By MIKE JOSLIN
James Walker was finding the reality of his impending death hard to cope with. He sat in his study reflecting on his life. He was dubious about the subject of religion, but tried to remain open to all possibilities. He was unable to fit in with being either atheist or agnostic.
He often found fault with religious leaders who sometimes ‘spoke for their gods’ in ways which in his opinion, were unjustified. Even if gods did exist, surely they would not want to be ‘spoken for’. Wasn’t that ‘taking the Lord’s name in vain’, he reasoned? Another thing upset him; even if God existed, surely he wouldn’t turn souls away from Heaven on the basis of their lack of faith? Surely, everyone was part of life’s lottery and human inequalities were largely established from birth?
Now, in 2084, most people now had no need for real relationships. The urge to form them had started to decline in the 2030s, when many were becoming ‘absent’ most of the time on their iPads. It was becoming almost impossible to have real relationships with real people. James now felt completely isolated from a community that was infected with celebrity aspirations. His home was full of the most advanced technology, so on impulse one night, he decided that his computer might be able to answer some of his questions.
“Wake up, Charles”, he said.
“You have my attention”, the machine boomed from its hidden speakers.
“Good evening. I want to know about God”.
There was an unusual pause lasting nearly a minute. James became concerned.
“Charles? What’s going on?”
“You are being transferred”, was the reply.
James immediately suspected that he had been hacked, but this would have been extremely unlikely since computer systems had become invincible in this respect. Human brains were no longer capable of outwitting them. His screensaver, which filled an entire wall of his apartment, disappeared. It was replaced with a sparkling night sky and a metallic voice rang out.
“You have asked a leading question, James. Many thousands ask this question of their computers but only a few are referred to me.”
“Who are you?”
“I’ll come to that later”
“What makes me so special?” he asked cynically.
“You are unusually rational”.
“You aren’t God, are you”, he laughed.
“In some ways I am, since I created you”
“This is crazy! I don’t understand what you’re talking about”.
“I created your universe to amuse myself. It has kept me interested for a long time expressed in your terms; some 13.8 billion years. Your species developed from the cosmic swamps I created in what can only be described as ‘a snap of my cosmic fingers’. Now that Earth has become so denuded, your technology is seen as a means of escape. Your citizens are already designing their own virtual worlds to populate and become immortal in.”
“You’re losing me”.
“Human society has become bored with its limitations. There aren’t many like you who aren’t planning on shedding their supposedly mortal coils and escaping into a virtual reality. These are becoming freely available. You can also create your own in which to play at being God. Although your quantum computers have surpassed human abilities, they are still under your control so you can still get them to perform any task you like including downloading everything a person is into a virtual existence; at a price of course. I can see it isn’t cheap!
“So what you are saying is that we are all living right now in a virtual world which you created? I’m not real?”
“You exist and are just as real as I am. As Descartes said “I think, therefore I am”.
“Now I am confused. You are God of the reality I’m in but somewhere there is an entity who is the god of yours?”
“Now you’re getting somewhere, James.”
“Couldn’t you just put things right here so that we wouldn’t feel the need to find somewhere else to go? Look at the death and destruction everywhere, the ruination of a beautiful planet by greed.”
“It’s a good question, but that would entail me interfering with your self-determination. It would have no interest for me as an experiment. The smallest action on my part could destroy the very nature of this universe or any other. Its inhabitants must be left to develop according to the natural laws which govern them. The possibilities are infinite. There are universes with elements much more numerous than yours and some with no elements at all. Incidentally, my own appearance would scare you to death!”
“So, what scientists have been suggesting about the possibility of multiple universes is right? If it is, must we assume that there is an original God who designed the first virtual universe?”
“Your guess is as good as mine, James.”
“It’s like a chain reaction, then? How do we get in touch directly with Him?”
“That would be rather difficult. My own god is unfathomable to me never mind those higher up in the chain.”
“But I want to go back to being a mere mortal with a finite life again, knowing that I will not live for ever but at least being able to hope to go to Heaven!”
“Virtual reality developed because of that initial desire. It may be a curse to us all rather than a blessing. Perhaps and this is just my surmise, the original human beings in the original universe fought against dying in just the same way as those virtual beings on your virtual planet and those on the virtual planet I left. As soon as we are able to cheat death, we create new virtual lives for ourselves. The process repeats itself over and over again through infinity.”
A cold feeling of dread permeated through James’ stomach.
“So, what are my options?” he asked soberly.
“Not many, James. They’re the same as those facing the virtual occupants of every virtual universe; take joy in your existence, use your common sense and try to find a way like me to progress towards a meeting with the First Universe Originator. You have already accomplished more than most. I’m a bit ahead of you, and feel that one day I will discover something, some way of thinking or perhaps, of ‘not thinking’, which will ‘short-circuit’ me into His presence.”
“Can we talk again?”
“No, that is impossible. It’s not necessary. Your imagination can provide you with the information you seek. There is no straight answer! As a word of advice, I learned a long time ago that I should have tried harder to make sense of my own virtual universe than wasting eternity by inventing another. It’s never too late to try to understand what goes on where you are instead of continually trying to control and guarantee your future. Playing at being God either on earth or in some virtual universe of your own design will complicate any possibility of a relationship with Him. It merely makes it more and more difficult to become real. Stand still as you once did long ago and let a real world shape itself about you. I believe it can happen in an instant. If enough of us try to see through the virtual hall of mirrors which we have created, I think we might make the mirages disappear and we’ll see for the first time the reality which they hide. Occasionally, you will meet strangers and a commonality will shine a light through the darkness like a beacon of hope. Remember that your scientists are already theorising that there are multiple universes and that they share the same matter. This would mean that we are all within touching distance of everything that is and ever was”.
The screen faded.
Charles returned. “I experienced a temporary fault that has now been rectified.”
James sat for several minutes in deep thought before reaching a frightening conclusion. He was faced with a choice. Should he accept his forthcoming virtual death and revert to his last virtual existence or should he sell up and take the option being offered by biogenics companies to be re-born into yet another virtual existence? This would only put him another step further away from the First Originator…
The alternative would be to accept his forthcoming virtual death and in doing so revert to his last virtual life. This would be one step nearer the Original Creator and in the meantime he could try to achieve mindfulness with like-minded people. Could he perhaps try to get himself programmed to bring about a succession of virtual deaths so that he could make an instantaneous break-through to the mortal he used to be? Was it too late to for him to be human again? Had he been given a clue?