"My mind is like a taperecorder with one button--Erase." said Andy Warhol Maybe that's what they mean when they say that "information wants to be free."
will to power, is not a static entity, not a resource that can be conserved
or capitalized. Use it
or lose it. It is a dynamic inner differential, "the last delta-t" (Pynchon), "a difference which makes a difference" (Gregory Bateson). Just as the will to power is "a structure in which differences of potential are distributed, a constitutive dissymmetry, difference, or inequality" (Deleuze), so information is composed of reversible gradients of electronic potential and ever-changing dissymmetries of charge. It is a matter of gates and switches, of pulses and fluxes. Its oscillations may be induced chemically at synaptic thresholds, or they may be triggered by clock signals on silicon chips; in either case, the world is aconstruct of self-organizing and self-executing binary programs. Rucker defines the information content of any object as "the length of the shortest computer program that would answer any possible question about that object"; on this basis, he proclaims that "reality" is nothing more (or less) than "an incompressible computation by a fractal cellular automaton of inconceivabledimensions." Indeed, an extensive digital software seems at work within the most diverse regimes of matter: we find the same nonlinear equations, fractal patterns, and strange attractors regulating variations in the weather, disturbances of cardiac rhythms, distributions of charge in neural networks, fluctuations in the stock market. But these are not closed, balanced systems; they are rather what Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers call dissipative structures, operating in "far-from-equilibrium" conditions, forever poised at the edge of chaos. Being is not stable, but paradoxically, precariously metastable.
In such conditions, behavior is in a real sense spontaneous or "free": infinitely sensitive to the most minute variations, it cannot be predicted, anticipated, or controlled from the outside. Not even Marxists believe in central planning anymore. But this "free" behavior is still information, and nothing but information: which means that it is ultimately computable, to any desired degree of accuracy. It's simply a matter of running the right simulations: of course, you need good software, and an awful lot of CPU time.
Chaos theory thus harmonizes freedom and determinism, or chance and necessity, in much the same way that Leibniz, the first great philospher of information, reconciled free will with the infallible foreknowledge of God. God knows everything that will happen to me, according to Leibniz, because that information is enveloped in the concept--or as we should say, the program--of what I am. But the running of this program, the calculation of my being, is what mathematicians call an NP-complete problem: one that apparently cannot be solved by an efficient, time-reducing algorithm. The computation is so vast that it can only take place in real time, the very time of my lived experience; and the universe itself, in its entirety, is the only computer big enough to crunch all the numbers.
You might say, then, that
"reality" itself is one enormous simulation, with information continually
being computed to infinite decimal places. In the beginning was not the
Word, but lines and lines of code. God is neither a stern judge nor a loving
father; he is rather, as Leibniz implicitly argues, a master programmer.
Such is the theology best suited to our postmodern experience of the hyperreal:
a vision that moves beyond the dead end of modernist paranoia. Descartes,
the prototypical modernist, worried that the Deity was actually an evil
demon, bent on deceiving him. His attempts to persuade himself that God
could be trusted after all are never altogether convincing. For once the
seeds of paranoid doubt and existential angst have been planted, there's
no way of eradicating them. Even Baudrillard
is still a Late Cartesian, worried that hyperreal simulation has left us
adrift in a vacant universe, "without origin or reality." For us, however--as
indeed already for Leibniz--this simply isn't a problem. The discovery
that God is a programmer running simulations is precisely what guarantees
his veracity. For if God wanted to deceive us, then first and foremost
he'd have to deceive himself. But if that were the case, then even his
lies would end up being true. As Hans
Moravec puts it, "A simulated Descartes correctly deduces his own existence.
It makes no difference just who or what is doing the simulation--the simulated
world is complete in itself." Our existence
is no less real, for being that of a computer simulation, or an idea in
the mind of God. Reality-testing involves what Wittgenstein
would call a deep tautology: "What is, is. No fantasy. Pain. Just the details"
(Kathy Acker). For what other criterion of truth and reality do wehave?
Philosophers in the Cartesian tradition are always trying to establish foundations
and universals. But in every case, the philosophical groundings they've
come up with are less evident, less solid and secure, than the very phenomena
they are supposed to ground. The only convincing 'reality test' is a pragmatic
one: "Just try--in a real case--to doubt someone else's fear or pain"(Wittgenstein).
When we say that something is "real," we generally mean that it's so vivid,
overwhelming, and all-embracing that it would be a frivolous--or willfully
cynical--intellectual exercise to entertain Cartesian doubts as to its
validity. Something is real because it's intense,
and not the reverse.
And so we no longer ask the old Cartesian question: is it real or is it Memorex? We trust and believe that the world is real, precisely because we know it to be a simulation. Thanks to computers, we have rid ourselves of the representationalist prejudice that played so baleful a role in the history of Western thought. For a simulation is not a representation, but something altogether different: "to simulate something you need more than mere mimicry, more than an ability to produce actions that are like the ones you are wanting to simulate. You need a working model" (Benjamin Woolley). A representation comes after the object it imitates or signifies. That's why "the symbol is the murder of the thing," as Lacan put it: every representation implies, to some measure, the "lack"--the replacement, the death or the absence--of the thing it is supposed to represent. A simulation, on the contrary, precedes its object: it doesn't imitate or stand in for a given thing, but provides a program for generating it. The simulacrum is the birth of the thing, rather than its death.
As Deleuze and Guattari say,
simulation is how the real is effectively produced. No real without its
hyperreal: the map becomes the territory. Reality will be virtual,
or not at all. We live in an age of information, rather than one of representation
and signification; and information is characterized by plenitude
and redundancy--not lack. Leibniz argues that, among all possible worlds,
God necessarily chose to create the one having "the greatest quantity of
reality." In postmodern terms, this amounts to saying that the program
simulating our universe is more powerful and detailed, more intense,
morepacked with information--more real, in short--than anything we could
possibly run on our own feeble machines, or imagine inside our heads. The
situation is rather like that in quantum
mechanics. A wave function is inherently indeterminate and probabilistic;
but it collapses, or gets determined, once it has been observed and measured.
Contrary to popular misconception, however, this measuring intervention
need not imply consciousness on the part of the 'observer.' A mechanical
device, like a counter, is sufficient to make the wave function collapse.
Simulation, likewise, is a relativistic and perspectival process,
but not for all that a subjective
one. It coerces my participation, but does not require it. As Wallace Stevens
writes, "it fills the being before the mind can think." Information overload,
you might say, is our proof that an external world really exists. We do
not hallucinate an imaginary presence, says Deleuze: "it's rather presence
itself that is hallucinatory."