Resting in complexity

Before our universe began, things were simple. All-and-everything, including time, space and matter, was compressed into an infinitesimal, dimensionless singularity of virtual probability. Then something happened; depending upon what you choose to believe either God initiated the big bang or quantum mechanical probability self-ignited and our particular universe came into being.

Upon coming into existence, our universe quickly became more complicated. With each passing millisecond complexity increased; the branching nature of space-time and the evolution of matter now have nearly 14-billion years of evolution behind them, culminating in, among much else, Walmart. There are those who say almost all of this happened without regard to anyone being around to notice, that an objective reality exists. Nonetheless, within our limited capabilities to absorb these grand events we humans bear witness and are bound to find meaning within them.

Due to the limits of human perception, our view of reality is necessarily a course-grained one. A course-grained view is one which limits the possible factors that can be included. For example, in deciding which car to buy, we consider what we can afford, but do not include the possibility of global economic collapse; we limit factors to those which seem most relevant to our decision. Our national energy policy has also been course-grained; we have not generally factored health or environmental effects into the true cost of gasoline. As we add additional factors our view becomes more fine-grained, but at the cost of increased complexity; the finer the grain the greater the complexity.

Computer technology is all about working with complexity. Algorithmic programs review data to find regularities and correlate them with various factors. The speed and efficiency of computers allows computation at a fine-grained level, though in order to accomplish this, the algorithmic programs are correspondingly complex. Ironically, most conclusions result in information that is statistically valuable but not always relevant to individuals; 100% of us must decide what’s important and to take seriously. Should we eat that jelly doughnut or not?

While as a species we share common characteristics, biology and chemical components, individually we are unique, and the history of each of us is unique. Each person is so fine-grained as to defy absolute computation. The closer we look (the more fine-grained our information), the more complex we are revealed to be. Our outer selves can be classified and documented, but for now our inner selves remain largely secret.

We represent the outcome of 14-billion-years of complexity, alongside all and everything that manifests in the universe. The same process that makes each leaf on a tree unique makes each person unique; we display a basic course-grained pattern but no two of us are perfectly alike. Yet at the finest-grained view, the electrons, quarks and gluons of which we are composed are exactly the same as all other electrons, quarks and gluons in the universe, perfectly interchangeable and precisely the same in every way. In this sense distinctions of any kind are ultimately meaningless; I am a jelly doughnut.

Simplicity and complexity are analogous to order and chaos, but creating both sets requires making distinctions. There is order in chaos, but it is too complex for us to see it; absolute simplicity remains bound within the structure of complexity. Nothing has ever been lost, destroyed or even disturbed. All is as it always has been, pure, perfect and complete. Just so, just so.

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