Multiple Theories Suggest We’re Just Living Algorithms

By on September 14, 2023

This post is going to be something a bit different. A little more ambitious, perhaps. 

A thought adventure. 

And one that might instil a little a little existential dread. You have been forewarned, dear viewer! Proceed at your own discretion.

Human Algorithm

In this video, we’re going to try and tease apart the very nature of what it is to be human. Possibly even our origins. And, in so doing, we’re going to try and understand a bit more about the very universe.

Why, on a fitness blog, are we doing this?

First: this isn’t a fitness blogl. It’s a human performance blog. The Bioneer has always been about exploring, and pushing the boundaries of, the human condition.

Second: because getting the most from our bodies and minds means first understanding them and how they tick. 

Third: because deep thinking and exploring mind-bending concepts is good for that very brain development. It’s big idea thinking, on the biggest scale possible.

I hope this might inspire similar deep thinking and maybe even serve as a launchpad for some of your own ideas and speculations. 

As a disclaimer, I must say this isn’t necessarily what I believe to be true. I am merely sharing my thoughts and ideas surrounding the biggest thought experiment: who are we, and where did we come from?

To Create a Life

To better understand what a human is, we should maybe try to create one. Create life.

As you do.

Hypothetically, of course.

How might we go about this? Well, we could start by trying to code a human brain. We can’t build living tissue, but we can create a simulation of a person.

Digital Worm

Maybe we should start with something a bit simpler: like a worm or a fly.

What if we created a physics engine and then programmed every single cell in a simple creature’s body, to behave just as it does in real life? Would it then be alive? Or is there something special about having a physical form?

Or, better yet, what if we created a simulation of an entire brain

Would that brain be thinking within the simulation?

It sounds like science fiction, but this is very much something that scientists are doing right now. 

As far back as 2005, IBM’s Blue Brain project simulated half of a mouse’s brain on the Blue Gene supercomputer.

In 2013, German Scientists were already running simulations of 1% of a human brain. That simulation modelled 1.73 billion nerve cells and 10.4 trillion synapses using the K Computer – at the time, the 4thfastest supercomputer in the world.

These simulations literally code for each neuron and then have the neurons “fire,” as they would in a real creature, simulating life. 

The SPAUN model is based on “human brain principles” and uses 2.5 million simulated neurons to perform tasks like digit recognition, list memorization, and simple arithmetic – despite not being specifically programmed in these tasks. 

OpenWorm is an open-source science project that aims to simulate every cell of a worm species, C. elegans, that grows less than a millimetre. This project includes every single neuron and nerve in its body. Every single muscle. While incomplete, the digital worm is capable of accurate, worm-like movement within a virtual environment.

Open Worm Project

So, you might think that, given enough computing power and time, we will find ourselves with a fully functional human brain at some point in the future. Right?

Wrong. See, even if we were able to create a highly complex model of the roughly 86 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapses… we still wouldn’t be able to accurately model the way those neurons behaved. Lacking processing power, which we do, isn’t even the big issue.

Why? Because we don’t understand how neural networks behave. Not fully. Not even close, to be honest. 

These models lack glial cells, which play a number of important functions in supporting neurons and synapses. They lack neurotransmitters, which modulate and alter the way brain cells behave. They lack short-term plasticity, long term plasticity, rate coding, or dendritic computation. That last one explains how a single neuron is actually capable of handling basic logic.

Some of these things are ideas we’re only just now exploring. Many aspects of the human brain and the nature of thought likely remain undiscovered. 

Our understanding of how the brain works is extremely limited. 

And even if we could model an entire human brain, it wouldn’t operate properly without a fully modelled human body. And, for the neurochemistry to work as it should, we would also need to code the most accurate physics engine known to man – possibly something that even accounted for quantum physics. Afterall, these physics are what determine the way neurons fire and behave. 

That’s why, even given the incredible power of AI, I don’t think we’ll be uploading a human consciousness within a hundred lifetimes. 

The Emergent Lifeform

So… that’s it then… no creating life for old Bio…

But not so fast! Because, I never would go about building a digital life-form in this way, anyway! 

Were tasked with creating life, and given a hypothetical supercomputer with limitless processing power… First, I’d see if I could run Cyberpunk 2077 at max settings. 

But then I would focus on some form of cellular automaton. Like Conway’s game called “Life.”

We Already Created “Life”

So, what am I talking about?

Well, in Conway’s Life, you start out with a grid of a pre-determined size. Say 200×200 or 10,000×10,000. The more the better. 

Cells can be either blank (dead) or filled (alive). You then adjust the number of cells each “turn” – you kill cells or create cells based on a number of simple rules:

  1. Birth: A dead cell with exactly three live neighbors will become a live cell (as if by reproduction).
  2. Survival: A live cell with two or three live neighbors stays alive.
  3. Death:
    • Overpopulation: A live cell with more than three live neighbors dies (as if by overpopulation).
    • Underpopulation: A live cell with fewer than two live neighbors dies (as if by underpopulation).

You start out with a “seed,” which is usually a random selection of living cells scattered across the grid, and then watch how it grows and changes over time. This can be done manually with a pencil and paper on a small grid, or it can be run as a simulation in a computer. The latter, of course, allows for far larger grids and many more turns.

Conways Game of Life

Over time, you will witness cells appear and die, group together, and seemingly huddle to form patterns and shapes. What’s amazing, is that some patterns prove more resilient than others: lasting multiple turns and even moving and changing shape. Some even move across the screen. Some even appear to “fire” projectiles or give birth to other self-sustaining patterns. 

Some of the behaviours seem eerily biological in nature. Swarming around the screen like bacteria. 

There are many more simulations just like Conway’s. Lenia is one of the more interesting of these. Developed in 2015 by Bert Chan and building upon the foundation of Conway’s Life, Lenia uses higher resolution patterns and can produce far more complex digital life-forms. Over 400 different species have been observed, many of which share traits with real, biological life-forms. They can reproduce and even communicate in some ways. 

So advanced are these, some call them “Mathematical Lifeforms.” 


Throw in a human hand and you can achieve even more amazing things. By manipulating the starting seed in Conway’s Life, users have been able to build entire calculators. Even computers that run within Life and actually have their own version of Life playing within! Conway’s Life is Turing complete.

Imagine for a moment that you had a near limitless amount of space for Life to play out. A limitless grid and infinite turns with unlimited computing power. Anytime the entire population dies out, a new starting seed is introduced at random. 

Over time, those calculators and computers would have to appear naturally. This is the law of chance. Just as locking immortal monkeys in a room with a typewriter for infinity will necessarily produce the entire works of Shakespeare eventually. Infinite times.

So, in theory, a big enough game of Conway’s Life would produce a computer running another simulation. And, likely, far more complex creatures. Again, this would have to happen if the simulation were infinite. 

Especially if it were not Life, per say, but rather a more perfect combination of rules running on this impossibly powerful system.

Could we propose that, eventually, such a system might give rise to something akin to a genuine life-form? Real intelligence?

Consciousness Upload

If you believe that creating a digital human – a consciousness upload – is possible… then you also must believe this to be true. That it could happen through sheer chance and evolution over a gazillion turns across an infinite space. 

So, we could create something conscious, this way?

Neuroscientist Giulio Tononi suggests that consciousness is not a magical “stuff” but rather an emergent property of certain data patterns. Just as particles behaving in a certain way can be “wet” or can form a “wave.” The wave is not tied to those specific particles but is rather a pattern of data moving through them. A wave can occur in water, in the air, or in apple juice.

Maybe consciousness arises from certain patterns as an emergent property. It is simply what information processing of this nature “feels like” to us. Tononi describes his “Integrated Information Theory” or “IIT” – proposing that consciousness can arises from any system with sufficient differentiation (meaning it can adopt multiple states) and integration (meaning it is unified and interconnected). This, he suggests, can even be measured as “Phi.” With more Phi describing a system that is more conscious. Though this is a controversial viewpoint.

Substrate Independent Consciousness

Max Tegmark remarks that consciousness, described this way, is “substrate independent.”

But to me, there is one glaring omission here: free will. More on that in amoment.

THIS is how I would do it, though. I would build the system and let it infinitely iterate. Put it on fast forward. And have the life emerge as a natural consequence. I’d still not understand how the life works. But that’s my best bet.

The biology of these creatures would interact with these simple rules. They might send out single cells and have them return as a way to sense the world around them. 

They might evolve to better navigate the other creatures that evolve in their surroundings. 

This might be genuine mathematical life. And yet it would be entirely incomparable to our own world. 

The very laws of physics, emergent as they are, would be nothing like our own. There would be no way for these beings to “step out” into our world. They would be incompatible. There would be no comparable analogues. We might not even recognize such life among the data.

It would be a rich and entirely different world we couldn’t explore for these creatures. And yet, we could manipulate it from outside. We could fast forward time and allow their civilizations to become infinitely more advanced than our own.

We could be, simultaneously, their gods… but also primitive in relation to them.

Or we could print out the data as a simple spreadsheet. A snapshot of their entire existence, boiled down to a set of numbers in a super-powered Excel. 

Disturbing Parallels

The aim of this thought experiment was to learn more about ourselves. 

So, now take a look at our own world. 

Is it so different?

We think of our world as tangible, as corporeal, as three-dimensional. Nothing like a spreadsheet of numbers.

But that is only how we have evolved to interact with it, as a pattern of information.

Our individual experiences of the world are entirely arbitrary

What is “red?” We experience the qualia of red in a specific way but we can never know if it looks the same to someone else. We know that some people don’t view red.

The real world

And we know that there are plenty of wavelengths of light we don’t see at all. 

We see solid objects and contrast, even though any given object has far more space between each molecule than solid matter. We see it that way, because those are the things that we can’t pass through. 

We are simply patterns of data, interpreting other data points on a cosmic database, in order to sustain ourselves. 

What we see and feel is not any “true” interpretation of reality. We could run the same data into a machine and have it displayed in an entirely different way.

We, and the world around us, are simply information. 

This is the “digital physics hypothesis.” It’s not new, but I think this is a nice way to think about it.

And it does rather imply we might be living in a simulation ourselves. Not necessarily a simulation in the “Matrix” sense, or virtual reality gaming sense. But perhaps some kind of isolated, mathematical system that exists within a containing universe.

But not necessarily, of course. Being information or not barely describes the nature of the world, not its origin or purpose. 

Still, it does all kind of add up if we really think about it.

Interpretation and Speculation

If we view the world in this way, we can come to a few interesting conclusions about physics and reality.

I don’t think time is some magical property. I think it’s the accumulation of information. What we experience as time passing is simply data being updated. If nothing happened at all – if there was zero change to the data set – we wouldn’t experience time.

More information in the data set = future. Less information = past.

Just like you could pause a simulation on a computer and the “inhabitants” would be none the wiser.

It’s been said that the arrow of time is tied to entropy. Energy transfer in a closed system will always move from a more organised state to a more chaotic state, this is entropy. Blocks of ice will melt. A pool table will go from a nicely ordered triangle to balls scattered all over the table. 


Apples rot. 

And it’s been suggested that this is what gives time its directionality. That an increase in chaos and disorder is what ensures time does not run in reverse.

But I view this as an increase in information. A more chaotic system is simply a system with more information.

Patterns are repetitive by definition. I could summarise the shape and positions of a triangle in pool very easily and you’d get the gist. I could “compress” that information.

Balls scattered all over the table, however, offer more information.

And, more to the point, we now have information about how those balls got to those positions. In the past, I could say: the balls are here now. In the future, I can say: the balls are here now and were here before. More information.

Time is change and change is information. 


The same goes for space. If all there is, is information, then all space really is, is the distance between two points. Or, more accurately, the relationship between two data points. 

Space is not an entity unto itself. This is in accordance with relational theory, which stands in contrast to “substantivalist” views of space as an actual “stuff.” If we accept the universe to be a data set much like Conway’s Life – a mathematical system – then relational theory makes intuitive sense. 

Relational Theory

As a data point in the ether, the only way we have a location is by considering how our location relates to other data points. If you’re a dot on an infinite grid, there is no way to describe your location. That data simply doesn’t exist.

But if there’s two points or three points on the infinite grid, you can at least describe your relationship to those points. And how that relationship changes, which creates more information – or the arrow of time. 

There is no here, or there. Only X number of spaces away from another object. No big, or small. Only bigger and smaller. It’s all relative. As Einstein was known to say with a wink, before chugging a beer.

And speaking of Einstein, I thiiink this is compatible with his theories. Space-time is simply the relationship between data points in the past, present, and future. How does something like dense matter warp space itself and give us gravity?

Well, in a data vacuum with no frame and no point of reference, describing my distance from another data point can still only be done in relative terms. Meaning we need to look at averages of the entire data set. Meaning that any update to a single data point alters the meaning of every other data point.

Data cloud information theory

Perhaps this also occurs on localised scales. 

The scope of the universe is simply the gulf between the extremes of the current data set. The furthest points. Space grows as the range of data increases.

Quantum Uncertainty is Fiiine. It’s Fine. 

I think this perspective helps shed some light on a little problem I like to call “quantum superposition.” Because that’s what it’s called. 

Particles at a sub-atomic, quantum scale, act in ways that seem to defy all logic. Among other madness, quantum particles can exist in multiple positions at once, which we describe with a “probability wave.” This describes all those places it could be.

Until we measure the position, at which point the particles appear to “collapse” into a more final state; choosing one of those outcomes. Wave-particle duality explains that particles can behave both as waves and as particles simultaneously.

Quantum Superposition

Frustratingly, we can’t know both the position and momentum of the particle simultaneously, either. This is known as “Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.”

Superposition and wave-particle duality are demonstrated by the infamous double slit experiment, which has baffled viewers of YouTube for decades now. To recap:

Scientists took photons (light particles) and fired them at a barrier with two slits (holes) in it. They then observed a screen placed behind those slits and the pattern that formed against it. When the slits were open and no measurements were taken, they saw an “interference pattern” appear on the screen, demonstrating that the photons were acting like waves. The patterns emerges because the possible positions of the particle interfered with themslves – just like ripples from two pebbles thrown into a pond.  

Things took a turn for the strang(er) when they tried to measure which slit the particles travelled through. The simple act of measuring changed the behaviour of the photons. Now, two clusters were seen on the screen behind the slits, suggesting they travelled through as particles. No interference patterns. The simple act of measuring which side the photons went through, forced them to behave like particles and not waves. 

Double slit experiment

Like naughty school kids that suddenly stand still when the teacher turns around. 

In some cases, the particles were measured using detectors – but there was concern that the detectors were actually altering the results. So, other methods have been used as well. One was to earmark the photons prior to them being fired through the slit. 

Another was to use a “delayed-choice” set-up. Here, scientists would randomly decide whether or not to measure which slit the particles went through only after they already went through. Amazingly, the result is that the behaviour of the particle would still seemingly change: as though the particles “knew” that they were going to be measured and were thus able to change their past behaviour. This appears to alter the past based on future decisions, suggesting “retro-causality.” In other words: information moving backwards through time. 

Now, retro-causality is just one explanation for this… but you know something is up when “information travelled backwards in time” seems like a reasonable theory.


One of the more accepted explanations is the Copenhagen Interpretation. This suggests that particles exist in a state of “superposition” until they are measured, at which point they “collapse” into a definite state. Why that happens, though, is enough to make your head spin. 

This, of course, has led to all kinds of crazy speculation. Many people claim that our consciousness is altering reality (the observer effect) and this has even been used to sell self-help books about “the law of attraction” and such nonsense. Because of course someone would use this to try and sell you a shitty eBook.

Multiversal theories, such as the “Many Worlds Interpretation,” also exist: that every possible scenario plays out in a separate reality and this is just the one we happen to be experiencing. 

Others suggest that this is evidence that the universe itself is conscious. This is a huge leap from the information available.

Observer Effect

A more sensible explanation is quantum decoherence. This posits that the weirdness we observe in the quantum realm is possible thanks to its isolated nature. When we make a measurement of any kind, this represents an interaction with the system which forces it to behave in a sense more in-keeping with classical physics. 

If we marry this with some other ideas, we can do away with the need for “consciousness weirdness.”

You might feel that this is an unsatisfactory explanation, however. Maybe it makes you feel a bit icky. Why is that?

Probably because you’ve been raised on classical physics. Like Newton’s laws or Einstein’s relativity, even. Classical physics are deterministic in nature, meaning they are wholly predictable and even “time reversible.” So that, if we could rewind the simulation, we’d see things predictably play in reverse.

Quantum physics throw all that out the window – by seemingly being non-deterministic and even random in nature. We can’t reconcile these two worlds and so the explanations seem completely alien.

But using what we’ve established already, I feel that we can find a satisfactory explanation. 

Because, if the only thing that exists in any real sense is information… then of course we can’t determine facts about things that have no bearing on any other data.

Quantum Decoherence

The only things that exist in any real sense, might be the information required to create the universe as it is right now in this moment. And this must necessarily contain all the information that was required to lead up to this moment, especially if we obey the conservation of information. 

Anything that doesn’t contribute to this current state, is not a part of our data set – our universe.

A photon existing in a state of superposition is, in my opinion, much like a variable used in an equation that can have multiple values without affecting the outcome of the equation. Multiple values satisfy the sum and so it is with a particle in a quantum state. 

We know something is there. But if it hasn’t reacted with any other data in a meaningful way, then it is indeed part of an isolated system. And, as such, the information about its position and momentum don’t exist to us.

Just like the data point floating in the ether. It’s not relative to anything. There is no information about it. If we fed the spreadsheet of the universe into a supercomputer it could not extrapolate the position and momentum of that particle from that information. Thus, that data doesn’t exist. 

404 File Not Found Error. 

The mad thing is, that once the information has interacted with the broader system, then its value “always was” what it is now known to be. 

True Randomness

If this seems to point to us living in a simulation like Conway’s Life, then just wait!

I actually think that the seeming randomness of quantum physics can only be reconciled with classical physics by accepting that we are in a similar kind of mathematical simulation. 

And no, I’m not about to tell you that “being aware of something collapses the wavefunction because that’s the computer only rendering what we’re looking at it.” This is trite, turdy Daily Male pop-science and lacks an understanding of quantum physics. Consciousness is not even required for the measurement to cause the collapse.

Rather, I’m suggesting that true randomness can only come from outside our universe.

And in this context, I’m describing a certain kind of randomness I’ll refer to as “non-deterministic randomness.” That is: random in the sense that it can’t be predicted or extrapolated. 

Just as I believe the choices we make to be non-deterministically random. We have our reasons, but no theory can predict what our choices will be.

And the only way to describe such randomness in a deterministic world, is as coming from another set of rules. 

Free will

Imagine that you are a being existing within a vast world built within Conway’s Life. The laws of Conway’s Life are deterministic and time reversible. 

But what if a cat ran across the keys of the computer running that simulation and introduced some new cells into the mix. They would appear seemingly at random. 

From within the simulation, they would be truly random. There would be no way whatsoever to reverse the simulation and get the same outcome. No way to have determined that this would have happened from the given data set.

The cat might still be beholden to deterministic physical laws within out universe. It wasn’t truly random (cats do be sitting on computers, after all). But within that universe, it is truly random. 

So it might be that randomness in our universe can be explained deterministically, if it comes from outsideour universe.

Perhaps that’s how we answer “the problem of outcomes.” This problem points out that even if we can explain why decoherence occurs and what the uncertainty principle is all about… how does the universe decide which values to then assign to these particles?

Problem of Outcomes

And we could even code random cells to appear within Conway’s Life and that would still be truly random within that universe. Computers can’t generate truly random numbers: they instead use unpredictable numbers, often based on the internal clock. 

Not truly random to us. But random to those within the simulation. 

And perhaps that randomness is similarly coded into our own universe?

So, We Living in a Simulation or What?

Again, to be clear, I’m not saying any of this is correct. This is just the way I am thinking about the universe currently. The way I’m interpreting some of the most interesting studies and concepts I’ve read about. 

And it does kind of have me thinking we might be in a simulation. So… are we?

Depending on your definition, you could say almost certainly. At least insofar as any closed system of information is a simulation. Any isolated mathematical system.

So, perhaps a more pertinent question is: does our universe exist within another universe? 

There are a lot of people who think it must do – that we are either NPCs or oblivious players within a massive computer game. Or perhaps a digital prison, like The Matrix. This is simulation theory.

It makes more sense than you might, at first, think. Prominent transhumanist philosopher, Nick Bostrom, for instance, argues that the likelihood of us living in a simulation is, actually, very high.

If we imagine, for the sake of argument, that humanity someday develops the ability to create an extremely complex simulation, capable of sustaining life… Then we could also assume that we might do this more than once. We might make hundreds or millions of such simulations. Moreover, the beings within those simulations might also develop their own simulations. Millions each.

Simulation theory

Meaning that for any single “base reality” there are likely billions upon billions of simulations. The likelihood of us existing in the base reality therefore becomes improbably small.

The question would then become whether we are natives of this reality, or whether we are “users” from a higher plane of existence. We might imagine that highly advanced, immortal humans from the future, could willingly place themselves into simulations like this one, with no memory of their real lives, in order to pass the time.

Some have proposed that this is a prison for criminals. Others have suggested it’s a time capsule – recreating points in human history. 

This could explain strange coincidences, like the fact that the moon is the perfect distance from the Earth to create a perfect eclipse. 

The argument against this notion is the sheer amount of processing power it would take to create such a simulation. To simulate every single atom across an entire universe. It would take as much processing power and as much energy, potentially, as exists in the universe itself.

One counter-argument is that a simulation might use “tricks” to conserve power. Maybe those planets don’t really exist. Maybe only certain features of the universe are actually rendered.

It might explain why there is no evidence of life beyond our own planet.

Simulation theory Nick Bostrom

But I propose a different answer. I believe that, as usual, we are being far-too narcissistic and ego-centric in our view of the multiverse. Just as we thought we were the centre of the solar system and the universe, we think that someone took the time to design us in their image. That the universe outside our own is just more of us.

It’s entirely possible, if we are indeed inside a simulation, that our containing universe is nothing like our own

For starters, it might be unimaginably larger than our own – with ample processing power and energy to handle the task of emulating our existence. Heck, it could be a trivial task!

And it might not look or behave anything like our own universe. We might be to the containing universe, what Conway’s “Life” is to our universe. Entirely different laws, entirely different outcomes. 

(As a side note, I think it’s somewhat fair to conclude that the true “base layer universe” might not be predicated on cause and effect. It’s a tricky one to wrap your head around, but that does seem like the only way to really explain how this all came into being in the first place… It would also provide that first example of “true randomness.” Perhaps this only seems like an issue because of the universe we’re in.)

No cause and effect

We might not be “designed” at all. We might be emergent patterns of data. Or, at least, our universe might be. Maybe someone put some rules into a computer and let it run. And for us to have emerged by chance, within that data set, it must be so unfathomably large as to make us nothing remarkable. 

How could our overlord coders allow famine and tragedy? Simple: they have zero conception of those terms, no reason to examine this small selection of cells on the universal spreadsheet, and no real way to interpret the data.

Or perhaps there is no computer, even. Maybe we’re entirely a natural occurrence. What if our universe is another emergent data set – born from electricity (or some analogue thereof) dancing across a vast, alien lake? What if the mathematical formula that codes our entire existence is born from the interplay of water droplets, making their way down the windshield of some cosmic vehicle. Infinitely more complex that an our entire universe, but nothing special within that universe. 

Perhaps any isolated system, any isolated data set, could be considered a universe? Maybe it would need a certain amount of consistency, predictability, and longevity in order for complexity to occur over time. 

But, depending on our definition, we could even argue that Conway’s Life is already a universe. If it were possible to exist within that data set, and to “sense” the cells around us, we would know nothing else.

This recalls Max Tegmark’s Mathematical Universe Hypothesis.

I’d argue it’s not. Not quite. 

Here’s why.

Our Role

Because that doesn’t seem quite right, does it?

How can a simple formula like this be a “universe?”

It just feels wrong but, if we really think about it, we can work out why that is. 

For starters, Conway’s Life does not truly add any information. I believe that we could use the current snapshot of our real universe in order to extrapolate its state at any previous point in time. This must be true, if information cannot be destroyed.

But the problem with Conway’s Life, is that we can also extrapolate from the starting seed in order to calculate every possible future scenario.  If we know the starting cells and the rules of Life, then we could calculate every subsequent turn and it would be the same every time.

(As a Turing complete system, I recognise that Life is “undecidable” in some instances, meaning no algorithm can predict its outcomes perfectly. However, we can still always run the simulation, and get the same results.)

Which means we’re not actually adding any information over each turn. The data set is static, in this sense. It’s more like it’s being decompressed. Unzipped.

No new data

And this raises obvious concerns about free-will. In an entirely deterministic, time-reversible universe… what space is there for free-will and choice? Are our thoughts merely extremely complex flow charts?

It seems too cold and static. And kind of pointless.

And, based on my own notions, it would have no “time” dimension.

But, in an isolated mathematical system, how could we add information? 

Well, that’s where the randomness comes in.

To be dynamic, a universe need the perfect amount of randomness – enough to give rise to unpredictable outcomes but not enough to render the system too unstable to sustain complexity. Perhaps we could only find that perfect balance over countless iterations and trial and error.

Where does the randomness come from?

One possibility is that there is some algorithm complex enough that it breaks the known laws of the universe: that it can produce a random number. Perhaps this is what we know as life? Perhaps that is our purpose in all of this?

And if that seems far-fetched, then we must accept the alternative: that randomness comes from outside our universe, as I’ve already proposed. Indeed, that might be the only way any of this could be possible.

And maybe one of these explanations can also shed some light on the question of consciousness. Intuitively, I believe the difference between true consciousness and artificial intelligence, is the ability to make a choice that isn’t based on a flow chart. That wouldn’t be time reversible. In my opinion, the act of choosing is really what we experience as being alive.


After all, if a being can only think based on a complex flow chart of possible answers, then can we really call it “alive?” Yet another mark against consciousness uploading.

If, as Guilio Tononi and Max Tegmark suggest, consciousness is simply an emergent property of certain data patterns, like water, then I guess the answer is: perhaps? But it seems unsatisfying, I believe, because it doesn’t leave room for free will. Because free will, by definition, must not be deterministic.

Maybe you’d argue the two are perfectly compatible: that emergent free will could come from the non-deterministic nature of quantum behaviour. But, then we’re still just saying that consciousness comes from some mysterious random force, it doesn’t really answer the question. 

But I believe that saying randomness – in a non-deterministic – comes from outside our data set, kind of answers the question. It doesn’t fully explain what is causing that phenomenon, but it explains why we can’t answer the question. Because, as substrate independent entities, we have no way of knowing the nature of the system we’re in. 

Or, as I previously suggested, there exists a golden, infinitely complex formula that can produce a truly random number.

(I actually tried adding some random elements to my own version of Conway’s Life. Subjectively, it resulted in a greater variety and frequency of interesting patterns!)

Random Life

So, whether the human experience – consciousness and choice – is somehow an emergent property born out of an impossibly complex algorithm set on loop for infinity, or whether it comes from outside our own universe… it fills me with some notion that life is somehow special. That it plays an important role in the universe.

We might even imagine that a data set needs an observer of some kind to be considered a universe. Something living inside of it. Such that it becomes experiential and not just hypothetical. 

As Hawkin asks: “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”

I argue, it’s non-deterministic randomness.

Sure, it’s a cheesy conclusion to come to. And a mighty convenient one, at that. But it is sort of intuitive. And I’ve always been fond of cheese.

So, to conclude:

  • A program like Conway’s Life, given infinite time and space to run, would necessarily, eventually give rise to a complex simulation sustaining complex creatures. Though not necessarily conscious ones.
    • Accordingly, any isolated mathematical system could be considered a universe, in that data can be interpreted within it.
    • Our universe is just such an isolated mathematical system – not necessarily an intentional simulation. Possibly one, but also possibly an emergent phenomenon.
    • Space is the relationship between data points. Time is the way in which those relationships change. It’s all just information, accumulating. The accumulation of that information creates the arrow of time and is perceived to us as entropy.
    • This information is all that exists. Physical reality is an illusion of our senses. Anything that does not describe the current and past states of the universe does not exist. This is in accordance with the conservation of information. And may explain Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.
    • But for change to actually occur, there must be an element of true randomness injected into the system. Otherwise, the data is not truly changing (all future states could be extrapolated from the starting point).
    • True randomness could come from the containing universe. It would be deterministic to them. Truly random to us.
    • This might also satisfy our intuitive sense that we have free-will and the universe is not wholly deterministic. While reconciling classical and quantum physics.
    • We might speculate that the containing universe is vastly larger than our own (in terms of data) and that the “base layer” universe is not beholden to cause and effect.

Fun fact: I wrote most of this while watching Love Island.

Cosmic cat

Anyway guys, I hope you found this post useful and interesting. Let me know what you think in the comments and let me know your own ideas. I really can’t wait to read your thoughts. It should be an interesting discussion! it’s definitely something a bit different! But I do think it’s important to use your brain deeply and often, just like your body. Time to dance!

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

One Comment

  1. Bob says:

    I think the simplest solution is that free will does not exist. Many theories around consciousness that include free will are like the complex models used in the past to explain why the earth is the center of the solar system.

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