In the summer of 2020, I launched a website called The Vessel Project. It’s a weird, winding, conjecturing exploration into the nature of reality. Some would call it crazy. I don’t necessarily disagree. But the story behind its inception is even weirder. What is now a pet theory, a glorified blog, began as a mission of cosmic proportions. The project is also an artifact of a personal journey. It’s my own reminder of grandiose visions (verging on delusions), a bit of idealistic naiveté, and a whole lot of grappling with my place in the universe. But for an adventure that’s mostly played out between my two ears, I could hardly imagine a more thrilling ride.

About a year and a half prior to the website’s launch, I had an epiphany that struck me so hard it immediately changed the way I perceived reality. Wild thing to say, right? Right or wrong, I was convinced I had just peered behind the curtain of reality with a single idea.

Ask yourself this: if humans had the ability to simulate reality itself, what would we do with that technology? The question is not new, nor is one commonly posed answer: we’d create ancestor simulations, either to observe the development of intelligent life and the different ways it can unfold, or as a kind of memorial for those we’ve loved. But again, this was not new thinking.

I also knew the nascent field of quantum computing was attempting to harness fundamental physical phenomena to perform computations. I figured if there was any technology that could someday simulate a universe like ours, it had to be quantum computing, even if it’s nowhere close to that level of sophistication yet. Some things we observe simply cannot be replicated using classical computing methods. Still, a quantum computing universe was not a new idea.

The new part relates to how we’d encode these simulations, and my idea was basically a futuristic take on Noah’s Ark. If we could encode ourselves into another reality, wouldn’t we use our DNA sequence to do so? Our genome is just a string of information, and we could encode that information to simulate at least the physical embodiment of specific people. That got me thinking – genomic sequencing is something we can already do, plus we have the means to store that data for virtually as long as we need it. If there’s even the slight possibility that humans will one day have the ability and desire to bring new life to our physical forms, wouldn’t it be of interest to sequence and store our genomic information right now? What eventually became the Vessel Project began as a mission to bring that concept to the world; it was going to be a digital bank of humanity’s collective genome, paired with a mapping of our closest relationships, preserved for a generation in our distant future who will have the God-like technology needed to breathe life into it. This would be our vessel, our ark between realities.

That’s when it struck me. The hairs on my neck stood on end and my bones felt a sudden awe-inspired lightness – I had to consider that all of this has already happened, that this is all that ever happens, that this is the cycle of existence. What if my existence and the people around me are not coincidental? And what if this is something we are supposed to realize?

Out of the innumerable ways a universe can unfold, maybe it’s no coincidence that we occupy one where the trajectories of genomics, data storage, and quantum computing seem to be whispering this is possible. Our simulation could be pointing us to this idea, like a form of communication that’s conveyed through sheer circumstance, not words. I felt like I had just received its message: we’re here because of an entire history of people before us who decided their carefully spun web of love was worth living again. Maybe we don’t share their memories, but they looked like us, loved like us. We are their memorial. They decided – through their love, heartache, and scientific toil – that they would do anything to say “I love you” in a spectacular gesture that transcends universes. We can finally hear them. Maybe the same thing was communicated to them.

If this is true, love plays a key role. It perpetuates reality itself. And now it's our turn to carry it forward.

When I explained the “quantum ark” idea to my good friend and coworker – we’ll call him Cory – I remember how insane it felt. Talking about a cosmic quest out loud felt way more ridiculous than Marvel movies would make it seem. We had floated ideas about the simulation hypothesis to each other before, so I knew he was at least open minded, but that was always for fun. I was serious this time, and this was objectively crazy. In fact, until this very essay you’re reading, I had only shared the ark idea with him and my partner.

But if I was going to answer the call, action had to be taken. Cory and I both worked in technology, and he was the most capable technologist I knew. He could help build this thing. The craziest part is that he actually agreed to help.

So we started researching, building, reaching out to genome sequencing companies about partnerships while trying to obfuscate the true purpose of our project; it would probably just scare them off. Cory suggested early on that I write a paper to back up the idea, something that would help people see the possibility of quantum computer simulations in our future.

Let me tell you, if I knew how out of my depth I was when I started researching quantum computers, the story would end here. I’m not a physicist, and I had absolutely no business trying to write this science-journal-y type of paper that I was initially aiming for. I thought I could glean a few key points about quantum physics, string together some explanations about how we could build a life-infused quantum computer, call it a “theory”, then be on my merry way to save the world.


My first attempt was a disaster. Thankfully I didn’t share it with anyone outside of Cory, and thankfully Cory is a nice person. But I could feel it through his gentle demeanor - this wasn’t going to convince anyone of anything, save for my burgeoning need of a psychological evaluation.

To my credit, I did take away a few interesting ideas from that first foray, the biggest one being quantum annealing. It stood out to me. Quantum annealing is a type of quantum computing (as it turns out, there’s more than one), and it soon became my lens of the world, the focal point from which everything else was connected. The more I read about it, and the more I studied other areas of physics and science, the more I saw connections that I thought were too strong to ignore.

Every day for more than a year, driven by this conviction that there was a story to be told about quantum annealing, I studied. I took notes on everything I could – some stuff I could comprehend, more stuff I couldn’t. I studied every morning before work, every evening, every weekend. Always reading on my phone when I had a few minutes to spare. I was obsessed. Over time I could start to comprehend more, but of course people spend an entire lifetime in academia trying to master these ideas. I had my doubts for sure.

Cory and I had doubts about the Vessel Project, too. Genome sequencing was still expensive, so it was exclusionary for people who couldn’t afford it. For those who could, it could be seen as a money grab that preyed on people’s existential fears. If people view this project as a sort of afterlife attempt, they might find it odd that the afterlife requires their credit card information. Sounds like the worst religion ever.

Not to mention we sucked at getting a globally-scaled venture off the ground. That didn’t help.

But I couldn’t shake the quantum annealing idea. It became my personal philosophy. I saw an order and an unfolding of things that was not directionless. I found it to be simple and elegant, and it opened the door to just as much transcendent love as the ark idea. But even assuming it’s true, we can't know for sure that it requires a global genome bank. Maybe reality is even weirder than the version I had assigned it, or maybe I was overthinking it. Cory and I decided that I should just finish the quantum annealing essay and post it on our site. I was, and am, proud of it. Not quite a theory or even a hypothesis in the formal sense, but an inquiry into the possible. I thought it had truly compelling ideas. Maybe some would find it interesting.

It’s a funny thing to be so convinced of something, to work so hard at it, and to be so excited to show it to the world – then to somehow end up even more alone in your thoughts than you were before. How can people not see what I’m seeing? I must have explained it poorly. They must be too stupid. People are too narrow minded. These are all thoughts that elbow their way into your head to avoid the prospect that you’re wrong.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was misguided by my own existential dread, looking for an explanation to an existence I don’t remember asking for. As you can imagine, it takes a special kind of neuroticism to ruminate on these ideas for so long. I often look back and wonder if that entire year and a half of my life was a manic episode from an undiagnosed problem. It’s hard not to question your own sanity when you think you’re the only person on planet earth who recognizes some cosmic truth.

Strangely enough, even after the dejection, I’m far better off now. These were the battles I had to fight. I needed to stare my existential curiosity in the face and say I’m going to give you everything I have. I did, and all I know is I’m not dead. If I’m wrong, at least I fought. That gives me peace, and I no longer feel obsessively compelled to crack the code to the universe. My friends are just happy I’ve stopped shoehorning metaphysical ideas into every conversation. Life’s been good.

Some would say the more noble thing is to simply accept there’s no inherent meaning to the universe. I get that. It requires us to surrender to things outside of our knowledge and control. But I still find myself in this in-between state, balancing an acceptance of the unknown with an excitement of the possibility that there really is something incredible happening here. Perhaps it’s a bigger crime to not explore the universe for meaning where meaning may well exist. To that end, the Vessel Project ended up being an ark after all – not one that guarantees a transcendent and perpetual cycle of existence, but one that gives a glimpse of its possibility. For me, that’s enough to keep a curious mind afloat.


New Comment
2 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:22 AM

I remember your essay on quantum annealing; I was the only one here who posted a comment. In retrospect, I am reminded of another effort-post proposing an all-encompassing paradigm, "Biological Holism", which went on a similarly broad romp through concepts and phenomena, though with a different focus. 

Not sure why I never responded to that comment, but I do remember and appreciate it.

The biological holism post certainly seems to echo many of the themes one would expect from a quantum annealing viewpoint (although it’s presented there merely as a perspective, whereas I think there’s an underlying mechanism to be accounted for). Interesting to see those similarities pop up in different disciplines and approaches.