The universe follows rules.
If you know precisely where the billiard balls are and exactly how the cue ball is struck, you can figure out exactly where the balls will go.
If you know exactly how the deck is stacked then you know exactly which cards are going to come up when.
The rules of the universe seem static. You expect tomorrow to be very similar to today. Even if tomorrow is wildly different by your human standards, you still expect to find the earth solid beneath your feet. You expect to find the molecules of your body still bound together in the usual fashion. You expect the sun to continue shining. You expect the laws of physics to remain unchanged. You expect two plus two to continue equalling four, as it always has.
The universe has static rules, and knowing the rules gives you power. At some base level, your brain understands the rules of billiard balls. It is that power that allows you to guide the game of pool in your favor (however imperfectly). Understanding the rules of air allows you to build airplanes. Understanding the rules of electricity allows you to build computers.
Understanding the rules of speech (well enough to communicate) allows you to convey and learn ideas.
“But wait”, you say. “Reality is a large and complicated place. We can’t possibly understand it all. If we can’t understand reality, how could we possibly understand its rules?”
This is a valid complaint. We can create systems where the rules are more complicated than the output.
Fortunately for us, the rules of reality seem to be simple.
Earth’s atmosphere is an incredibly complex place, with billions of teeny tiny molecules bouncing into each other aggregating into complex wind patterns and unpredictable hurricanes. Predicting the weather is incredibly difficult if not impossible. Nevertheless, we can still learn the rules of the teeny tiny molecules.
The effects of the rules are extraordinarily complicated. The effects of the rules are stars, planets, hurricanes, and humans. The rules of reality give rise to conscious awareness and thought. The things that the rules produce are extraordinary, complex, and beautiful. But the rules themselves are simple.
Or, at least, the ones we’ve discovered so far have happened to be simple. We haven’t figured them all out yet.
It’s possible that we can’t figure out how reality really works. It’s possible that the rules are far too complicated. It’s possible that the human brain just isn’t powerful enough to understand what’s going on.
But that’s not what it looks like from here.
What it looks like from here is every complex, complicated, beautiful creation of reality – from rainbows to flower petals to the thoughts in your head – arises from a much simpler set of rules. It looks to here like there is a simple symmetry that leads to our beautiful complexity.
This is humbling. Reality didn’t have to be like this. We can imagine universes where the rules aren’t simple.
But ours are simple. Our universe lends itself well to understanding.
So let’s go out there and understand it.