2666: Universe Price Tiers
|Universe Price Tiers|
Title text: In Universe Pro®™ the laws of physics remain unchanged under time reversal, to maintain backward compatibility.
Philosophers have posed many questions in trying to understand the nature of the universe. Some of these have become well-known in popular culture; while some are deliberately open-ended, several others are presented as a choice between two or more options, and are assumed to have a single answer, the debate being about which is correct. In this comic, Randall proposes that the answers to these questions are instead not fixed, but vary according to a tiered subscription business model, as seen in many business pricing schemes, particularly in software. In this model, the no-cost tier gets you a universe experience of a lower quality, while at higher tiers better options are available for a cost - for example in the highest tier the processes of aging and death are "Opt-in" rather than "Mandatory". It is not clear from the comic who is supposed to be paying these subscription fees, or to whom they are paid (presumably the developers or maintainers of the universe, or the hypothesized simulation thereof), or whose experience of the universe is supposed to be affected.
The universe does not have a subscription model, but on the chart some of the categories that refer to observable properties such as the speed limit or existence of the Uncertainty Principle indicate ours is the Universe Standard® subscription. Other specified settings may not entirely match our user experience. Possibly a high-tier installation has the option to restrict itself to selected lower-tier behaviours, if it is considered more useful.
The title text refers to the concept of T-symmetry in physical laws. Most properties of our universe are asymmetric, meaning that the property changes if time is reversed (e.g. the entropy of the universe decreases as time flows backwards). Randall again makes a reference to software subscription models in a play on words as the Universe Pro®™ sub appears to have laws that maintain "backwards compatibility".
Given that Universe Standard is most in-line with the non-facetious observations, whoever is paying for this subscription has paid 2.470 × 1012 dollars, given that current estimates place the age of the universe at 13.77 billion years old.
|Universe Lite™||Universe Standard®||Universe Pro®™||Explanation|
|Price||Free||$14.95/month||$49.95/month||Indicative of a typical Freemium product, the versions released include what is effectively an 'unlimited trial' version, but lacking some potentially desired features, and then extra tiers with increased functionality so that you can "get what you pay for".|
|Ads||Yes||Yes||No||Again typical of a tiered subscription, where ad revenue supports the lower tiers. There are indeed ads in our own universe, but whether they are an intrinsic property of the universe or not is an open question.|
|Number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin||4||64||4,096||"How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" is a question used to poke fun at medieval angelology and medieval scholasticism in general by claiming discussions in its fields revolve around meaningless questions. It is also used as a metaphor for wasting time debating useless questions, as it is generally accepted that we can have no definitive answer. Here, the question is given concrete answers that are powers of 2 often seen when using binary representation. It may also be a reference to 485: Depth.|
|Free will or determinism||Determinism||Free will||Free will|| Determinism is the belief that all events and actions are predetermined by the conditions that they arise from, including the part played by our own interactions. This does not imply that such predetermined results are at all predictable, due to the potentially chaotic way they may play out, but it implies that personal intentions do not arbitrarily change the future, and merely form a part of the path of inevitability through the chain of causes and effects.
Such a worldview is countered by the concept of Free will, where some element of consciousness (and thus probably an indeterministic element of the universe within which the conscious minds exist) is not absolutely bound by any such rules as set out by the most precise level of physics and/or any gods who were involved.
It is interesting that the paid-for versions of the universe are the only ones to include free will, implying that either such a quality is an inherently desirable feature or else that it is a necessary requirement of some other feature in the paid plan (such as, for instance, the dice-playing mentioned below). As the term "free will" can mean a variety of things, this is partly why it exists as the subject of many debates; here, it may mean "randomness", which the current understanding of quantum physics suggests does exist in this universe.
|Cosmic speed limit||65 mph||300,000 km/s||Unlimited||The Cosmic speed limit refers to the speed of light, which rounds to 300,000 kilometers per second in our particular universe, one of the few definite clues as to which tier we might exist in. Of course the basic joke is conflating that with a vehicular speed limit, typically 65 mph (105 km/h) on U.S. highways. Living in a universe with a 65 mph speed limit would render many aspects of experience unrecognizable from our own; assuming the speed of light and thus all relativistic effects were similarly scaled, the act of driving at highway speeds would result in human-observable time dilation and apparent spatial distortion. The special relativity consequences of a low speed of light are explored in one chapter of George Gamow's Mr Tompkins; in Mr Tompkins' dream, the speed of light is approximately 10 mph. The idea of having a speed cap is reminiscent of computer simulations and game engines, which often prevent agents from accelerating beyond a certain point to prevent unintended behavior. It could also reference caps placed on data transfer rates by internet service providers, which are lower on lower-priced service tiers.|
|If a tree falls in a forest and there's no one there to hear...||No sound||Simple beep||Full sound||If a tree falls in a forest is a popular philosophical question whose answer depends largely on one's philosophical belief system and the interpretation of the question itself. Here it's suggested that there is a definite answer which differs depending on the quality of the universe subscription. On the assumption that "our" universe is on the Standard Plan, this table implies that all trees falling outside of the auditory range of anyone or anything capable of noticing it emit a simplified "beep" sound, rather than the complex crashing one would expect. This concept is similar to the discussion in 2664: Cloud Swirls.|
|Meaning of Life||Unknowable||Uncertain||Clearly explained||All we can know is that we (currently) don't know, which makes our universe one almost certainly either with an unknowable or uncertain state of affairs. The closest thing to a meaning of life in this universe that provably exists seems to be natural selection, ie the meaning of life is to spread our genetics, although this is an exceptionally unsatisfying answer. [actual citation needed]|
|Sound of one hand clapping||[None]||[None]||Kazzap!||A Koan from Buddhism. Koans deliberately have no answer — one hand cannot clap, as the sound of two hands clapping relies upon there being two hands percussing and displacing/resonating air. The "Kazzap" referenced is humorous because it provides an answer to something with no answer, in the form of a nonsense onomatopoeia. To members of our universe, this is absurd. The implication is that those in the Pro version of the universe have access to this seemingly impossible feat.|
|Aging and death||Mandatory||Mandatory||Opt-in||Whether or not an infinite lifespan would be a desirable thing is a recurring question in philosophy, as well as art and literature. While an instinctive response might be that extending life is always a good thing, particularly if the deprivations of aging can be avoided, thought experiments and literary explorations tend to suggest that it is the very finiteness of life that brings meaning to it. The suggestion is that in an infinite life, you will eventually repeatedly experience all that there is to experience, and seeking out new experiences will lose its purpose, leading to a life of interminable boredom. If this is a mere option, we clearly haven't read (or understood) the online manual or perhaps read the tool-tips.|
|Does god play dice with the universe?||Yes, and he cheats||Yes||No||A reference to a phrase famously ascribed to Einstein (in opposition to the concept of quantum uncertainty) that "God does not play dice with the universe." This option and the Determinism/Free Will choice, above, are interestingly linked but not necessarily in a way we can comprehend.|
|Bad things...||Happen to good people only||Happen to good and bad people||Don't happen||Relates to whether there is justice, compassion or fairness in the universe, where good and bad events often seem uncorrelated with whether people morally deserve them. In theological arguments, this debate is intimately connected with theodicy (the problem of how a benevolent god could create a world that contains evil), but like the existence of free will it is hotly debated in non-theological contexts as well. Randall suggests that the situation in a lower-tier universe is even worse, and interestingly that there is no tier where bad things only happen to bad people.|
|What happens to those who sow the wind||Reap the whirlwind||Reap the whirlwind||Lots of crops everywhere||This is a reference to the famous phrase "sow the wind, reap the whirlwind", taken from biblical verse Hosea 8:7. The phrase means that those who do evil without thought to the consequences will receive punishment. However, in Universe Pro®™, nothing bad happens to anyone, which excludes the possibility of the "whirlwind". This implies that it is possible to literally sow wind (in the farming sense) in the Pro version, which apparently translates to growing crops in a vastly wider range than normal.|
|This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.|
[A table with three columns, labelled "Universe Lite™", "Universe Standard®", and "Universe Pro®™". Each row is labelled with a property of the universe.]
Universe Lite™, Universe Standard®, Universe Pro®™
Price: Free, $14.95/month, $49.95/month
Ads: Yes, Yes, No
Number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin: 4, 64, 4096
Free will or determinism: Determinism, Free will, Free will
Cosmic speed limit: 65 mph, 300,000 km/s, Unlimited
If a tree falls in a forest and there's no one there to hear...: No sound, Simple beep, Full sound
Meaning of Life: Unknowable, Uncertain, Clearly explained
Sound of one hand clapping: [None], [None], Kazzap!
Aging and death: Mandatory, Mandatory, Opt-in
Does god play dice with the universe?: Yes, and he cheats, Yes, No
Bad things...: Happen to good people only, Happen to good and bad people, Don't happen
What happens to those who sow the wind: Reap the whirlwind, Reap the whirlwind, Lots of crops everywhere
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