Nobilis And Science

We are born into a welter of sensation. To make sense of it we discover patterns. We find recurrences. We find structure. From our sensations and experiences we create the idea of objects, and events, and forces.

We are young, at first, and we see the child's sun—the sun that is bright in the sky, that moves through the sky, that gives light, that sinks behind the mountains and leaves the world more dark. We do not look in the sky and see a sun that the world circles. To do so would be ridiculous: why should we conceive that? What experience would it better explain? Point a child to the astronomical tables, ask a child about the aberration of light, and they will, up to some variable age, stare blankly at you, because these are concepts without relevance.

At some point, though, we begin to care about the motions of the planets. We begin to account for the aberration of light and the behavior of Mars. At some point we realize that the smallest model, the model with the fewest bits, that explains the observations we have is not geocentric but heliocentric.

If we are from a modern family, where the authority of the parents backs heliocentrism, where the scientific model is pitched early as cool, we may value heliocentrism earlier. It may be cheaper to model the world heliocentrically even before having to wrestle with the actual astronomy simply because a world where youtube videos about the planets are being honest is cheaper to model than a world where it is all an elaborate and conspiratorial lie.

In any case.

At some point we construct in our minds and worlds a heliocentric sun—a sun that is vast beyond the scale of our lives, and about which our world and the other planets spin. At some point we build this model. And then we say, because we are encouraged to do so by the structure of our thoughts, "That old sun that I knew was false, and this new sun that I know is real."

This lasts up until we reach a certain cognitive limit and begin to say things instead such as "well, Newtonian mechanics are technically false, but they're good enough to treat as true unless you're really rigorous" or "well, sure, the world around us is mostly empty space and what particles do sort of quasi-exist move statistically, but that's only relevant at the very small scale" instead of throwing out the old truth and bringing in the new.

But that isn't really the right assumption for Nobilis.

The right assumption for Nobilis is that the child's sun is the sun experienced when you need only to explain day and night, and the adult's sun is the sun experienced when you need to build computers and airplanes. Not that one is "true" and the other is "false," but that one explains a larger array of phenomena, while the other has less cognitive weight.

This is, of course, not factually different from the real world. The difference is purely procedural: do we treat the child's sun as an inherently inferior model for the sun? Do we treat geocentrism and Newtonian mechanics as less worthy than heliocentrism and relativity, respectively? Do we say that a child is objectively incorrect to call their 5' tall parent "big"?

And here you must remember that I am a computer scientist; that is, I received my scientific education in a field where you don't bother modeling heliocentrism if geocentrism is all you need. Where the idea of modeling the world as particles, when you do not need to model the world as particles, is the kind of thing you'd expect to see a Prolog-coded Skynet coming up with, to the laughter of its evil-AI peers.

The more we learn about the world, the more we need heliocentrism instead of geocentrism; we are driven to it, I think, when our questions move from "what is day?" and "what is night?" to "what keeps the sun in the sky?" or "where does the energy to keep the sun afire come from?"

So what is science in Nobilis?

In Nobilis people are trapped within a model—a simulation, if you would have it so. A shape. A conception of the world where there is no karma, no dharma, no inherent meaning, no direction.

This is a spacious cage for the child's sun. It's easy to live in that world when all you know is that there is day and night.

But let us imagine that there are scientists. Let us imagine that there are those who are willing to test that world against their observations. Let us imagine that there are those who are willing to put in the work to find the laws of motion; to find the laws of thermodynamics; to build an understanding of the phenomena of the world.

The cage distorts. It distorts fractally. It captures some portion of its own shape within itself. And because basic information theory holds, because I am unable to conceive at present of worlds where it does not, this forces it to grow.

If it were a simulation, you could say, it must increasingly account for the underlying computer.

If it were a story, you could say, it must catch (more and more) the author in its net.

And because this is nothing more than an experience-centric or model-centric view of science—because this is nothing more than a picture of what science looks like if you remove the referent-less concept of objective truth preceding measurement and look only at the measurements themselves—you may say that prosaic reality is only ideologically different from the scientific model of reality. To construct a consistent model of the experienced world is no different from exploring a discoverable true world.

Except, I suppose, in one regard.

In the real world, the only thing that's stopping us from a complete model of the world is information theory. We can't know everything, because it wouldn't fit in our heads, or, for that matter, in the universe. But we could know everything important, basically. Or at least, we could know almost everything important, and know that our computers know the rest, and that there's less than some arbitrary epsilon chance something will boil up out of the residual detritus of the unknown that would actually matter to us before the universe hits its end.

I don't think that's going to happen. I'd guess that one of the things we don't currently know is a reason why that won't happen. It's kind of a mediocrity principle, you know? We're not going to actually wind up knowing everything that matters.

But in the real world, it's viable to imagine that we could.

In Nobilis, in addition to information theory, there's also a real dharma and a real telos to account for, and given how toxic those are to science—ooh, better term, given how antithetical they are to science—it's reasonable to assume that not only will we never know everything, but what we know will always be a drop in the bucket compared to the vast vistas of things there are left to explore. The engine of prosaic reality in a world that doesn't function on its terms makes for an endlessly fertile churning of the deeps.

There's a reason that animals that try to do science get struck by lightning, after all.

Now, if you go outside that, of course, you come face to face with the fact that the experiential reality that preceded the concept of science was a world that runs on mythic ideas; and that there are people running around with the ability to invoke miracles based, apparently, on the reality of categories or stories. And if you're a Noble scientist, or a mad scientist, or, heck, even a botanist, then maybe making sense of that is your job. But I didn't want that to be what your standard physicist or chemist or biologist does in the world of Nobilis, because that's way too different from what physicists and chemists and biologists do in this world. Just go to any physicist and ask him about the latest research in miracles, or where to find the dog-headed goddess of ordinary things—they'll look at you like you're not even making sense!

(Unless they play Nobilis, of course)

So, yes, the world engineers itself to keep certain things from being measurable. If necessary, if the Power of Astronomy decides that geocentrism is the way to go, the world'll alter every last measurement ever taken, including memories, to say that the Ptolemaic model was right all along, and quite likely that except for a heliocentrism fad in the 16th and early 17th centuries (before Newton's Ptolemaic calculus resolved the matter) that's what the scientific literature has always said. If necessary, the world will retroactively revert cold fusion and disappear the chupacabric records. The scientific model gets more elaborate whenever mortals stare unblinkingly into their world; miracles, on the other hand, tend to just change the data that's there to fit.

It's kind of awkward to postulate hidden magic in the real world, because you would really think that scientists would have noticed. Nobilis settles this by saying that they can't; or at least, can't yet. You'll notice that physicists are getting kind of itchy these days about whether the world is a simulation or not and how they might be able to tell; and I'm certainly not going to be the one to say that if they're getting that close to the Nobilis-world truth, that there's no way in setting they can possibly push through.

Gonna use those brain cycles figuring out what'll happen when they do, instead. ^_^

The Nobilis prosaic reality is intended to be unfalsifiable with current methods for those stuck inside it.

Seriously, read the Personal Destiny mechanics. Just as mortal scientists are stuck figuring out how to make sense of the world without dharma or telos, Nobilis are stuck trying to figure out how to make sense of a world with Estates. It's not supposed to be easy. ^_^

It is, like prosaic reality, intended to be able to unfold infinitely and fractally as you explore it. And one thing the Excrucians are for is to force you to do just that.

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