Harnessing Natural Magic

That got me thinking on a very philosophical question, “Could we create a computer simulation that makes the “living” things in it conscious?” Lets try figuring it out with a fun thought experiment.

1) Setting Up

Congrats! You made it to the juicy thinking part! This is going to get theoretical, so lets assume that we have a few things that are basically impossible to acquire in our universe. Here are our super-natural equipment:

  • Quantum computer that is Turing Complete ( Can do any operation that is given to it , this is impossible with quantum computers, but remember — thought experiment ), has 1 billion Q-Bits and is 100% accurate.
  • Unlimited power source that we use to power our scary-good machine.

We both sit down in our chairs for a few years and write a program that simulates an environment that has the following features incorporated in it:

  • Random mutations in DNA while reproduction.
Cytokineses — The way unicellular organisms reproduce
  • Rules of physics (gravity etc.)
  • A virtual environment that the virtual organisms can thrive in, if they are good enough

You get me, basically all that we have in the world but its in a computer. So we finish the program! 🎊 That was easy wasn't it?

2) Running Code

Before we run our program we place a few virtual organisms in our virtual environment; the most simple units of life. After pressing enter we watch the virtual cells do their job. Because of the program we wrote, expectantly, they start splitting. More and more cells arise, more and more time passes.

The bacteria that we placed at the start of the program are growing!

A long, long time later…

The genetic mutations start to add up and create subtle differences, but there definitely are unique features of bacteria.

Even more time passes and our bacteria and cells start to differ quite a bit.

Now they are basically different species!

So far nothing amazing has happened. Everything is nominal, our code is properly implementing genetic mutations, laws of physics… all of that.

Because of the “nature” of our virtual simulation, a few years of sped up evolution later, something interesting happens. Resources start to get scarce, the environment is getting over-populated, we start to see competition. Evolution is now more crucial to species than ever. Only the fittest survive. Biodiversity increases faster and faster. Our cells that are basically cousins, all descending from one simple virtual bacteria, are now eating each other! But we can understand this because this is the result of a the program we wrote. Genetic Mutations cause biodiversity. At first it is very intriguing but then we get bored because we have an intuitive grasp on what is going on, its just the consequences of our code.

As our simulated friends are viciously ripping and chewing at each other’s organelles, something weird happens. A cell eats another cell, but doesn't digest it. What!? How does that work!? We look deeper into the case thinking its a bug, but it is just probability and genetic “mishap”.

We decide to watch this cell more closely to see where it will end up. Because of the cell inside the cell, when the outer cell splits, we get a creature… with multiple cells. Spooky, right? Well, not really… we have been watching our simulation for years now, and with all the time that we gave this process it is expected a few amazing things to happen. Great! so now we have these sort of weird-looking things!

Organism made out of 2 individual bacterium

Fast forward… We are still sitting on our now very uncomfortable chairs, staring at the screen. These multicellular organisms keep on growing and we get a variety of animals. As the multicellular organisms get bigger and bigger, we start to see a phenomena that actually makes sense, decision making. The organisms are now so big that they have sensory organs. We see them investigating the surroundings and wandering around.

Eventually these multicellular organisms start to grow aware of each other, they find out that they can exploit each others advantages so they both live a better life. But this decision is made solely on their thinking, no emotions involved because well… this is a virtual computer-simulated stage… and its not… like… real, computers don’t have feelings.

Now some of these animals start to evolve this sense of “societal exploitation”. Like all of their other physical features, this is also a consequence of our basic rules that we implemented. Genetic mutation and rules of physics. Back to the animals. Some of them actually grew the genetic code to like society. Or should I say instinct, or feeling? Now were talking!

3) Conclusion

What I am trying to get at here is that we might think of consciousness, curiosity, feeling, instinct as things that are superior and just human, but it is important to realize that those are only consequences of genetic mutation, physics, and collective evolution. Your feelings are just like your legs. Your leg might not seem amazing like the self-awareness that we have, yet they both got to that same point by incremental differences in genetics.

Hey! Are you saying that if we were to actually write code like this, even a virtual, inanimate variable could be self-aware? Fool!

I think I am saying that, yes. Even though it might sound stupid, superstitious, pseudoscience, conspiracy theory… the virtual organisms are still things that are trying to survive just like us. If you want a machine that has feelings, is conscious, don’t write the code yourself. Create an environment where the rules in our universe can be applied, and eventually it will happen. That is kind of how us humans became to have feelings and have a sense of self consciousness. The universe is the environment, the laws of physics are the code. In the very beginning of what we call life, the cells were not self-aware, nor are the cells today! They just run a program. So aren’t we also machines in a “virtual” environment that have developed these qualities as a result of the rules of the universe? Don’t we also run a program that is just super complicated?

Going off of this I think it is actually completely rational to say that this not only implies to biology and computer science. We can theoretically create self-consciousness and feelings out of anything, as long as we give it the struggle to survive and evolve over time. We got this gift of self-awareness not because there is something mysterious at play, it only increases odds of survival.

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