I believe that I am merely a “program” and that similar programs run every animal and living thing on earth.
I have originated, like everything else, in a complex “program” not so very different conceptually from that on my computer which can evolve cellular automata:
“a set of units in a mathematical model which have simple rules governing their replication and destruction, used to model complex systems composed of simple units such as living things or parallel processors.”
Buddhism has considered such deep philosophical questions for over two and a half millennia and science is beginning to lead us to the same conclusions as this ancient thought system.
Put simply, to the Buddhists reality is an illusion and so is our sense of self. The concept is remarkably similar to Stephen Wolfram’s ideas.
The world and everything in it is mere deterministic cause and effect. An endless series of chemical reactions which has woven the fantastic complexity we see all around us from a few basic and simple rules.
The Buddha’s Anattalakkhana Sutta states:
“Every consciousness is to be seen as it actually is with right discernment as: ‘This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am.'”
Researchers in consciousness such as Giulio Tononi are coming to the conclusion that consciousness is simply what you get when something, some object is sufficiently complex. His Integrated Information Theory seeks to measure such complexity.
So I may feel that I am “me”. I may feel I have a soul, some separate existence from you or that rock over there. But evidence seems to be mounting that the only difference between myself and that lump of rock is complexity – the way “my” particular atoms are arranged.
And you and I? Similarly arranged atoms of sufficient complexity to have attained the ability to witness the universe. Perhaps Carl Jung’s concept of universal consciousness has legs after all.
My conviction was emphasized recently when “my”personality changed dramatically and most definitively following the ingestion of medicine. I had been on too high a dose and began to feel an abnormal, generalized and most unusual fear. I was a different person, its that simple. My consciousness was different, my outlook, views on life, attitude to everything and everybody were, simply put, different.
And then I cut back on the dose and its frequency and this other “person” disappeared and was replaced by a more recognizable persona.
So there is little in me which is permanent or unchanging. Chemicals can re-arrange my consciousness and replace person A with person B. Probably permanently, given enough persistence, by re-arranging the “code”, the DNA, whatever.
Quite clearly my subjective experience counts for very little except in my own mind. But for what it is worth, I am ever more convinced that we humans are merely collections of matter arranged and re-arranged programatically. As a matter of “faith”, my belief is that as science advances we will be able to rearrange our matter and our program to become whoever or whatever we want.
I will leave aside questions of determinism and free will. We don’t seem to be much further forward on that question than we were in the times of the ancient Greek philosophers. One day at a time?