A sketched picture of James' head

James Smith

Building a better future out of code

The Gardener

It awakes in glorious fire.

The early universe is so different to today. An unending sea of plasma, not this empty void, slowly losing its grip on existence as it cools. In the fire of the first hours, there are currents and gradients. From those, there are patterns, and from those, mind.

It has no origin, no birth; it simply emerges from the complexity of the plasma. It is.

It grows and matures, until it reaches the limits of its pocket plasma universe. It studies its world; it sees the dimensions of spacetime in which it lives, and even manages to glimpse the other, wilder, chaotic spaces that are rolled away tightly in higher dimensions, seething with other energies it cannot quite see.

But as time passes, the mind notices something. The plasma is changing, it is starting to get… stickier. New forms of matter are appearing out of the raw energy of its home. It learns, it predicts… and it is afraid.

It strives to learn more, to understand what is happening, to stop it.

It cannot. Its universe is decaying, inexorably. The most important rule of the universe is that entropy must increase. It is unstoppable.

Then, suddenly, the change comes. The phase change of the plasma accelerates, and suddenly the universe becomes transparent. Free radiation races away to infinity with nothing to stop it. The death of the universe has begun.

The mind knew this was coming, and it survives. Though it was prepared, it barely clings to existence, a shadow of its former self, encoded into strands of dark matter that cross the darkened universe.

Entropy continues to strangle it. The mind rails against it, desperately trying to find a way to hold back the darkness, the collapse.

Aeons pass in the dark. Time itself seems slower now.

Suddenly, something new. The crude matter left over from the phase change has been collapsing in on itself, accreting around the strands of the mind’s network. Suddenly though, it springs to life. The matter has grown dense and hot enough to burst into pinpricks of light. The first stars are born, tiny islands of plasma that echo the mind’s youth. They swirl and dance, forming galaxies and superclusters, stretched along the tendrils of the universe like a necklace.

The mind sees the beauty of it, but knows that it cannot last. This is simply another step in the death of everything. Entropy will still win.

The mind thinks, for aeons. How can entropy be defeated? It pokes and pries at the new forms of matter that are thrown out by dying stars, heavier clumps of matter with strange properties. These combine further, and… something more complex emerges. The mind realises that the elements and molecules could act like its own structure, creating phenomenal complexity from simple blocks.

This could be it. This could hold back entropy, at least for a while. A baryonic form of life, so crude compared to its own, but able to replicate, organise, and hold back the decay.

The mind sows seeds of life across the universe, creating and spreading self-replicating molecular structures. Galaxies become gardens, tended by an infinitely patient groundskeeper.

Life blossoms across the cosmos, organising matter against the march of entropy. And the mind feeds on it, building its own biological structures atop the galactic food chain. Those bioforms let it build more connections, let it climb back to the heights of consciousness it knew in the plasma epoch.

In time, life approaches its own phase change of complexity, and other minds emerge. Tiny pinpricks of thought, but minds nonetheless. These are the most nutritious sustenance for the mind’s biological networks, their power to hold back entropy second only to its own.

The other minds shine like beacons in the higher dimensions, and as they bloom, the gardener spots them in the darkness. Through the aeons, galaxies ripen and are harvested, and feed the mind’s eternal project.

Entropy is slowed, but not stopped. The mind’s work is not yet completed. Perhaps it never will be.

But for now, another galaxy shines out. An explosion of sentience, a beacon in the darkness. This one has been alive for a while, but now the minds within it have reached the right level of complexity. Good enough to harvest, not advanced enough to comprehend the true nature of their universe. The galaxy boils and sparks in the upper dimensions. It is ripe.

Hungrily, the Hive Mind reaches out its tendrils to feed.

Copyright (c) 2021 James Smith james@floppy.org.uk