Alex's Reviews > The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos

The Hidden Reality by Brian Greene
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Mar 05, 14

bookshelves: science, 2012, favorite-reviews
Read from September 06 to 21, 2012

So my buddy Ryan introduced me and Jo to his new girlfriend this past weekend and she's a mathematician (who is clearly not very good at it, because Ryan with a girlfriend doesn't add up - ZING!), so I was like "Do you think we're all avatars in a big futuristic game of The Sims?" and her face just lit up, like "I've been waiting for someone to ask me this all my life!" She is adorable, and we geeked out about parallel universes for like half an hour while Ryan and Jo made big exaggerated sighing noises. "Hey, just let us know when you want to talk about something that's not the nerdiest bullshit ever." "Okay, that will be never because we're best friends now." I said that. Ryan's girlfriend probably thinks I'm just okay.

And that's why this is a great book: because it's wicked fun to talk about all this shit. Whee, multiverse! says my avatar. You ever hear that theory that once computers get to the same complexity as human brains, they'll sortof automatically develop consciousness? Scientists think that because otherwise there's something we totally don't get about consciousness, and who needs that? Lame. So here's the thinking: if that's true, then we'll probably have it by around 2020. And once we have artificial intelligence, what are we going to do with it? Put it in video games, obviously. We know this because we are people, and that's the kind of shit people do. So we're going to have these virtual worlds, just like The Sims except the people in it will actually be aware, and we'll all play these virtual world games on our Playstations. And that means there'll be like thousands of virtual worlds with conscious inventions in them interacting with each other. And that means that only one of all the worlds featuring conscious beings is the real one; the rest are video games. And that means that odds are the world you're reading this in isn't the real one. Just statistically, it's more likely that you're a collection of sprites that some pimply teenager created near-arbitrary rules for.

That's nuts, right? Crazy nuts! Batty! Among other things, it means that there's a God after all, because whatever pimply teenager is playing this particular game that I'm in can delete this game whenever he wants, or make an asteroid hit Brazil, or make Kate Middleton show her boobs. For most intents and purposes, that is God.

Also, it raises this question: is Pimply God doing a good job? Is this particular world a good one? Or is he an asshole? If all the sim worlds were ranked from most pleasant to least, where would this one fall? If you set a bunch of AIs up in a fairly nice place, will they probably fight? Is there like an Aggression Slider so you can make us more or less likely to fight? What would this world be like if Pimply God was deep in the throes of puberty? Or is this it?

Ryan's girlfriend thinks we are most likely virtual - seriously, serious people think this whole thing makes perfect sense - but I think I lost her with the puberty bit.

This is the craziest and last theory in Hidden Reality. There are eight others, and they're not mutually exclusive. The least crazy theory is that space is infinite, and infinite is a lot, so somewhere beyond what we can ever see, given the speed of light, there will be a world just like ours, and infinite worlds just like ours, because infinite means everything, including a world where everything happens and will happen exactly like it has and will in this world you're in now with the sole exception that, instead of reading this review, you personally decided to make a sandwich.

Infinite is a lot.

Everything in Hidden Reality is theoretical, so there's no pressing reason for you to read this book. (Or any of the rest of the books, while we're on the subject. Pimply God read Shakespeare and was like "Ha, that's cool - it rhymes and everything, sometimes! I mean, it's terrible compared to real-life literature, but not bad for artificial intelligence.") But whee, multiverse! Four stars, says my avatar, as Pimply God happens to narrow his focus on my apartment just to see what's going on near Boston and says "That sim there just called me pimply! Here's a random asteroid, how ya like me n
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Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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message 1: by Casey (new)

Casey I feel like maybe I should fear this capricious Pimply God.

Interesting point about consciousness and machines. Certainly, there are many researchers that believe that the scenario you outlined above could occur. Of course, there's also a vocal constituent of people, mostly neuroscience-related people (including myself) that believe that consciousness requires brains, so it's the hardware, and not the software, that creates our subjective experience. In that case, maybe this crazy consciousness affair makes less sense. But I still kind of want to read this book.

If we're conscious, and not conscious of the fact that Pimply God is controlling our actions, does it matter that we bow to will of the Pimply God? I don't know. I guess it's a philosophical question. I'd be quicker to accept some Godlike teenager that just wants Kate Middleton to show her boobs than some sort of crazy egomaniac obsessed with morality, since that seems to offer a better explanation of the world. But maybe that's just me.


Alex I agree: the idea that consciousness arises from a certain complexity, a certain power of computing...that's the idea that all the rest relies on, the crucial point, and I don't buy that point. I think consciousness is something else. How wonderful that, as many things as we've figured out, we don't have the slightest idea what causes consciousness! I totally hope that by 2020 we've created computers so complex that they develop consciousness; I really do, that sounds fun. But I don't think we will. I think consciousness is magic. I don't believe in magic, so I mean that we don't get that shit at all. But whatever the hell makes me respond to Milton...I don't think we know. Do you? (I didn't know you were a neuroscientist! Neat!)

And btw, I'm currently obsessed with this so if you know a book about the nature of consciousness and what it is, I'd like to read that book.

I don't know yet if it matters that Pimply God exists. Not in any real sense, of course - but I'm an atheist, a third-generation atheist. If Pimply God is running me, that matters because I have been fond of knowing the truth. But "God" doesn't matter because one's wildly fanciful notions of God might seem very quaint to Pimply God, who for all we know might not have programmed God in at all; that just happened because AI does weird shit. So there's no sense in my believing anything; one might as well do as one can and check out science.

ps as research for this review, I looked up Kate Middleton's boobs. I was astonished by how pedestrian they were. Those are just boobs. I was disillusioned.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Pimply God could have just downloaded a program for religion. There's a mod for the Sims that includes religion.


message 4: by Ruby (new)

Ruby Hollyberry Unfortunately I JUST made two sandwiches and can't eat any more of them. This is the kind of thing that makes me either go to sleep or want to watch cop shows. You should totally go over to iheartchaos.com and talk to my husband though. He LOVES that kind of thing. Ask for cranberryzero, that's him.


message 5: by Casey (new)

Casey Check out Conversations on Consciousness: What the Best Minds Think about the Brain, Free Will, and What It Means to Be Human, in which a bunch of consciousness researchers argue about how little they know about consciousness. Also, there's Consciousness Explained (spoiler alert: it doesn't really end up getting explained). I read most of both of those books at some point in random grad school classes.

Of course, there's always Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which I will summarize as follows: perfect systems have fatal flaws, tortoises know more about philosophy than I do, Douglas R. Hofstadter is kind of an asshole, and consciousness is a strange loop.


Alex Thanks Case! Awesome!


message 7: by Ka (new)

Ka If the universe is infinite, isn't it also possible, or even likely, that there are an infinite number of variations in worlds, and there is no world precisely the same as ours?


Alex Good point, Mom. And I kinda feel like that too. I get that infinity is a lot, but...like, really, a world just exactly like ours? It seems like an infinite number of things had to go just exactly a certain way in order for me to end up debating the multiverse with my mom on the internet.

But I guess it's not an infinite number of things. It's just a really, really big number of things. Jillions? Is that a number? And therefore, if infinity then me debating you except we're both purple.

I dunno. It's all too easy to convince myself either way. And then shrug and go make a sandwich.


message 9: by Todd (new)

Todd Schirm Went to library to check out this audiobook. Saw it was 12 CD's. Said to myself. Who needs 12 hours of listening to talk about some pimpiley faced god. Read all of Brian Green's other books.


-uht! Great review. Too bad about the asteroid. I will miss your avatar's wit.


message 11: by Jimmy (new) - added it

Jimmy Shroff contents of the mystery basket : consciousness, life, space, time, energy, .... god should not even be in this basket except as the screensaver described by Einstein, with reference to the universe (but probably meaning the omniverse) The universe is not now expanding and never was (and never will... but since Time itself is suspect, past and future may also be aspects of the now)


message 12: by Alex (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alex That was total gibberish, Jimmy!


message 13: by Aisling (new) - added it

Aisling This review just gave me so much happy.


message 14: by Alex (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alex Glad to hear it, Aisling!


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