As many of you might know, I have been working on a software project called PISES (Procedural Iterative Stellar Evolution Simulation) for a number of years. The project began as a fun, textual world-building engine in college (designed as a utility for my pencil-and-paper role playing games). Only years later did PISES begin to escalate into something I would consider a serious project.
PISES uses procedural randomness to generate galaxies, solar systems, planetary systems, and ultimately, species, societies, and cultures. PISES contains a ton of code, and a lot of it is years old – stuff I wrote in college, late at night at 4 AM, which seemed to work, that I haven’t looked at in many years.
In college, I wasn’t writing PISES to be an accurate, plausible or reasonable simulation. I was writing PISES with one intention in mind: narrative. PISES was meant to produce story-rich worlds for me to write in and my then play inside of with my friends.
As PISES grows more serious in its intent and I work to make the software more ‘realistic,’ it is sad to watch its colorful worlds, species and societies, which were once abundant, slowly evaporate, becoming more and more sparse – and sometimes, in certain galaxies, never even occurring at all. As I keep writing, the galaxies PISES creates grow darker, lonelier and more bleak. This was never my intention: my only objective is to make PISES more realistic and plausible. An unfortunate result of this is that the magnificent, galaxy-spanning imperia, the noble warrior races, the empathic space whales and sentient crystal forests, the deep-thinking plankton colonies and the megayear AI utopias are all disappearing. They are replaced with barren, lifeless worlds, with tepid pools of bacteria struggling to survive, with pre-sentient nomadic tribes clinging to life on the slopes of barren, wind-blasted tundras, and with vast, vacant, quiet galaxies.
However, the rarity and pure, sacred improbability of life even existing at all makes life’s rare occurrences so much more special than they were before. And now and then, PISES does still produces a magnificent story, made even more spectacular and heartbreaking by the fact that these stories are now so rare and so hard to find. I’d like to share one of the more recent and most heartbreaking stories to come out of PISES with you today, and how PISES produced an entire society of immortal, impotent, suicidal geniuses – and, inadvertently, its first individual, who wandered the stars alone for a thousand years.
Species 2afad9cce975a5c2c75920ee18a1f978 had a special feature in PISES called Direct Ancestral Memory. Direct Ancestral Memory implies that the creatures of Species -f978 inherit their parent’s memories directly and explicitly. This was a potential memory system I wrote into PISES without really thinking about its consequences: the primary consequence being that, after many millennium, the volume and weight of memory imposed on these creatures would be immense.
Direct Ancestral Memory provided many survival advantages for this species (In fact, it was a random neurological mutation they received while still in pre-society). By directly inheriting their parent’s memory, the creatures were able to very quickly excel at anything their parents excelled at. If one parent was a brilliant mathematician, then so too would be their offspring; no need to spend decades in school to reach their parent’s level of skill (if the offspring even COULD reach the parent’s level skill). The skill was inherent, and for this reason, species -f978 was able to advance at an explosive velocity.
The species’ rate of scientific and technological development was absolutely incredible, and within only a few short thousand years, the species was able to become spacefaring. Through medical science and technology, they were able to extend their lives indefinitely. Also interestingly, the species never developed advanced computers, since they themselves were so capable of deep calculation and advanced thought. This, I think, may have been one of their only technological failings, a strange result of their innate brilliance. Perhaps computers could have saved them in the end – perhaps not.
All species in PISES possess a “neurological load limit;” in essence, a threshold for what their minds are capable of handling. Such a limit is probably a silly and unrealistic boundary, imposed by me, an oblivious and excited programmer in his dorm room at college. One day, I will sit down with somebody who knows more about how the mind works, and come up with something better. But in this particular universe, the neurological load limit was absolutely real and totally irrefutable. Eventually, it became the demise of species -f978.
After about 200,000 years, the children of -f978 became unable to inherit the memories of their ancestors; the sheer volume of information simply exceeded their neurological load limit. Species expansion, development and progress ground to a halt as suddenly, population growth became impossible.
Perhaps -f978 tried its best to expand its neurological load limit. Around the same time as the child crisis emerged, a number of ‘abstract research projects,’ as they are labeled in PISES, launched and never completed. What they were about, I cannot know – I did not provide myself enough windows into the code in order to see the projects’ intentions.
However, the creatures of -f978 began to die. The creatures were, essentially, immortal – able to live indefinitely, so long as they were not killed by sudden violence or an incredibly potent disease. Some of -f978 died in these ways, but by and large, the species, whose ideology map was foundationally (and tragically) built on expansionism, perpetuation, colonialism and xenophilia, found themselves unable to follow through on their most primary species imperatives. They could not expand; they could not produce offspring; and, also tragically, they were very much the only sentient species in their galaxy at the time, and were unable to follow through on their xenophilic desire to meet another species.
The inability to satisfy any of their species imperatives caused the average ‘Satisfaction Rating’ of the species to plummet. Species members began to self-eliminate, as species can do in PISES when their Satisfaction Rating falls too low. This became a snowballing process; once mass self-elimination began, satisfaction ratings hit near-zero. In a few short centuries, the species was all but gone.
That is, save for one creature. To this day, I will never know if it was simply a strange boundary condition I left in my code – a bizarre artifact of bad engineering practice – or a result of astronomical chance. But when -f978’s population size hit “1,” the suicides stopped. My guess is that the snowballing effect of peer suicide no longer existed for this one last survivor, and by this strange result of the code, the last survivor’s satisfaction rating actually might have bounced upward slightly.
Individual -f978 persisted for another 11 centuries. Species in PISES have a variable called “Ethics Divergence.” This is how fast their species imperatives can change. For large species, it is very slow. For small species – especially for a species of size 1 – species imperative can change very quickly.
Individual -f978’s imperatives, strangely, by random chance, became almost entirely Xenophilia. Individual -f978 wanted, exclusively, to find another intelligence out in the black, dark corridors of space. You could say, narratively, that -f978 became obsessed with finding someone else. Anyone else.
Centuries passed as -f978 searched thousands of worlds for life. Of course, at this instant in the galaxy, there WAS no other sentient life in the galaxy. In another few million years (a very short time, in the scale of things), there would be – but -f978 didn’t make it a few million years. Finally, after 1100 years, -f978 gave up and self-eliminated, joining the rest of his species.
It might sound silly, but species and individual -f978 will haunt me until the day I die. PISES contains no persistence; once a galaxy is run, it is gone forever. I can never give the species a second chance or a better future. I’m not even sure a better outcome even exists. Even if PISES did contain random seeds, and I could give the species another chance, by changing any tiny fraction of the code, the rippling, cascading result, amplified over billions of years, would make it impossible to create another species like -f978, or anything even close. I do not feel guilty about -f978 – just that an awful tragedy has happened, and that there is nothing that can ever be done to change it. A created universe, even if only made of ideas, is a real universe. A book, a movie, a game, or a musical composition all create a fleeting but very real place that truly exists (in either great or scant detail). Even if PISES code were laughably stupid, unrealistic, or primitive, all of these events all did transpire. -f978 was real. Its last survivor wandered alone for a thousand years. I can’t imagine the torrential oceans of suffering incident on all members of -f978: the combined tragedies, heartbreaks, nostalgias, longings, sufferings, loves and losses of their entire ancestry hanging frozen in their minds. PISES did not create all of this data, but it created the idea of this data, and ideas are reality; we ourselves may be nothing more than a fleeting idea.