Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Universe, Among Other Things

Someone once told me something ridiculous, at least it sounded so at the time. "Somewhere, out there, somehow, there are universes which follow whatever made up places exist. Somewhere there's a universe where giant robots transform into jet planes, somewhere there is an intelligent yellow living sponge living in a hollowed out underwater pineapple. Somewhere, they are out there, and our imagination is our portal to them."

At the time, I dismissed it as wishful thinking, an invention of its own to justify the existence of these works of fiction. A sort of "a friend of a friend of a friend told me" deal, only feigning credibility by attempting to use quantum physics. By the same logic, burning the books and having the entire world forget about it, lost novels, would be quantum erased (which is possible in actual QP), or that our meaningless daydreams would spawn whole universes seems to me as remarkable narcissistic of our role as human beings on this planet and this universe as a whole.

In other words, I find it vain. It's like saying the traffic light turned green because it knew you were coming down in a Mercedes. No, it's like saying that the traffic light existed at all only to show off that it turned green for your Mercedes. It's like saying the Mercedes and the traffic light came into being to justify running towards the light in it so it could turn green. In science, we tend to call that a 'hypothesis without consideration for falsifiability'. Translated into normal English, that means 'bullshit'.

It is true that multiple universes are a theory to explain some quantum effects. However, we're talking on the level of quarks and below, and it is unknown whether or not the random firings of neurons in a particular species on a particular planet would really, if ever, spawn universes to that entity's flights of fancy. It's almost hijacking science, like saying that because objects in motion tend to stay in motion that if we all load into a rocket we could reach the edge of the universe on a firework. It's true, but not in the sense that seems intuitive.

Don't take my word on this, as I am a mere student and not credentialed in this field. My take on it is cursory at best, and horribly and hopelessly wrong at worst. Please don't quote me, or lay me on the fire, and if I am indeed off, I'd like to be corrected. End of Fair Warning.

So, I dismissed it. But then we get here, to SL, and while there's not multiple universes, there are multiple places more or less based upon the imagination of the resident. It is not hyperbole to state that the mind is the limit. I believe SL is the closest we will come to an actual demonstration of multiple co-existing universes at the moment. Not just role playing, but entire buildings and artifacts, stringing together islands to form whole continents, some have taken SL to new extremes.

Each island is a universe. A self contained world, with its own laws and ideals. Some grow and expand, and others shrivel and die, and others just are. The possibilities are endless and vast, as numerous as the stars in the sky. One island is a futuristic take on Times Square, the next is a tribal Gor sim.

And SL is our portal between these worlds. The players in each island are usually static, they stay in their own, and others theirs, and very rarely do they mingle or contact. Only I, and others like me, dare to cross into these worlds and shed light into them, not out of any noble goal but a simple curiosity about our land, and the imagination of others that have built it into what it is today.

Right now, the seams between the universes are crossable, whether by teleporting or walking. Will the future yield a more closed continuum? Right now we're at something like C.S. Lewis' Woods Between The Worlds, where all we have to do is jump into the puddles, teleport, and we're in Charn, or Narnia, or the Death Star, or in a pad in San Diego, or cruising tunnels with the mole people. These worlds are but a click away. Sure, most are tame and bland with rows and rows of suburban ranch homes, but even these have their light.

Such day-to-day housing is 'everyday architecture', the kind you drive by and you don't give it a second thought. You drive between the rowhomes, and to you it's nothing, it's just homes. But that's architecture, that's the homes that define your city, your area. One blog (I forget where) lamented that the greatest loss of architecture in Hurricane Katrina was not to New Orleans' French Quarter, or its downtown. No, the hardest hit was its 'everyday architecture', countless homes built in the '50s and '60s that defined what we thought of a New Orleans home. And it's gone. New housing is replacing it, and that will become everyday. And so the process continues, with styles coming and dying with the cycles of the urban centers, with no one to sit down and take notice.

And this is all reachable, provided that one knows how to search and navigate the virtual sea, as I like to call the void between the islands and the mainland.

In the future, who knows? Perhaps this Wood will shrink, be destroyed by logging. Maybe it'll expand, and become THE world, a world of portals where uniqueness is showcased as if a painting, something to note in a textbook and nothing more. Cultures and nations of a virtual world consigned to a generality, like "Waterhead was a very griefed infohub". How much would be lost? And how much saved? Would such an action destroy the very thing that we're trying to immortalize by reducing it to such a simple block for the masses? After all, who really wants to get into the massive furry community in Second Life? Wouldn't it be easier for a three paragraph notecard, with maybe a few snapshots of furry sims, to be posted in the Woods so that all will know there were once furries?

Either scenario is, of course, a worst case. Perhaps a restriction would be good, preserving internet cultures that would wither amongst the masses, flooded with griefers. Such a restriction would make the reward, being able to world hop, that much more sweet. And opening up the world, making a museum of the SL landscape, would enrich people into the worlds people have set up in SL. Similar to the way that we visit Art Museums, but we still appreciate the work and sweat that went into such works.

It's a big universe out there. Like the real life universe, perhaps only a small fraction is ever really visited by the average resident.

And that's terrible.

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