On New Years Day, I’m thinking of Arthur C. Clarke and What Each of Us Will Leave Behind in the Simulation
Six years ago today, I visited Sri Lanka, and while I was there with my old Sri Lankan Classmate from MIT, Prasath, we visited the well-preserved office of Arthur C. Clark. You can find images from my visit here.
One of the things that really intrigued me was the bookshelves behind his desk and all over his room, particularly the one just behind where i’m standing. When I looked closely it contained numerous translations of his most popular books, 2001 and 2010, in various languages.
This made me think about legacy and what a great legacy Clarke left behind to inspire a whole new generation of dreamers through his science fiction novels. I was inspired by seeing all these versions of his books in a visceral way. I felt an energy surge and part of me said : Wow I want to leave something behind like that.
But it was more than a “desire”, it was the faint echo or the voice of intuition which whispers in our ears and it wasn’t just asking me: What will you leave behind? Rather it was whispering to me something that I’d perhaps long forgotten, it was like a strange feeling of deja view, as if I had set up this particular scene for myself to see, to get inspired, and here I was standing there. In a sense, it was the voice of intuition reminding me of what I had promised to leave behind.
Where had I made this promise? I had ideas — ideas form the religious traditions, from spiritual teachers, from new age belief systems, from near death experiencers, and I was just putting these thoughts together in my mind during this transformative trip. And it was a weird kind of resolution — that I was meant to write more books, and that someday, I would have a bookshelf that contained translations of many different languages, and that this would be a part of my legacy that I would leave behind.
I was just formalizing my ideas about the world, the universe, being a virtual reality, being a simulation and most of all, being a video game. It was both a metaphor and a literal interpretation that could bring together the various threads of my life — science, technology, video games, spirituality, religion, intuition and science fiction. In fact, it was on this trip that I wrote my first article about why the world was like a video game, according to many different paths of thought. You can read it here, which would lay the seeds for my writing career.
I’m a firm believer that we all have a sense of the the kind of work we were meant to do in this life. Some of us might have even come into the simulation wtih a loose script, and our intuition guides us towards opportunities. In my recent book, Wisdom of a Yogi, I wrote about Swami Yogananda, who, when he was a kid had a vision of him being a wandering yogi in the Himalayas. It was right in a general sense — he did become a wandering swami, traversing perhaps more miles than any swami before him from India. But he was wronga bout the location — most of his wanering was to be in the West, on boats, automobiles and trains, and not on foot like the wandering yogis of the Himalayas.
And if you had asked me back in high school or even freshman year of college what I was going to do with my life, I would’ve said, i’m going to be a software entrepreneur and then a writer — and I had known this for many years. I was wrong about the timing — I had always assumed I would quite Silicon Valley after I had become successful at the ripe old age of 28, but when this trip happened I had just turned 48 and was still involved in Silicon Valley stuff.
One of my mentors, Robert Moss, called these whisperings to be like the “wishes of the soul” expressing themselves to us in our dreams and our waking visions.
At this point, I had made some little progress on my writing career, publishing 2 books in the previous 10 years or so. And had in fact moved on from being a day to day entrepreneur, but was still ensconed in the Silicon Valley ethos of pursuing innovation primarily for the sake of making money, as a startup investor and venture capitalist. I enjoyed mentoring other entrepreneurs, and felt this would be part of my legacy, but I felt like something was missing amongst all the greed in Silicon valley.
The trip to Arthur C. Clarke’s office gave me something — it wasn’t resolution per say, but rather what I call a “clue” on the treasure hunt of life — that my true treasure, the thing that I would leave behind, wasn’t how much money I made on this startup or because I invested in such and such a Unicorn or such and such an entrepreneur — like Clarke (though perhaps to a lesser extent!), my legacy would be my writing.
And I started to write — mostly articles that year, including the simulation themed one about being in a video game, which became my most popular article ever.
Little did I know that for me to achieve my newly vision-inspired future of having books in many languages as my legacy to leave behind, it would require a personal tragedy. During that same year, I ended up in the hospital with heart problems, right in the middle of my running a well known startup program at MIT. I had to have heart surgery, which for anyone who’s seen it, knows that while it can save your life, it is perhaps the most amount of violence you can do on the body — ripping it wide open.
I write more about it in my latest book, Wisdom of a Yogi, but to make a long story short since this post is about reflecting on our legacy on New Year’s Day: After the surgery, I had many, many complications and had no energy to do anything for many months. During my recovery I had various visions of healing and being in “other places” — some of which I can recall clearly and some of which are only vague — as I lay on the couch for months recovering, drifting in and out of consciousness as I nursed the various aches and panes all over my body.
Nevertheless, I received a clear message during these visions: Write. This was what you had agreed to do before you came into the simulation. You will have enough energy to do this. And only this, for now.
It was coming from the same place that the whisper in my ear that had spoken to me on New Year’s that year in Arthur C. Clarke’s office: Write, it said.
And I did in fact have just enough energy to get into an uber, and write for an hour or two in the afternoon, and take an uber back home before I got too tired. I also had enough energy to do a little editing each day of what I had written previously before I plopped back onto the couch.
Again, to make a long story short, during the next 9 months (literally and symbolically), a new “me” hatched; a writer was born. In those 9 months I published two books — one about startups, Startup Myths & Models: What You Won’t Learn in Business School, with, ironically, Columbia Business School Publishing, and the one which was to become my best known book, The Simulation Hypothesis, and go on to lay the foundation for my subsequent career: as an author.
So, back to New Year’s. It’s a good time for reflection.
Today I have my own bookshelf of different versions of my various books — 6 books I have published (4 of them in the years since the year that started with Arthur C. Clarks’ bookshelf and ended with my surgery and me mostly sitting at home or at starbucks wrtiing). And I’m proud to say I have my own bookshelf today, that I hope will be part of my legacy: my books translated into various editions and languages, including French, Brazilian Portugeuse, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and with more books to come (more Portuguese editions, Chinese editions, Arabic and Czech translations) soon. While nowhere near as extensive as Mr. Clarke’s bookshelf, on this New Year’s Day, I’m proud of where I am:
The key thing here for me (and for you) is to ask yourself the question that the whisperer asked me that day and reminded me. It’s not necessarily about setting resolutions but to reflect on where we’ve been and where we are going. More importantly, it’s to get in touch with the wishes of our soul, by reflecting on what we agreed to do before we came into the simulation, of what we agreed we will leave behind when we leave the simulation.
What does the whisper in your ear tell you? What was your work to do while you are in the simulation? And what will you leave behind?
If you have a vague sense or even a specific answer to this question — my advice is: it’s time to get busy doing it .
And if you listen to that voice, you won’t even need either a trip to Sri Lanka or a personal tragedy (like my heart surgery) to get you back on the your path inside this simulation. Like Indiana Jones, if you just follow these clues (of intuition), you’ll be on the right treasure hunt. And when it’s your time to leave the simulation, you’ll leave behind the legacy you were meant to do by becoming the person you were meant to be.