Friday, October 19, 2012

The Purpose of Playing God

The physical and chemical properties of the universe are freaking amazing.  Their complexity, stability, scale and resolution of detail are completely breathtaking when considered at any level of comprehension.  Without an equivalent of natural selection by which to explain their emergence it is easy to assume that they must have been the design of a sentient.  Of course the counter argument to this always has been and always will be the anthropic principle - that were the universe any different or any less "spectacular" in design then we would not be here to perceive it so; thus we should not be surprised and cannot logically infer anything about its creation.

In the movie Prometheus the android David asks a human crewmate... 

Why do you think your people made me? 

We made ya 'cause we could.

Can you imagine how disappointing it would be for you to hear the same thing from your creator? 

In the movie Innocence the advertising caption was...

Why are humans so obsessed with recreating themselves?

If the universe was created intentionally then, taking an anthropocentric line of argument, we shall assume that the emergence of sentient life was part of that intention - either for experiment or by design, but ultimately because the creator could create that life.

To what end?  To learn something?  Peter Weyland, from the same school of ambition and entrepreneurship as Eldon Tyrell, gives this powerful speech several years in the future...

Both of Ridley Scott's films come to pretty much the same conclusion; humans learn fuck all from the creation of sentient life.  In Blade Runner the children have shorter lifespans than humans, the humans play god and skirt around the periphery of the drama the Replicants make themselves.  In Prometheus the David 8 android is physically and logically superior to humans and practically immortal, but lacks the fire of the Replicants and humans themselves.  In both cases, the human reactions to their creations are nothing short of ambivalent - it was something that was done because it could be done, and yet the problems of the purpose of creation and human mortality remained - from the human perspective they have created nothing more than an image of themselves, a reflection that is ultimately, as Innocence ponders, obfuscating rather than instructive.

Curious, no, that the creation of life, at least in the thought experiments of intelligent writers, answers no questions about the purpose of the creation of life?

Going back to our hypothetical demiurge, what would it learn from us, its creations?  Were we as a species worth waiting thirteen billion years for?  If we created sentient life, like us, would we benefit in any spiritual or philosophical sense?  Would the creator itself learn anything from our compulsive technological procession?

I think... nothing, no, no and no.

However for writer Iain Banks in the Culture novels, the creation of sentient machines, along with interstellar travel, is a technological leap towards post scarcity and liberal utopia.  The technology itself answers no questions, but makes life while we have it more diverse and stimulating.

Banks is, I am happy to note, quite similar to Tolkien in his take on creation.  For Ronald, for Iluvatar, the act of creation by necessity results in both good and bad consequences, but all add to the glory of life.  The music of Eru is created simply for the joy of doing so.

In the results driven practicality of the modern world where cause and effect can be scrutinized without end, and often censored or trammeled at even the lowest level because the Great Game is all encompassing, it is easy to forget that even the greatest of technological advances can have no more impact than the furtherment of enjoyment for the living.  Or perhaps we should not be surprised at that at all, for perhaps, like the Olympians from whom Prometheus stole fire, revel in the time we have with our fires burning brightly, maintaining one's elan vital, is all life was ever meant to be about.  Perhaps if there is a demiurge, it simply enjoys watching its children play with the fire it gifted them.