Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Free Will and the Video Game called Life

A friend made me sit and watch this Ted Talks video on the human brain last night and it turned out to be a worthwhile session. It gave a fillip to an idea that has been brewing for the past couple of days. Though the video itself has nothing in common with this post. At least, it fired my brain and kicked me out of the blogger's block, that has lasted over two months now.

About how much freewill does a man have ? Oh, the question, I know, is atleast as old as my great-grandmother and probably even hers. But there is a modern phenomenon that resembles the handling of the questions of Life and Free Will. Gaming.

We have heard before about 'Life is a game; Play it'. I am thinking of narrowing it down further. Life is like a video game. Role-play it. I haven't played many video games, so my tech knowledge is not much, just what I have observed, heard and outlined in a broad way. I like the hint from this book, that, as Man evolves, lot of things today he does for War, like flying advanced aircraft, he would do it in a spirit of Games, without the killing.

In the beginning of a video game, you get to choose a lot of things, your profile, your level of difficulty/speed, the cool looks of the bike, probably the colour of the cap of the prince, number and type of bombshells and life-chances/energy chances and so on. But once you choose these and the word 'GO'-es, you have pretty much only the steering wheel. There is hardly anything you can choose after you start off. How much free will ? But it will be fun, though. The events in your life, the twists and turns, the preset or random obstacles that come your way, the preset or random credits you get on the way to bolster your confidence, are they determined by your actions ? Yes, they are determined by the way you handle the steering wheel of your life. So much for Karma and the ability in your hands to make choices enroute.

But that isn't much. You have free will enough, alright, but only as much you can do at the steering wheel. That much, Oh, and Man thinks he has all the power and free will in the world. Why isn't that free will not much ? Because the complete exhaustive set of objects, events and methods have been programmed already into the video game. Gosh, is that why they use these very terms in object-oriented programming ? You get to choose five or ten or fifteen parameters from a hundred or a thousand that have been programmed for. But do you get to do more than that ?

This design of Life covers only the most basic of video games. However, in the next level, there are also MMORPGs where the players get to choose lot more complex things, like characters with roles. The abbreviation might as well have referred to Life in general, Massively Multi-player, Online, Role-playing Games!!. They can not only play games by choosing roles for themselves, but also with hundreds of players. Let me quote here briefly from the wiki page:

In nearly all MMORPGs, the development of the player's character (as in role) is a primary goal....there is the eventual demand on players to team up with others in order to progress at the optimal rate....
They might have as well put the same text on the wiki page on Life.

Now that's certainly an improvement on the level of free will in Life, we do get to play it with hundreds of others and improve our character and become better day by day. Take it to the next level of Meta. What if someone wrote a meta-game-writing software, that is a software that allows you to build your own games by choosing a hundred parameters. Remember, not just choosing roles, but building entire games, out of raw material stuff that the software will set out before you. Wouldn't that be the next level of free will ? Life does seem to provide such chances, in that sense, Life is probably the most meta-level-ised, most genericised, video games of all kinds. Today you could be a master violinist, tomorrow you could choose to try out mountaineering and in a said amount to time and a said amount of effort, assuming you have a average startup qualifications, you can probably acquire as much mastery with your foot, as you did with your finger. That definitely is a relief and makes us feel better, doesn't it ? Your life is in your hands, Choose the reality that you want to manifest and there...Booom..... there does it bubble and bloom, dive and dance before you. Your choice made, at time X, and your results, here it is Monsieur, your custom suit, delivered to you at time X + N. I have also wondered that why most video games are modelled on gaining points through combat ? Don't the characters perform good deeds like, patting someone for their good work or give a food packet in charity and get a smile in credit for that ? Or combat the evil within and gain points ?

Now that you have taken video game to the next level of abstraction, shouldn't the question of Free Will be taken too ? How much Free Will, do we have, even at the this level of choice ? Still, not much, buddy. Why ? Because you didn't get to do the programming. Thats what drives, whatever it is you are driving. Sure there are open-source video games, you get to read the code, learn from it, fix bugs and contribute to newer branches and features and probably work with others together to take the game as a whole to the next level. Life allows that too. People who reach a certain level of awareness, not only have their lives in order, they endeavour to raise the lives of those around them, making better steering wheels, showing others how to handle them in those lower level games. Showing how to play our roles better and improve our character (this time, it means a set of principles) and how to perform better even while playing with a lot of other people at same or different levels.

So, is that all, have we achieved free will ? (Oh, finish this, and say yes, please). No. Because we still have to work within the game, within that game we started. You can start a new game yourself, all of it open-source. You can start tens of them, a bike game, a market game, a combat game, a music game, whatever. You seem to have the free will to do that, but wait a minute, that is, as they say, a different ball game. It would no more remain the game, with the same name, which you played in the first place. In Life, do we have such a choice ? If you didn't like earth and its Life, do you get to shift to say, Saturn for a while, and get back after the riots have cooled off ? Oh, don't bother, Sometimes, Saturn seems to control our lives here, instead !!. Even if a geographical location shift were possible, it would still be the same game called Life. The same programmer. The same program, everyday extended with new features and a million parameters, out of which you get to choose very few. May be a few more bonus ones on a sunny day. And hope to have Saturn on your side.

Thats not much of free will. But I should qualify this conclusion, because, thats how it looks from where I stand and see, and only to the level of Meta I can handle. Because I am going to go above my own head in the next paragraph. I tend to subscribe to what Sri Ramakrishna, used to say often about Free Will. That our free will, is "like that of a cow that is tied to a pole and gets to graze the grass around it". It might think, in all its cow-level meta, that it has quite a lot of free-will. But you and I, who are at slightly better Meta than the cow, know the length of the rope and its circumference. The cow, though not meta enough to work out the formula, will surely come to terms with its limitations and pet ideas of free will, once the grass (or the meta) is grazed enough and exhausted. Then, it looks up to the Master, and he releases it from its pole and allows it to graze further beyond. [Don't mention to the cow, that it will be tied to another pole, :) :) , thats part of the original game. ]

There, however, seems to be an even higher possibility, That we are 24x7, co-creators of all of world and Life, just that we forgot, and such Illusion seems part of the design. [Don't say you didn't put that into the design, stupid, you put it and forgot]. Uf! Suddenly, you are promoted to the Board of Directors! Even higher is the school that, 'we' is wrong usage, and all of it is actually ONE single stuff and the dream and waking states are just parameters in a combo box, and one is as real (or as unreal) as the other. Well, there is only one Director, and Thou Art That ! Now, don't ask me, which video game most maps that level of abstraction ? As I said, Life is a meta-kaa-baap-kaa-meta, when it comes to gaming. It seems the Matrix game has characters that are aware that they are under simulation, and they even have a rare one, that has self-substantiated itself out of the game. (What the hell is that supposed to mean in Life ?)

The higher truths about Life and Free Will, we may not be able to comprehend now, we dismiss it in sarcasm and quips, but there may be few die-hard game programmers out there who have seen the software design of the Game called Life and come back. If their experience is anything to go by, we just have to increase our meta and re-meta it until we experience those very truths we find as abstract. It won't be meta anymore, it would just give us the feeling of having designed an amazing game for billions of species to play. Till the end of Time. And start all over again with a different profile. Happy Gaming!


  1. My God RS!!!! This is way above my head.... Games are also about winning & losing....you can play a lost game with the same parameters again and win!!! While Life does give second opportunities (in some cases)or your Free will does find these second opportunities, the parameters never remain the same.

  2. Brilliant! Amazing coherence in your thought process. Loved every bit of it.

  3. This can be ur niche, keep connecting spirituality with real world stuff. It can give amazing insights and can give a fresh outlook altogether.

    But dont restrict to sprituality alone. U have a genuine writer in you, unleash him.

    Profound thinking coupled with adept expressiveness can create a perfect potion of reading pleasure.

  4. wow well said.continue with your creativity so that the folks can benefit from it.

  5. Oops! Games Over!
    I knew how many chances I had when I played Mario (though Luigi was my favorite). I could increase my Life lines with a better play...better play, a route through the correct path avoiding obstacles with unbiased attitude...There that was the only path I knew off, only one correct path - marching ahead...

    Life is a game, which is a culmination of all games - Cars, Bikes, Prince and what not. All so well inter-twined, beauty is the only winner from it. One needs to observe to realize and have taste to appreciate.

    Great write-up. Though could easily get messy and confusing, you could keep it well categorized.
    No wonder, you reflect your programming skills in writing too! :)

    Mathematics is said to be close to God (I had heard this in my younger days...not that I am not young now! :-) )...but Comp Sci is the implementation of that God (Mathematics) into this creation called World.

    Naams, you rock!

  6. Profound concept expressed succinctly with cool analogy!
    maratthil maraindhadhu maamadha yaanai
    maratthai maraitthadhu maamadha yaanai
    paratthil maraindhadhu paarmudhal bhootham
    paratthai maraitthadhu paarmudhal bhootham


Thank you for your comments....

THANK YOU: These reflections draw sometimes from readers and friends who initiate ideas, build up discussions, post comments and mention interesting links, some online and some over a cup of coffee or during a riverside walk. Thank you.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this blog are the blogger's personal opinions and made in his individual capacity, sometimes have a story-type approach, mixing facts with imagination and should not be construed as arising from a professional position or a counselling intention.