Making Worlds

2024 May 15

What does it take to create a world? In thinking about this question, we could look at worlds made by writers of fiction and those made in video games.

Literature worlds

In the literature genres of fantasy and science fiction there are writers that make complete worlds. When this is done well, it is very impressive because it is not simple and not easy. The author must think deeply about how everything works, and how it works together. They design the world and all its contexts so that everything is functional and follows the rules of the world. This work makes the world believable to the reader.

By the power of their words, they create matter, energy and places and the beings that live there. As they work, they can modify things, going to what had already been written and change it. They might write different weather, or remove characters. They might bring new characters to life.

Essentially the writer functions as the god of the world. Their words create, and bring both life and death.

Imagine that a book character is written as becoming aware of their author. How foolish would it be for such a character to disbelieve that they were authored? But of course we know this because characters in a book are directly dependent on the author.

Computer game worlds

Similarly, video game makers create whole worlds. And again, a well-done game is very impressive because it is neither simple nor easy. As before, the maker does this by using words (often in computer languages). The maker’s words create matter, energy and the places of the world and the beings that live there. And again, these words make characters live or die, and keep the world instantiated.

In some respects a game maker’s task is more difficult than creating a world in a book. Many parts of the game must function independently of maker interaction after the game world is constructed. A book author would only need to describe how things work, but for the game they must actually work. This requires that the maker have deep understanding of many things at great levels of detail. They have to implement what we call game physics. (This is things like illumination in game spaces, characters going through doors but not walls, and falling when they jump, and etc.) These aspects must work correctly and they must be realistic (or at least believable) to the player of the game.

The worlds of literature are stored in books and exist alive only in the mind of readers. The worlds of video games are stored in computer files but they have existence in two places: the computer’s internal engines as well as living in the player’s mind.

Because the game exists in the computer, the maker is able to change things there. They could add to what already exists in the computer memory so that a quantity of food might become available, or a character might come alive. These changes break no game rules (the natural laws of that world). They are completely and legitimately within the power of the maker. So by the power of word, the maker is able to reach into the world and instantiate new reality. (Of course such an occurrence would generally be rare for a finished world and be for a special context.)

Again, we could imagine computer game characters acting as though they were aware of the game maker. Like book characters, it would be foolish for them to disbelieve in the maker because they literally depend on the power of their maker’s words for their continued existence.

Explanatory Powers

We explain that the origin of literary and game worlds is from the creative effort of agents, through their intelligence. It is the best explanation because it accounts well for the coordinated design, the intricate functionality, and the complex information in these worlds. And importantly, this is a cause which we know is capable of creating the observed effects. However note that it is not needed or required to also explain the origin of the creative agent for this to be a good explanation of the work.

I suppose it could be speculated instead that literary or game worlds now exist because they had always existed. (They had an infinite past.) Alternatively, it could be speculated that these types of worlds now exist because some engine (an external mechanism) had spawned infinite random varieties of them in infinite quantities. And then later it happened that some conscious entity identified the ones that were the viable ones.

These alternative origin ideas, however, can be seen as rather foolish. In this context it can also be seen that the ideas aren’t even a real explanation for the origin. Saying something always existed is not an explanation. Saying that something randomly occurred is not an explanation for how it came to have its unique characteristics. In addition, these aren’t causes that are known to produce viable worlds. There is no good reason to think differently regarding the origin of our physical world.

Part of the explanation given for the “high quality” worlds originating from random sources is that someone recognized the ones which had superior qualities. However, this is a sleight of hand. We expect that someone building a world with intelligence and foresight should inherently recognize what aspects would make a good world. For the case of random worlds, the recognition is shifted to after-the-fact. Note that this identification is the core challenge regardless of when it is done. It requires metrics about quality and the ability to discriminate whether worlds measure up. So, measurement standards, intelligence and skill are needed for this task both for the cases of before (designed world) and after (random world). (And of course in the case of world-making by humans, recognition after-the-fact would be ridiculously inefficient. Therefore again, it would not be a viable explanation.)

A trope of science fiction is that a character of a book or in a video game comes to a realization independent of their maker of their existence in their functioning world. This is just fiction, however, because it is not something that could happen in actuality in those worlds.

Our Physical World

We live in a physical world. It has complexity and details that are coordinated at all levels of inspection and many of these are truly astounding. A short list of highlights includes: the type of star that is our sun, the type of light it produces, our atmosphere’s transparency and water’s transparency to this energy, water’s physical characteristics, its chemical characteristics, how it enables the hydrological cycle, the chemical characteristics of our atmosphere (especially O2 and nitrogen), the chemical abilities of the carbon atom, the information storage, processing and control systems in every living cell, organic carbon molecules that fold into 3D shapes to become machines, …

Many of these things are highly coordinated so as to be life-supporting, and they were instantiated with these characteristics from the beginning moment of our universe. (The list of such things is long, and we keep discovering more things to add to it. Read books by Michael Denton for more depth on this.) This level of detail and consistency could not happen by accident unless you think there was an infinite supply of randomly made worlds.

Our world continued to automatically function once it existed. These functions are what we call natural laws; they are the rules of the world we live in. These laws are descriptions of what happens in an undisturbed situation, when there is no external agent action. For instance, the law of gravity asserts that things accelerate (down) toward the source of gravity. However if we pick up things, we do not break that law because we have brought in a cause that is from outside the object’s context.

Descriptions of these laws are usually encoded in the language of mathematics. Mathematical formulas that are both simple and beautiful correspond very precisely to functions of our world. There would be no rationale for this correspondence if our world had infinitely existed from the past. (Like existence, it would have to just be another brute fact.) The correspondence of math to physical things would be astounding and unreasonable if our world were accidental. (Accidents supply randomness, not logic or intelligence.) However, this would all make perfect sense if our world had been designed with intelligence and foresight.

There is one big difference between the worlds that humans make and the world we humans live in. We do not know how to give independent free will to the characters that we create. However, the maker of our world did make human characters with free will (like him). I believe humans really do have free will in part because all of human societies depend on it to be true in their systems of laws. In addition (from the Bible), God expects us to act freely. That is, God holds us accountable for the actions we chose, both of good or of evil. As humans, we are held responsible. We are responsible to each other and to our maker (unlike the characters in worlds of our making.)

Our World Origination

Our best scientific evidence is that our world had a beginning and therefore it did not always exist. So, the infinite past explanation fails against the evidence.

This idea of an accidental universe is problematic because it depends on humans having intelligence and consciousness. This is because humans are the ones who would need to recognize the existence of a well-made world (our world). In the context of accidental worlds, however, there is no rationale for why humans in the world could possess metrics for quality, or have the ability to discriminate how the world measures against them.

Instead, I believe that the best explanation for our world is agent causation. This explains our finite past, the foresight needed for a good design of the world and also the many aspects of our world that are suffused with language and information.

We are told in the Bible that God created this world by the power of his word (Genesis 1:3, Psalms 33:6,9, Hebrews 11:3) and that by his steady will it continues to exist (Hebrews 1:3). As a religious explanation this is quite unique, but also it matches astoundingly well to the evidence. Jesus is identified as this word (the Logos, the Word of God), and as the one who made the world (John 1:1-3).

We are also told that God has acted physically in the world. Sometimes this is called miracles. Some (like Hume) reject their possibility because they think the rules of this world legislate against them. However, like for the worlds that humans make, there is no reason to think that the world-creator God could not intervene in our physical world. He made it by his words; he would be able to change it by his word. Ordinary humans are able to interact with the physical world, modifying what would otherwise naturally happen. God certainly also would be able to interact with it, and even enter it (as Jesus did). note

Note that human makers sometimes write themselves into the worlds that they create. In fact, the purpose for many video games is to be able enter the world and interact within it.

Worlds and Purpose

So, the parallels between our physical world and the worlds of literature and games is remarkable: they all have high levels of coordinated details, and the worlds are all related to the power of words. Agent causation is arguably the best explanation for all of them.

In the context of human-made worlds, it can be seen that when they are well made, it is because the creative agent cares deeply about them. We see from the Bible that God as the creative agent for this world cares deeply for it (John 3:16, Romans 8:18-25). We also see that God wants to connect with the people in our world.

I note that characters of human-made worlds don’t independently seek for meaning and purpose. However, as humans we do seek for purpose and meaning in this world. We want to be connected to something bigger than ourselves. We long for meaningful relationships, and relationships with other people are deeply significant to us.

Could we personally know the one who is the ultimate cause of our existence? What is it to have a relationship with God? Of course, this would be different than a relationship with a human. However, we can come to know God by learning what he values. (This is much like how we come to know humans.) We can also learn about Jesus. God put Jesus into the history of our world to present himself to us and to be an example for us of how to live. When we seek God and ask him to come to us, God participates in our life.

Knowing God and being like Jesus in how we live is a very good answer to the question of meaning and purpose.