Nugzar Margvelashvili, Hobart, August 2018
Last updated July 2019
This document provides a brief overview of the storied multiverse - a theoretical framework overarching individual
belief systems and aiming at resolving major contradictions between these systems. Having this framework established, we
must be able to claim not only one, but the whole range of different belief systems to be true simultaneously. As a
general principle, guiding the development of this multiverse framework (or a multiverse theory, or a hypothesis, if you
like) we will require it to be based on theories which make sense to us, which seem to be reasonable. On the other hand,
I wouldn’t mind us having some fun playing with unconventional ideas, the ideas that may stretch the limits of what
we consider reasonable and challenge established stereotypes and paradigms.
One of such ideas or hypotheses underpinning this project is that there are many, may be infinite, number of ways we can
describe ourselves and the world around us and many of these descriptions could be both intellectually plausible and
psychologically appealing. In other words, we can design new belief systems such that they don’t require us to believe
impossible things, on the one hand, and on the other hand, we don’t have to sacrifice our well-being by succumbing to a
single universal “truth” telling us, for example, that we are just a meaningless chunks of dirt lost in an empty, cold
universe. To reiterate, the hypothesis is that if we don’t like a particular description of the world, we can design an
alternative, intellectually not less plausible but psychologically more appealing interpretation of it. This
interpretation does not have to be unique. Analogous to the infinite number of ways one can write a novel, there could be
many different descriptions of ourselves and the world around us. A storied multiverse, presented
below, is an attempt to develop one of such alternative descriptions.
Building such a multiverse must be fun - journey into the unknown. Besides that, I believe, many problems we have today
are due to the inherently wicked nature of a human being. Changing this human nature is equivalent to
creating the whole new world.
There are a number of assumptions specific to our multiverse which we will take for granted, without questioning them
too much. One of those is an assumption of a superpositional nature of macroscopic, big objects residing in this
multiverse. Let me explain it. Let’s assume there is a cat in a closed box, we cannot see through this box, and we don’t
know whether this cat is dead or alive. Since we don’t have such knowledge, we assume this cat to be neither alive nor
dead, but to exist in a special state of a superposition of both the dead cat and the alive cat. This superpositional
state persists, until someone opens that box to find this cat to be either dead or alive. This observer, a person who
opens the box, by making an observation turns this superpositional cat back into the conventional state of the cat being
either dead or alive.
Ok, I believe, you have guessed by now, this is the description of a famous thought experiment
introduced many years ago by a physicist Schrodinger. According to the original interpretation of this experiment,
the superpositional state was attributed to the
uncertainty of the microscopic world, the world of the very small tiny objects, which behavior is governed by
the laws of the quantum mechanics (and which may exhibit a very peculiar behavior).
According to this original vision, a
superpositional state is introduced through the propagation of the uncertainty from the world of the
microscopic objects into
the world of relatively big, macroscopic objects.
Whatever. We are not going to dwell on the theory of quantum
mechanics here. Instead, we will stick with the storied multiverse and the world of relatively big objects, and we will
attribute a superpositional state of the cat to the uncertainty of our knowledge of that cat - since we don’t know
whether this cat is dead or alive, we assume it is both dead and alive at the same time.
Let’s assume further that this observer is a very sensitive person, she is attached to this cat, she likes it very much,
and when she opens that box, and finds that cat dead, she gets very upset, has a heart attack, and unfortunately dies on
the spot. The box is locked again, and no one in the whole world knows what is
inside it – she was the only person who knew about the cat. According to the multiverse framework, the content of this
box now exists in a state of a superposition of any kind of object that fits inside. Next time, when a new observer opens
that box she or he can find a cup of coffee, a rabbit, a piece of furniture anything that fits in.
The key point to
make here is that this new observation (having observed a rabbit, for example, instead of the cat), this new observation
does not introduce a contradiction into our multiverse, because we assumed all knowledge about this cat (including any
kind of circumstantial evidence that points to this cat) all this knowledge has been wiped out, destroyed completely.
Since this knowledge doesn’t exist, no one in the whole universe can prove a contradiction arising from such an
observation (which is observing a rabbit instead of the cat in that box).
ASSUMPTION 1. To summarise, the first assumption underpinning our multiverse states that having a knowledge about a
particular object or phenomena wiped out completely from the memory of all human kind, transforms that object or
phenomena into a superpositional state - a special state of a superposition of many hypothetical states. And vice versa,
acquiring a new knowledge for the first time about a particular object or phenomena, in our multiverse, is equivalent to
establishing that new object or phenomena.
One of the implications following from this assumption is that now people play a critical role in
creating not only conventional, artificial objects but they also participate in instantiating natural systems. Galaxies,
stars, oceans, mountains - they all exist in a particular form only because we are aware of their existence. Without
people they would transform back into some abstract hypothetical state.
Definition of real
Another assumption critical to our multiverse concerns the truth value of our beliefs systems. It is
meant to regulate the way we assign the truth value to beliefs which claim something to be real or not to be real
(something to exist or not to exit). It is about beliefs which
include statements concerning the existential status of objects and phenomena in a storied multiverse). If you prefer,
you can think
of this assumption as a definition of what is real and what is not, and we will be using it later to decide
which artificial worlds comprising our multiverse are likely to be real and which of them are likely to be not.
According to this assumption, our belief that something is real is true when
a) It is based on theories (or stories or
descriptions) which are logically more or less coherent. In other words, we don’t require these beliefs to be fully
self-consistent but do expect them to be meaningful - telling us stories we can comprehend and believe.
b) Besides this
requirement of the coherence, for real objects and phenomena we also expect these descriptions to be backed by
How do we define empirical evidence?
We will take it to be a knowledge acquired through the ordered set of practices, something we learn by following a
predefined set of procedures delivering a specific range of outcomes.
Using a bit more formal
language we can also define it as outcomes of reproducible practices delivering features characteristic of
a particular belief. These features characteristic of an entity must be defined through the coherent
description of that entity.
Reproducible here means that anyone, with a proper education or training if needed, but in
general anyone can run these practices and get these features. For example, if we take a particular musical composition,
then musicians must have a special education and skills to play instruments and read notes, and then we can take outcome
of their practices as an empirical evidence proving a specific piece of music is real.
Let's put all these bits together and test our belief that this particular lawn-mover in this shed is real.
First we have to acquire a general understanding of the notion of the lawn-mower, so that we know
what they look like, what are their key functions, general principles of operation etc. Having this general knowledge
established, we then read a user-manual to understand how to operate this specific lawn-mower, and then run it to
see, if it cuts the grass. If it does then it is real, if it is doesn’t then it is likely to be not.
ASSUMPTION 2. To summarise, we assume a particular entity is real when there is a reasonable (more or less
coherent) description of that entity available, and there are also reproducible practices delivering features
characteristic of that entity.
As you see, this definition is fairly general and vague. We talk, for example, about more or less coherent theories but
what does it mean exactly for a theory to be more or less coherent? We don’t provide a detailed definition of this term.
As another example consider features characteristic of a particular entity. It is up to us to decide which features, we
think, are characteristic of it and which are not. So, there is plenty of room for a subjective treatment of this
definition of the real entity. On the other hand, I think, it is specific enough to guide our subsequent developments
helping us, for example, to figure out which artificial worlds comprising our multiverse are likely to be real.
Furthermore, this definition gives us a fairly general but still a strategy to create new artificial worlds. According
to this strategy, first we have to design an artificial world. That design must be based on plausible stories and
features characteristic of that world. It has also to provide instructions for the inhabitants of that world telling
them how to recover these features. Secondly, having this design established, these inhabitants instantiate and maintain
that world through practices analogous to actors enacting a play-script on stages and bringing it to life during
the theatre performance.
Now, to be clear, there is nothing fundamentally new about this strategy. All it says is that in order to create
something new, first you design it, then implement that design in practice, test and maintain it. People have being
using this strategy for thousands of years to create the whole bunch of artificial objects in physical, social and even
metaphysical domains. We know, we can build artificial objects this way. However, there is a twist in our approach which
comes from combining this strategy with the assumption of a superpositional nature of the multiverse. By introducing
superpositional objects we are able to generalise this strategy towards natural systems as well. Just substitute the
word “implementation” with “observation” and read it as (i) design new observational experiment, (ii) carry out that
observational experiment, and (iii) maintain new knowledge acquired through this observation, and now a new observation
of the natural system is considered analogous to creating a new artificial system. For example, discovering a
new star in the sky now can be interpreted as instantiating a specific hypothetical state out of
many other possible states (e.g. a hypothetical black hole, a hypothetical planet, a hypothetical asteroid,
an empty space etc).
You may think there is still a considerable
difference between discovering a new star, and, for example, assembling a new lawn mower out of its parts.
We know the outcomes of the procedure in the second case, and have no idea whether we will find that star
in the sky in the first case.
However, the key reason for such a contrast between these two cases is a number of assumptions
we have taken for grunted when assembling the lawn mower. For example, we assumed to have the right user-manual
with instructions telling us how to assemble this type of the lawn mower (rather than some other brand),
we assumed to have spare parts which indeed belong to the lawn mower (rather than a tractor) etc.
Having all these assumptions accepted, constrains the range of hypotheses and locks the results of the
implementation procedure to a very specific outcome - the lawn mower. For the case of the lawn mower
to be compatible to the case
of discovering a new star, we must assume that don't have a prior knowledge of whether the user-manual is
right or wrong, or whether the spare parts belong to the lawn mower or a tractor. In this case there will
be no fundamental difference between discovering a new star in the sky and assembling a new lawn mower out of
someone random parts.
We will elaborate further on this generalised strategy (underpinning development of new
artificial and natural systems) later in
(or Introduction to Generalised ISO Machinery)
As for now, I’ll move on to illustrate it through a couple of more examples.
Conceptually it must be trivial to apply this strategy (design, implement, and maintain) to conventional physical
aggregates (such as lawn movers, airplanes, bridges, buildings etc.) and social constructs (e.g. a legislation, customs,
policies etc.). To illustrate its versatile nature, let’s take a more challenging example and see how we can apply it to
such an interesting subject as virtues (an entity spread across social, psychological, and metaphysical domains). We
will define virtues as a quality of a person, or character traits of that person, which show up through the tendency for
that person to behave in a morally good way. Justice, courage, humility, generosity, wisdom, and so on, all provide
examples of different kinds of virtues. We will assume further that virtuous behavior has some intrinsic value, a
certain goodness associated with it, such that this goodness is independent of the external circumstances and whenever a
person exhibits a virtuous behavior, this goodness shows up. Because of that goodness, virtues are desirable for the
sake of themselves rather than as means to some other ends. You can think of virtues as features we can add to our lives
to turn them into a product of art. A virtuous behavior is analogous to a game virtuous people enjoy playing for the
sake of the game itself rather than because of the rewards expected afterwards. And, of course, a person must be
properly trained and educated to be able to play and enjoy this game.
So, we have a general understanding of virtues (we don’t have to design them from scratch), we know there are practices
indicative of virtuous behavior, and there is this special feature, a goodness, which we know through our experiences
and which is inherent to this fairly complex, poorly defined conceptual construct called virtues. According to our
definition of the real entity, virtues must be real. There is a conceptual description of this entity and guidelines
telling us how to get in touch with it – every time one follows these guidelines, he or she experiences this special
state, goodness indicative of the virtuous behavior.
An interesting side-effect following from this perspective is that we don’t have to justify virtues by deriving them
from the laws of nature or by inferring them from some other primary truth (a project failed by many prominent
philosophers in the past) - virtues are real because they are instantiated by people practicing virtuous behavior.
There are no other deeper, perhaps, more natural reasons for them to exist. Remember that an artificial nature of
virtues does not make them inferior to any natural system because according to storied-multiverse, natural systems are
fundamentally analogous to artificial systems in a sense that people play a critical role in instantiating and
maintaining either of them.
Ok, you might be wondering now why we bother with these virtues at all? What is so special about them?
For one thing, virtues are critical for a proper functioning of social communities. They fill up gaps in legislation
matrix, guiding our decisions for complex problems which may defy mechanistic, rule based solutions. Any sustained
deficiency in virtues for a particular community would undermine its collective capacity to deal with such complex
problems leading eventually to corrupt governments, injustice, war, poverty, pollution etc. Besides that, from the
individual perspective, virtues define our personalities and can help us through difficult times. During the time of
changes, especially unexpected and negative changes, when you feel like the whole world is falling apart, and nothing is
left for you to rely on. During such difficult time, the time of transition and chaos, when old solutions doesn’t work
and the new ones haven’t been established yet, you may realise that the only real and credible stuff you can still
count on are
your virtues (well… you can choose an evil side too, of course, proven to work during the time of the turmoil but,
do you really
want to make it through by proliferating misery and suffering in this world; especially if there is a viable alternative
available?). Virtues are integral to the notion of the good life - to live a good life means to live the life of a
virtuous person. Furthermore, analogous to products of art, virtues can help us to transcend the limits of the nature
and reach out into the domain of the eternal beauty and perfection. Finally, by instantiating virtues one can prove
statements impossible to prove otherwise. Such as, for example, we don’t live in the jungle, justice matter, we have the
freedom to choose and act as we see appropriate and so on.
Ye-e-eh! - you may think - of course, we have the freedom … to talk. Blah-blah-blah. We can talk and pretend whatever we
like, but regardless of what we say or what we think, at the end of the day, as time goes on, we all age, we all become
weak and sick, and eventually we all die – there is no escape from it. So much to all our talks about us being free, us
being capable, very exceptional and so special. We are not only social but also biological and physical beings. And
these dimensions – being biological and physical – impose severe constraints on our freedom. Can we beat the law of the
gravity and fly? Or can you beat death and live forever? Those are questions we must be concerned with, questions
critical to our well-being.
Let’s see what we can do here. I’ll assume that advances in technology can address the first issue – if needed, we can
overcome the gravity force and fly. As for the second problem, about the inevitable death phenomena, this issue seems to
be much more difficult to deal with. We know it is a general problem - every adult, at least once in a lifetime, I
believe, have thought about it, and was concerned about the prospect of passing away at some point of time in the
future. Some people might be concerned about their own lives, others may worry about lives of the loved ones,
but in general
everybody had these thoughts. I guess, advances in medicine or artificial intelligence may offer us a brute force
solution to this problem in the future when people will be able to live forever (if they choose so). Unfortunately, we
are not there yet. An alternative and, I believe, not least efficient strategy to deal with this problem is to mend our
conceptual understanding of death by explaining it in such way that, on the one hand, would not undermine the quality of
our lives and, on the other hand, would not require us to believe impossible things. The question is whether we can
provision such a solution?
I think, we can. Now to be clear, by no means I’m suggesting we can solve this complex multifaceted problem completely,
by addressing every issue associated with it - we cannot. On the other hand, our chances to make at least some progress
in this area will scale up if we reduce this problem to a manageable sub-project by pushing
aside everything involving feelings and sentiments and focusing only on the conceptual part.
Unlike stoics, I’m not going to dwell exclusively on changing our attitude towards this phenomena. We know we have this
fear of death, imprinted on us at the subconscious level through the millions of years of the evolutionary selection
(the guys who did not have it, just did not last long enough to produce off-springs). Despite being hardwired with this
feeling, in critical situations we often (well … may be not so often but still … sometimes at least) we can find enough
courage to overcome this fear and act as we ought to. Now, again, I’m not going to talk about us overcoming this fear.
The point I would like to advance is that we can handle not only our fears, but also the phenomena itself (at the
conceptual level). Because whatever we think about it, our current understanding of the notion of death is just one out
of many other possible interpretations of it. If we don’t like a particular interpretation of the death, we must be able
to wrap it up into a new conceptual framework offering us a description we are comfortable with. People have done such
conceptual wrapping many times in the past through various belief systems. They will do it again in the future, and, I
think, a multiverse framework provides an environment particularly suitable for developing such conceptual
reconstructions. The critical part of such development would be to reconcile the final product with whatever passes
today as an undeniable, common sense knowledge so that the new interpretation is plausible enough for us to be able
to believe it.
To be more specific, let’s have a closer look on such a nice old question as the question of what happens to people when
they pass away. To have a meaningful discussion of this question, we must have some shared conceptual background
established first, the background we take for granted, which will offer us a shared context for this discussion.
Otherwise, without having such context established, we will have to prove every statement made during the course of this
conversation, which would make any progress almost impossible to achieve. A substrate of such shared
knowledge is always present in any discussion (or at least assumed, often implicitly by the participants of the
discussion), and, I believe, when it comes to the notion of the afterlife, a conceptual background many people would
assume can be illustrated with an image below.
This picture illustrates two domains, one representing the realm of the alive people and another one, behind the wall,
representing the realm of the deceased people. The wall signifies the boundary separating these two realms and the door
is a symbol of a transition from one realm to another. We know there were people who passed through this door but no one
came back (at least I’m not aware of such people). The question is what is there, behind that door? People with different
cultural background are likely to provide different answers to this question. Some will argue there is nothing, others
there is something. Now, from the multiverse perspective, whatever they say doesn’t matter because the whole
approach to this issue is flawed from the moment we have drawn just only one door into the unknown. By assuming this
particular context, we have locked ourselves into the vision of the world which encourages us to think in terms of a
single true description of the afterlife. From the multiverse perspective, this conceptual background makes very little
sense, if any.
According to the multiverse, people partake in instantiating everything in this universe and beyond. We design,
manufacture, and maintain different brands of lawn mowers. We partake in designing and instantiating galaxies and stars.
Analogously, we must be able to design, instantiate and
maintain different kinds of afterlife. From this perspective, to provide a shared context for our discussion, instead of
a single door, we must have drawn the whole range, may be even an infinite number of doors, each door leading to a
particular instance of the afterlife instantiated by a particular community. We know people with different cultural
background are practicing different life-styles and believe in different afterlife. When the time is due, they are
likely to pass across the wall to the other side through different doors. It makes little sense to believe that despite
all this diversity, despite having all these different doors, there is one and exactly the same environment behind each
From the multiverse perspective, a natural answer to the question of what is there behind these doors is that it
depends. It depend on which door you open. There could be nothing behind one door, heavens behind another door, nirvana
behind the third door and so on - your afterlife is what you believe and practice. (Yes, I know this statement is
pregnant with contradictions but, I believe, they can be resolved by introducing certain constraints in our multiverse.
For example, to reconcile different visions of afterlife, we can introduce a privacy constrain - everybody in the
storied multiverse is responsible for his or her own afterlife and others cannot interfere with it. Do we have rights to
introduce this constraint? I think we do, but let me postpone this discussion and come back to it later in the manuscript.
Multiverse as a General Purpose Printer
What else can we do in this multiverse (apart from instantiating virtues and afterlife)?
I think, almost anything. We can build physical aggregates, social constructs, metaphysical entities, and even the whole
new artificial world if needed. The point is, whatever we create, it will be considered real as long as the description
makes sense and there are practices delivering features characteristic of it. Producing plausible
descriptions and proving them through practices, might not be trivial to accomplish, but whenever we succeed in
these projects we have a genuinely new real entity established. The storied multiverse is, kind of, a general purpose
printer, which has a capacity to print almost anything.
Now, you may think we have just introduced a new definition of a real entity, without actually altering the content of
that entity. We have kind of attached new labels to old objects without changing the substance of these objects. Seems
like not a big deal but, I think, our example with afterlife, does illustrate that changing labels matter. By
designating certain entities to be real and other entities not to be real, we change the way we plan our future, the way
we interpret the past, we change our practices and our understanding of ourselves and the worlds around us. Changing
labels, at least in this case, does matter.
For many thousands of years, the body of knowledge accumulated by humankind has been transmitted from one
generation to another orally, sometimes in the form of myths and legends. Later this knowledge was disseminated through
books and manuscripts. Nowadays it is increasingly allocated to digital domains and shared through digital channels.
According to storied-multiverse, our knowledge of the world is equivalent to that world.
Digital channels can greatly facilitate collaborative production and maintenance of such knowledge and, hence,
production and maintenance of artificial worlds based on this knowledge. Instead of a few old-fashioned belief
systems dominating the landscape of religious and philosophical teachings today,
with the digital support it must be possible to create hundreds and
thousands of high-quality, modern and comfortable artificial worlds customised to the requirements of a particular
community or even a particular individual.
Ok, let me summarise this document. We have discussed superpositional nature of the storied-multiverse.
We defined real entities as
those which have plausible descriptions backed by empirical evidence. We talked about virtues and afterlife as an
example of entities instantiated in this multiverse. And finally highlighted the role of digital resources in
facilitating development of such worlds.
A number of fundamental issues relevant to artificial worlds haven’t been even touched in this document. For example, we
talked about what is there or what could be there but didn’t even mentioned what ought to be there. How do we assess the
quality of individual worlds in terms of ethical worth and moral standings of the inhabitants of these worlds? Since the
notion of truth in a multiverse context becomes eroded, shall we pay more attention to the sustainable well-being and
different means of achieving this well-being? Another critical point is that the storied-multiverse puts a lot of a
burden on our shoulders by making a human being instrumental to almost every act of creation. Have we left enough space
for us to reach out into something bigger than ourselves, if needed? And there are a bunch of other, more technical
questions such as, for example, what does it mean to live in a storied-multiverse? Are there any practices specific to
the inhabitants of this world? How do we resolve conceptual contradictions between different world visions, etc.?
Some of these questions are discussed in the manuscript
Storied-Multiverse (or Introduction to
Generalised ISO Machinery)