Could Life Be a Computer Simulation?

Updated on January 27, 2018
Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin weighs in on the oldest and most enduring of questions, "Why are we here?"

In the beginning....
In the beginning.... | Source

The following concept is by no means a new idea. It’s been around since the advent of computers, and on some level, its origin can probably be traced back to near the time the first human asked the question, “Why am I here?”

The purpose of this article is not to portray the computer simulation theory of life as the only true religion. In this author’s opinion, any machinations of this nature are inherently flawed. Nor is it this author’s purpose to suss out the fine points of creation, like some divine oracle—at least not all in one sitting.

Today we’re playing “What if,” a theoretical guessing game that grasps a few ideas from the infinitude of possible variants, for the sake of exploring the plausibility of our given theology, and hopefully, with helpful comments from you, gentle reader, we can kick around some interesting ideas.

Imagine the Boredom of Heaven:

A blank space. All is clean. There is no reason to hate. There is no reason to want. There is no reason to lie or cheat or steal. There is no reason to burp or fart or love or toil. Life is. You be, and it be boring. A life with all the appeal and nuance of a rock cast through limitless, empty space.

Yet within the nothingness that is you, is the limitlessness of imagination, of thought, of creation. It’s hard to imagine here where we are from our perspective, but the place I’m talking has no boundaries, no logic. Think of a thing and it exists, if not in substance than in theory, and in a place with no rules, this is enough to be.

Now imagine all these things that you have envisioned being stored in a program. It shouldn’t be hard; many of us store our ethereal ideas in a physical place like this every day.

Somewhere there is hate, which necessitates the invention of love, which necessitates confusion, and somehow someway during this process of one thing necessitating another it becomes necessary to have a platypus!

And I guess humans get mixed up in there somehow, too. I don’t know all the ins and outs, nor does anyone, but at some point we get a universe, or for the purpose of this article, a computer simulation depicting a universe.

Is this where we live?
Is this where we live? | Source

Life Imitating Creation:

1980: enter the bespectacled computer nerd, one of the first of his kind. In a library one can overhear as his nasally voice explains to a fellow member of his breed that we might all be in a computer program right now. You scoff! A fun idea for a movie, maybe, but just a preposterous idea to those of us here in the real world.

Then we have a movie like The Matrix. Well, it certainly seems there’s money to be had in this delusion.

Video games start as crude representations of life, but over time you watch them evolve into simulations of entire worlds. With humble beginnings from programs that simulate the random nature of a coin flip, we’re now able to simulate computer societies where the outcome of events can’t be predicted. Free will!?

Then comes immersion. Virtual reality can actually puts us in the game. The continual development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Before we know it, the games are making the games. Who is real? Who is the computer?

If we can continue developing technology at this pace and don’t hit a ceiling, some very important, very intelligent people theorize that in the very near future we will have developed a virtual world that is indistinguishable from the real one.

Does our existence being in a computer simulation still seem as crazy as it once did?

And Maybe We're all Just in a Turtle's Dream...

Are We AI or are We Real?

What are we? If we break it down and break it down and break down, the answer that bonds all, the common denominator, are molecules. Seemingly infinite numbers of molecules banging around at dizzying speeds. And what are these molecules made of? Electrons, protons, neutrons, yeah, but mainly air.

Looking at life from this lens, one might even question our existence as solid matter. If you’re anything like me, mud-fat after the holidays, it’s hard to imagine, but all of us, and everything else, as well, is mainly air.

This whole electronic world we’ve created, in a nutshell, is 1s, 0s, and electric impulses flying through space. Is it so beyond contemplation that we are, too? Or at least some similar kind of programming.

I don’t want to rely too heavily on comparisons to sci-fi films in this article, but they do represent a common ground and a jumping off point for our current mind wandering.

Back to the film The Matrix, there is the concept that we’re all human and locked in a video game that we don’t realize we’re playing. While that’s one of many ways to see things, let’s explore another.

The film series Tron, involves the building of a computer world where the simulated beings are so complex, they represent life themselves. Following this concept, what if we are virtual beings created from elsewhere who are building virtual beings who are building virtual beings, etc.

And the response by many to this idea is often to be extremely offended. “How dare you cheapen the beauty of being a living being! How dare you tarnish the concept of free will and suggest we’re all clockwork automatons!!” To which one may respond, that’s not necessarily what’s been suggested at all.


If life is a computer simulation, then it will have certainly have used randomizing technology. Considering the size of this proposed program and the number of factors that are random, if that’s not free will, than what is?

Let’s use the human language as an example. Let’s say there are 1,000,000 words in the world. In such a scenario, the possibilities and variants for 2 random words is 1,000,000 to the 2rd power, or 1 trillion. Extending this scenario, the number of variants for a single paragraph of average length would be a number so long and silly it isn’t worth expressing here, and the number of variants for a work as long as say War and Peace could be seen for all practical purposes as infinite.

In comparison, If the trillions upon trillions of variables comingling in our existence is a simulating program, that means it could be ran to its conclusion over and over and over again and never to the same result. Not only are the things your character does random to a degree, but every other character you interact with, every creature, the environment, every blade of grass.

Even if this life is a simulation, we’re able to create systems or simulations that are infinite within it. Again, an example we can all understand is language: everyone capable of using language is using an infinite system. We can do the same with computer programs. With any of a number of finite systems we’re able to create an infinite world.

Whether we’re living creatures playing a video game, like in the Matrix, or the virtual creation of some greasy skinned computer programmer, like in Tron, we are! Even if we don’t physically exist, we’re still here and we still feel what we feel. We live simply by the virtue of being able to think.

Whatever we wind up believing the truth to be, let it free us, not enslave.
Whatever we wind up believing the truth to be, let it free us, not enslave. | Source

Final Thoughts and Observations:

Most, if not all, organized religion requires a certain level of willful ignorance. These belief systems will wrap this “willful ignorance” up in the much prettier bow of “Faith.” In other words, not one major organized belief system, to my knowledge, can exist in the world of logic.

Conversely, our existence as a computer simulation can. This creation concept is absolutely possible from a logic-based form of reasoning. As of today, no evidence exists to debunk it.

Is it likely? In this universe of infinite thoughts and concepts and possibilities, no. This being the answer above any of the other “possible” answers is unlikely. But it is possible. And it is only unlikely because of the sheer number of logic-based creation concepts that are possible.

A more upbeat spin on the computer simulation theory would be to phrase it this way: it is a concept that is as likely as any of the other logic-based creation stories.

Whether you choose to subscribe to this concept or not is up to you. I like to kick it around in my head because it’s pleasant, to me. It represents infinite life and opportunity. It’s not one of these mean and impossible belief systems that people kill one another over—at least not yet.

It’s not static. It’s still being written. And as long as people don’t fight wars over differing ideas concerning it and nobody writes a book claiming to have all the answers regarding it, I feel like it’s a pretty good religion…also, it should never interfere with watching football.

Opinion:

How do you define your belief system?

See results

© 2018 Larry Rankin

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    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 8 hours ago from Oklahoma

      Linda: thanks so much for the kind words.

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      Linda Robinson 9 days ago

      This hub Larry has a lot of fascinating content. Even thought it is not a completely new concept all the way through with your excellent theories really makes you think in depth about the subject you wrote about. It is an extremely interesting hub, one that everyone would love to read You are a very talented writer. Love your hubs. Linda

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 11 days ago from Oklahoma

      Arthur: of the organized religions, Budhism carries the most philosophical interest to me.

      Sorry again for Being so slow on getting back to you. I value your feedback.

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      Arthur Russ 2 weeks ago from England

      Thanks Larry, I’ve not heard of Deism before, but reading up on it in Wikipedia I can understand its prominence among intellectuals during what’s called the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ in Europe during the 18th century; and I can see its appeal in today’s modern society.

      The other things I find quite fascinating are the similarities between certain aspect of Buddhism and Quantum Physics e.g. the description of the universal force that goes through everything and connects everything in Buddhism is a good description of the universal force described in Quantum Physics (or in Star Wars for Star Wars fans).

      As for “Why are we here”; Agnostics might be more inclined to wonder about the question, but I haven’t met any atheists in Britain who are bothered by that question e.g. unlike America, most people in the UK (now officially 53%) do not identify themselves as being religious, with 13% being confirmed atheists and the rest being agnostics or non-believers etc.

      In Britain, to an atheist the question is irrelevant, in the same way as the question of the existence of Father Christmas (Santa Clause) is irrelevant to most people.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 weeks ago from Oklahoma

      Jo: I am always happy to hear from you, agree or disagree, because you have such a nice way of coexisting and sharing.

      I find your quote interesting, but from a philosophical standpoint, I feel like though we may never know, the major guiding force of life is to try to know.

      This idea is neither right or wrong, but it is still the guiding force for me.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 2 weeks ago from Oklahoma

      Arthur: always enjoy your feedback. Sorry I've been so slow getting back to you. My life is hectic.

      Just because you were nice enough to share, I'll share my belief system. I'm Deist. Which I define as the belief that there is some creating force and whatever that creating force is, in a way that's God, even if that force is a thoughtless black hole, lol

      As for Why are we here? I think a lot of Atheists do bother with that question (Icould be off base with this idea). It certainly doesn't mean you have to. I'm just saying.

      The something to nothing concept, I just haven't found anything that answers that for me in science or mysticism. Maybe I'm just missing something.

      Though the Big Bang gets us to the start of whatever 'this' is, computer program or otherwise, it still doesn't bridge the gap for me.

      I found your comments on Neural Networks very intriguing. There's always something new to ponder in this life.

      Again, I really appreciate your perspective. Thanks so much for dropping by.

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      Jo Miller 3 weeks ago from Tennessee

      Several decades ago my mom died of a brain disease. When I became involved in her care I began reading about the brain and how it functions and soon came to the conclusion that this organ that we as humans know with was still vastly unknown, maybe even unknowable. I am still humbled by that thought and it was at this time in my life that I developed my belief system which has changed little over the years, i.e. the first step in accepting God is accepting that we are not. For me, it has definitely been a freeing concept.

      I recommend Wendell Berry's book Life Is a Miracle in which he says about life, "To experience it is not to "figure it out" or even to understand it, but to suffer it and rejoice in it as it is."

    • Nathanville profile image

      Arthur Russ 3 weeks ago from England

      Hi Larry, and thanks for your feedback. There are just a few points you mention which I would like to expand upon.

      1. Ref: your comment “It’s not in our programming”.

      In this respect I’m fascinated by ‘neural network’ computers; rather than the classical computers we have on our desktop and use all day. Neural network computers are made similar to how the brain is constructed e.g. a network of simple nodes (switches that are either on or off) that are all interconnected similar to how neurons are connected in the brain.

      Unlike classical computer which have to be programmed, neural networks (which have been around for decades) learn tasks, rather than being programmed. The big advantage of neural network computers is that they are very good at learning shapes, speech and objects etc. e.g. facial recognition; something which is very difficult to program into an ordinary computer.

      The following video is of a live example of a neural network computer learning (overtime) to emulate speech: https://youtu.be/NG-LATBZNBs

      In context of your topic I would argue that (like a neural network computer) we are not confined by our programming but can learn (to within limits).

      2. Ref: your comments “Why are we hear? And how was something created from nothing?”

      Although I recognise that “Why are we hear” is an important question to many, and forms the basis of many religions; as an atheist, it’s an irrelevant question to me.

      As regards something from nothing; with my lifelong interest in quantum physics, although there is currently no definitive answer, I’ve come to appreciate that such questions in the realms of the weird world of quantum physics isn’t such a big issue e.g. there are a number of quantum physic theories that do hint at least some insight into a partial explanation e.g. quantum tunnelling and the uncertainty principle etc., all aspects which are proving essential in the study of ‘quantum biology’.

      In this respect, the following video gives some fascinating insights:-

      How Quantum Biology Might Explain Life’s Biggest Questions: https://youtu.be/_qgSz1UmcBM

      But getting back to the question of “how was something created from nothing”, I think the ‘Higgs Boson’ (the granddaddy of all particles) is the closest explanation we have to date. The Higgs Mechanism Explained: https://youtu.be/kixAljyfdqU

      Yep, as you say “The simulation is a fun idea which could be just nonsense, but it hasn’t yet been conclusively proven or disproven”; and I’m sure debate on the subject between ‘quantum physicists’ will continue for a while yet as further research continues.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 3 weeks ago from Oklahoma

      Arthur: love your insight. Love your scientific slant, while my brain is a more artistic one.

      This was a theory I'm familiar with, but it was some stuff I read about Musk that got me wanting to write this article.

      He's obviously a smart guy, but I Somewhat question if Elon is amongst the greatest minds of our time, but I'm getting off topic:-)

      Anyway, I'm familiar with the UK physicists that supposedly disproved the simulation theory.

      I just didn't have the time to look into it for this article as much as I would like and felt like it would've broadened the scope of the article too much, anyway.

      What I want to throw out there is this: if we're living in the simulation and by that simulation's logic rules, and the rules don't account for us to understand certain things, then we can't. It's not in our programming.

      To my knowledge nobody has answered the following 2 questions: Why are we hear? and How was something created from nothing?

      Maybe the answer is simple, but we just can't see it because it's blocked.

      With these physicists, it could be that they're confined to understand things through the logic system programmed for us to understand. And maybe drawn to its conclusion it does indicate we are a computer simulation.

      Does that still mean we're not, or can we just not see it?

      Anyway, I'm all over the place here. The simulation is a fun idea. Could just be nosense, but I don't feel it's been disproven yet.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 3 weeks ago from Oklahoma

      Sandi: Heaven is certainly a possibility. More belief systems talk of it than don't.

      Recycling of people is definitely a possibility. The logic of this universe says matter can neither be created or destroyed.

      In other words, everything that has ever made every human in existence is still out there, just in pieces.

      The latter seems more logical to me.

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful comments.

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      Larry Rankin 3 weeks ago from Oklahoma

      Jill: the humor is to keep folks from taking things too seriously.

      Not to gloat, but I was happy with the way the humor element turned out, too.

      Thanks so much for the compliment.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 3 weeks ago from Oklahoma

      Hari: very interesting and colorful response. I like the parallels to older technology.

      Another concept, before the invention of computers, the definition of the computer essentially was the human mind.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 3 weeks ago from Oklahoma

      FlourishAnyway: it's a fun concept to me. I'm sure some folks think it's just terrible. By no means, means it's the answer.

      Always love hearing from you. Thanks for dropping by.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 3 weeks ago from Oklahoma

      Linda: I really appreciate your feedback, positive or negative. Don't forget I'm just exploring an idea here. I'm not married to it.

      I like hearing from you because I don't feel like there is a better representation of the scientific community than you.

      What I represent is more artistic and scattered in nature.

      Thanks again for dropping by.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 3 weeks ago from Oklahoma

      Bill: that's what I'm saying to a degree here. I'm just looking into the validity of the concept.

      Always so happy to hear from you:-)

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      Larry Rankin 3 weeks ago from Oklahoma

      Heidi: thanks so much for the thoughtful comments.

      I don't want to make you mad by saying this, but I only liked the Matrix, but it does a great job of opening windows in the mind.

      You want to look into something wild regarding parallel lives, look into the multi-verse concept.

      Yeah, there's even virtual realty this days. Want to by some land on the Internet?

      Thanks again for the great comments.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 3 weeks ago from Oklahoma

      Nadine: Tron is a movie series before its time. It kind of bombed. I recommend watching both the original and the sequel if you get the chance.

      That said, I'm using the movies as examples here. I'm not saying they depict anything exactly.

      I really thought of you as I wrote this article just because you're such an alternative belief system sort of person.

      Thanks so much for dropping by.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 3 weeks ago from Oklahoma

      Eric: I'm going to say this over and over again on these comments. I'm simply looking into the computer simulation system. I even have a bit of fun with it in the article. But to me, it is possible.

      The parallel universe thought process has a lot of momentum now. The physicists have found compelling evidence for the multi-verse.

      Fascinating stuff. I haven't had the oppurtunity to look into as much as I'd like.

    • Larry Rankin profile image
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      Larry Rankin 3 weeks ago from Oklahoma

      Char: I appreciate your sentiments. I think they were well thought out.

      As to the random nature of things: even exact genetic duplicates won't end up the same as there predecessors.

      The effects of environment have arguably more effect than genetics in many aspects of living.

      This to me shows us the power of free will. No matter what you believe, it doesn't appear our step by step life is written out before we start it.

    • Nathanville profile image

      Arthur Russ 3 weeks ago from England

      The simulation theory has been around for decades, and is taken seriously as a concept in Quantum Physics; there are many references to the ‘simulation theory’ in ‘New Scientist’ as eminent scientists (such as Elon Musk) debate the topic e.g. in 2003 philosopher Nick Bostrom wrote a paper called ‘Are you living in a simulation?’

      Personally I am atheist, and one of my pet interests is quantum physics. One thing that attracts me to quantum physics is its ‘Alice in Wonderland’ like qualities (weird science); while at the same time being proved correct time after time e.g. ‘Entanglement’ and ‘Superposition’ which are Quantum Physic theories (derived from the Schrödinger's cat thought experiment) and which are essential for how quantum computers work, such as D-Wave jointly owned by NASA and Google.

      Unlike Newtonian physics (which everyone is taught at school) quantum physics is neither boring nor dry.

      For quantum physics to even take the ‘simulation theory’ seriously as an idea (and discuss it in Journals such as ‘New Scientist’ it has to at the very least meet the essential criteria for a scientific theory; those essential criteria for a theory being:-

      • Makes falsifiable predictions with consistent accuracy across a broad area of scientific inquiry.

      • Is well-supported by many independent strands of evidence, rather than a single foundation.

      • Is consistent with pre-existing experimental results and at least as accurate in its predictions as are any pre-existing theories.

      In other words (with valid scientific theories) there is scope to examine the concept in scientific terms and, potentially (given time); either to prove the theory to be false or verifiable beyond reasonable doubt that it is essentially correct.

      Research at Oxford University, England (article published in Daily Express on 5th Cot 2017) claims to show evidence that the simulation theory is false; while in contrast an Article published in New Scientist on 30th Aug 2017 cites Quantum entanglement as evidence supporting the ‘Simulation Theory’. So the debate within the scientific community (within the realms of quantum physics) goes on e.g. other scientists interested in the subject will be closely scrutinising both these recent articles.

      For anyone interested into some insights of the ‘Simulation Theory’ in the Quantum Physics Realm, this video below may be enlightening:- Simulation Theory 2017 https://youtu.be/fjbwWivYabU

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      Sandi 3 weeks ago from Greenfield, Wisconsin

      very interesting and thought provoking, Larry. I do believe in heaven AKA the Universe,not boring at all, more of a place where we learn about where we have been, where we are going. I believe I have been here before and will be again, by choice. I believe we can all create our life, manifest what we need/want. I'm trying to figure out how to do that and wish I had started sooner!! Thanks for a great article, very well written!

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      Jill Spencer 3 weeks ago from United States

      Philosophy with a splash of humor. Thanks.

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      Hari Prasad S 3 weeks ago from Bangalore

      Wow..What a cool write. The brain is as complex as the universe. Where everything is possible yet can be so much unpredictable. The concept of the world existence is as mind boggling as the thoughts in our mind.

      I also see a world of computers here for us all in future as we are not as free as our ancestors who were creative genius and innovations happened like the pyramids, caves of ajanta elora or the amazing hanging gardens which are still inexplicable in terms of technology that were used, which cannot be matched by the current machined world either.

      - hari

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      FlourishAnyway 3 weeks ago from USA

      The possibilities are endless. Especially as AI advances anything could end up being true.

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      Linda Crampton 3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The information that you've presented is definitely worth thinking about, Larry. I think that science is missing something fundamental in its understanding of reality. Some scientists are seriously considering ideas such as life as a simulation, the universe as a hologram, information as the basis of the universe, parallel universes, and some degree of consciousness in all things. While these are not mainstream ideas in science, I suspect that one or more of them may contain an element of truth.

      Thanks for sharing a thought-provoking article. You've written about a topic that I find very interesting.

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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Fascinating article. I pretty much subscribe to the theory that anything is possible, and we humans know about 1% of all that is possible....so why not?

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      Heidi Thorne 3 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      The Matrix is my favorite movie of... all... time! Primarily because of the complex questions it raises about our experience and existence. And, of course, being a Star Trek fan, the holodeck is an intriguing concept, too. Then there's the possibility of multiple and/or parallel universes.

      My hubby asked me if I knew about Second Life and how it was being used in business. I had to look up what Second Life was since I'm not a gamer. When I looked at it, I figured we're not too far from our VR selves. Weird that you can make real life money from creating and Second Life "merchandise" and "real estate." Although I'll have to admit that everything still looks too cartoon-like for me to even get excited about this as a "second life." And creating relationships there? Guess the holodeck is a reality now.

      Well, thanks for starting the conversation here on what is real. But I hope you have a "real" good weekend!

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      Nadine May 3 weeks ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Love this article. Just up my street. I must go and see this movie Tron. Love these contemplation's.

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      Eric Dierker 3 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Very interesting. It made me think to get my boy a I pad game where everyone just sits around in white robes.

      I am more of a "parallel" universe guy. But I am not ruling this out.

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      Char Milbrett 4 weeks ago from Minnesota

      My turn, Larry... the complex variables of this world we live in are so infinite. Even as a group, humans are already random, mixing genes together and creating the next generation of combined energy in the form of infants, and no two are ever alike, like snowflakes. Even a multitude of infants, raised by the same two people, in the same environment, will all turn out completely different, and random. As to heaven being boring, it may well be, but the colors in that Rainbow have to come from somewhere. :)

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