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Eternity

March 8, 2014

Lately I’ve found myself just sitting around thinking that everything is in some sense eternal.  I guess I should explain what I mean by that.

The other night I was out with my friend Greg and he was discussing photography, and I brought up a point that every digital photograph that could possibly be taken already exists.  Think of the image as a two-dimensional grid of pixels where each color is represented by one of 65000 colors or so.  If I simply wrote a computer program which randomly filled the pixels with colors, every possible photograph that could ever be taken would be there.

If you cycled through the possibilities long enough, you’d see photos of every man, woman, and child in every possible life circumstance, every era, and every emotional expression.  Cycle some more and you’d see every city skyline — cities of the past and cities of the future.  Cycle some more and you’d see an image of the entire Milky Way one million years ago.  All of these possibilities are right there.

It’s a strange thought, but I could sit down and write that program right now.  Most every time I’d see just a random fuzz of colors, similar to the black and white fuzz in television screens when they have no signal, but wouldn’t it be something else to hit the “Random Image” button and all of the sudden you’re staring at a photograph of yourself in the future — a real event that you actually later experience.  Say it’s an image of me standing with my mother and father as I’m receiving my PhD, finally finished with school.

Or think about the history of all life on Earth.  It’s interesting to note that the same atoms are being reused, over and over and over.  They’re just being reshuffled in different ways.  The atoms become grass, which is eaten by a young rabbit, which later has little baby rabbits, who later die, rot, become dirt, and then become grass once again.  

If you could analyze the history of each atom in your body, you’d find that some of the air particles in your lungs were once breathed out by Albert Einstein.  Other atoms in your body were once part of the body of pterodactyl soaring through the sky millions of years ago.  Others were once part of a sea weed lazily moving back and forth in the waves eons ago.  It’s the same materials being reused over and over and over.  Life is just a thin coat over the Earth’s surface.

This makes me think about the flow of time.  We tend to think in terms of these historical epochs and different periods in history, but it’s always been these same atoms.  If an advanced alien race came down from space and disintegrated all of us and then reassembled the atoms of our world in a configuration similar to what it was in the 1950s, the world would then go on as if it was 1955.  People would drive their big steel cars to the diner while listening to Elvis on the radio and everything about our present world would be forgotten.

I sometimes find myself missing my grandmother, but the atoms which were once her body are still around.  If I had the technology, I could just reassemble her and we’d once again be sitting in the kitchen having a piece of pie.  She’s dead now, but as long as the universe exists and there’s free energy to reassemble and animate her, my grandmother could always be brought back.  The same applies once I die.  Whether the newly assembled “copies” would be the same person, I have no idea, but we’d never be able to tell the difference.

But what about the atoms and their origin?  You can trace that back to stellar furnaces and super-nova explosions, and if we go even further back, we get into the early universe and the Big Bang.  But as I struggle to understand all of that, and hear about inflation and multiple universes, I can’t help but find myself thinking that if I understood things deeply enough, I would come to understand that anything is possible.  There’s no reason at all to worry about anything because nothing ever ceases to exist.  The possibility will always be around, and it is always possible to bring it into existence.

I saw the theoretical physicist Michio Kaku being interviewed and he described our cutting edge cosmological models as a timeless nirvana where countless interconnected universes spring out of nothing, living for a time and then dying.

I also think a lot about the brain and consciousness.  Every experience I have seems to be a flow of information through matter.  Brain states are just states of matter, so every possible experience I could have is possible in the same way as the digital photographs.  If I had technology which could cycle through brain states, rewiring and reassembling my brain’s neural networks each time I clicked “Random Experience”, I would hear every musical composition, taste every food, feel what it’s like to live in every human body in every single era of history, experience every possible emotion, perceive every possible form, and have every single thought anyone has ever had.

I may have a very incomplete view of the world, but I’ve assembled enough pieces together to infer that time is an illusion.  Eternity is all around me.

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