God Was Just This Guy (Y'Know?)
Copy of an old story from disenchanted.com.
This is a story from a website called disenchanted.com. I read it around 2005 but forgot about it. I managed to find a copy of it on archive.org. Here's the complete story in case I lose my copy.
- Original URL: http://www.disenchanted.com/dis/humor/chat-with-god.html
- Author: Chris Wenham
- Date: 2001-5-22
- Archive.org URL: https://web.archive.org/web/20071216005008/http://www.disenchanted.com/dis/humor/chat-with-god.html
Summary: So one day this ordinary man is walking down the road when he bumps into God, who's hurting for a good conversation. Turns out that God is just this guy, y'know?
So one day there was this ordinary man, named Frank, talking a walk down the country road behind his house when he bumps into God. God was standing around with his hands in the pockets of his denim jeans, watching the ducks in the pond and leaning on a hiking stick made from a baby tree that can't have been chopped down and stripped more than an hour earlier. It was still tinged with green. "Hello, Frank" God said, reaching out to shake hands. And after introducing himself formally, the two of them set off for a stroll and a man-to-deity chat. As it turns out, God had a burning need to get something off his chest.
"I have to get something off my chest," God said as he reached out to grab a handful of leaves from one of the trees that the two of them passed under. "But first I have to come clean with you. I'm just an ordinary guy, y'know? I'm not really the sort of diety who creates birds and flowers and rains damnation upon the wicked evildoers. I mean I've read the holy texts your culture has put out and everyone reckons I'm an omnipotent, omniscient and all-round supernatural guy, but the truth is that if you were to stick a blade between my ribs right now I'd die. And that'd be it. No ressurection, no ascending into heaven - which, by the way, doesn't really exist - no blinding light. Just a corpse. You'd have committed diecide and you wouldn't have even needed a magical thunderbolt to do it."
Frank absorbed the confession like a bystander, he was not in the mood to demand proof. For a moment he wondered why he didn't feel compelled to walk away from this person or otherwise treat him as a lunatic. But Frank had never really met an honest lunatic before and was not the kind of person who mimed overt skepticism; he didn't "react" to extraordinary claims with a gaping mouth or forced guffaws, and for the first time in his life Frank noticed this about himself and felt proud. "How was the universe created?" he asked, thinking it was the question God wanted asked.
God was holding the handle of the hiking stick to his nose with his wrinkled hand and sniffing the wood still moist with residual life. "First I'd have to tell you the reason," he said. "I created the universe to force what I thought was my God into revealing himself."
Frank couldn't help but grin, "So you mean there's a diety higher up than you?"
God grinned back, "I don't think so, but I'll get to why a little later. I still need to tell you the background of this story, and it begins with the discovery of the Grand Unified Laws - three laws which defined the nature of my universe so comprehensively that all other laws of physics could be infered from them. Gravity, thermodynamics, conservation of energy, you name it. Work it out on paper and you can phrase any known law of physics as a rule that's implied by a combination of the three GULs."
"What are they?" Frank asked.
"Not telling you," God replied, helping the writer avoid the obligation, "but that's something else I'll explain later, too. For now let's just say that they come from quantum physics. Anyway... where was I? Oh yes.. well, after these laws were discovered the whole book of physics just fell open. Scientists and engineers were going crazy, the scientists because their jobs had changed overnight, the engineers because it was like they'd been given the next best thing to an unlimited budget. People stopped doing real scientific testing, because now they could just test their hypothesis against the GULs. If they agreed with the GULs then the hypothesis was 'correct'."
Frank was frowning, so God expounded. "The GULs were declared true in the first place because they'd been attacked severely for twice the lifespans of their discoverers, but had never crumbled. There wasn't a hole to be found. So imagine I make up a fictional law for the sake of example, like... um... 'All wood catches fire when it comes in contact with a naked flame', and you were to then propose a hypothesis that goes, 'If I hold a lighter to this stick, then it will catch on fire' and you test it against the law. Of course, the stick is made of wood, so it agrees with the law.... do you have a lighter on you?"
Frank rummaged through his pockets and produced a lighter. God promptly flicked it on and held it under the thick end of the stick he was carrying. It sizzled with the sound of boiling sap and started to blacken, but didn't catch on fire. "I've just proven the law I made up is wrong because this wood was cut down only half an hour ago and is still moist. In truth I'd need to hold this ligther for several minutes before the wood has sufficiently dried out. But this illustrates an important point - when I tested my hypothesis with a real experiment I found it was wrong, or at least needed to be modified. But the GULs were so... so finished there was no hypothesis we could devise that, as long as it agreed with the Laws, could be proven wrong. And so any hypothesis which agreed with the GULs was considered to be true without ever running a real experiment."
"I thought you said you weren't omniscient," Frank responded after a few quiet steps down the quiet road. God had already found a new piece of nature to chew on, a length of grass hung from his lips. "I'm not. Because even though the GULs were so comprehensive, there was no limit to what they implied. The integrity and applicability of the GULs ended up making scientists sloppy, but in the hands of the engineers it spawned the Mother of all industrial revolutions. Two generations after the discovery of the GULs we had faster-than-light travel, equipment that could teraform a sterile planet in the time it took to give birth to its first colonists, endless energy, you name it. This civilization I lived in was really rocking. We were all gods, every one of us, and we didn't know what to do with ourselves next."
Frank turned the lighter over in his hand, now that God had given it back to him. "So that's when you started playing with Genesis?"
God tilted his head back and forth, as if that wasn't quite the truth but around-abouts. "Sort-of. You see, what really shook everyone up was when someone happened to make an observation about the Laws. He said that if you assume the entire universe as we knew it was actually a computer simulation - and not real at all - then the three Laws seemed to have been deliberately designed to make that simulation very very easy to implement."
Frank was chuckling, "You mean that an even greater diety wanted to create a universe, decided to do it as a simulation on a computer, and designed a simple set of laws so the simulator wouldn't be hard to write?"
God punched the air, "Eee-xactly. And that sparked a breu-ha-ha the likes of which you've never seen. Talk about profound religious implication. It was like decoding the value of Pi and seeing that it spelled 'Kilroy was here'. Anyway, religion is just the kind of word I meant to use, because a new one ripped through the 3-trillion strong population like a Pokemon craze - 'scuse me if I use your local expressions - and it was all based on the principle that we didn't exist except as variables in a massive computer."
Frank puffed, not really reacting to God's story so much as giving an indication that he was still paying attention. Kind of like the "uh-huhs" and "rights" and other subvocal noises one makes while listening to a guy on a roll. "Is that when you decided to make your god reveal himself?"
"Nearly there," God said holding up his hand before continuing. "Others of my kind were already piling into exactly that problem. But all the proposed solutions hinged on one central theme: forcing a computational load on the Master Computer so intense that the simulation would either break down, or God... I mean, the Meta God... would be forced to do something about it."
"How does one do that?" Frank asked. "If everything is simulated, then there wouldn't be anything you can do to affect the computer that the simulation is running on. I mean, I dunno about your computers, but with ours there's a distinct separation between software and hardware. The contents of a database cannot make a CPU physically melt."
God shook his head in agreement, "No, and this was even what we used to explain how you couldn't really detect the true nature of our universe. For any instrument we invent to measure the properties of the universe would, itself, be another part of the simulation. A simulated object recording simulated phenomena would report data that couldn't possibly be used to deduce that the universe was - in fact - a simulation. But something we did know about computers, even quantum computers, was that every complex algorithm has a worst and best case scenario. We wanted to force our universe into becoming the worst case computational scenario. We wanted to make the Master Computer spend an hour computing every second of time that passed in our universe."
This was mucho nifty stuff to Frank, who reckoned it would go down well at a coffee table. Not sure he would tell his friends that he heard all this from "God", however.
"Some thought the answer was to increase the entropy of the universe," God continued, "by forcing stars to burn faster. Entropy is disorder - energy lost in every transaction that can't be recovered. That would rapidly change the universe from being mostly ordered to mostly disordered - increasing the complexity of the system and thus the computational load it would place on this imaginary Master Computer. But the breakthrough... well that was my fault."
Frank was now chewing a blade of grass and God was scratching fingernail patterns into his hiking stick. "Fault?"
God nodded somberly and codgitated for several paces worth, managed to get distracted by a bird with a noisy mating call, then found his way back to his train of thought. "The guys with the entropy idea were resisted violently by what had then become a new Church of believers in the Computer. You see, by forcing the issue you were - in effect - causing great disrespect to God... er, the Meta God... and that was Very Bad. Nonetheless, when you have the GULs on your side and a gritty determination there's little that can stand in your way. Within half a generation the entropists had figured out how to cause a localized decrease of inertia."
"Inertia... you mean the tendancy for a mass to resist a change in motion?" Frank said, helping the reader keep up.
God nodded, "at the quantum level, reducing inertia means that reactions happen faster. Put four transponders around a star in pyramid formation, switch them on, and the star goes supernova, or red dwarfs, or collapses. Or at least, it lives its entire life in the space of a human generation - during which it's radiating what it would have radiated over the course of its lifespan - and turns into whatever it wolud have turned into at the end of its life. Boom - instant massive increase in Entropy. So needless to say, these guys were all over the reachable limits of space, heating up stars trying to wake up their maker. I mean they were figuring out ways to make entire galaxies go up - just like that. Pick anybody's home in the cosmos and their sky would be full of blinding radiation."
"Musta been detrimental to one's health," Frank mused, and God expressed the affirmative.
"With the GULs to help us build better habitats, we survived that part. But something we couldn't survive was the impending running-down of the universe, that point where there isn't enough useful energy to live on anymore. The people who started this whole entropy business wanted to see results within their own lifetime, so they kept plugging at it until they'd figured out how to deploy the inertia retardants virally - self replicating transponders with faster-than-light engines. They were fought, of course, but these were a determined bunch of crackpots. Soon it became clear that the only way to deal with what they'd caused would be to halt and reverse the progression of entropy."
Frank knew enough about thermodynamics to understand that this last bit was poppycock. Then again, God hadn't yet claimed they'd done it yet.
"Of course," God said, answering the unspoken question, "you can't reverse entropy. And that's where I come in, because I'm the guy who did."
"Riiight," Frank drawled. "Is this where you separate the firmament from the sky and all that jazz?"
God giggled. "Uh, no. What I did discover, through my own adventures with the GULs, is that there is a way for the universe to... um... well this is where I gotta borrow a term from computing... there's a way for the universe to self virtualize."
"You mean, create a virtual instance of itself within its own memory?
"Something like that. Look.. in computers its used to run more than one program at the same time, but in completely separate memory spaces - like completely separate universes. But they still both exist within the same physical memory space. And that's what I figured out how to do, but with the universe. I figured out how to spawn a new instance of the universe within itself. And so I did. That was Creation, with the capital 'C'. It occupies... or occupied, gotta use past tense now... it occupied a space in my workshop. About the size of a very large melon, spherical, and with a perfect mirror finish because the boundary between the sub-universe and the one I existed in was perfect. Light wasn't absorbed, it was reflected completely."
Frank was now immediately aware of the flaw in God's story, but this was too good to interrupt now.
"Inside, time passed as fast as it did for the suns trapped in the inertial retardant fields. Within my humble lifespan, your universe had its big bang, saw the birth of trillions of stars, millions of galaxies, pentillions of planets. This mini universe kept expanding even though it never grew bigger than the ball floating in my workshop."
Playing his role as straight-man, Frank said "How?" on que.
God held out his hands and shaped an imaginary ball in the air with them. "What was happening inside was a perpetual increase in the 'resolution', so to speak. I mean... take a computer monitor and a display that begins at 640x480 pixels. Now you change the settings and the resolution is bumped up to 800x600. The monitor hasn't changed in size, but the screen now has more space to show information. If you were a computer man living on the screen, it would be as if your universe just doubled in size."
"Ah... oh... huh..." Frank uttered and gazed without proper focus at the horizon while he pictured this in his head.
"So your universe, from my original point of view, was small enough to stuff under my shirt and smuggle out of the office. Which is what I had to do when the heat started to reach my neck of the woods."
"Well that's the part about decreasing entropy... see, what I had thought about this whole Master Computer shindig was that whoever the Meta God was, he would have built a computer that could handle the worst case scenario - complete disorder, maximum entropy - from the very beginning. But if I forced his computer to spawn a new process, suddenly it's working with two simulations instead of one. And that's just gotta consume more resources."
Frank looked askew at God's twinkling eyes, "You were one of the entropy nutters, weren't you?"
God stuffed his hands into his pockets and smiled like someone was painting it across his lips. "I guess I hung out with them."
Frank grinned and nodded assertively, "Yeah, that's right, you blew up a few suns and when that didn't work you said, oh! Wait a minute, if it's a computer we'll just force it to multitask. Yeah, I get it."
God scuffed his shoes as a way of shrugging, then continued with his story. "Anyway, the new universe - your universe - turned out to have an um... slightly less than perfectly sealed event horizon. In fact, it started to become evidently clear that it was sucking disordered energy out of our universe."
Frank coughed up a laugh and leaned forward with his hand on his knee, "What?"
"Yeah, no shit, you gotta believe me. I mean, I started this universe of yours with the nearest available lump of carbon... uh, a piece of burnt toast, to be exact... and about sixteen million joules of energy, but this puppy was hungry for more, and what I couldn't understand was how. I mean, that was the one problem with the GULs, they still required a strong sense of creativity to make any use of them, and I'm just not that creative. I worked for two generations trying to figure out what theory would explain the way this thing drained entropy out of our universe and turned it into coherent energy in yours. But I couldn't... I just couldn't... and that's when I decided to escape into it."
"Escape.... into it?"
"Yes!" God exclaimed, looking excited and shaking his weathered hand, "I gave up trying to save my own universe or even discover who my God was, and instead worked on a way to get into yours. You see, if it was possible for entropic energy to migrate from one universe to another, then it would be possible for me to migrate into it as well!"
Frank practiced new frowns at God.
"Energy is, from the point of view of the GULs, the same thing as matter. Plus, it was reasonable to assume that the universe I'd created was not an exact replica of mine. Third, this universe was inheriting some of the disorder of mine, which meant it was possible to influence the state of the new universe. I began to find a way to have myself absorbed into the system and come out whole on the inside!"
God had spittle decorating his chin and an intense look in his eyes. The man looked like a genius recounting the one experience that really made him feel like a genius to himself. Frank had stopped walking and was leaning against a boulder. "You created my universe out of a piece of burnt toast, having ruined your own, and yet discovering how to reverse entropy at the same time. I don't know whether you're the greatest villain of all time or the exact opposite."
God shook his head, "It's a shame... it's a shame for sure that only one man could pass. Classical computers could never have figured out the precise measurements involved, but the Church of the Master Computer had built cathedrals of quantum processing power the likes of which were... were... ungodly. They sought to get closer to their make-believe God by emulating him, so over the generations they built computers. I used them... I used their computers to calculate the final end of our universe and the transportation of myself into the new one. The energy required to do it was insane, on the order of millions of suns output, but there was just enough left!"
Frank was genuinely astonished. "So you're a murderer!" he said in a tone of voice that was too calm for horror, but enough to inflict a wound on God, who squeezed his face together in anguish and wrung up his cheeks like a wet towel dripping tears.
"I didn't do it for myself, Frank, that's why I'm talking to you now!" Frank's face didn't hide bewilderment.
"Everybody in my universe is dead. It's in its final stages of collapse. Your universe will finish absorbing its residual energy in another two or three billion of your years, and then it will occupy all of the space once occupied by mine. Not because yours grew, but because ours shrank. Frank, don't you understand? I'm not the first God to do this!"
Frank let out a long breath, having been told what he'd just realized the moment it was spoken.
"It's just how things are, Frank. It's the dumb way that chemical reactions lead to life which leads to intelligence. And intelligence is the one phenomena which isn't caused by the dances of quantum particles, so it's independent of them. But the only way to avoid a stupid repetitive cycle is if coherent information crosses into the next universe as well. Your people will discover the GULs in time, too. They will taste power without responsibility, too. They will start getting sloppy and superstitious, too. But with me in here, it'll be slightly different. There will be one or two more cycles, and someone will jump across each time, but the difference will get amplified. Frank... I'm here to save more than just mere lives!"
But Frank was trying to cut him off, now, holding up his hands and tipping his nose up as if he was trying to jump over the words. "God.. look... I feel silly calling you that, but you've got it all wrong. That power didn't come without responsibility, because like you said, it required creativity to make any use of it. That's been the same for centuries. The Laws just improved the efficiency, that's all."
God was showing his age and his pain all at once. "Frank... I swear to you, I was looking for a way in the other direction. I wanted to escape from within to without, but I went in the other direction instead. And now I'm in a... shiny melon that I stored in my garage, only my garage is gone now. I'm back to where I started, really, I guess. I thought I could summon God."
Frank blew a chuckle through his nose and smiled. "I thought you were supposed to be God".
God had crossed his legs on the grass and pawed at it aimlessly while looking up at Frank, squinting now because the sun was in his eyes. "I guess I am, Frank. You wanna buy me a beer? You can say you had a drink with your maker."