In A Perfect World…

Note: This Story was submitted to Scientific American’s 2015 Quantum Shorts Competition.


“It was just supposed to be a thought experiment, Isaac!” Hal mussed what was left of his hair as he stared at the terminal. Gray numbers and symbols flew from the bottom of the black screen up. Hal couldn’t make heads or tails of them, as they scrolled so fast, but, based on Isaac’s cocky stance, leaning carelessly against the computer cluster’s blinking supertowers, he knew what they represented.

“Well, yeah. I know that. Then I realized it would be programmable and my curiosity got the better of me.” Isaac smirked.

“Programmable?” Hal hated that smirk. Isaac was smart, but he was a jerk. “You mean to tell me you simulated an entire universe?”

“Just the relevant bits. But I altered a few of the initial conditions and physical constraints here and there. Like we talked about.”

More code blasted its way across the LEDs. The base code for a specific sort of universe. “A universe where Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle doesn’t exist.”

“Yes. Well, no. It might still exist, but I suppose it would be called the ‘Certainty Principle’, then wouldn’t it? Hahah. That sounds pretty stupid when you say it out loud.” Isaac didn’t seem to grasp the gravity of the situation.

“That’s not the point!” Hal spun around. Isaac’s smirk dropped. Finally. “If Tegmark’s hypothesis is right, then…” Tegmark’s mathematical universe hypothesis meant any physical universe could be expressed as mathematics in any defined sense. Isaac knew that all too well, which infuriated Hal. “If there’re any self-aware substructures… you’d be playing God.”

“What? No.” Isaac waved his hands. “I didn’t code anything with that much complexity. I’m good, but I’m not that good.”

The smirk was back. So was a pain in Hal’s head.

“In fact,” Isaac continued, “removing the Uncertainty Principle actually made it really simple. Everything’s entirely deterministic. The model follows preplanned paths. There’s no sentience there. I just wanted to see how a perfect universe would operate.”

Hal raised a graying eyebrow. “How would Quantum Certainty be a perfect universe?”

“Look at us. We’re wracked by indecisiveness. Look at where we’ve gotten. Perhaps specific certainty on a quantum level would carry over to consciousness. A world of certainty could be constant, decisive, unerring.”

“You’re talking about totalitarianism on a quantum scale!” Hal paused his knee-jerk reaction to parse what was just said. “…so you did program consciousness.”

Isaac shrugged in youthful indifference. “I mean, technically. Kind of. Nothing complex, though. The whole thing is really dumb. Whatever consciousness does pop up would be barely self-aware. They wouldn’t even know they’re part of a simulation.” He tapped the computer casing. “It’s all completely controlled. Neat and clean. Perfect.”

Hal growled and stormed through the cluster of supertowers, still chugging away with Isaac’s simulation. He left the little Nazi dumbstruck at the main terminal. Hal was a scientist, not a philosopher, but even he could not abide by this.

“Wait! Where are you going?” Isaac called out. Hal had already left his line of sight, bursting into the electrical closet. Pausing just for a moment to reaffirm his decision, Hal flipped the circuit breaker.

Everything went dark as the simulation ended.

***

    “It was just a thought experiment, Carol!” Dave ran his fingers through his mop of black hair as he stared at the terminal. Green numbers and symbols flew from the bottom of the black screen up. Indecipherable as they were, Dave knew for certain what they meant.

“Well, yeah. I know. Then I realized I could actually simulate it. My curiosity got the better of me.” Carol flipped her hair as she leaned against the macrotowers.

“Simulate it?” Dave had grown to hate that hairflip. Carol was smart, but she was too cocky.

“You mean to tell me you programmed an entire universe?”

“Just the important stuff. I changed a few of the initial conditions and physical constraints. You know. Like we talked about.”

More code blasted its way across the LEDs. Dave couldn’t make out any of it, but he knew what had been changed. “A universe where Heisenberg’s Certainty Principle doesn’t exist.”

“It might still exist, but I guess it’d be the ‘Uncertainty Principle’, right? Hahah. That sounds dumb when you say it aloud.”

“That’s not the point, Carol!” Dave spun around. “If your simulation is sophisticated enough, Tegmark’s hypothesis applies. You’d be playing God with self-aware substructures.”

“What? No.” Carol waved her hands. “I’m good, but I’m not that good.”

She flipped her blond bob again. Dave rubbed his eyes.

“In fact,” Carol continued, “removing the Certainty Principle simplified the simulation drastically. Everything is completely stochastic. The model’s driven by a simple randomizer. There’s no real sentience there. I just wanted to see how a perfect universe would operate.”

“A perfect universe?” Dave took a step back. “How would Quantum Uncertainty result in a perfect universe?”

“Because look at us. Everything is executed with absolute conviction. We’re rushing to our ends with bull-headed determination. Perhaps uncertainty on a quantum level would carry over to consciousness. A world of uncertainty would be free, unpredictable, exciting.”

“You’re talking about total chaos on a universal scale!” Dave stopped himself when he realized what Carol had accidentally admitted. He had seen this coming, and it would have to play out this way. “…so you did program consciousness.”

Carol shrugged. “Kind of. Nothing complex, though. The whole thing is really dumb. Again. No real sentience. They wouldn’t even know that they were part of a simulation. But it’s all completely random. Unpredictable. Perfect.”

Dave growled and stormed through the cluster of computers, still chugging away with
Carol’s simulation. He left the little anarchist dumbstruck at the main terminal. Dave was no philosopher but he was certain that it was duty to end it. It was inevitable.

“Wait! Where’re you going?” Carol called out. Dave had already left her line of sight. He stared at the master plug of the macrotower cluster for a few seconds, before yanking it out.

Everything went dark as the simulation ended.

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