No Man's Sky

No Man’s Sky: A Deist Simulated Universe

I don’t play No Man’s Sky (yet?), the pictures here were taken by my friend Extropia DaSilva who is busy exploring the simulated universe. Perhaps I will follow, but perhaps not: I am sure I would love No Man’s Sky and find it addictive, but I prefer to develop visions of hope for everyone to visit, one day, the big No Man’s Sky out there. However, No Man’s Sky is the richest simulation that we have developed so far, and an impressive technological feat.

No Man’s Sky is a simulated universe with more than 18 quintillion planets – players can explore 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 different planets, with unique geography, features, and strange life forms (see one in the picture below). Now, how could the game developers code that much detail? They didn’t: the simulated universe is procedurally generated, with the generation driven by overall design specifications and mathematical templates.

So No Man’s Sky is an example of a Deist universe: the creators set overall laws and parameters the would generate an interesting universe, and let the creation unfold.

God did something like that, too:

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures… Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” – Genesis

These passages in the Genesis can be interpreted as saying that God didn’t create life (the sea and land animals) “manually,” but rather created the universe (the waters and the earth) in such a way that it would bring forth life.

Of course No Man’s Sky is only a first attempt at simulating a universe: the game has only crude macroscopic physics, no chemistry and biology, and no evolution. The life forms that can be found on No Man’s Sky planets haven’t evolved, but have been placed there as finished products.

But a long road starts with a short step, and it’s interesting to speculate about future simulations. For example, imagine a future No Man’s Sky -like universe on steroids at the end of the century. It seems plausible that the simulation – let’s call it NMS 2100 – could include evolutionary algorithms to generate life forms from basic simulated biochemistry. Also, some life forms could be – but that remains a big IF until a viable theory of consciousness is developed – sentient beings, perhaps not smart like people but smart like pets. If so, wouldn’t you want to take care of Pokemon-like critters on a lonely planet lost in the immensity of NMS 2100, and perhaps copy them to a better place?

Is our reality a super NMS-like simulation computed in a higher level of reality? Some imaginative scientists and thinkers are persuaded that it could be, and Elon Musk of Tesla Motors (and soon Mars colonization) fame has recently said that he considers the simulation hypothesis as very probably correct.

I think reality can be thought of as a hugely complex computation (“sim”) running in an even more complex computing system (let’s call it “Mind”) beyond our understanding, and consciousness could be able to somehow interact with the underlying digital reality – for example, your favorite pet could poke you and send you a distress signal in case of need. The reality-sim could be a Deist job like NMS, generated procedurally by physical laws and initial conditions (actually, that sounds trivially true) and unfolding more or less automatically. But perhaps there are hooks in the physical laws of our sim that “players” like Extie can use to intervene a bit in the sim, now and then. For example, the reality-sim could have its quantum physics driven by processes that seem random to us, but can be tweaked by the players.

So we can recover Theism – the idea of a personal, caring and loving God – at the level of the players, if not at the level of the overall system design. A more complex being can “descend to the level” of a less complex being (for example, I am perfectly able to communicate with my doggy in ways she can understand). In particular, the players – Gods – could answer our prayers and grant resurrection in a better sim.

No Man's Sky

  • spud100

    Sounds like total game heaven, however I want to see how long the players last at doing all this? To me, it sounds like a pre-cursor to everyone retreating into a more fulfilling fantasy universe. Exploring the real cosmos, with its endless, dead, planets, and unachievable distances, is too much for us. So, viewing the universe will be left to the minds in which flesh does not decay, AI. We become Homer’s Odysseus, in the Land of the Lotus Eaters. At least until the AI brains and their scientific onlookers cheer them on-if the AI’s over centuries, discover ETI’s, and maybe, FTL. A tragic view, but then so is our world, much of the time. Let us turn..inwards, as we have no other choice.

    • Giulio Prisco

      Well, I want to be more optimist than that, and hope NMS will ignite the imagination of space enthusiasts, like the old sci-Fi book covers that Extie mentioned, and motivate them to work to achieve the real thing.

      • David Román

        Let’s no forget that No Man’s Sky is not the first procedural universe out there: Space Engine has been working for years now, and it’s fantastic

  • Extropia DaSilva

    Hiya. I am the one who took the snapshots for this article and have been playing this game for a good few hours now.

    As far as the game is concerned, I would not recommend it to anyone looking for the relentless action of a Call of Duty. Nor could I imagine it appealing much to those looking for Minecraft levels of crafting and creating. However, if you are the kind of person who used to look at the cover of sci-Fi books with their alien landscapes and planets hanging majestically in the sky and wished you could visit such places, rejoice, for this game delivers in spades. I can’t remember the last time I was quite so awed at the sheer beauty of a game’s environments. And for once you are allowed to enjoy it, and not have hoardes of enemies shooting you dead if you pause for breath.

    • Giulio Prisco

      Hi Extie, I am certainly “the kind of person who used to look at the cover of sci-Fi books with their alien landscapes and planets hanging majestically in the sky and wished you could visit such places.” I am sure I would enjoy NMS a lot, and perhaps someday I’ll start playing.

      There are lots of other people who would enjoy the visual sci-fi of NMS, and I hope the game will not only entertain them, but also motivate them to work toward the real thing.

      Question: what about multiplayer? I believe multiplayer is in their roadmap. Is it possible to see and talk to another player located in the same place? If not now, when?

  • Extropia DaSilva

    Hiya Giulio! It seems like it is not possible for players to see one another if they happen to be in the same location. Two players managed to somehow get to the same location (quite a feat, when you consider that we are talking about a universe of trillions and trillions of planets that really are as large as planets so ‘needle in haystack’ does not even begin to describe the difficulty of finding a player in a specific location) and they could not see each other.

    I have read on the official NMS website that multiplayer is a future feature but for now nobody should play this expecting an MMOG.