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Crossing the boundary: analogue universe, digital worlds
Crossing the boundary: analogue universe, digital worlds

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6 What if? … changing the digital world

6.1 Kings of infinite space?

I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.

(Shakespeare, Hamlet)

This section draws together the themes of the previous sections by:

  • discussing how the digital world can be manipulated;

  • explaining how this process has significant implications for science, politics and society.

I want to stress at the start, however, that I'm not expecting you to gain a detailed understanding of the models I'm presenting here, still less of the mathematics behind them. My aim is to give you an appreciation of the awesome scope, power and significance of computer simulation.

I ended with two remarks. First, I noted that, in making digital representations, we are not restricted to the visual and sound information that we discussed there. Using our strategy of splitting and mapping, of sampling and quantisation, it is possible to encode any property of the world that interests us. Second, I stated that digital representations are perfectly flexible – once captured, programs can be written that will change them in any way that suits us.

The discussion has really been rather dry up to this point. But now I want to try and pull together ideas from previous sections to illustrate just how exciting, momentous and far-reaching the concept of a digital representation can be. In Section 1 I referred to our human capacity to range over past, present and future worlds. Digital representations help us to do just this with complete freedom. That is my theme for this section.

I have to be brief, but the investigation will take us from the whole planet, to the beginnings of the universe itself, and from there into worlds that have no existence except in fantasy.