Level 1 of the universe is matter, energy, forces, space-time – the physical world. It follows rules, although precisely what those rules are and why they are like that, we aren’t yet certain. But we know enough about it to measure it and explain much of what it does.
The level 1 universe does something else too. It encodes information. Matter exists in different states, and the more physically-distinct states there are, the more information that can be encoded. For example, if an atom can exist in one of two energy states, then it encodes one binary bit of information (0 or 1). Information is not a subjective human thing. It’s an objective property of the physical universe and can be measured. The total amount of information encoded in the whole universe is mind-bogglingly vast.
Level 2 is the layer of ideas, concepts, signs, patterns and language. Humans create this layer, and so do computers.
Layer 2 is encoded in the information layer of the level 1 physical world, but it’s not a physical thing. It’s a magical layer that lives in its own abstract space. Plato thought of this as an ideal world of perfect forms, but ideas don’t have to be perfect. They can be imperfect, broken, and just plain wrong. Meaning isn’t true or moral – like the level 1 physical world, it just is.
Level 3 is even more magical. It’s the layer of idea processing, where ideas are created and transformed into new ideas. It’s the layer of conscious and subconscious minds. Just like level 2, level 3 is built out of level 1 physical entities (brains and computers), but it operates on level 2 entities – thoughts, memories, language, symbols and awareness.
Levels 2 and 3 are built out of level 1 objects, but they don’t exist in the level 1 universe. And yet, without the level 1 universe they can’t exist.
Could the level 3 universe create a new level 1 universe (we could call this level 4)? In other words, could we imagine a physical universe in our minds? I think that human minds could, if we tried very hard. Computer simulations already do. Could this new level 1 universe itself contain level 2 and 3 universes? I think it could, if the rules of that level 1 universe allowed for such things.
But the complexity of the imagined level 1 universe would depend on the information-processing capacity of the mind that created it, which would itself depend on the complexity of the level 1 universe in which the mind operated. My own mind isn’t capable of creating a very complex level 1 universe, but computer simulations are capable of creating much more complex simulations.
If our own level 1 universe is the creation of a mind, that mind must be vast. You could call it God, if you were religiously inclined. Or you could call it God’s super-computer, if you prefer that way of reasoning. It must itself exist in a level 1 universe that defied imagination.
But that would lead to an infinite regress, with the unavoidable question – if God (or God’s super-computer) created the universe, who created God’s universe?
An infinite regress is an untidy thing with limited explanatory power, so in all likelihood, we’re not living in a computer simulation, nor is there a Creator of our world. But we might one day build a super-computer capable of simulating a level 1 universe of sufficient complexity to sustain a mind or minds of its own. Then we would have demonstrated the existence of a God, by becoming Him ourselves.