Monday, June 27, 2022

If We're Living in a Simulation, The Gods Might Be Crazy

[A comment on David Iverson's new short story, "This, But Again", in Slate's Future Tense]

That we’re living in a computer simulation—it sounds like a paranoid fantasy. But it’s a possibility that futurists, philosophers, and scientific cosmologists treat increasingly seriously. Oxford philosopher and noted futurist Nick Bostrom estimates there’s about a 1 in 3 chance that we’re living in a computer simulation. Prominent New York University philosopher David J. Chalmers, in his recent book, estimates at least a 25 percent chance. Billionaire Elon Musk says it’s a near-certainty. And it’s the premise of this month’s Future Tense Fiction story by David Iserson, “This, but Again.”

Let’s consider the unnerving cosmological and theological implications of this idea. If it’s true that we’re living in a computer simulation, the world might be weirder, smaller, and more unstable than we ordinarily suppose.

Full story here.



"Skepticism, Godzilla, and the Artificial Computerized Many-Branching You" (Nov. 15, 2013).

"Our Possible Imminent Divinity" (Jan. 2, 2014).

"1% Skepticism" (Nous (2017) 51, 271-290).

Related "Is Life a Simulation? If So, Be Very Afraid" (Los Angeles Times, Apr. 22, 2022).


Callan said...

In some ways the focus on 'we're all in a simulation' seems to me like religion that has been bleached clean by science. It has the hallmark of religion where everyone is one of gods children but now you're one of the dev's instances. It seems to have the same structure of religion, which is to retreat inside of some thought structure. I say it's a retreat because someone would have to run the simulation - someone has to be stuck on the outside of the sim. And it almost seems a fear of being stuck on the outside of the sim/stuck outside of heaven. And rather like god fearing, the fear of it being a sim is almost a pleasant goad that is both dreadful and yet the confinement is ironically liberating, from being safe on the inside. Safe from the actual. If things harm you, it came from an intentional source and someone is to blame. There's a sense of justice or potential justice in that.

Paul D. Van Pelt said...

If we are living in a simulation, Julian Jaynes may have been right about his notion of the bicameral mind. He noted, in his book, that early men could not decide what to do, so they consulted oracles, soothsayers, 'gods' and the like. A fortiori, those gods often WERE crazy and those consulting them found out the hard way. This bicameral mind assessment/hypothesis tacitly endorsed early schizophrenia, although concrete evidence for the conclusion was not shown. I think, the story of simulated life, has lost its luster and mystery. We are very much present in this moment, and simulation, other than as some sort of thought experiment, is for true simulation(s): VR, for example. The bicameral mind? It was with us, before Jaynes. It will remain so, ad infinitum. Which is why we have to think---better.

Arnold said...
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Paul D. Van Pelt said...
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Paul D. Van Pelt said...
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Paul D. Van Pelt said...

Just as an aside, and in one humble,autodidact's opinion, the notion of a simulation of life seems wildly metaphysical. This retreats, radically, to the brain-in-a-vat fantasy. Certainly, as thinking, sentient---dare I assert, conscious beings, we may conjure anything our imagination desires. Active minds are healthy minds. To a point.
But, as was once asked of philosophy: what does it DO?, after all these rears, I know the latter answer: philosophy helps us think better. Granted, the brain in the vat was, once, a repository of consciousness, if that term be accepted. Sentience may be less contested. My own thinking on metaphysics has wavered, more than once, before settling down. Now, I have adopted the purely pragmatic stance, which says metaphysics is more useful, rather than less...that said, I do not regard simulation as a metaphysical manifestation. It is,if anything at all,a human construct.

Charlie said...

These thoughts seem vertiginous. Suppose we took things out to the wildest and most bizarre of places, and pushed past the fear and uncertainty that the world is other than it is. What remains?

Any simulation, although not veridical, would be itself a physical object, and so real: it exists somewhere. It would be impossible to fully escape the "real." Instead there is only illusion.

And we already know that the way we perceive reality as it is, is illusory. E.g., colours we see do not "exist." Our emotions concretized out of billions of years of evolution acting on the nervous system. We spend our lives climbing social hierarchies that are formed illusion-wise by other humans. We fulfil familial relationships for which resource allocation can reasonably be summarised by relating it to the percentage of shared genetic material.

What seems to remain is something like awareness and physicality. And if awareness is physicality then there is only physicality. And even through the various stages of abstraction and illusion there is still this inherent righting movement towards awareness and physicality, which is essentially just the same experience as waking up from a half-dream or trying to make it to the toilet while inebriated, just with more layers.

And perhaps that is comforting: we cannot escape the everyday so we might as well enjoy the immediate experience of living life.

Paul D. Van Pelt said...

Good work, Charlie, good work.