[Reprinted from Gallery magazine]
Louis stared blankly at the computer screen. It was the result of his first google search, inspired by his grandson’s non-stop wittering about computer games. Luke liked ‘sandbox’ games – open world simulations. Grand Theft Auto, Skyrim, Infamous – Louis knew them all by name. In an effort to understand the obsession, he’d finally unpacked and set up his computer (an unasked for Christmas present from his daughter) and, a mere three days of perplexed computational assemblage later, typed ‘computer world simulations’ into the google.
This was what he found:
“We can already create simulations of small universes. If it is possible to create an identical simulation of a universe the size of our own, we will eventually do it. Since we are probably not alone in this vast, unknowable universe, it’s likely already been done. If so, it’s probably being done all the time. If so, again, the number of simulations would necessarily be vastly bigger than the one true universe from which they all originate. Therefore, statistically we probably live in one of the simulations.”
A single, dis-enchanted tear rolled down Louis’ cheek. This changed everything.
For sixty-three years, Louis had been a member of St Stephen’s church, but Louis had never considered whether God existed, as such. He was raised to think he did, and church had become a social and familial part of Louis’ life over the years. He had never thought about the theological or philosophical aspects of religion.
He lived in a computer simulation. Someone had to have programmed the simulation. Some spotty little be-spectacled bastard tapping away on a keyboard in his mother’s basement wondering what real life boobs felt like. Clearly, this was what religion had been calling ‘God’ all this time.
“Bugger.” Louis whispered, aghast at the existential enormity of his situation.
He didn’t trust computers or the people who used them. This did not bode well for Louis’ relationship with his newly discovered maker. That little bugger had programmed Hitler. He’d programmed cancer, aids, and hemorrhoids. Every starving mouth, every violent death, every awkward moment, and every disappointment – the blame for all of it fell squarely at the feet of whatever alien nerd had dreamt up this twisted universe.
Louis gulped down a nervous thought – what if all this thinking was being stored in a hardened drive? He wished he’d never said bugger. Then he thought about all of the other things he’d said, done, and thought when no one was around to check on him.
Louis turned a pale shade of green.
Louis decided to walk down to the Farmer’s Arms and have a refreshing pint of bitter.
Of course, it wasn’t real bitter, he thought. But even computer-simulated bitter would do, given that Louis strongly suspected that he didn’t really exist. By the time he’d gotten to the pub he was in a bit of a muddle.
“A pint of Ravaged Ferret please, Alf.” He said.
“Alright Louis, on the tab?” The sturdily built barman replied.
“I reckon so, eh.” Louis said. Then, realising that none of this was real and he didn’t, technically, have anything to lose, he added kindly “And why not have one yourself matey.”
“Cor la!” Alf exclaimed “Come into money then, have we?”
Louis looked around nervously. The bar was empty save the two of them. If the omnipotent computer programmer had been listening, then Louis had been damned ever since he was a teenager. If not, why not share the truth?
“Well… see, I discovered something on the google. What’d you say if I told you this was all a computer game?”
“I’d say you was talkin’ a load of old bollocks Lou.” Alf replied happily.
“Well, I’m not.” Louis bristled “I read it myself. Basically, people can make little fake worlds and if they can make bigger ones then there’s probably an alien doing it and there must be loads so we probably live in one of them.”
There was an awkward and confused silence as Louis played back the sentence in his head. Somehow it had sounded more plausible when the google said it.
“So… this whole place is just in a computer?” Alf asked tentatively.
“Well, odds are.” Louis replied.
“Huh… bugger.” Said Alf.
In the three days since sharing his secret, things had gotten rather strange for Louis. Alf had mentioned the theory to a wondering Tortevellian who popped in for a brew and the man had been so struck with it that he decided to return to his parish and start sharing the news. One thing had lead to another, and this morning, Louis awoke to find his picture on the front of the Guernsey Press above the headline:
“Retired farmer plants seeds of dissent.”
The article referred to him as a ‘cult leader’ three times, and there was a lengthy quote from the rector of St Saviours decrying him as a crank and a rabble rouser.
He’d missed seven phone calls from his daughter, and he sensed from the tone of the answer phone messages that he was wise to have missed them. Soon, he thought sadly, she would drive round to berate him in person.
What’s more, a small flock of Tortevellians had started camping outside his house. Every time he parted the curtains, an uncertain cheer went up. Although Louis had nothing against Tortevallians per se, he didn’t want to guess how his fellow natives of the Vale would respond to their continued presence. God forbid the inter-parish Cow-Wars of 1907 flare up again.
Louis paced nervously in his sitting room. What to do, what to do? There was a knock on the back door. He approached cautiously and whispered
“It’s me, Alf!” Replied the barman. Louis sighed and unbolted the back door to let his friend in.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were starting a cult then, eh?” Alf asked reproachfully.
“Because I bloney well wasn’t you tit!” Louis replied “I only told you and then you’ve gone and told these bloney Tortevallians and now everybody thinks I’ve got a bloney message to share!” He paused for breath before continuing his rant “And I’ll tell you what – our Karen’s left some very shirty messages on the answer phone. Very shirty indeed.” He glowered at Alf, who had the good nature to look suitably reprimanded.
“Well, sorry about that.” He said at last. “It’s a good theory though, eh? Just felt I had to share it.” Alf got out a couple of bottles of real ale – Fingered Goat, one of Louis’ favourites, and the two men sat down for a lunch time pint.
“Well, I don’t know what I’m gonna tell them Tortevellians.” Louis said at last.
“Way’s I figure it, it doesn’t really matter what you say anyway.” Alf opined “I mean, let’s say you’re wrong, and the universe exists because of just random chance, right? Then it doesn’t matter – there’s no bloney meaning to it and no one to hold you to account. Right?” Louis pondered this for a moment.
“And if you’re right, you’re just going to do whatever that programmer has programmed you to do, right? And all of them others will too. So, not your problem.”
“Huh. I reckon that’s nonsense.” Louis finally said.
“It’s not nonsense.” Alf replied, a hint of frustration beginning to show “If there’s a programmer, our actions HAVE to be pre-determined! If everything isn’t random then, at least to some degree, existence is pre-determined. So, there!”
“How do you know, eh?” Louis asked, angered by Alf’s tone “How do you know that there isn’t some programming thing that allows for free action.”
Alf was turning redder than a Guernsey Tom.
“Because. It. Doesn’t. Make. Sense! Even IF that was possible, it could only apply to bloney little things, not big things! AND it could only apply to a limited number of possible outcomes from which one had to BLONEY WELL CHOOSE! WHICH IS NOT UNCONDITIONAL FREEDOM!”
“WHO BLOODY SAID UNCONDITIONAL THEN, EH?? EH???”
Without warning, the barman threw himself at the farmer and the two men stumbled through the house struggling with awkward headlocks. They broke out onto Louis’ front lawn, much to the surprise of the Tortevellian devotees, and rolled around on the grass, a mesmerising tangle of beer belly and septuagenarian flailing. From time to time, strange insults floated up.
“You… don’t…. even… KNOW what pre-determined… means…”
“Maybe I’m… pre-determined… not… to, you bloody… son of a Jerseyman!”
As the two men scrabbled in the Guernsey sun, the sound of sirens was lost on them. The Tortevellians dispersed in terror as the police waded in to separate Louis and Alf.
The two men had been placed in cells next to one another, and as the hours passed their flaming row had simmered down into the burning embers of a silent fury. Eventually, that too had cooled and the silence had become amicable. And from there, had ceased to be silence.
“I’ll tell you what, Alf, all that thinking’s bloomin’ dangerous.” Louis said “When I read that philosophy stuff on the google, my spirits dropped quicker than a Jersey girl’s knick…” Alf cut him off.
“Oi! My gran was from Jersey. I reckon them Philosophers have got a lot to answer for. Fillin’ our heads with all that bloney existential dread.” Alf replied.
“Yup.” Louis agreed. Then he said “Well, I’ve had enough of it. I’m never going to bloney think again! That way all that bleeding dread will disappear once and for all!”
So he didn’t. And it did.