Microcosmographia by William Van Hecke

Our Mathemindful Universe

Microcosmographia xvi: Our Mathemindful Universe

Microcosmographia is a newsletter thing about honestly trying to understand design and humanity.

Do you meditate? I used to associate the practice with certain spiritual traditions or worldviews, and I got some moderately useful advice from books like The Zen Commandments and Waking Up. But I didn’t really develop a successful practice of my own until I read a certain theoretical cosmology book. Yeah!

Our Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark is unequivocally the most interesting book I have ever read. It’s a survey and synthesis of various multiverse theories — like, ideas about our universe not being the only one — and it posits the exhilaratingly wacky claim that these theories might all be true, all at the same time. It also puts forth the Level IV Multiverse (or “Ultimate Ensemble”) theory, which is the only satisfying explanation I have encountered for why anything exists at all and why we find ourselves in this particular existence. I won’t spoil it tho, in case you want the full experience of reading the history and arguments that build up to the theory.

In any case: the book introduced me to a weirdly enlightening stratified way of thinking about the world and my place in it. I found that if I focused on these ideas carefully, I experienced something like what I’d always heard about effective meditation! A feeling of vastly zoomed-out perspective, oneness with the universe, calm in spite of petty day-to-day stresses, &c.

Here’s how it works for me. I start with the familiar and mundane, then contemplate each stratum one at a time, in this increasingly profound order:

  1. I am fet. I have a personality and some worries and some interests and I have done a variety of things in the world. Tomorrow I have to give a presentation at work and I hope it goes fine.
  2. I am a person. I can perceive and think and plan and have an impact on the world.
  3. I am a human being. I come from a big messy gene pool of humans that branched all over the planet and somehow via an infinite number of accidents some of them survived and propagated themselves to now.
  4. I am cells. Feeling like a unified being is fine but in a very real way I’m just a colossal colony of trillions of cells that replicated into this shape and that follow these behavior patterns because it’s a weirdly effective survival strategy.
  5. I am atoms. Sure, cells are a thing but they’re not really that smart; they’re really just clumps of molecules and atoms obeying the laws of chemistry.
  6. I am a four-dimensional braid pattern. It feels like I’m moving through time but that’s just a convenient way of perceiving things; it’s just as valid to see everything as still and time-free, stretched out into a fourth dimension according to very ordinary laws.
  7. I am math. Ultimately the shapes of these four-dimensional patterns is pure mathematics, a coherent and internally consistent system just sitting there being itself and processing information.
  8. “Consciousness is the way information feels when being processed in certain complex ways.” BONUS ROUND: If any of the multiverses are real, then there are certainly an infinite number of instances of you. Instances who are in precisely the same situation as you, identical in every way; instances who made every other conceivable choice, and instances who lived in every other conceivable circumstance. You can’t literally have a conversation with them, of course, but it’s oddly comforting to think that they are out there, living their alternate realities, thinking about you too.

Thank You and Be Well

Gosh, yall wrote me so many kind things; I owe you quite the backlog of letters now! Here are my recent musical obsessions, in case you want to experience the moment-to-moment inside of my brane. This is all that goes on in there anymore.