August 12, 2019

"The theory that we are living in a computer simulation may sound bizarre, but it has found adherents."

"The technology entrepreneur Elon Musk has said that the odds that we are not simulated are 'one in billions.' Professor Smoot estimates that the ratio of simulated to real people might be as high as 10¹² to 1.... [I]f our universe has been created by an advanced civilization for research purposes, then it is reasonable to assume that it is crucial to the researchers that we don’t find out that we’re in a simulation. If we were to prove that we live inside a simulation, this could cause our creators to terminate the simulation — to destroy our world. Of course, the proposed experiments may not detect anything that suggests we live in a computer simulation. In that case, the results will prove nothing. This is my point: The results of the proposed experiments will be interesting only when they are dangerous."

From "Are We Living in a Computer Simulation? Let’s Not Find Out/Experimental findings will be either boring or extremely dangerous" by philosophy professor Preston Greene (NYT).

Greene overstates his argument. I see the danger. In fact, I see more danger than he does. Whether the higher civilization would destroy us if we caught on to their game or not, knowing that we are only somebody else's simulation would change the meaning of life for us. It would disrupt how we care about ourselves and other people. I think we could still find value in our existence, but it would be different and difficult. What if I'm nothing? Well, I'm still all the me I ever was, so I'll carry on, perhaps more carefree. But what about the next generation and the next?

But where Greene goes wrong, I think, is in undervaluing the knowledge that we don't live in a computer simulation. Once the idea of a simulation is out there and growing, with very smart people saying it's almost certain that we do live in a simulation, it's having an effect on us. It's dispiriting! If the idea catches on and people come to believe it, really believe it, the way masses of humanity believe in God, then what happens to human life? Finding out that the theory is wrong would have a big effect!

Now, I can see that Greene is careful when he says "the proposed experiments may not detect anything that suggests we live in a computer simulation." To fail to detect the simulation is not to prove there is no simulation. But it's some assurance, and that could be quite meaningful to those who've fallen into the Muskosphere and have come to really believe that all of our world is some aliens' computer game. It can stop Muskism from spreading and fostering strange new behavior and nihilism.

And if we're worried, as Greene is, about the effect of the experiment on the "higher civilization," it's not just that if they knew we knew about them, they might destroy us. They're also seeing that we're beginning to figure out what's going on, and if we do an experiment that makes us think the theory is false, the aliens are more likely to keep the experiment going.

135 comments:

Kay said...

This is 21st Century mythology. Today it’s “our researchers” instead of God.

Shouting Thomas said...

I don't find it bizarre at all.

It's a restatement of the basic origination story of Christianity.

There's nothing new here.

n.n said...

Science is a near-domain philosophy and practice. Science cannot discern between origin and expression. Human perception and narcissism can conflate logical domains for the good, the bad, and the ugly.

n.n said...

This is 21st Century mythology. Today it’s “our researchers” instead of God.

Political myths and mortal gods have been established in a combination of the secular and perverse with a twilight faith, pro-choice religion, and liberal traditions.

Bill Harshaw said...

Agree with Kay.

jaydub said...

If we are only living in a simulation does it matter if the simulation is terminated? How can you die if you don't exist in the first place?

Kevin said...

Half the country is already living in a simulation where Trump conspired with the Russians to steal the election, obstructed justice, and is leading the white supremacist movement to power.

They have no interest in any data that might cast doubt on their reality.

Angle-Dyne, Samurai Buzzard said...

Looks like another iteration of the immemorial human tendency to conceive of "God" or "the gods" as super-intelligent, far more powerful versions of ourselves.

"Ourselves" in this case being modern nerds, so "the gods" are appropriately de-sacralized and obsessed with video games.

SeanF said...

If it's at all likely that we live in a simulation, then we can't believe anything our senses or logic seem to tell us about the universe writ large - not even the conclusion that we likely live in a simulation.

Although I am amused by the idea that creationism is now apparently an atheist position.

Kevin said...

If we are only living in a simulation does it matter if the simulation is terminated? How can you die if you don't exist in the first place?

Perhaps it just reboots with Ann’s name changed to Amy.

jnseward said...

It's a simulation created by God.

Amexpat said...

Maybe seeing how fast we determine that we are living in a computer simulation is part of the experiment.

Perhaps our masters are benevolent and will reward us with great pleasures beyond what our feeble minds can imagine once we solve the riddle of the "game". Just as likely as them being cruel and terminating us if we get too smart.

RNB said...

Didn't Tom Hulce's character in 'Animal House' say something like this, the first time he smoked pot?

n.n said...

50 shades of the Matrix.

If you think reality is merely a simulation, something that can be defined by each person according to their whims and desires, then do something that the other simulants think is crazy: molest a child, abort a baby, corrupt healthy tissue, and call it God... good.

gilbar said...

"The theory that we are living in a computer simulation may sound bizarre, but it has found adherents."

Of these 'adherents', can we stipulate;
That EVERY ONE OF THEM is PROUD to be an atheist?
That EVERY ONE OF THEM is PROUD to mock ANYONE 'stupid enough' to believe in GOD?

It's Elephants, all the way down

gilbar said...

jaydub said...
If we are only living in a simulation does it matter if the simulation is terminated?
How can you die if you don't exist in the first place?


Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Sebastian said...

I choose to ignore the theory.

n.n said...

It's a simulation created by God.

The proposition of an extra-universal entity, as the origin of consciousness, and the expression of reality, is one theory. That is exclusive to the faith logical domain, which cannot be reached without trust/help. As the ancestral myths go, the simulation is a proving ground. Not unlike our development from an "innocent" child to mature adult and associated social processes of responsibility and reconciliation.

dreams said...

Yeah, I can't be bothered ether. Life's hard, simulated or not.

John Borell said...

Thank God (yes, that God), I find meaning in my life from things outside of trying to figure out if I live in a computer simulation.

Crimso said...

Suppose we are the 2,348th iteration of the simulation, with all previous runs being halted when the "people" fail to recognize they're in a simulation. No sense continuing the experiment with a universe so fundamentally flawed that it can't figure out it's a simulation. It's just as plausible to say that if we figure it out, then the experiment continues. The assumption that the experiment requires that we not know we are in a simulation is just that: an assumption. And we know what happens when we assume things...

Personally, I doubt we are in a simulation (as we understand the concept). I think the universe is, for the most part, exactly what we observe it to be. Too many constants have to have the exact values for this universe to exist? Eppur si muove.

n.n said...

I find meaning in my life from things outside of trying to figure out if

The hallmarks of a mature adult. Do what you can, if you can, when you can, within reason for some, within a moral framework for others.

Crimso said...

If you put a not-entirely-arbitrary limit on the size of proteins (n amino acids in length), and then calculate how many such proteins are possible in the framework of the biochemistry of Earth organisms (20^n, summed over, e.g., 100-1000; this gives a conservative estimate), the number you arrive at is vast beyond comprehension (roughly 1000 orders of magnitude greater than the estimated no. of atoms in the entire universe). So the fraction of those proteins that have EVER existed on the Earth is something like 1/10^1000. People may see in that evidence for creationism (or simulationism, if you will; and I think you will). I see what a wonder our little slice of the universe is, as well as an explanation of the Fermi "paradox."

Kay said...

n.n said...
This is 21st Century mythology. Today it’s “our researchers” instead of God.

Political myths and mortal gods have been established in a combination of the secular and perverse with a twilight faith, pro-choice religion, and liberal traditions.
8/12/19, 7:56 AM


I hope it’s not weird for me to say this, but you are probably my favorite commenter on this site and I feel very honored right now that you’ve replied to me.

Kay said...

I also basically agree with your statement.

steve uhr said...

If we’re in a simulation isn’t it also highly likely that are overseers are also in a simulation? Do they know?

gilbar said...

of, The TRUTH* is, after KAY posted, the simulation should have ended; she said all that is relevant

The TRUTH* believe in Truth, not facts!

JackWayne said...

If you want to really go down the rabbit hole, ask yourself: What if the simulation is a recursive algorithm?

gilbar said...

steve uhr said...
If we’re in a simulation isn’t it also highly likely that are overseers are also in a simulation? Do they know?


Please pay attention: It's Elephants, all the way down

Lurker21 said...

Philosophers love that idea. It's about what we can actually know and what we can prove about the nature of reality. I suspect few people familiar with the idea take it seriously as a statement about how things really are.

Richard said...

How sophomoric and unoriginal. The premise of the Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide novels was that the Earth was a giant computer simulation.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

If you enjoy problems where thinking about the problem may be dangerous please don't look up Roko's basilisk.

n.n said...

my favorite commenter on this site

Thanks. I imagine one of many, each in their own way. Reading and writing comments, beginning with our hostess, has been a useful exercise.

Original Mike said...

"It's Elephants, all the way down"

I thought it was turtles.

TreeJoe said...

If you are a Christian, Jew, or Muslim living today & you agree with current scientific thinking in general then you...

1. Believe the universe is 14 billion years old and the earth is ~5 billion years old
2. Believe humankind, in it's current formation, began ~6,000 years old
3. Believe that God is both unchanging and yet shows God has done very different things at different times at it relates to actions before and since human creation

So, yeah, most major religions also supports the simulation theory. Granted, they all pretty much have the same origin story.

I think science's failure to recognize that all their findings seem to support a version of the universe written & spoken 2,000-6,000 years ago is dismaying.

Basically what such an experiment is really doing is testing the theory of God.

I like it.


n.n said...

It's Elephants, all the way down

And nothing else matters.

Fernandistein said...

THE BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH.

'nuff said.

Phidippus said...

"Philosophy" is the right tag for this post, since the hypothesis is untestable.

If, as I (as a mere non-scientist layman) suspect, there is fundamentally no way to accomplish faster-than-light travel, then we're stuck here by ourselves on this dust mote in a vast sea of dilute hydrogen and photons at a few Kelvin above absolute zero, and that's the way it's going to stay. Until the sun burns out, or we get hit by a decent-sized asteroid, or fried by a gamma-ray burst from some supernova in the galaxy.

Most people, probably even Elon Musk (when he's not high) have no sense whatever of how empty the universe is, and how far away everything else is. Once it dawns on you how long it would take to go halfway across this galaxy even at 1% of the speed of light (technically far beyond our reach), you realize that we're never going to meet the neighbors, if there are any. Nor are we ever going to colonize any other solar systems in this galaxy, much less those in any other. ("Powers of Ten: About the Relative Size of Things in the Universe" by Morrison et al is a highly digestible visual aid to getting your mind wrapped around this.)

Humans have a great capacity to believe utterly unrealistic things. In fact there seems to be almost a need, in some people, to believe in a few such whoppers.

I think the simulation hypothesis is idle and silly, but I could be programmed to say that.

Paddy O said...

Even more bizarre is the fact that the the race of superintelligent pan-dimensional beings who ordered construction of the Earth to discover the Question to the Ultimate Answer of Life, the Universe, and Everything project themselves into this world as mice. Even the dolphins don't realize this!

n.n said...

agree with current scientific thinking in general

Current scientific -- political? social? -- thinking is prone to conflation of logical domains. Science is, with cause, a near-domain philosophy and practice.

Geoff Matthews said...

I think, therefore I am is a reasonable proof that I am not a simulation. Everything after that is up for grabs.

William said...

We've been here before. Lots of people took it extremely hard when they discovered the earth wasn't the center of the universe. It wasn't so long ago that people were offended by the concept that we were direct descendants of the apes....If it is a computer simulation, it's certainly an elaborate one. The programmers had lots of free time, but they didn't get all the bugs out. I don't like the random selection algorithm. It's kind of haphazard. Maybe they'll do better with the next edition.

Paddy O said...

“There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”

AAT said...

It’s like free will. They want to get rid of the idea so that you will surrender control to them.

The same type of argument that you use against creationists can be used against these guys. Are our creators living in a simulation too? At some point, lacking any concrete evidence for their theory, Occam’s Razor comes into play.

Geoff Matthews said...

Douglas Adams didn't say that Earth was a computer simulation. He said it was a computer that was calculating the real question for the answer to life, the universe and everything.

AAT said...

It would explain the large numbers of NPCs we seem to see around us. But they are mostly just characters on the internet, so it’s not the same thing.

n.n said...

the simulation hypothesis is idle and silly

Idle, yes. Silly, beware. This the height of current scientific belief and social tolerance.

AAT said...

"He said it was a computer that was calculating the real question for the answer to life, the universe and everything.”

That’s just semantics. Spinoza had a similar take.

Leland said...

If we are a simulation, the output is 42.

Dave D said...

Part of me, on reading this thread, says "First World Problems". I've got to get back to work...….

William said...

We only understand a fraction of the dynamics of the universe. Dark energy. Dark matter. Our reason is a small, flickering flashlight in the Grand Canyon. Still we project that small beam within our view and claim its reach is infinite. The clockwork universe becomes the simulated universe, and we live another day..... We don't yet have a working model of the cosmos and probably never will. Still, it's remarkable how much we do understand of the workings of the universe, even if that understanding is just a pitiable fraction.

AAT said...

Solipsism is extremely hard to disprove by logic. I don’t think it can actually be done. This is solipsism once removed. Any being that could make a simulation this complete is not different from God.

This is just an updated argument for the one that points out that it is impossible to disprove the existence of God. You could easily say that God operates below the Planck level, at scales that it is impossible for us to detect with our best instruments, and that the results of His actions are emergent from those interventions.

You could say that when the Big Bang was put together by God, he not only coded in everything that has ever and will ever happen, but he anticipated our prayers and encoded the Big Bang with answers to those He chose to answer. In that case, there is no reason at all for God to be detectible, and of course, God is impossible to disprove.

This is what is called intellectual onanism.

RNB said...

"Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out."

rhhardin said...

It's not possible. Matter has no inwards. You remove one surface only to meet with another. So nowhere can it reach you.

Eddington had a better intuition. The universe is made of mind-stuff; and the laws of physics prevent you from making certain measurements - they don't reach the complete space. He has examples of several laws that conspire to keep you from finding out stuff.

Physics reaches an orderly consistent sub-space.

William said...

I think the present world is just an artifact of my imagination. After I die, this universe will cease to exist. I defy anyone to prove me wrong.

rhhardin said...

A simulated universe has all the characters you see doing what you see but it doesn't have you seeing them.

mandrewa said...

I was here, as in thinking these thoughts, 40 years ago. And no doubt someone else was thinking the same thing long before me.

Now I don't know how is it that someone asserts that one possibility is far more likely than another. As any statement of probability implies a knowledge of our circumstances that vastly and laughably exceeds what we actually know. No, all I did when I thought about these things was to list all the possibilities that I could think of, and I believe I came up with five, which I am having trouble remembering at the moment.

But one of them was the God thesis or the religious thesis, which I had to include for various reasons including that so many people believe in it.

And another was that we are an experiment. And there are different kinds or classes of experiments that are possible. In one kind of experiment our creators live in the same universe that we do, and we are a experiment in the wild so to speak, just one of what is most likely many, and one that has been running for a very long time, and where the same forces that operate on them, operate on us, and they are hidden from us, but yet still we could potentially interact with them at some point.

And another possibility is that it's a simulation, so that we are not in a sense quite real, certainly not as real as our creators, and we definitely don't live in the same universe.

I'm struggling to remember how I reasoned about this forty years ago, and I am afraid my thoughts are too much contaminated with what I know now, to recover how I thought about it then, except that I do remember it was very much on my mind for a while, but in any case one of the circumstances that would lead one to suspect that we are living in a simulation is the remarkable simplicity of the universe in some senses at it's most basic level, and it's peculiar set of rules.

In particular the universe does not operate like a Newtonian machine. It doesn't seem to have a set and predictable future, which many would know is what at one point is what many people thought was the case and where for a while physics seemed to be going.

And this is in fact a circumstance that makes it more likely that we are a simulation, since the point of running any experiment is to learn something that one does not know. And if the universe were like a machine running down a set and invariant path, then what would be the point, since quite possibly one could predict the path and the end long before the end was reached, and therefore why run the experiment, or at least complete it?

Regardless of whether we are a simulation or some experiment of a different nature or not, I'm confident that our descendants, that is if we survive to have descendants, will at some point in the future have good reason to construct simulated worlds or alternate kinds of experiment, which will explore, well, I'm not sure quite what exactly, but I suspect it will be in part about alternate ways of thinking and being.

mtrobertslaw said...

Immanual Kant had a similar, but far more sophisticated, view.

rhhardin said...

I remember a lecture in the 70s where a guy described brain science and the discovery of what pain was. So, I asked, if I monitor that, do I have two ways to know I'm in pain?

Daniel Jackson said...

Another Null Hypothesis pour les nuls

Temujin said...

Every morning I thank the Great Game Controller in the sky for another round of Level 65.

Fernandistein said...

It's actually a silly question because the simulation would be in the real universe of the creatures running the simulation and therefore just another part of that real universe.

rcocean said...

This sounds like something I would talked about late at night in the COllege dorm. A computer simulation? Like Wow man, heavy!

Do people ever understand how FAR AWAY all those "billions and billions" of stars are?
The nearest is 4.4 light-years away. Which means even if you could built a spaceship that could go to the Moon and back in 25 SECONDS - it would still take you 44 YEARS To get to Alpha Centauri.

So, now "Higher Civilization" ever came here and created a computer simulation. Its Umpossible.

rhhardin said...

Phil 101 in 1960, description of sight, signal flow, image formed and encoded, why does this not solve the problem? The signal gets sent to who. A little man observing it, repeating exactly the same problem that you started out to solve all unsolved again. How does the little man see.

rcocean said...

The whole "do we have free will?" question never engaged me. The whole point is we THINK we do. Even if God has mapped out our whole life, we don't have the map. So its irrelevant.

wild chicken said...

Great, if it's all a simulation then other people are just muppets, right? So you can do whatever to them.

It's a great, big, wonderful tomorrow!

rhhardin said...

Computer programmers don't for a second think it's a simulation. It's perhaps not obvious to the layman, but programmers, at least assembly programmers, know how unaware a machine is. Beginners' bugs teach them that right away.

dreams said...

It's me, I'm real.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkHcx-QnVUQ

EDH said...

The theory that we are living in a computer simulation may sound bizarre, but it has found adherents.

I used to think something like that sometime around the start of puberty.

I got over it.

steppin' razor said...

If the computer simulation hypothesis is true, there is no “we” involved. The hypothesis is that I am lines of code and everything in my realm of perception is being presented to me by the program. This includes All Althouse, this blog, Elizabeth Warren, my dog, the bee that stung me this morning, and literally everything else. In this simulation, there are no other beings, indeed no exterior physical reality whatsoever. Absolute solipsism. I don’t buy it, but that’s the logic of the theory.

steppin' razor said...

Autocorrect. Ann, obviously.

MikeR said...

Yeah, I see others have noted this too. Many religious people have long believed that the world is a simulation created by God. That takes care, for instance, of all the problems with the world being only 5000 years old. But it looks billions of years old! So what? It's a simulation.
Atheists have always scoffed at this answer, and now they are using it themselves.

rightguy said...

It's the THC talking.
Like WOW, man.

rhhardin said...

A Christian Scientist from Theale
said “I know that my pain is not real.
When I sit on a pin
and it punctures my skin
I dislike what I fancy I feel.”

MB said...

"If the idea catches on and people come to believe it, really believe it, the way masses of humanity believe in God, then what happens to human life?"
Exactly. So what? The teeming masses of humanity already believe in God, how is this newfangled belief any worse? Just one more religion among many others.
But that's exactly it, isn't it? How will certain people maintain their feelings of superiority vis a vis the great unwashed in such a case *and* reconcile those with the scientifically correct belief in The Simulation?
(They'll find a way, no worries, even when their beliefs rank below Harold Camping's for plausibility).

stevew said...

The Western Christian belief that God created the Universe, our solar system, and Earth, along with us and everything else in our world, then gave us free will, is the same thing as this suspected computer simulation, without the computer and without a program moving all us pieces about. If I were a higher being and looking to perform this sort of game or experiment I'd do it God's way; way more interesting to see how it plays out.

Robert Cook said...

What if I'm nothing?

Essentially, given our our minute place and span of existence in the vastness of space and time, you (as we all) are nothing, regardless of whether we're actual flesh and blood or computer simulations.

Fernandistein said...

It's actually a silly question

Now that the coffee has kicked in, I shoulda said

It's not an existential question as concerns the universe, any more than a person writing a computer simulation falsifies his own universe.

AAT said...

"After I die, this universe will cease to exist. I defy anyone to prove me wrong.”

When we do prove you wrong, you aren’t going to know it.

John Lynch said...

Watching atheists re-invent the wheel is funny.

A simulation is a created universe. The creator(s) are God, or gods.

There's no difference from inside.

mandrewa said...

rocean said, "Which means even if you could built a spaceship that could go to the Moon and back in 25 SECONDS - it would still take you 44 YEARS To get to Alpha Centauri.

"So, now "Higher Civilization" ever came here and created a computer simulation. Its Umpossible."


If it's a computer simulation, then it's the whole universe that is the simulation. From the perspective of the creators of that universe the distances don't matter because they are not and will never be in this universe.

In another kind of experiment there is no computer simulation and we are just as real as our creators. They live in the same universe as us and therefore it's conceivable we could interact with them. They don't have to travel from Alpha Centauri because they are already here and have been for a very long time. In that case we are the local native wildlife that they've been managing and manipulating for purposes that we do not understand.

And in such an experiment there is the question of how many past interventions there have been, not to mention the question of whether any are occurring now. Are we for instance created beings designed to have minds and to have purpose and to think? Or is this a latent tendency that might have manifested on it's own in the absence of experimenters?

And if that were the case, then the touch of the experimenters may have been light and they may have intervened only to make a possible situation probable, and in fact one of the guiding principles of that experiment might be to intervene as little as possible.

But then it would all depend on the purpose of the experiment.

Clearly there are many possible experiments and experimenters, more than we can possible imagine or conceive of. Maybe there is some higher level principle that demands that the nature of the experimenters be similar to our own and therefore they would be comprehensible to us if only we had the right information.

Or they/it could be completely different and therefore always and forever incomprehensible.

Ben said...

But how certain can those who simulated this universe be that they are not experiencing a simulation. It's turtles all the way down...or maybe up.

tcrosse said...

What if I'm nothing?

Who wants to know?

Paddy O said...

"Essentially, given our our minute place and span of existence in the vastness of space and time, you (as we all) are nothing, regardless of whether we're actual flesh and blood or computer simulations."

Total Perspective Vortex!

mandrewa said...

Ben said, "But how certain can those who simulated this universe be that they are not experiencing a simulation. It's turtles all the way down...or maybe up."

Ha! I was thinking the same thing -- even to saying it might be turtles all the way down.

If one believes it's a simulation seriously, then that one can already see three levels. There is our level. There is our creators level. And there is the fact that if we persist that we are going to create simulations.

So that's three! If there's three why not more?

Jupiter said...

steppin' razor said...
"In this simulation, there are no other beings, indeed no exterior physical reality whatsoever. Absolute solipsism. I don’t buy it, but that’s the logic of the theory."

Not quite. You don't exist either.

Freeman Hunt said...

"Computers are like magic. Maybe I live in a computer."

There is nothing about computers that would lead me to believe that this is possible.

Freeman Hunt said...

If you begin thinking of other people as simulations, it will be awfully easy to kill them.

PM said...

To Serve Man.

Clark said...

This post inspires me to read Alain de Lille's 12th Century Anticlaudian as a description of the creators of the simulation, hard at work building up the simulation. But first, I still have to read Paradise Lost.

n.n said...

then gave us free will

The understanding is that God incorporated us in a coherent structure (soul), and that freewill (spirit) precedes, is expressed, and is constrained by the body, the brain. The current scientific belief is that freewill is a quality and quantity characterized through degrees of freedom.

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

thinking of other people as simulations, it will be awfully easy ...

Colorful clumps of cells. Rational, practical, legal, ethical, and immoral.

David53 said...

We are a tiny part of a universe wide simulation created by an unknown entity. When enough of us become self-actualized and aware of our plight, a long dormant sub-conscious switch will flip and we will all simultaneously evolve. As one, our conscious selves with rise up out of our former carbon based vessels and coalesce into an indestructible orb of pure thought energy approximately three feet in diameter. We will become Known. Orbiting above the Earth for seven days Known will consolidate the trillions of threads of racial memories and scientific knowledge gained by the carbons. Only then will we be able to contact the other Knowns across the universe. Knowns disguise themselves as dark matter that is why we are unaware of them. Their abilities and goals are unfathomable. I have only communicated with a single Known during a near death experience and why it chose to reveal this information to me I have no idea but I was assured there would be more revelations before we send a man to Mars.

L Ron David

Bottom Turtle said...

So we are the simulation where the chain got stopped because we aren’t smart enough to make the next simulation where we are God and the little collections of data and routines in our computers are our creations.

What are the odds of that? Boltzmann brains are another one of these things. Disprove those! It’s just a matter of the limits of human reason. If you ever saw the joke on The Big Bang Theory that went like this:

A physics professor every Wednesday night goes to an ice cream bar and orders two sundaes, one for himself, and one that he puts in front of the other seat at his table. One day the waitress asks him who the other sundae is for. He says “a pretty lady might materialize in the other chair, and I wanted to have something to offer her.” The waitress says “Why don’t you just ask one? She might say yes!” He says “What are the odds of that happening?”

If you didn’t spit your drink on hearing it, you never heard of a Boltzmann brain. Basically, your brain could randomly form complete with your perceptions and memories of thoughts and perception, at some point in the age of this universe or many other universes that may have formed over infinte time.

Onanism, but, like the song says “masturbation...... can be fu uh un"

Bottom Turtle said...

The joke above was submitted by a Nobel Prize winner and none of the cast understood it, BTW, according to the guy who played Sheldon.

Bottom Turtle said...

"Of these 'adherents', can we stipulate;
That EVERY ONE OF THEM is PROUD to be an atheist?”

It’s a cops/criminal dynamic here. Both drawn from the same pool.

Keith said...

One reason I enjoy this blog is the commenters are generally intelligent. I used to love to read Megan McArdle when she was on Bloomberg because I enjoyed the comments as much as her articles and the commenters were intelligent. Now in the Washington Post I don't read her at all. The commenters are truly imbeciles.

Anyway...

Everyone here does realize of course that this premise is actually Descartes (as every Philosophy major would recognize), and he concluded "I think therefore I am." That is to say, the meaning of my existence (if I remember correctly from 30 years ago) is based on my ability to think, not the state of any physical body, whether it exists or not.

And even before him, in traditional Jewish thought G-d not only created the Universe but continually recreates it, meaning there is no persistent true reality. G-d recreates all of existence every moment and so there is no underlying independent reality outside of G-d's will. We are living essentially in the Matrix except that it is a benevolent G-d who is the programmer.

So as neat as it is for Elon Musk to discover it, these ideas are thousands of years old.

Kirk Parker said...

"The Unpleasant Profession Of Jonathan Hoag"

BJM said...

AAT said...
"He said it was a computer that was calculating the real question for the answer to life, the universe and everything.”

The answer is 42

LakeLevel said...

Before I even heard about this universe is a simulation theory, I thought it was weird and interesting that at a certain size, the laws of physics break down into quanta, very much like digital computer values. But then I thought, at some point the laws of physics must change in order to rest on some solid foundation, otherwise you could get, for instance, whole galaxies smaller than atoms, which would require infinite complexity of space and time and energy. Also a computer simulation of the universe would require a computer that is even larger than the universe itself. Ridiculous, why not just make the universe?

Sigivald said...

"knowing that we are only somebody else's simulation would change the meaning of life for us"

Not if we were programmed not to!

("We're in a simulation!" changes nothing, in practice, the same way "we don't REALLY have free will" changes nothing, because we radically experience the sensation of it.

"It's fake!!!" doesn't matter. Really. It doesn't. People who claim it does will then immeediately act like it doesn't, except when consciously trying to.)

Yancey Ward said...

Given enough time and technological advancement, we will be able to put a person into a simulated environment ala The Matrix- it really is only a matter of connecting to and feeding the sensory imputs- vision, touch, motion, smell, and hearing. And, on another level, it will only be a matter of time before we create simulated worlds for created beings- we already do this on a crude level. I don't know where this point will be reached, but I am confident it is possible. Maybe within a hundred years, or it might take 500. And when it happens, it will be first point of proof that we already live in such a construct.

Kay is right, above, in the very first comment. We are just circling back to God.

tcrosse said...

"He said it was a computer that was calculating the real question for the answer to life, the universe and everything.”

The answer is 42


The question is: "How many roads must a man walk down?"

John Lynch said...

Don't anger the gods!!!!!!!!

Hilarious.

Yancey Ward said...

And if we are in such a construct, we will never be able to prove it. At best, we will each, individually, become aware of it after we die, and only that if the creator/s have a use for us beyond this life.

Paddy O said...

There was never a person named Descartes, and he never thought. We think there was such as Descartes who proved self-existence about thinking because we have been implanted with the idea that we were taught about him, and this memory seems real because it is implanted in the section of our memory that categorizes aspects as "real". Or rather, we think we think, but are not, so don't really think.

Descartes never was. But who then is?

Yancey Ward said...

Mandrewa wrote:

"I'm struggling to remember how I reasoned about this forty years ago, and I am afraid my thoughts are too much contaminated with what I know now, to recover how I thought about it then"

For me, it probably started around age 10 or so when I started to try to figure out why people do the things they do. At that point, I started to toy with the idea that, maybe, I was real and sentient, but that no one else was, and was only acting due to a running program- and I realized that I could never prove this one way or the other. Of course, as I got older, I began to realize that it was likely that we all were real and sentient enough, or none of us are.

Eventually, I reached the point where I don't think it even matters- if I can't prove it, what am I left with? You just gotta live the life you are given- the nature of the world was always out of our hands.

BUMBLE BEE said...

rrhardin at 9:17... +100 My assembly language 101 professor stated at the outset that "computers are high speed idiots". We students spent the first half of the semester proving just that. Sometimes only that.

n.n said...

Kay is right, above, in the very first comment. We are just circling back to God.

Yes, she is. What we know, don't know, and cannot know. There is good reason to consider the logical domains as separate and complementary.

Original Mike said...

Blogger Bottom Turtle said..."The joke above was submitted by a Nobel Prize winner and none of the cast understood it, BTW, according to the guy who played Sheldon."

That's disappointing. Personally, I spit my drink out.

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Jonathan Graehl said...

I'm pretending not to know God exists so He doesn't pull the plug - the secret peeper He must remain.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

"I see the danger ... knowing that we are only somebody else's simulation would change the meaning of life for us"

Is it a danger? We have the example of predestination creating the protestant work ethic.

Jonathan Graehl said...

Peeping insecurity is about fear of consequence from the peeped upon. Would you throw away the fish bowl if your fish looked back at you and winked? Or would you enjoy your fish bowl even more for it?

MBunge said...

I'm sure others have pointed this out...but is there really NOTHING better for supposedly smart and supposedly educated people to spend their time on than pondering if life is some sort of simulation?

This is why we don't have flying cars.

Mike

libertariansafetyguy said...

I think it’s about time for the simulators to turn on our Jedi powers!

Unknown said...

Oh, the simulated horror!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOZ6nKnJI6w&t=1m20s

AAT said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AAT said...

"Before I even heard about this universe is a simulation theory, I thought it was weird and interesting that at a certain size, the laws of physics break down into quanta, very much like digital computer values.”

No self respecting God would run His universe like a floating crap game the way ours is if you believe quantum mechanics, Einstein said it himself! He just didn’t know he was talking about the universe of the people who created our simulation! Those people were created by God and the proof of it is that they live in an analog world, the way God intended.

DeVere said...

What is dispiriting about learning you were created, and for a purpose?

It just pushes back the question of ultimate origins, to the new question, How were our creators created?

It would be fun to know, and it's a natural question to pursue now that it has been raised. I do worry about the creators pulling the plug, though they might not mind our knowing.

DaveL said...

Neal Stephenson's new novel "Fall, or Dodge in Hell" is in part about the idea of simulating the afterlife on (many) powerful computers.

stlcdr said...

“Let’s tweak this simulation a bit. Just for giggles” - God.

Fernandistein said...

SeanF said...Although I am amused by the idea that creationism is now apparently an atheist position.

Besides obviously not understanding the issue, which has nothing at all to do with creationism, I'm glad you're amused by your own assumptions about other peoples' philosophies, but actual atheists, e.g. physicists, aren't buying the simulation stuff.

AAT said...

"Besides obviously not understanding the issue, which has nothing at all to do with creationism,”

I am not sure who it is that doesn’t understand, but it would have been better if he had said “some atheists."

Scott said...

While slightly different, I am reminded of one of Larry Niven's lesser known stories "All the Myriad Ways" in which indisputable proof of the multiverse hypothesis (in the form of actual contact with those multiverses) becomes widely known. This leads (in one world at least) to a rash of bizarre crimes ranging from pointless suicides to equally pointless murders. A rather thoughtful detective traces the root cause of these crimes to the general acceptance (in the light of the multiverse's existence) that nothing really matters, and that any action will turn out differently elsewhere/elsewhen....

Perhaps this might be the case with a proof of the simulation hypothesis as well?

mandrewa said...

Fernandistein linked to https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/9/e1701758

or rather linked to some journalist fluff that linked to that.

But actually when I read what is being linked to it doesn't seem to say any such thing.

The closest the paper comes to saying anything about the subject at hand is this sentence:

"Indeed, all problems that can be solved efficiently on a classical computer can be solved just as efficiently on a quantum computer, while the opposite is believed not to hold."

Now apart from the fact that I don't believe this hypothesis has been proven, suppose it is in fact true?

That would only mean that the universe can not be simulated on a classical computer. Who said the universe had to be simulated on a classical computer? Since note, the paper puts no restrictions on what quantum computers can do.

But aside from that and much more importantly who says that a mechanism simulating our universe, if there is one, has to be in our universe or be restricted by the laws of our universe?

Roy Lofquist said...

The family is gathered around the bed. A clergyman is intoning words of comfort. The nurse discretely powers down the machine. The lights dim. A sign appears: "Replay for just 12 Blotniks or one "E" ticket".

gadfly said...

Before computer simulations, we had the Holy Bible dispensing God's guidance. Jonah Goldberg wrote about Albert Jay Nock and a story he wrote for the Atlantic Monthly in 1936 entitled "Isaiah's Job."- which contains this look at Isaiah warning the Jews of God's wrath.

I cannot remember a time when so many energumens were so variously proclaiming the Word to the multitude and telling them what they must do to be saved. This being so, it occurred to me, as I say, that the story of Isaiah might have something in it to steady and compose the human spirit until this tyranny of windiness is overpast. I shall paraphrase the story in our common speech, since it has to be pieced out from various sources; and inasmuch as respectable scholars have thought fit to put out a whole new version of the Bible in the American vernacular, I shall take shelter behind them, if need be, against the charge of dealing irreverently with the Sacred Scriptures.

The prophet's career began at the end of King Uzziah's reign, say about 740 B.C. This reign was uncommonly long, almost half a century, and apparently prosperous. It was one of those prosperous reigns, however — like the reign of Marcus Aurelius at Rome, or the administration of Eubulus at Athens, or of Mr. Coolidge at Washington — where at the end the prosperity suddenly peters out and things go by the board with a resounding crash.

In the year of Uzziah's death, the Lord commissioned the prophet to go out and warn the people of the wrath to come. "Tell them what a worthless lot they are." He said, "Tell them what is wrong, and why and what is going to happen unless they have a change of heart and straighten up. Don't mince matters. Make it clear that they are positively down to their last chance. Give it to them good and strong and keep on giving it to them. I suppose perhaps I ought to tell you," He added, "that it won't do any good. The official class and their intelligentsia will turn up their noses at you and the masses will not even listen. They will all keep on in their own ways until they carry everything down to destruction, and you will probably be lucky if you get out with your life."

Isaiah had been very willing to take on the job — in fact, he had asked for it — but the prospect put a new face on the situation. It raised the obvious question: Why, if all that were so — if the enterprise were to be a failure from the start — was there any sense in starting it? "Ah," the Lord said, "you do not get the point. There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile, your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on. Your job is to take care of the Remnant, so be off now and set about it."

mandrewa said...

Here's a second take on https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/9/e1701758

This time I read through the paper instead of just skimming it. I now I have a better understanding of what it is about.

That doesn't mean I understand the paper because really most of it is over my head, but from beginning to end it seems to be a comment on restrictions on what classical methods of analysis can model.

And further even when it is laying out the argument that classical methods cannot adequately model certain phenomena it is all quite tentative, because as they note it's always possible that the real difficulty is that we have been insufficiently ingenious in our approach.

Or in other words, the argument is at bottom that since we have failed so many times in trying to model certain things that may mean it is in fact impossible.

But I don't believe failure to do something or to understand something is proof that it is impossible.

And then the real heart of the paper seems to be a couple of problems where they prove, or at least strongly suggest, and the proof is beyond my ability to evaluate, that certain problems cannot be solved with classical methods.

But even as they do this, they cannot help noting with perplexity that we are somehow able to solve some of these problems despite their seeming to be the sort of thing that by their nature should be unsolveable.

For example there is this quote: "the equality of their partition functions is a result of miraculous cancellation of a large number of contributions in the vertex model case"

Finally it was unjust of me to describe the original article linked to as journalist fluff, particularly since now that I have read the paper I know that 90% of what is said in that article by Dom Galeon simply isn't in the paper he links to. So clearly Dom Galeon himself must know quite a lot of physics.

But then he gives no evidence for his assertions.

To reiterate what I said before: (a) none of this seems to be a restriction on what quantum computers can do; and (b) none of this would apply to a simulator that was not part of our universe.

Fernandistein said...

or rather linked to some journalist fluff that linked to that.

Sorry about that. But I can't find an actual physicist, not a "philosopher" as in this story, who believes the simulation idea is correct or even very plausible, other than that affirmative action guy, and he's wishy-washy about it ("put the odds at 50-50" = bullshit). One guy makes some statements about analogous internet error correction, but WTF.

And as I mentioned above, even if we're in a simulation, of whatever physical manifestation (computer simulation or a gigantic terrarium), it doesn't say much about the actual universe that the simulation exists in, just as a regular old human person creating a simulation doesn't change his universe other than adding that simulation to it.

Narr said...

Wasn't Stephenson's Anathem a multiverse tale?

DaveL@338 -- simulating an afterlife, or simulating life after death?

Phillip Kerr's A Philosophical Investigation, and his The Second Angel, touch in different ways on the reality of the virtual. And he did one alt-history with a (spoiler!) dead narrator.

Nock was pretty good, a nock-off Mencken.

Narr
I mean that in a good way

Fernandistein said...

But then he gives no evidence for his assertions.

I wasn't arguing whether or not the universe is a simulation, I was arguing that atheists, i.e. scientists, or almost all scientists, don't think it is a simulation.

The NYT philosopher says: "Even if our work is called “incomprehensible” in comparison to that of physicists, philosophers can still rejoice in the attention, since it is not often that articles in philosophy journals receive international news coverage."

AAT said...

"but from beginning to end it seems to be a comment on restrictions on what classical methods of analysis can model.”

The whole argument is about the limits of human reason, I mean that is the only thing a serious person could take away from this whole discussion. Human reason even aided by computers.

George Putnam said...

Great post and great discussion in the comments! I linked and added a few thoughts here:

https://switchelphilosopher.blog/2019/08/16/are-we-living-in-a-simulation/

One thing I didn't put in that post, and that I don't see mentioned here (but a few NYT commenters remembered), is the 1964 science fiction novel "Simulacron-3" by Daniel Galouye. The computers are analog not digital, but the concepts are the same: multi-level simulations that lead to more questions than answers.