How is a Program Like a Universe?Posted: February 16, 2008
In a book called Scientology 8-8008, L. Ron Hubbard defines a “universe” like this:
A universe is defined as “a whole system of created things.” There could be and are many universes and there could be many kinds of universes.
If you’ve never thought about it, it might be hard to envision the idea of a universe that doesn’t look or act like this one. Here’s a way to think about it: Yesterday, I ran into an abstract artist and I had this thought about her art–I asked her, “If you could create a universe, would it look like this one [the physical universe]?” Instantly, she said, “No!” This is something that I had not understood about abstract art until that very point–that it represents a whole universe made by the artist, not a representation of this universe. Her universe has colors and swirls and represents things in a whole different way than this universe.
So that’s a very wild example of “a universe”–the things that you see in abstract paintings. That’s “a whole system of created things” completely different from the universe we’re used to seeing (the physical universe).
In a much less wild way, a computer program is also a whole universe. For example, let’s take a simple program that adds 1 plus 1 and gets 2. The only rule in that universe is addition. The only objects in that universe are two number 1’s and a number 2. And yet, that’s enough to be a “whole system of created things.”
This becomes especially apparent in larger computer programs, particularly ones where you’re using Object-Oriented Programming. You say “I have a Dog object and a Frisbee object. Frisbees can be thrown, and a Dog can retrieve Frisbees.” You’ve actually just invented a universe–that’s “a whole system of created things” right there.
A word processor is a universe where you type keys and they appear on the page, and there are certain rules about how they are formatted, ways you can make them bold, italics, etc.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that computers are actually universe simulators. This seems to be the most accurate description of a computer that I can come up with.
The very earliest computers could simulate very limited universes–they cracked German coded messages during World War II using some very basic rules. As time went on, they evolved into being able to simulate more advanced universes, such as a word processor or a spreadsheet. Now most people run a universe called Windows on their computer that has little “windows” that contain other universes, like word processors, web browsers, and spreadsheets.
This is probably why games have always pushed the limits of computer hardware more than anything else–because most computer games are directly and obviously universes, and some darn complex universes at that! (Particularly when you start getting into 3D games, the kinds of calculations required to simulate that universe in a computer are pretty intense.)
This is also why I think VR has never been successful–because the job of a computer is to simulate universes that aren’t this universe, not to re-simulate this one. (This is also why AI doesn’t really get us anywhere–because universes don’t think, they just are.)
Anyhow, Scientology 8-8008 has a lot of information on how universes are created, and looking at it, I’ve personally found it applies in really interesting way to writing programs! Particularly the section called The Factors, which deals a lot with the creation of universes.