Like most people, questions about the existence of God and all things spiritual plague me frequently. I want to believe in such things, especially when it comes to continuity of my consciousness. I don’t like the idea of disappearing when I die. I suspect most other people don’t either, which is what makes belief in systems like Heaven, reincarnation, or even Hell an attractive prospect to our minds. Despite my desire to accept religious teachings, I am constantly prevented by a simple fact: no one has found any physical evidence of something like a soul, or any mechanism which might enable a persistent consciousness beyond our current brain. The lack of physical evidence coupled with the strong benefit of believing in life after death, leads to strong doubt in my mind.
My assumption has always been: If something like a soul exists, and it affects our consciousness in any manner, then it must be detectable by some scientific device. I find it difficult to imagine that something can interact with my physical body without leaving any physical trace. But though I find it hard to imagine, is it possible for something like a soul to interact with me without leaving any physical trace?
I chose to test this hypothesis using a thought experiment, and ended up formulating a computer model to simulate our souls, the afterlife, and a spiritual model which requires no visible physical component.
Can Souls Exist Without a Physical Component?
I normally hate it when people use Physics principles or Mathematical theorems to justify something unrelated and not intended. That said, my thought process started with the wonders of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. It says, in a nutshell:
Any sufficiently complex mathematical system will contain truths which cannot be proved using that same system.
It is much more complex than that of course, but it basically means that, at least in Math, some truths will always be out of grasp in the current system. What if the system we live in – Earth – has similar properties? Of course, moving from a Math system to life is a bit of a stretch. Instead, I thought, could I build a real life computer system which has these properties??
Building a Computer Model – Background
I want to give some background for those unfamiliar with systems design and computer science, and to make the concepts accessible to everyone without requiring much technical expertise. Please forgive me for glossing over some of the more technical aspects of these systems, and if you are sufficiently versed in virtualization, it is safe to skip ahead to the next section.
Starting with a basic computer, we have a few key components – Physical hardware, Operating system, and programs running on the operating system. It is possible to abstract out the physical hardware from the operating system by using something called virtualization – essentially you can have one computer which thinks it is a whole computer, but is really just a wholly contained slice of a larger computer, also known as a virtual machine.
It is possible to build a virtual machine which has no way of knowing whether it is, in fact, a virtual machine or not. A user or program running on this virtual machine can run as many tests as they please, but will never find any evidence of whether it is virtual or physical. It may even share the same physical hardware with multiple other virtual machines, but will not be able to find any evidence of those virtual machines existing on the same physical hardware. Granted, in reality most virtual machines do not work this way, but they could.
So far, I have described two distinct systems – The physical hardware and the virtual machine. There must also be a third layer – the Operating system which runs on the physical hardware and controls the virtual machines. This operating system, known as a Hypervisor, has incredible power. Today, we use these systems in IT departments to dynamically allocate system hardware resources to virtual machines. This is the conceptual framework around which we can build our model of God.
Programming Life on Earth
I want to create some computer code in this system which represents life on earth. Forget actual intelligence for a moment – the programs only need to act in some way similar to a life form. For this, I recognize a few properties that represent our existence in this life: we use up resources to survive, and when we die our resources return to the earth for consumption by other natural systems and processes. So far as we know, nothing happens outside of this natural process. Said another way, we allocate resources to live from our environment, and return 100% of them when we die. We have observed nothing that leaves us to live on after death.
So, in the model system described above, where earth is represented by a virtual operating system with no knowledge of any other possible systems, I represent life with a simple process which runs in a loop for some specified time, after which it ceases to function. The programs are allocated a certain set of memory when they are initialized, which will never increase until they stop running. This represents the space we take up physically in the world. The program has internal states, which are never saved to disk, but are stored only in memory, and represent our changing mental states. When a process is killed or dies of its own accord, its memory is returned to the virtual environment for use by other programs, and nothing is ever saved about it’s existence. This process represents death in the real world.
As a result, we now have a simple, layered model of life (processes), the universe (virtual machine), all sitting atop an unknowable God (Hypervisor).
Approximating Life after Death
The Hypervisor I created controls and monitors virtual machines on a server without any knowledge, but I want it to do more than simply allocate resources to the model universe – I want it to manage virtual souls and influence the virtual world without leaving any physical trace as well.
To achieve this, I introduce a new function to the Hypervisor. This new function allows the system to look at any process running in a virtual machine by accessing (reading) a given memory location. In this way, the Hypervisor can view any processes state that it wishes. It may also store a copy of that state to disk without notifying or having the virtual machine environment have any evidence that it is happening. When a process dies, the Hypervisor can save the state of the process to disk, and still 100% of virtual machine resources are given back to the system. No evidence of this saving is left behind for the virtual machine to notice, since all of it happened outside the virtual machines scope and view.
It is now a simple matter for the Hypervisor to do some interesting things with the saved process states. It could, for instance, reincarnate the saved process into a new process in the same virtual machine by copying the saved contents into a new process, or perhaps only certain segments of the saved process state. It could also take the saved process state and insert it into a new process in other virtual machines, which could be completely different operating environments than the one the process originated in. In this way, the Hypervisor could approximate a process flowing through states of reincarnation or travel from Earth to Heaven or Hell, all without leaving a trace in the original environment.
As you can see, this model is flexible enough to account for all major religious beliefs on earth today, and creates a cohesive thought model by which souls could interact with the human world without leaving a trace. Furthermore, it can actually be implemented on earth with some approximation, allowing a program to exist as if it had a permanent soul, even if the environment it was created in was completely destroyed (say, by shutting down a virtual machine). It does not say if any major religion is right or wrong, it simply shows it is possible that observation may miss certain things which are unobservable from where we sit, but does not completely exclude them from the realm of possibility.
I would apply a caution to those who want to use this to explain other religious phenomena, or even when talking of the afterlife. Simply because no physical observation or cause and effect chain have been established for certain phenomena, does not mean that no observable events exist. It would be preferable to search for physical evidence rather than take something on faith alone, keeping in mind that absence of physical evidence may not mean absence of phenomena.