of competition allowed entities to feel pride and shame, each of which they thoroughly enjoyed.

Entities made realities with thousands of goal states, goal states shared by players, goal states that did not conflict, allowing several players to win. The rules became more complex, to the point that it would take libraries to describe them. The entities with rule-based realities that essentially no one else could play in were exploring simple rules that would create complex outcomes. The goal was to create a system that produced interesting behavior for as long as possible. This proved to be challenging, as these entities were notoriously difficult to entertain. The systems they created had a problem that they were always settling into predictable patterns or ending up diverging into nonsense that nobody liked.

One entity found a combination of rules that we might dimly recognize as a precursor to our laws of physics. After a few tries, it managed to invent matter, and then it developed rules that caused the matter to clump together into interesting lumps, some of which got big enough that they collapsed in on themselves. The pressure at the middle of these huge lumps was so much that the matter inside fused and generated energy. Smaller lumps turned into spheres. This was so interesting that this entity kept at it until it found several spheres near enough to stars that the energy bathing them made interesting phenomena without disintegrating them entirely.

One sphere had boiling minerals that rose into the sky and became rocky clouds before raining down molten pebbles. Another was just gases making violent storms all over the sphere. A small sphere had subzero nights and inferno-hot days. Sometimes a small lump would collide with a sphere and entertainment would ensue.

A sphere with a large amount of dihydrogen monoxide was of particular interest. Rather than a rock cycle, this sphere had a cycle of this particular compound, which we know as water, that covered most of its surface. The entity observed in fascination as this water system led to more complex systems, including little systems that began to appear inside it.

In the blink of an eye these little systems had become bigger and more complex, all on their own. They fought with each other over resources and the winners got to go on and make more of themselves, perpetuating their own small changes. The entity was amazed. It was omniscient in that it knew all the rules to the reality and it could pause at any point and observe the precise velocity and location of every element, but now the math was so complicated it couldn’t predict what would happen next. From the combination of small, simple behaviors emerged something magical. This entity was thereby introduced to wonder.

The entity continued to watch as the little systems grew. Occasionally something big would come along and destroy almost all of them, but some would always survive, and in moments they would take over the world and send the evolution on a new path.

At some point, the entity noticed a toucan trying to impress a mate. It brought a mango and tossed it to the other toucan, but the gesture was rejected. As the entity watched the toucan, it recognized an emotion. Now this was interesting. All of a sudden, the entity was not just observing, it was empathizing. As the little systems became more complex, there was more and more to empathize with.

And then we showed up.

By Sam Munk

Science fiction and Fantasy author with a focus on philosophical inquiry and character-driven drama.

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