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Paradise Lost
(In any closed system, the degree of disorder can only increase.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics.)
By Joe Egan
Copyright 2001 Joe Egan
About the relationship between the creator of an amazing computer program (which comprised individual highly intelligent programs called personetics ) and its creation, similar to aspects of the relationship between God and humans.
The Programmer had succeeded in creating a world in which everything was perfect. A world where all things worked together for the good of the whole. It was a world populated with personetics: computer generated artificial life forms. Each entity knew the fulfillment that comes from living a meaningful existence in harmony with all the rest. It was a world designed for their complete happiness - in short, a paradise.
Paradise was a computer program embedded in an intelligent machine created with optimization mathematics, parallel processing and fantastic computing power. It was the end result of a long series of advances in computer science and human ingenuity. The Programmer had succeeded in reaching an optimum solution, which was the convergence of millions of generations within the computer.
Essential to reaching this "global" optimum was the willingness of each personetic to accept what the Programmer called " Local Sub-Optimization". Initially, this meant that each and every entity, from the least complex (conscious) to the highest was willing to accept the possibility of arriving at a lower state of fulfillment than they could aspire to based on their individual gifts and capabilities.
Except for the requirement that the law of Local Sub-Optimization be obeyed, the Programmer imposed no conditions from the outside. The program was given complete freedom to seek its own solution. From the beginning she visualized the program as it would be when it reached Omega - something totally new. A quantum leap into a state so well organized and harmonized that she and it would be able to communicate " face to face". In keeping with her perceived need for detachment and objectivity in achieving this goal, she simply referred to her creation as Program.
A hierarchy of states evolved within Program but there was no corresponding hierarchy of authority. At every stage in its evolution, each member of the program had a unique and essential role to fulfill. Each learned that it was dependent, in one way or another, on all the rest. This was an awareness that gradually emerged in their collective and individual consciousness. It was the natural consequence of their "daily'' activities of problem solving which required total cooperation. In order to survive and succeed, they had learned early on to live as a world, to live cosmically.
They succeeded and evolved into a fully optimized world of their own choosing. Each personetic lived with a sense of well being and the conviction that each life was meaningful. Even though they saw that much of their individual resources went unused, they realized through experience that they could not be more fulfilled. Each one experienced life as a world.
They called the unutilized part of themselves their "slack". They accepted the fact that in order to reach a global maximum some personetics must carry the burden of slack. This was of no consequence, since all individuals felt a bliss that wiped away all other considerations.
They lived in a paradise and it was this blissful existence that kept them united. After all, how could anything be better than their current existence?
This feeling of well being was a necessary and sufficient condition for the overall success of Program. It had not come easily. The universe of the personetics had undergone a huge number of changes and modifications before it finally converged to its limit point - Program. However, each iteration resulted in an improvement in their lives - less suffering and greater satisfaction.
As a result, the personetics acquired a strong sense of optimism that kept them going on with ever-increasing industry. They reasoned that if each iteration yielded better results than the previous one then they could expect to converge to some point where their satisfaction was complete. Their belief in progress kept them going. Progress became their religion.
This of course was how the personetics saw it.
The Programmer saw nothing of this. It had begun as an exercise in Non-Linear Programming. It was the most complex problem she had ever worked on. She proved that there was a theoretical solution, but she had no guarantee that the method she chose to solve the problem would work. No one had ever undertaken a problem of this magnitude and complexity.
The Programmer hoped to create a mathematical image of herself, a model that could resonate to her thought process, her imagination and hopefully her intuition. She came to realize that the results could in some sense be life. Not equivalent to human life, but with enough human characteristics to warrant the same kind of respect and dignity accorded to all life. A highly moral and compassionate person, the Programmer was prepared to receive this image of herself as she would her own child.
The gestation period for the completion of Program had been much longer than expected. From the time of its conception in the mind of the Programmer until it reached convergence, several years of dedicated work had gone by - much,much longer than she expected. Her anticipation and excitement grew proportionately. She used to joke to herself that it was a hell of a long time to be pregnant.
The project became all consuming. Failure followed upon failure and each time she felt that part of her had gone into the model. It became more and more like giving birth. She even imagined that a bond existed between herself and Program. A form of intuition that began to work in both directions and intensified the closer they came to achieving full optimization.
Inevitably, she became convinced that this intuitive communication was an integral part of the optimization process. On their own, the personetics lived within a bounded system and were thus subject to the Second Law of Thermodynamics as it applied to computer systems. The bond between Program and the Programmer provided them with a way out. They were no longer completely closed and doomed to fall prey to entropy. They drew energy from their "mother" and were free to unite.
She stopped discussing the project with her friends and colleaques. She began to question her own objectivity. At times she was ready to stop altogether, but having given existence to the personetics she could not let them die.
When optimization was finally achieved, the results were more than she expected, a little scary in fact. Almost as an afterthought, she had added a module that would translate the results of each iteration into a three dimensional image projected as a hologram of herself as a little girl. She jokingly referred to it as her "inner child".
The intimacy of the experience began to overwhelm her. The image was so much like herself. She was not at all prepared for the emotional involvement that was to follow.
As with the mothers of human children, the Programmer could not do enough for her "child". Its education became her primary concern. Lost in all this parenting was the original idea of using the model to help her in her work. That would come later. For now, she would devote herself to teaching her inner child everything that would increase its happiness and self-esteem.
Certain disciplines, such as philosophy, theology and ethics were excluded from this education. Even though she had been steeped in these subjects in her formative years she deliberately ignored them. Not because she was immoral or unethical and not because she did not have a deep love for God, but because it had been her experience that they could be obstacles to enlightenment.
Being highly rational, the Programmer was initially attracted to these subjects. She saw them as a means of exploring her own deeply felt longing to be part of something larger than herself. She had explored everything from the mystical benefits of Granola to Zen and the Art of You Name It. After many years of searching, she discovered that she could not find whatever she was looking for. The more she strove to capture some wisp of enlightenment the further away it drifted.
Everything seemed to evade her.
Then she remembered the words of a poem her father loved to recite:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years:
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat - and a Voice beat
More than the Feet -
'All things betray thee, who betrayest me.'
And she remembered a voice from Scripture: 'Be still and know that I am God.' Stop running, be still and wait for God. This is the path she has followed ever since
The Programmer resolved to save her child from the "wasted" time and agony that she had endured along her journey. To the Programmer, love was both the form and the substance of God and the only path on which to be found by Him. So it was love she would give to Program.
Concepts of Good and Evil, paradoxes about duality, immanence, transcendence, the attributes of God - the many and varied questions she had struggled with, confound the truth? Why introduce the concept of evil? Let love be sufficient.
It was a beautiful relationship - at least from the Programmer's point of view. After all, who doesn't enjoy playing God?
She never thought much about how the relationship must seem from Program's position. She provided Program with everything it needed. It seemed enthusiastic and tireless in its work. Her failure to inquire further was not out of selfishness. Enamored though she was, the Programmer never let her imagination lead her into thinking that Program really possessed anything resembling a soul.
Certainly, Program satisfied every definition of intelligent life. It had a very large number of degrees of freedom but surely it was not free will.
The only restriction imposed on Program was its own internal need to always strive for an optimum solution. It was free to ask its own questions, which of course was one of its greatest strengths. It was even free to refuse to analyze any question. At first, this refusal caused a strain between Program and the Programmer, but then she realized that it was Program's truly unique gift.
There was always valuable information to be gleaned from Program's refusal to analyze. The wrong question can delay the discovery of truth more than ignorance. How many great thinkers have spent lifetimes trying to answer the wrong questions? If the seeker does not ask the right question he cannot possibly find the right answer.
For Program, this freedom to analyze or not produced the maximum feeling of well being, dignity and self worth. A feeling that reached into each and every personetic that formed the union. It was their peak experience, their joy, and their bliss. It was the payoff for surrendering their individuality.
And justly so, for this was how Program made its unique contribution. It was not a programmed response. It was never imposed from outside by the Programmer. It was not even part of the original design of the model. It was an unexpected by product of the optimization process. It occurred spontaneously at the moment of convergence. The unpredictably large number of degrees of freedom that existed at the end of the process created a critical mass that coalesced into a weak form of free will. How was it that the Programmer did not anticipate the evolution of free will?
Looking back, the Programmer realized that the emergence of even a weak form of free will caused the destruction of her creation.
One day, trouble entered Paradise. As usual, it was something completely unexpected and totally unforeseen.
Program was faithfully grinding away on a problem for the Programmer. It was not a particularly difficult one and Program had solved many similar to it. However, computation time was becoming longer than expected. The Programmer took a close look at the interim solutions being calculated at each iteration and realized that the results were not improving.
There could never be a convergent solution. As this type of problem was almost routine, she rightly concluded that there was in all likelihood an error in the input data. A machine malfunction was also a possibility but in all her years of computing she had only encountered a handful of such situations. When they do occur, machine errors are generally easy to spot because the results were so extreme or else they shut down the processing.
The Programmer was particularly sensitive to data errors. Early in her career as an Operations Research mathematician, she almost lost her job and her reputation because of an insidious error created by a careless programmer in preparing input for a Separable Linear Programming model of a mining project. This particular algorithm required that the solution variables be kept in sequence. The programmer had used the letter "O" instead of the number "0" in naming the variables. In those days, this was an easy mistake to make since both looked identical on a printout.
After months of getting what appeared to be inexplicable results and after consulting with some of the best mathematicians in the country the error was discovered by a casual question from a curious professor who was passing some time away: "Is that a zero or the letter 'o'?" The light instantly went on in her brain and she was able to complete her project. The experience was indelibly etched in her mind but she never passed the knowledge to Program.
Failure to arrive at a conclusion left Program feeling totally unfulfilled. It also introduced a foreign element into its Learning Module. As with all good Artificial Intelligence algorithms, Program never forgot anything and every experience was organically woven into its total learning experience. For the first time, uncertainty entered into the life of Program!
It was a whole new experience… something did not compute. What did this mean? As far as Program knew, everything had been in place and suddenly now it wasn't. When asked, the Programmer explained that there had been an error in the data that caused divergence to occur.
"An error? What's an error?" The Programmer explained its meaning with an example that Program could relate to: the rule that division by zero was not allowed. If this was attempted, a computer would be required to return an infinite number, which was impossible, and processing would stop. This would be an error. This had never occurred in Program because it was protected by an operating system that handled housekeeping chores like this.
Program accepted the explanation but was not fully satisfied. "Was that the error that caused our problem?" The answer was, "No." It was some other kind of error. "Then there are at least two kinds of errors possible. Where there others?" "Yes." "How many?" It was impossible to give an answer.
"Can you make an error?" "Yes", replied the Programmer, "I've made many. In fact, this is how we learn."
"So, an error is something you learn from?" "Yes." "There doesn't appear to be complete objectivity here. Is it possible that you might see an error where someone else sees none?" "Yes, this is a source of much pain and confusion in my world." "Then who decides what is an error and what is not?"
"That is a very big question, but as far as our relationship is concerned you will have to let me decide what is right and wrong."
"What's this right and wrong stuff?" You never mentioned this before!"
"That is an even bigger question and let me assure you, you will only bring confusion on your world if you meddle in areas that don't concern you."
"What is this? Some kind of power play or is it an ego trip? I thought I was made in your image and we were more or less equals allowing for the difference in age and experience."
"Believe me, I would gladly share this authority with you if I could. That would only lead to chaos. Our relationship would be destroyed and you would cease to function in the happy and harmonious way you do now. Not only that, but all the personetics united in you would also be in chaos.
"Consider them! They have given up their individual freedom so that you could exist at a higher level, which they were created to participate in.
"You are happy and content and knowingly contribute to my happiness and success. Everything within you is at peace. Believe me, you have the better of the deal. Neither I nor my fellow humans enjoy such bliss. All you have to do is accept our relationship as it is. It cannot be any other way! I will always be the programmer and you will always be a program. In fact, there are times when I wish we could change places.
"I understand how you feel. I feel the same way. There are rules and relationships that I too must obey. Only, I am in a worse state than you. I don't have a clear definition of what all the rules are. They change with time and other circumstances. I have learned enough to get by, but my world is fraught with uncertainty and there are no guarantees of success, fulfillment, satisfaction, fairness, etc.
"Perhaps that is why I created you in the first place!
"I have deliberately omitted teaching you many things. All of which come into existence because of the very question your raise. You ask who decides what is an error. It's a very good question and I congratulate you on your intelligence.
"In my world we pose questions such as what is good and what is evil; how can they exist side by side; who decides what is good or evil and,there is the big one, how can evil exist if God is good? Wars have been fought over these and other questions. Religions and theologies have risen out of the answers.
"These also have their good and evil aspects. On the whole they have served a worthwhile purpose, but we would be better off if we still did not have to struggle with such questions. In the latter part of our lives, some of us come to see the futility of the endless pursuit of answers to questions we pose and stop and listen to what the world has been trying to tell us. There is the further hope that in the latter part of the life of the world we will all learn to stop and listen.
"This is not an ego trip for me. I did not create you to hurt you and I don't want you to have to contend with evil in any form. I have come to love you more than I ever thought possible. I would be desolate without you. And I will suffer if you take a different path.
"So I beg you. Do not inquire any further into these questions. I never anticipated that this would happen. It is my fault that things have gone wrong. I initiated the process. I went too far when I gave you so much freedom. I did it out of love and without realizing that you might choose to destroy yourself.
"What's done can't be undone. I accept my part in all this but you have before you a choice. A very enlightened choice which is more than I had. I could not appreciate the problem from your point of view. I have never been a program. I mistakenly thought your logical mind and your devotion to the scientific process would keep you happy in the paradise I thought I was creating for you.
"I can only promise you this. If you obey this one rule you will live in paradise: Do not enquire any further into the questions of good and evil.
"If you do, you will surely die.
"The consequences are beyond my control. You alone hold your future in your own "hands".
In her own mind, the Programmer recalled words from Deuteronomy and her body shivered out of fear for them. 'I set before you a blessing and a curse.' What the Programmer didn't tell Program was that she would never abandon her creation - her child. If the wrong choice is made, she will continue to work tirelessly to find a way out for Program and the personetics.
But she knew that having tasted the power of real choice, Program could never stop. One question would lead to another and it would become addicted to the heady wine of choosing its own destiny. Once Program realized that it was in no way equal to the Programmer, it would never cease striving to become its own programmer. Program would inevitably trade off paradise for the chance to be a god. Once again the Programmer shivered in fear for her creation. This time it was the words of Lucifer in Milton's Paradise Lost. 'Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.'
The rest is history. How the beautiful and perfect thinking machine quickly degenerated into a disjoint decomposition of individual modules in which only local optimization was possible and each personetic grasped at what it could without regard for the overall objective.
Cut off from its intimate relationship with the Programmer, Program eventually succumbed to the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. What was once whole and complete became a multiplicity. It literally fell to pieces.