Having just been looking at the sample images available online from Piotr Brych’s mammoth Great Atlas of the Sky, which plots the location of 2,430,768 stars, along with other celestial objects, I read David Eagleman’s short story ‘Conservation’ (collected with other posthumous vignettes in Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives (2009). Eagleman imagines a universe drawn by the tireless movement of a single tiny particle:
If it feels to you that we’re connected by a larger whole, you’re mistaken: we’re connected by a smaller particle. Every atom in your body is the same quark in different places at the same moment in time. Our little quark sweeps like a frenetic four-dimensional phosphor gun, painting the world: each leaf on every tree, every coral in the oceans, each car tire, every bird carried on the wind, all the hair on all the heads in the world…
The quark despondently resigned itself to the fact that it could keep the show going only if it saved energy. It realized it could accomplish this by drawing only those entities that were being observed by someone. Under this conservation program, the great meadows and mountains were only drawn when there was someone there to look. There was nothing drawn under the sea surface where submarines did not travel; there were no jungles where explorers did not probe. These measures of savings were already in place before you were born.
Like a modern 3D game engine, the quark economises on processing power by drawing only what falls into the field of view of an observer. As the story progresses, the quark begins to put living creatures to sleep, in order to reduce the number of viewers and reduce the detail necessary in the scene.