Inspired and Blessed by Bob Acebedo
Inspired & Blessed

Simulation, consciousness and free will

May 27, 2023, 1:01 AM
Bob Acebedo

Bob Acebedo


In my last column, I tried to demonstrate the philosophical and scientific grounds or possibility for us, our life and universe, to be in a simulation.

For this piece, I’ll attempt to discuss the scientific plausibility of simulation as well as the conundrum between a simulated consciousness and the essentiality of free will.

For not a few thinkers, one proof that we’re simulated is our DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid), a molecule composed of two polynucleotide chains that coil around each other to form a double helix carrying genetic instructions for our development, functioning, growth, and reproduction.

DNA is a self-replicating material that is present in nearly all living organisms. In simple terms, it is nature’s hard drive capable of storing, replicating, and transmitting massive amounts of information.

That DNA is but a product of simulation is advanced by some researchers in New York, who found a way to use DNA like an actual computer’s hard drive by successfully storing, replicating, and retrieving several digital files. These scientists were able to transfer real world data into binary code, and with the help of a DNA constructing startup company, they were able to implant such data into the DNA as well as retrieve it. It is estimated that one gram of DNA can hold up to 215 petabytes, which is equivalent to 215,000 terabytes or ss5 million gigabytes. This simply means that DNA is the world’s greatest storage device, and we’re all walking around with massive hard drives of data and legacy within us.

Similarly, for Gregg Braden, American scientist and New York Times’ best-selling author, the DNA is positive proof that we have been purposely designed by a super-intelligent source, who purposely embedded a signature or thumbprint in each of us.

“Personally, I’ve always believed that we are here on purpose, that we’re an intentional species, and that we’re a product of an intentional creation that began long ago. And while I confess that I’ve never fully understood the how or the why of our existence, I am convinced beyond any reasonable doubt, by seeing the complexity of the DNA in our bodies that we are here by design. It makes sense then that somewhere in our past, whatever or whoever is responsible for our being here, would have left us a clue to tell us that we’re here on purpose,” Braden explained.

In his best-selling book, “Human by Design: From Evolution by chance to Transformation by Choice,” Braden postulates that, contrary to Darwin’s Evolution Theory, we did not descend from the Neanderthals, but sometime about 200,000 years ago, our chromosomes were modified to 46, from chimpanzees’ 48 chromosomes. Paraphrasing a quote from the National Academy of Sciences’ research conclusion, Braden pointed out:

“It appears that long ago, two separate chromosomes from chimpanzees, chromosomes 2a and 2b, were merged or fused into the single larger chromosome that is now our human chromosome number 2.”

Human chromosome 2, according to Braden, is the key that gives us our humanness, the fusion of which must have been done intentionally by an intelligent source.

“The evidence overwhelmingly suggests that – we are a product of an intelligent form of life; that the timing, precision and accuracy of our genetic mutations and the technology required to yield such mutations imply forethought and intention of an advanced intelligence; the intelligence that carried out genetic modifications giving us our humanness had the advanced technology to do so 200,000 years ago in a way that we are only learning to do today,” Braden added.

In short, hence, Braden suggests that a super-intelligent source, God, simulated us through our DNA. For what purpose? Science may not provide the answer, but the theological tenet of “humans having been created or designed according to the image and likeness of God” may just as well resonate with this God-simulation theory.

Another plausible basis that we are indeed simulated, thinkers and scientists believe, is the phenomenon or existence of consciousness.

For consciousness to be simulated, scientists aver that it is akin to playing a video game. Consciousness is considered as the interphase of experiences between the player and the character of the game. As player, we tell the character of the game to do what we want them to do, and they (characters) act out the actions. The video game character goes through an experience, and by extension we (the player) gain an experience through them. In a sense, the experience that the character gains is not necessarily for themselves but for the player.

Simulation theory, thus, believes that consciousness is the space where the experiences of the player and the character combine to form some type of conscious experience or “qualia” (defined in philosophy as an individual instance of subjective conscious experience).

In short, according to simulation theorists, consciousness is that strange connection between the guiding voice in our head and the experiences we live and feel – it’s the product we produce for whatever or whoever is on the other side of the simulation.

Now, if granting that human consciousness is simulated, then what about our human will – is it really free or just an illusion?

Patrick Haggard, professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University College London, believes that consciousness – which is the basis for free will – is only a product of our brain activity, or that brain activity comes before or precedes conscious awareness.

“We think we make the decisions, but our brain knows already before we know,” Haggard said.

In a similar vein, Thalia Wheatley, experimental psychologist at Dartmouth College (USA) argues that it is our neural activity that creates our action prior to our awareness or consciousness of it:

“The common definition of free will is that our conscious self is freely deciding, initiating causes of action. But there’s no scientific evidence that it’s the case. Rather, it seems like consciousness is coming very late in the stream of things to be causal in the way we think of a conscious self-causing action.”

How do we solve this seeming conundrum between a simulated consciousness versus the essentiality of our free will? Let me put forward the following underpinning thoughts.

1. The biblical ground for free will lies in the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve in having “wilfully chosen” to disobey God by eating the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden. “You may eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, you will not eat, for on the day you eat it, you will die.” (Gen. 2:16-17).

2. From the preceding “God’s order or law” in the creation story, it appears then that God did not give us absolute freedom. We are not free to become God; neither are we free to trample or violate others’ freedom – or that “freedom ends at your neighbor’s nose”. In a sense, as Franz Bockle, a prominent Catholic theologian, averred: “Human freedom is not independent of God’s freedom; while God’s freedom is not dependent of human freedom.”

3. Is God’s gift of free will a BLESSING or a BANE to us? Jean Paul Sartre once wrote that “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”

On cursory reckoning, I like to think that if God did not endow us the freedom of will, we would have not been free to commit or fall into sin; but, likewise, we will not be free to choose or love God too. What then is such kind of love?

4. Finally, if indeed God’s order of “not to eat the forbidden fruit in Eden” can be considered an act of SIMULATION or a simulation law in the game of life, for whose benefit is it – for man or for God?

Verily, in the last analysis, I am inclined to reckon that if ever we are in a simulated life, God – the master programmer or simulator – must be “guiding” us with simulation codes for our own good in order to attain the “real heavenly life” that is eternal.

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