Universe ↔ soloverse

Buster Benson
6 min readOct 18, 2014

Here’s a thought experiment.

Okay, ready? Imagine the entire universe.

The large-scale structure of galaxies and galaxy clusters in the universe.

Try and imagine all 100+ billion galaxies, in as much rich detail as you can.

Our Milky Way galaxy with its 100,000,000,000 stars and solar systems. All the planets and moons in those solar systems, especially in our solar system, and of course our sun. Sun spots and solar flares. All of the oceans, mountains, and continents on Earth. All of the countries, all of the people in those countries, all of nature, animals, plants, bugs. Every ant, every atom. Now imagine all of history, from the Big Bang to primordial soup to dinosaurs to now, and (why not) forward to the end of time, the last flicker before heat death, then the heat death of the universe itself. Every detail you can fit in, every flourish.

Got it?

Call this object of your imagination, in your head, your “soloverse” — your internal model/map/simulation of the universe. The universe is *out there* (points in all directions). The soloverse is *in here* (taps on your head).

The universe is the territory. The soloverse is the map of that territory.

When you were born, your soloverse was just buzzing swirling static, which slowly settled into warm and cold, light and dark, good and bad. Your soloverse imported standard abstractions from your subconscious (inherited through the ages). Safety. Fear. Love. Trust. Betrayal.

There are also archetypes: Mom, Dad, friend, enemy, boss, crush, stranger, authority figure, teacher, grand parent, etc that people slot easily into as if their characters had been written and actors were playing their well-established roles.

The soloverse grows as you experience more of the world. When you went to the park down the street, your soloverse gained a representation of a park down the street. When you heard someone you trust say something that didn’t come true you gained the concept of a fallible narrator, and of stories. When something important happened to you and nobody else seemed to get it, you gained a sense of self in your soloverse. When Galileo proved that the Earth went around the Sun, he required everyone to make a significant edit to their soloverse, causing some people significant grief.

These models in your soloverse are alive, in their own quirky way. You set them up into a series of potential scenarios watch what happens to them. It’s like playing house, but with the whole universe. You can set up a mental scenario with your simulated father where, say, you dented the simulated car, and you could play out a conversation that might happen. Information about that conversation will spring from the interplay of the autonomous models in your soloverse, with details and outcomes that you could not have arrived at in any other way. You can also set up a mental scenario filled with dinosaurs, asteroids, and (why not) aliens and walk through a narrative without much trouble.

We use this simulation feature of our soloverses constantly. For questions as simple as “What do you want to have for lunch?” or “Which movie should we see?” we will play out different possibilities until the simulated versions of ourselves and other participants collectively enjoys their meal/movie/etc. We use the same method to answer more complicated questions like “Should I get married?” and “Should I work here?”, as well as questions about the past like “Do I think Person A is responsible for Event B?” Because we have limited information about the universe, all we have to go on is our models in our soloverse. By simulating events to the best of our ability, pretty much any question that involves making a guess about the past or future can be played out and “understood” in a limited way.

Watching a movie or reading a book or listening to a friend recount his/her day are all basically guided simulations.

Of course, our ability to understand the universe by running simulations in our soloverse has limitations.

  1. Black box: My soloverse is accessible only by me. Your soloverse is accessible only to you. Language and the senses are the only means we have to compare notes, but there’s no direct way to share a soloverse with anyone.
  2. Maps of maps: The soloverse’s purpose is to be a usable simulation of the universe. Part of that universe is, of course, the soloverse itself. In the same way that the soloverse can’t model the universe in its entirety, it also can’t model itself in its entirely. This article can only create a model for your model. A simulation of the simulation. If the universe is the territory, and the soloverse is the map of the territory, then your ability to understand your own soloverse is a map of the map of the territory.
  3. Compressed reality: There is a lot more complexity in the universe than in our soloverse. We are forced to draw sweeping generalizations about areas that don’t have much resolution in our soloverse, or are missing entirely. This is where prejudices, cognitive biases, blind spots, etc come from. This isn’t a flaw in our soloverse that can be corrected. It’s just a necessity that our mental map of the territory will never cover every nuance of the territory.
  4. Malkovich: Our ability to give autonomous qualities to the models in our soloverse is limited to our own mindset. For example, we can’t attribute selflessness to someone unless we have a concept of selflessness to draw from.
  5. Anthropomorphism of everything: Everything is running in a simulation together, and everything is made out of the same simulation material of our minds, we are pretty liberal with giving inanimate objects, abstract concepts, invisible forces, and pretty much anything we run into a quality of mind. Everything is alive in the soloverse.
  6. Simulation of Self: Our model of Self isn’t very different from the other autonomous models in our soloverse, other than the fact that this one specific character has the very prominent “THIS IS ME” label attached to it. When we play out scenarios about our own actions and behaviors, we may have a bit more historical context to make predictions, but we don’t have much (if any) more insight into our own subconscious workings than we do anyone else’s. In a way, we’re all strangers to ourselves in much the same way that we’re strangers to everyone else on the planet. Some theories about the sense of self even guess that our sense of self came about as a means of predicting our own future behavior. We needed a stand in to play us in our soloverse alongside the other characters we’re interacting with, and therefore it gained the same sense of autonomy and independence that we also attributed to others. If you think about it, autonomy and independence and free will are all ways of saying “we don’t know what they will do.” We often don’t know what even we will do. The simulations in our soloverse are as necessary a tool for understanding ourselves as they are for understanding the universe.

If this thought experiment is at all accurate (run it through some simulations to determine your own opinion on the matter), there is one implication that I think is worth pointing out.

We should pay more attention to the health of our soloverse. Because the soloverse is the foundation upon which we build our sense of self, our sense of others, and our sense of the character and purpose of the universe, it seems to me that we should tend to it in a more deliberate manner.


Still thinking about it, and might write another post about it. In the meantime, open to ideas, thoughts, comments.



Buster Benson

Product at @Medium. Author of “Why Are We Yelling? The Art of Productive Disagreement”. Also: busterbenson.com, new.750words.com, and threads.net/@bustrbensn