The Last Question: The Ultimate Theory, on Lost, The Universe and... Everything
Before reading this blog, you will probably need to read (or at least skim through) The Last Question, a short story by Isaac Asimov. I have lived with this story for a very long time, and retold it many times to others. Someone told me this story when I was a student, and I subsequently sought out the story and read it. In replying to a post to one of my previous blogs, I started to explore a few ideas, which have now fused together in my mind. I am becoming convinced that the final secret to Lost, is that Lost is real, but only ONE of many realities. These are being played out in the mind of God, a meta quantum computer which exists at the end of time. This sounds completely and utterly far-fetched, except when you read the story, it all begins to make sense, and many, many things in Lost begin to fall into place. This is the 'final theory'; it is all-encompassing, and breaks open the true nature of who and what we are. The culmination of the story of Lost, if it is true, breaks the 4th wall of the TV screen, and challenges the viewer to question their own reality, and the nature of their very being - literally.
If Lost is being played out in the Mind of God at the end of time, then we are all but phantoms in God's mind. We are all in heaven or in hell, and it's all of our own making.
While this is all sounding totally theological (and it is), for those atheists, who, like me, believe that religion is not just the biggest con ever, but can seriously damage your intellect, all this might seem hard stuff to swallow. However, it is firmly based in rational science; not only that, there is a huge Easter Egg in Lost which has flagged up that this idea should be taken very seriously indeed.
The Omega Point Theory
The Omega Point Hypothesis, first put forward by Teilhard de Chardin, proposed that sentient life in the universe is evolving to a point at which the Universe becomes a single sentient being. In other words, the whole point of evolution is that mankind (and all other species wherever in the cosmos) will ultimately unite to be with (or become) God. This is a seriously difficult idea to take in, and appears to be on the whacky end of religion. However, hang onto your hat's 'cos this is where the ride now gets bumpy.
Frank Tipler, a cosmologist, in working through the Einstein Field Equations, related to the Big Crunch, concluded that as the universe ultimately heads towards its destruction, the entire universe will be compressed into a single massive singularity. The time dilation effects of General Relativity will mean that to those inside the Event Horizon, there will effectively be an infinite amount of time, and an infinite amount of energy to play with. The full description of Tipler's notion was spelled out in a book called The Physics of Immortality, but this Wikipedia Article on Tipler's Omega Point gives a good idea of what is involved. This quote from Tipler sums up the idea:
if life evolves in all of the many universes in a quantum cosmology, and if life continues to exist in all of these universes, then all of these universes, which include all possible histories among them, will approach the Omega Point. At the instant the Omega Point is reached, life will have gained control of all matter and forces not only in a single universe, but in all universes whose existence is logically possible; life will have spread into all spatial regions in all universes which could locally exist, and will have stored an infinite amount of information, including all bits of knowledge which it is logically possible to know. And this is the end.
David Deutsch, a quantum physicist from Oxford, explores Tipler's version of the Omega Point in his book The Fabric of Reality. This is an extraordinary book, as it runs over a huge number of themes: Quantum Mechanics and the nature of Reality, Counterfactualism and Modal Realism, The Nature of Knowledge, Time, causation & Free Will, The Nature of Personal Identity, and finally, The Possibilities of Time Travel (and if that sounds like an agenda for Lost, then you could well be right). In relation to The Omega Point Hypothesis, Deutsch extrapolates from the rudimentary quantum computers that exist today, to device called a 'Universal Quantum Computer', which is a generalised version of a Universal Turing Machine. Both these devices are 'theoretical' in the sense that they have never been constructed, but are devised in order to explore the physical, logical and theoretical limits to what can be computed. In other works, Deutsch has given a proof of the Church-Turing-Deutsch principle which states that such a universal computing device can "simulate every possible physical process". In The Fabric of Reality, Deutsch goes further, and explores whether such a computer could simulate every possible world, where the term "possible world" is used in the sense first proposed by Leibniz, but later appropriated by David Lewis, in his description of Modal Realism. That is a world which is self-consistent and is contradiction-free. In this way Deutsh extends Tipler's notion of 'possible worlds' to include those which are truly counterfactual, but nonetheless possible. Some of these universes may strike us as being somewhat strange, but actually very reminiscent of the ideas to be found on Lostpedia: "... for the multiverse, which is "to a first approximation" a very large number of co-existing and slightly interacting spacetimes, this includes universes in which the cause doesn't occur and its effect doesn't occur." Deutsch concludes that at Tipler's Omega Point, any computational device would have the resources to run an almost infinite number of these 'possible world' simulations.
In summary, then, we have three respected authors who from three distinct fields (Theology, Cosmology, Quantum Mechanics), who have hit upon the same notion - at the end of time is an intelligence with almost infinite resources and an infinite amount of time to play with.
Posthumanism, Anthropic Reasoning and The Doomsday Argument
Transhumanism is a field of study which tries to explore the ethics and the practicalities of what will happen when and if humanity is superceded by a PostHuman culture. There are those, like Ray Kurzweill, author of The Age of Spiritual Machines who contend that humanity is headed for a Technological Singularity, at which point the pace of technological change outstrips human beings' ability to cope with it, and at that point, there will be an "intelligence explosion" and human beings will no longer be the most intelligent beings on the planet. We will then look to more intelligent machines to guide us. These machines will in fact be beings of immense power and intellect, and it is they who will succeed us in our scientific and philosphical endeavours. It is has been conjectured that the 'singularity might even be brought about by amplification of human intelligence.
Some might see this as the end of the human race. In fact there are those who have proposed that the human race has but a short time to live. The Doomsday Argument is an attempt to use probability arguments to determine precisely when the human race will end, supposing the humans alive today are in a random place in the whole human history timeline. The argument concludes that we are about halfway through our lifespan as a species. (Note that the real Doomsday Arument was used as a basis for the fictional Valenzetti Equation) The Doomsday Argument is based loosely on the reasoning adopted in The Anthropic Principle. This is an argument which attempts to explain the fine-tuning of the universal physical constants, which, if they were anything other than the precise values that they take, would not allow atoms, stars, planets and any forms of life to exist. The Argument has several forms, but in its "weak" form (Brandon Carter's version), it says the constants could not be otherwise. Since we are here to ask the question, the constants must be the way they are, otherwise the question could not be posed. In the strong form of the theory (as proposed by Barrow and Tipler), the question is tied to the role of the observer in Quantum Mechanics; that is, all processes need an observer in order to collapse the wave function. The universe needs to be evolving towards consciousness, so that at some point an observer can look back over the whole history of the universe, in order to ensure its creation. As Barrow & Tipler put it: "Observers are necessary to bring the Universe into being."
Barrow & Tipler are not the only ones who envisage Emergent Intelligence. James Lovelock, author of The Gaia Hypothesis contends, in the weak version of the theory that the Earth, together with its biosystems is a self-regulating and evolving system. The Strong Gaia Hypothesis asserts that these systems are manipulate their physical environment for the purpose of creating biologically favorable, or even optimal, conditions for themselves. The ultimate form in the evolution of Gaia is the Theosphere, the Omega Point.
Ancestor-Simulations and the Nature of Reality
Many of the arguments in the previous section are based on versions of the Anthropic Pinciple, one which Nick Bostrom, co-founder of Humanity+, The World Transhumanist Organisation, calls a self-locating belief. In other words, it is an argument that assumes that you exist, and uses this fact to determine more about the time and space you live in. In retrospect, Descartes' statement "Cogito ergo sum", (I think, therefore I am) is such a "belief". It asserts that because the thinker can ask the question, it proves that the thinker must exist. Bostrom has explored the use of the argument in many areas, and himself came up with an intriguing one called The Simulation Hypothesis. In this paper, published in 2003, Bostrom explores a possible future where posthuman societies "run detailed simulations of their forebears or of people like their forebears." These Bostrom calls "Ancestor Simulations". After a detailed analysis of Moore's Law, and the work done by by Seth Lloyd on the computing requirements needed to create a digital copy of the Universe, Bostrom contends that "the computing power available to a posthuman civilization is sufficient to run a huge number of ancestor-simulations even it allocates only a minute fraction of its resources to that purpose". In fact he goes much further, and argues, using anthropic reasoning that if it is possible that a society can produce a simulation realistic enought to contain conscious minds, it is almost certain that the one in which we find ourselves asking the question, is one such simulation.
ABSTRACT. This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.
Statement of The Theory
The Lostverse, together with all the flashbacks, flashforwards, timetravels and Flashsideways, are a group of realities being played out on a universal quantum computer at the Omega Point. The purpose of these realities is to allow exploration of as-yet unresolved philosphical and ethical questions, such as the nature of fate & coincidence, free will v destiny and good v evil. In other words, it is part of the contuinuing evolution of the universe as it is striving towards godhead.
Evidence within Lost for This Theory
The Easter Egg is the title of the short-story collection Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor is being read by Jacob when Locke is thrown out of the window. O'Connor subscribed to the idea of the Omega Point, and the title is a reference to Teilhard's idea. There is a quote from this book:
Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.
Jacob, who is clearly a 'spiritual being' will not be interested in the Quantum Gravitational details of why they are there, only in continuing the evolutionary process. You could view this as 'Brain Training' for Gods; only his Nintendo DSi is a megamassive Omegapoint quantumcomputer.
Does the use of the Omega Point Theory overlap with any previous TV 'reveals'?
I don't know any mainstream TV or Film which has used the Omega Point idea, so that if Lost were to propose this ias the 'big reveal' it would be ground-breaking for a TV Series. However, there are several SF Novels which have used the idea as their premise: for example, in Darwinia, by Robert Charles Wilson, the novel is set in 20C Europe, but an 'event' changes it into a very strange place, full of very odd and unknown plants & animals. The story ends with the realisation that the entire story is a involved in a 'virtual war' ongoing inside the Omega Point metacomputer at the end of time.
Clearly, if the 'realities' were shown specifically to be simulations running on some computer, then this would immedaitely invite comparisons wiith The Matrix, 13th Floor, Nines, Truman Show, Vanilla Sky, etc. where the idea has now probably become a Discredited Trope. However, if the explanation did not involve computers, simulations etc., and involved multiple realities, quantum mechanics, evolution to godhead and the end of time, with an insistence that the alternatives were real and NOT simulations, then I think this could be pulled off.
So, What Precisely is the Lostverse?
To begin with, once you accept the premise that everything is being played out in the Mind of God/A quantum supercomputer at the end of the universe/a re-run of every possible scenario during the Omega Point, then what we are seeing on our TVs is just as real as you or I, here, now. The FS and the OT are just two different realities. It is not that one is not real & the other a replacement; they are both real. It is just what we think of as 'reality' is not what we thought it was. If you think back, the OT was not like our everyday reality. It does not have bizarre coincidences, replications of the same six number repeating over & over. It is possible, but it is not what we experience. The FS is more like our world; it feels 'normal', but when seen together with the OT, it cannot be normal; there is clear 'interference' between the two: they are quantum entangled in an intricate manner.
Lost is therefore a version of reality which is as valid as yours or mine, but is one of many realities being played out within the Omega Point Intelligence. Just as computer programs have rules, universes have laws, and it is not possble for an entity within a universe to break the laws of that universe. However, it is possible for universes to exist which have completely different laws to ours, where, for example the numbers 4,8,15,16,23 and 42 are ubiquitous. It is also possible that Universes can interact with one another, and events in one unvivese be co-dependent on events in another universe. It is possible that in some universes time travel exists, and providing that events are non-contradictory, it is possible for time-loops and time fractures to be created in the timeline. It is also possible that entities exist which appear to be magical, or supernatural. However, there are limits to their powers, as they too must obey the rules built in to their reality. Using the Anthropic Reasoning principle, it might even be possible for a being like Jacob to have created his own world within this scenario, and that the Island is simply "Jacob-Land", and without Jacob, none of the Lostverse can actually exist. It is also possible that Jacob/MiB are a quantum-entangled duality, created "out of nothing" at the beginning of the universe, and whose eventual collapse into nothing will seal the fate of their universe. The quantum entanglement causes one to 'evolve' and change, the other to remain 'static'; one to seek out life and new experiences, the other to prefer death and reliving past events. One prefers to create and shape a new environment, the other just wants to leave.
Jacob, Nemesis and the Halting problem
The Jacob/Nemesis bet is an example of a Halting Problem in computing. The Lostverse is set up purely so that Jacob/Nemesis can explore the notion that in any environment where good and evil exist co-dependently, and where there exists an intelligence that has free will, the intelligence will always choose the option which serves their own ends, even if they know this to be 'evil' rather than that which serves the greater good. Various run throughs of this problem are done, and the program only ends when one instance is found where someone chooses good rather than evil. It onoly takes one instance of 'serving the greater good' to be found, and the program will terminate. Alan Turing, along with Alonzo Church, and Gregory Chaitin showed that the proposition "Given a description of a program and a finite input, decide whether the program finishes running or will run forever, given that input." is essentially undecidable. In other words, even at the end of time, there will still be problems that we do not know the answer to. The only way to resolve such dilemmas is actually to run the programme for as long as it takes for the programme to halt. One such problem is: are there 1000 consecutive 7s in the decimal expansion of Pi?. The long-running battle between Jacob & Nemesis is another such problem. The Losties are actual people who existed in the 21st Century and have just been dragged in as pawns in this particular run of the program. They have been chosen by Jacob as candidates of maximum likelihood. The reality will continue to run as longs as it needs to. If no candidate can be found, then the reality will be reset and another run will ensue. IF a candidate can be found, then a solution has been found and the problem will terminate.
Who knows what will happen?