Consider a perfectly deterministic system in which causal connections describe the sequencing of events flawlessly. Now imagine that we can score outcomes, that is, entire sequences of events, considering some desirable and some to be avoided. We can also score short subsequences of events. The ordinary description of our physical system, then, is that we have agents (us) who score plausible sequences of events and would like to choose the one that maximizes the score, but can only actually observe the score of a few events at the beginning (the conscious moment).
Now there is the possible objection that the ability to choose one sequence over another is not deterministic; but there is no such problem if the chooser is embedded in the sequence of events, and the choice is an effect of the thought process and the cause of the chosen sequence of events. But the conscious subsystem’s apprehension of the whole sequence of events, and possibly of how to score it, may be flawed, and it certainly cannot draw all necessary distinctions.
The mind that makes a choice cannot choose a particular sequence of events. It can only choose a bundle of extremely similar sequences. However much control I have of myself, I may make a typo, intone my words strangely, fail to notice an important distinction, or otherwise fumble. What makes the final decision of a particular sequence in the bundle, must be something I am not conscious of. It may be the state of particular cells that settles it.
But the system may be subject to optimization. If it is, then when all of the apparently deterministic have culled the bundle of sequences down so they are indifferent to the remaining distinctions, the system itself, for reasons of its own (such as the minimization of action), is free to pick the best sequence, which is the same as permuting the initial conditions imperceptibly. (Randomness at the Planck scale can be modelled as initial conditions, which just happen to start mattering at a particular time within the system.)
This is not actually so different from running a simulation and choosing a new random seed until the outcome is right. (A game is a simulation that receives a stream of input as if it were a stream of randomness. The difference is that a player attempts to optimize the stream in an online rather than an offline fashion, making course corrections on the fly.) A perfect optimizer, which our laws of physics appear to be, has no need for either this stochastic sampling or for online updates. The whole thing can be settled in a single operation.
What could be optimized for? We have a long-running experiment that we can peek inside of. Biological evolution will find and mercilessly exploit anything that physics optimizes; enzymes use quantum tunneling, for instance. If there were anything that caused the optimizer to respect the organism, the organism would use it. There is just such a thing. We call them qualia and emotions; to us they represent soft, inexpressible things. But it should be obvious that they have been honed and sharpened over millenia and are survival tools as sure as weaponry and fire. The optimizer, which is seeking the greatest harvest of structured sequences of qualia, has to content itself with the occasional drop here or there, from the nonliving world. From us it has a veritable flood of them. These sequences of qualia, of course, express the connectedness between the moments: they have the structure of stories. Stories, too, are the product in us of biological selection; they, too, are fundamental, perhaps deeper than physics. We live in a cultivation of stories.
An entity, the way it is to be a thing, is a story experienced from the inside.
What is a story exactly? Stories have arcs, which overlap. Each arc concerns some character, thing, or theme, and is told in terms of abstraction over the other arcs. Arcs may begin or end in each other or be nearly coextensive. There are short arcs, like treble, and long arcs, like bass, and as they come and go the story unfolds. Placement against a physical system is like playing music on a speaker: huge multitudes of extremely short arcs, the minute movements of the speaker, play out the samples, and all the bass and treble emerges. But the longer arcs are not just the accumulation of the shortest arcs; there actually is bass because of how the speaker has moved.
What precisely is optimized about the stories? Their difference between them, probably; the gratitude and appreciation within each, likely enough; but the interconnectedness with other entities’ stories, primarily. Notice that interconnectedness scores twice: once by being an amazing good within the current story, and once by appearing also in another one. If it turned out some checkout clerk one day was actually Superman, or something like that, how cool would that be? The mere intersection of stories brings value, as we learn to be astonished by each and every entity.
All this from a system that is strictly deterministic with a bit of apparent randomness. Spinoza’s treatment of the affects is probably precisely correct; and the affects, then, are major building blocks of stories. The changing of affects describes a story arc. Mixed affects at any moment, some pertaining to certain things, some to others, are temporally overlapping arcs, and any two arcs that overlap at a certain time may influence each other.
Arcs, then, unfold according to their own nature. There are arcs for affect, for deliberative thought, for physical actions, and Schopenhauerian will. (It is not likely that all arcs constitute will.) There are arcs for the operation of the body at every scale. And the arcs for the operation of the body can become too pronounced, sprockets running on their own logic, terminating in disease.
Every physical thing, at any physical scale, is the extended part of a story arc. Every beginning and end is an event, the entangling of arcs with one another as they discharge their own story-parts or change because the resolution of another.
Prophecy is rather a foreshadowing. Every story arc effectively foreshadows another, but it is useless to try to guess just what. When an arc ends, it becomes the seed of another, a sequel the optimizer is dying to read.
The action of the optimizer, we call spirit; the dynamic connections between moments, which are arcs, have a pull to them precisely because we are sensible to stories, being (as we are) the feeling of being a story. Fear is the sense that an arc will not have a chance to run to completion. But the premature termination of an arc is really only the sublimation of it; it was the beginning of a different arc all along.
Arcs are the stuff of consciousness. An arc that can run alongside a greater variety of other arcs, is more easily placed and with less harm to the perfection of the other arcs (and the fewer higher frequency arcs must appear to compensate.) In the end, only the actual progress of existing arcs, including things, determines the continued behavior of the system. The optimizer does not break determinism.
The arcs are Plato’s ideas. And to fit them all into reality, is equivalently for reality to be the entirety of mathematics. For one thing to happen twice is itself a new arc, twice(thing). Every number is such an operator. The number of a thing may be any number at all; real, imaginary, complex, quaternion, surreal. Any number to which one may be added may modify a physical, repeatable thing. A thing and a function of the thing are understood to exist in parallel to each other as distinct arcs — not, as we usually think of it, that the operand is consumed.