The Man Who Won: Chapter 1

Hi all, Adam here. I recently attended a creative writing class. It taught me that you don’t need to wait for permission to start writing. I thought I’d have a go at making flash fiction. Enjoy!

Tim was on one of his rants again.

“What the Simulation Argument is trying to say, is that you could imagine simulating a world, a person, inside a computer. We understand the laws of physics, so we know that it’s surely possible in the future. In fact, as the technology improves, we’ll surely have many of these simulations, for all sorts of purposes.

“Then, you see, all those people in the simulations won’t realize it. They’ll think it’s the real world – it’s all they’ve ever known. So the fact you think you’re in the real world doesn’t necessarily make it so. And if there are so many simulations that simulated people outnumber real people, then the chances are far more likely you are one of the simulated many, rather than the few elites who actually exist.”

I remained skeptical. This wasn’t the first Tim had discovered some outlandish idea, and committed to it with his whole heart. He was something of an obsessive. But I admit he’s a fun guy to share a pint with, so I didn’t mind playing along for now.

“But.. there aren’t all these simulations. That’s just science fiction.” I countered.

“It doesn’t matter! There will be simulations in the future. And the timing of when the simulations gets created is irrelevant – from inside the simulation, you’d have no idea what year it is, or what the real world is like at all. It could be totally different. Just as long as it runs simulations.” As he stopped to sip from his drink, he finally spotted my expression.

“Ok, I can see that I’ve lost you. Let’s pick something simpler: stories. We both agree that there are millions of stories in the world, yes? And characters in stories don’t believe they are a work of fiction. It would be a boring story if the hero just moaned about their obvious non-existence, rather than saving the princess, slaying the dragon and so on.

“And there really must be a lot of people in stories. In the real word, people have a history, they are part of the world. But in a story, you can conjure a whole crowd from a single sentence”. Tim gestured around at the other punters milling around the bar.

“So really, it’s the same argument. Of all the people who have ever thought to themselves ‘I am real’, the vast majority of them are actually fictions, imaginations of some author they can never know. The odds dictate that a randomly chosen person will be unreal. So you are forced to admit that you are likely unreal. How could you conclude anything else?”

“Common sense”, I thought to myself, but I knew that wouldn’t sway Tim, who never possessed any in the first place. Instead, I said “But clearly we are real. If this were a story, there would be details missing, elided. But I remember my first kiss, I can see the intricate detail of that painting opposite. I can remember two hundred simpsons quotes! The world is so much more vivid than the words of a book can convey.”

“Of course it seems that way to you – that’s the way you’ve been written. It’s no proof at all that you think you experience these things.”

“But then… it’s no proof of the opposite either. In fact, this whole argument seems pointless. You’re saying we live in a world that is indistinguishable from real. So nothing has changed. It’s unfalsifiable!”

The manic gleam in Tim’s eye had started to intensify.

“No, there are ways you can tell. Tests you can run.”

“Like what?”

“Well, authors often say that when you create a character, they have a mind of their own. Once their personality is established, they follow their internal motivations, desires and logic. The author merely plays along, writing and seeing where it takes them. But not everywhere a story leads is going to be acceptable. Stories need to be interesting, and they need to have a coherent ending, and so on.”

“I see what you are saying. If you have any free will at all, you can lead the story in the wrong direction. If you are in reality, nothing will happen. In a story though, it can never happen. The author strikes a line through the page, and suddenly everything was always different.”

“Yes, yes!”, Tim responded excitedly. “But you can never be sure what sort of story you are in. What genre, who the protagonists are, and so on. Perhaps acting out is exactly what is expected of you. If you want to be certain, you have to follow a different plan: you must do something so unspeakably horrible, something no one would dare commit it to paper.”

Tim was already putting down his pint, and I realized far too slowly quite how serious he was. It was too late to stop him as he…

And that’s as far as I’ve written. Honestly, I’ve written myself into a corner here. But one of the lesson of the writing class was to not sweat the endings. I think I’ll leave this as an unfinished draft, I don’t think Tim was shaping up as an interesting character anyway.

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