Permutation City

I’ve been reading about ‘Permutation City’ for a while now. It is 1995 sci-fi novel by Greg Egan.

Permutation City asks many of the same kinds of philosophical questions as other works such as The Matrix, as well as other cyberpunk and postcyberpunk works – is there any difference between a perfect computer simulation and a “real” person? – but its textual nature allows it to push the ideas further. Egan gleefully deconstructs and undermines traditional notions of self, future, personality, and even physical reality. It also displays Egan’s “dust” theory of existence, which postulates that our universe is but one instance of an infinitely configurable data pattern being run on a universal computational substrate.

Another interesting idea expressed in the novel is that of the Autoverse, a virtual chemistry for a virtual world, containing thirty-two pseudoelements, which are “easier” to computationally model than real chemical elements whose interactions is highly dependent on quantum processes. i.e., the Autoverse is a clockwork Newtonian chemistry set. In the novel, the Autoverse is created to answer the question: does consciousness depend on quantum mechanics? The Autoverse is a simulation of a small universe, with laws of physics and chemistry that are internally consistent, but much simpler than our own. Autoverse atoms are truly indivisible and act in a totally deterministic manner – they are a type of cellular automata, similar to an advanced version of Conway’s Game of Life. The universe is seeded by its creator with a primitive form of life – Autobacterium lamberti, a bacterium-like organism which is able to evolve and mutate, becoming subject to natural selection – and then left to run on its own to see whether consciousness eventually evolves.

His thoughts bears a close similarity to the ideas I had in my teens about how everything was engineered. This may sound heretical, but I had always felt that God is not an infinite resource consumer and producer. He may be limited by a form of ‘higher economics’; something that may sound like ‘justice’, ‘love’, ‘grace’ and ‘law’ to us. That would mean that he has used a much simpler model to design his creations than what the science shows us. A clear indication of emergent complexity and possibly cellular automata.

I think I must my hands on this novel!


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