Today’s Chocolate: Chocolove Dark Chocolate Coffee Crunch
Today’s Passage: Psalm 146
Seriously? In today’s entry, I’m going to end up talking about Axiom Verge? I’m trying to think of anything else the passage brings to mind, any other thoughts whatsoever, and nope: it’s gonna be Axiom Verge, so buckle up. For the uninitiated, Axiom Verge is a retro-style side-scrolling action-adventure game in the vein of Metroid, in which a scientist apparently dies in a lab accident and finds himself in a hostile alien otherworld.
For a run-and-gun game, it can get surprisingly philosophical. The scientist protagonist, Trace, at one point published a paper describing a theory of reality. His paper posits that “cognition is a sub-algorithm whose behavior is to perceive properties of the parent algorithm describing it” (Axiom 1). In other words, our conscious experience is the result of executable mathematical procedures, and what we perceive as reality is just our cognitive sub-algorithm operating to describe the algorithms that give rise to it. When our algorithm of consciousness terminates, we die, and there’s no more us. And when you think about it, that idea might be even scarier than any of the dangerous aliens and mutated genetic anomalies that Trace encounters in the game.
And it’s an unbiblical idea, too, right? Reality is more than math, we have souls that persist after bodily death, and God created us for eternal life, not inevitable axiomatic termination. But today’s psalm (thank goodness, we’re finally getting into the psalm) suggests to me that what’s “biblical” about our consciousness may not be so clear-cut.
The unnamed psalmist starts with a call to worship, but in the second verse he starts to dig in. He declares: “I will praise the Lord while I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being” (2). (I’m reminded of Acts 17:28 in the King James Version, “In him we live, and move, and have our being,” and maybe I should have tried relating the psalm to Acts instead of Axiom Verge, but too late now, son, we are down the rabbit hole.) To live is to have your being, the psalmist suggests. Does he therefore imply that to die is to have no being?
Maybe not. But consider what he says next:
Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.
How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob…
Who made heaven and earth. (3-6)
According to the psalmist, there’s no sense trusting in anyone but the eternal, imperishable Creator of all that exists; humans kick the bucket, but through it all, God remains. But how does the psalmist picture death? The phrase “his spirit departs” in verse 4 suggests that the deceased spirit may go somewhere, rather than ceasing to exist. But then again, the psalmist says that when a man dies, “his thoughts perish.” And that’s consistent with the Algorithmic Hypothesis from Trace’s paper. Would the psalmist agree with Trace, that death is the end of consciousness?
Perhaps—but I think that at some level, to the psalmist it doesn’t really matter. As long as he lives, as long as he’s still operating as a conscious being, he intends to praise God, because God merits his praise. If our self-awareness and mental faculties are algorithmically generated, ultimately they’re not the result of impersonal processes; they’re a gift from the eternal God who programs the algorithms. The psalmist says that the Lord “executes justice for the oppressed” and “gives food to the hungry” (7). The Lord protects those in need and goes to bat for the downtrodden.
And even if, when we die, our minds and spirits are merely processes that terminate and cease to exist, God is capable of re-initiating the procedure and returning us to consciousness. And God, being the pre-existing Author of all else that exists, is not bound by the conditions of the universe; if he wants us around to praise him forever, in time he can grant us non-terminating algorithms of consciousness. Or, to get away from all this Axiomatic terminology and put it as the writer of Hebrews puts it in Hebrews 11:18: “God is able to raise people even from the dead.”