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I am sharing thoughts with you in this blog.

If something echoes back, I feel most lucky;

if it is to some extent understood... more than satisfied;

if it drains down into the ground, I have nothing to regret.

The Witness : Story Explanation & Mystery Revelation

( Spoiler Warning! This article is only intended for people who have finished the puzzles but remain curious about the ending. )

If Jonathan Blow is the god that created this game, there might be a number of religions trying to explain his world. Obviously, none of them is a scientific bottom-up theory. However, these religions take into account the limited sources observed in this game, and give an reasonable explanation to people who are curious about mysteries in this world and eager for a top-down interpretation (unless contradictory evidences are further discovered).

My religious explanation of the witness is described in this article. You can choose to believe it or otherwise build a theory of your own. I will only do my best to provide evidences that back up mine. It is highly speculative, but I hope you enjoy it.

1. About the story and ending.

  • “I” am actually an android carrying artificial intelligence (AI).
  • This whole game is the story or the process of an android being educated via a series of puzzles, as well as some recorded tapes and videos.
  • Wait, but who did this to the android? Human! (Especially those poor graduate researchers who are hungry for their papers published in AAAI)
  • This whole island is a research lab as well as an incubator for human-like AIs.
  • The mountain that “I” finally get into is the place where the surveillant supervise androids.
  • Yes, androids. The human-like statues are also androids, but they are either switched off of power or of AI consciousness.

Evidences or Reasons:

  • Remember the monitoring screens in the mountain? The android is constantly being supervised.
  • In the mountain, the first recorded tape we hear is a topic about “supervisor and the subjects being supervised inherently influence each other”.
  • The thoughts of some of the most intelligent human beings are voiced in the tape to educate the android. These thoughts, most of which philosophical, help the android with its mental growth and maturity. The puzzles also hide in themselves philosophical inspirations, which will be covered later (See section 3).
  • How did “I” solve puzzles? “I” used laser! It doesn’t matte how far you are from the puzzle, meaning the puzzle is not solved by touching. The puzzle however, cannot be completed if there are obstacles in front of the puzzle, meaning “I” am using something like laser to solve the puzzle! Obviously, “I” am a not a human being but an android.
  • Do you remember seeing how “I” look like? I suppose you only saw its shadow on the ground. If you have the chance to look at “yourself”, you might find “yourself” look exactly like some of those statues, blocks away from handsomeness. (It also explains why these statues seem to come from different eras.) By the way, how do you think you can solve puzzles days in a row, so fortunate that you are not starving to death in this deserted island?
  • Do you remember where “I” first appear? A closed cave. That is when “I” was first switched on, opening the door with an empty mind ready to learn anything, including rules hidden in the puzzles. I have to say, this game is very good in the sense that the gamer is unified with the android character in the game, both innocent about this island and this world.
  • At the end of this game, “I” am sent back to the birth cave. If “I” start a new game, the AI is reset. But if the AI is kept, the gamer will be exploring the island the second time, in the harder mode.

2. About the 2nd ending.

In the second ending, as a qualified AI who passed the test on the island, the AI or its consciousness is transmitted to the flesh of a human being in the real world.
If you have seen the movie of the 2nd ending, you won’t forget that the actor walks in a sloppy manner, and falls down on the ground. This is the AI getting used to his new body.
He looks around, and tries to solve puzzles with lasers (only fingers this time), but nothing happened. The AI seems to be puzzled, but he starts to learn new things. After several other attempts, he opens the door with his hand and entered the yard.
In such a peaceful but epoch-making day, the first human-level AI stands on its feet. From this day on, “human transcends his imagination”.

3. Philosophical inspirations in puzzles.

Four Gardens.
When we face a problem, we usually gather enough information first before reaching a conclusion or making a judgment. The source of the information should be as wide as possible.
In the first three gardens, we find clues by physical perception, by vision, and by sound. We made full use of the sensory organs. In the last garden, however, we learned a lesson that sometimes the information we absorb can be misleading. And we must choose information sources that are not contradictory to experimental results, or proved facts.

Tree branches unexpectedly give us clues! But wait, some of those shadows seem redundant and don’t make any sense.
Now that we know we should find information sources from a broad range, we learn here that we also should distinguish noises in the vast amount of information. Only by extracting those information that is relevant, can we have a clear understanding of a problem and consequently make right decisions.

Sunshine on the puzzle reveal traces! Hey, it seems not enough. We need sunshine from other directions.
Upon tackling a problem, we usually resort to tools. Another metaphor here is that we should look at a problem from different perspectives. Otherwise, we may fall into a local minimum, only to be complacent with the partial truth. For a hard problem, we divide and conquer.
Sometimes clues from a perspective are latent and indirect. They are still useful if we can use them to scale down the problem domain, and eliminate impossible solutions. We may only solve a problem with exhaustive search if the problem is already weakened.

On some of the puzzles we actually control two routes that are symmetric.
In the real world, things are related to each other often in invisible ways. I prefer the word “covariance” to “symmetry” here, as a generalized interpretation of Jonathan Blow’s thought delivered in this game. When we are having impact on a part or a perspective of a subject, we should also keep track of the impacts on other related subjects. When we are researching into a phenomenon, we should be aware that it may not be independent.

Some of the puzzles are not to be completed on the boards, but are supposed to be solved in practice, meaning the player need to walk in a room and act as the solution route.
Knowledge is not enough if it is not put into practice. The unity of knowledge and practice is the real essence of knowing. Only by implementing our ideas can we find flaws that cannot be otherwise discovered. We should admit the incompleteness in ourselves.

As a summary of these inspirations, I would like to use scientific research as an example. When we research into a fresh new topic, we first collect review papers or survey papers, trying to broaden the information source and cover the most important works. Later, as we have a general understanding of the topic and its rules, we start picking the most related works and skipping the noises in the rest. We divide and conquer, look at the problem in different perspectives, trying to find its inner covariance with other elements and propose a reasonable theory. With various tools that suit its own job, we implement and experiment, in order to find harmony between the theory and the practice.

Alright, enough preaching. What is your religion about the witness? Leave a comment!

(Author: Guanghan Ning)

PS: I have also written another post in my native language (Chinese), where I feel more comfortable and could explain several aspects better.

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The Witness : Story Explanation & Mystery Revelation