Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Out in the Woods

Van life proponent and pseudonymic woodsman Foresty Forest comments on some well-known people’s conjectures about the nature of reality, and his own motivation for wandering the mountains and valleys of the more obscure parts of Canada:

“Elon Musk, who thinks that reality is all just a simulation ... what kind of processing power would you need to model all these rocks, texture-map them ... what kind of computer would you need for that? That’s the question.

I started losing interest in gaming, and getting into real life adventures.”

Trudging Up Mountainsides

Mr. Forest likes to make the occasional trenchant observation as he trudges up mountainsides on the near end of a selfie-stick for his weekly YouTube videos. This particular point is a good one: that reality defies satisfactory explanation by the clever-clever crowd. You can be very rich, very important and very high-IQ, and still say things that are observably silly from the top of your ivory tower, especially when the cameras and microphones are on you 24/7. I’m not sure I would want even a fraction of the attention normally given to Elon Musk’s most trivial and ill-thought-out musings.

On the other hand, when you have gone out and lived in the natural world, as Foresty Forest has — slept in the woods or in any half-burnt-down cabin he could find, trudged 26 km a day through the bush, kayaked in bodies of water where the Coast Guard never patrols, drone-mapped the Yukon, cut down dead trees in a snowstorm to stay alive in sub-zero weather, or stared down animals competing with you for dinner — then all the high-falootin’ intellectual explanations for the nature of things may start sounding just a little bit detached and superfluous.

Now, that doesn’t mean the reason Mr. Forest has rejected the simulation model of reality is because he is coming from a more biblical worldview — I have no idea what he believes about God and his creation — but keeping your eyes on nature rather than a flatscreen and your hands in the earth rather than banging away on a keyboard are practices that tend to ground you just a little bit. You learn to say, “Hey, wait, that sort of thing has never been observed in nature” and “Well, sure, that’s a fun idea, but what are the real-life odds of THAT happening?” More importantly, you learn to say, “That’s just plain goofy” to dumb speculations, even when they fall from the lips of well-respected corporate giants.

I find it a healthy reminder that the average man on the street sleeping in his van is not by reason of his averageness or his unusual life choices to be thought stupid. Wisdom and intelligence are two very different things.

Theorizing and Living

The world of science is full of fascinating-but-entirely-unsubstantiated theories, especially today, and I find they tend to make the biggest impression on young men with very little actual life experience; young women are generally more pragmatic. But when your daily routine is chock full of video games and the majority of your time spent in high-tech basements, all kinds of things sound extremely cool, and the notion that reality is an alien computer simulation can be seriously entertained notwithstanding its majestic idiocy. In fact, scientists like astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who gives the possibility “better than 50-50 odds”, and philosophers like University of Oxford professor Nick Bostrom, who authored a 2003 paper on the subject, are willing to go on record with some measure of support for Elon Musk’s Matrix-inspired fantasies. Maybe they never grew up either.

How is it that the rich and powerful find it easier to take seriously the idea that aliens with advanced technologies are running computer simulations on us than to accept the claims of the word of God about the world around us? Sure, the Bible doesn’t answer every idle question we may have about the nature of our universe, but what it does say about the human condition is testable in the laboratory of our own experience, and invariably proven correct.

Uh-Oh, That Looks Familiar ...

Halfway through the story of Eden, we find ourselves saying “Uh oh” even if we haven’t yet read the ending. That’s because we know ourselves, at least to some extent. We know who we are, and we know that when you say to us, “Don’t cross this particular line here,” the first thing most of us are going to do is tiptoe right up to that line and do a little shoe-shuffling to see just how close we can get. Every child ever raised does it the moment his parents start giving him ultimatums.

Or when God says to Cain, “If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door,” why is it we have a sneaking suspicion which way Cain is going to go? Is it not because we ourselves regularly battle temptation with regrettably inconsistent success?

However refined and 21st-century you and I may pretend to be, when Simeon and Levi avenge Dinah’s rape by murdering not just her rapist but his entire town, is there not some little part of us that says, “Hey, I can understand how they felt”? There is in me. There is a sense of what constitutes basic, appropriate human behavior deep down inside me that can become outraged over such things. It doesn’t mean I will respond like they did, but it does mean I understand both why the brothers were angry and why their anger needed to be restrained.

The Human Condition

What the Bible presents to us is the same human condition we all know and battle with daily: the tension between having what I want right now and gratifying my impulses later, when there will be an even bigger payoff; or else not gratifying them at all, ever, because something far more important than my own will is at stake. We relate to the word of God because, if we are honest, it describes us perfectly.

When you live in a world of stark good and evil, choices and consequences, you cannot imagine any other, just as the fundamental earthy reality of the Canadian backwoods, the sweat of one’s brow and the heat of the campfire easily dispel the airy pontifications of tech billionaires.

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