Cosmology Intelligent Design

At SciAm: There is a 50-50 chance that we are living in a computer sim

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And advanced AI research or frontier cosmology can, we are told, help us find out:

It is not often that a comedian gives an astrophysicist goose bumps when discussing the laws of physics. But comic Chuck Nice managed to do just that in a recent episode of the podcast StarTalk. The show’s host Neil deGrasse Tyson had just explained the simulation argument—the idea that we could be virtual beings living in a computer simulation. If so, the simulation would most likely create perceptions of reality on demand rather than simulate all of reality all the time—much like a video game optimized to render only the parts of a scene visible to a player. “Maybe that’s why we can’t travel faster than the speed of light, because if we could, we’d be able to get to another galaxy,” said Nice, the show’s co-host, prompting Tyson to gleefully interrupt. “Before they can program it,” the astrophysicist said, delighting at the thought. “So the programmer put in that limit.”

Such conversations may seem flippant. But ever since Nick Bostrom of the University of Oxford wrote a seminal paper about the simulation argument in 2003, philosophers, physicists, technologists and, yes, comedians have been grappling with the idea of our reality being a simulacrum…

Anil Anathaswamy, “Do We Live in a Simulation? Chances Are about 50–50” at Scientific American

That’s presumably how these people cope with the fine-tuning of the universe and Earth for life: Aliens did it.

21 Replies to “At SciAm: There is a 50-50 chance that we are living in a computer sim

  1. 1
    Viola Lee says:

    The conclusion of the article:

    Lipping, despite his own study, worries that further work on the simulation hypothesis is on thin ice. “It’s arguably not testable as to whether we live in a simulation or not,” he says. “If it’s not falsifiable, then how can you claim it’s really science?”

    For him, there is a more obvious answer: Occam’s razor, which says that in the absence of other evidence, the simplest explanation is more likely to be correct. The simulation hypothesis is elaborate, presuming realities nested upon realities, as well as simulated entities that can never tell that they are inside a simulation. “Because it is such an overly complicated, elaborate model in the first place, by Occam’s razor, it really should be disfavored, compared to the simple natural explanation,” Kipping says.

  2. 2
    News says:

    Viola Lee at 1: Yes, noticed that. Maybe they are counting on most readers not to read down that far. It’s how they keep the wheeze going.

  3. 3
    AaronS1978 says:

    So the god put in a limit oops I mean the programmer…………..

    I have an incredible amount of rage for Neil right now for very obvious reasons

  4. 4

    The simulation theory fails because it doesn’t actually explain the simulation-like properties we experience, it just punts the problem up to the next level of simulation. In order to program a simulation like this you have to live in the vary commodities and qualities of existence that we experience, which would indicate there can’t be any original world or else it wouldn’t be able to program the first simulation.

    Mental reality theory doesn’t suffer from this problem.

    BTW, simulation theory, like mental reality theory, is disprovable. It’s just that we’ve already conducted the research that would have disproved it, and it is due to that research that scientists are turning to simulation and mental reality theories. Sure, it’s not disprovable NOW, but that wasn’t the case 100 years ago.

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    Every computer and computer program that has ever been built or written has come from a intelligent mind, Therefore the simulation argument turns out, in the end, to actually be a argument for God

    Digital Physics Argument
    Premise 1: Simulations can only exist in a computer or a mind.
    Premise 2: The universe is a simulation.
    Premise 3: A simulation on a computer still must be simulated in a mind.
    Premise 4: Therefore, the universe is a simulation in a mind (2,3).
    Premise 5: This mind is what we call God.
    Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.
    Digital Physics Argument for God’s Existence – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2Xsp4FRgas

    As Dr. Craig pointed out in the following debate, “What you are calling a computer is actually God,,,”

    “What you are calling a computer is actually God,,,”
    – Dr William Lane Craig
    The Wit of Dr. Craig – Part 4 “You’re calling it ‘God’, genius” – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCUE10dY3Rc

    Verse and quotes:

    John 1:1
    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”

    of note: ‘the Word’ in John1:1 is translated from ‘Logos’ in Greek. Logos also happens to be the root word from which we derive our modern word logic
    http://etymonline.com/?term=logic

    What is the Logos?
    Logos is a Greek word literally translated as “word, speech, or utterance.” However, in Greek philosophy, Logos refers to divine reason or the power that puts sense into the world making order instead of chaos.,,,
    In the Gospel of John, John writes “In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). John appealed to his readers by saying in essence, “You’ve been thinking, talking, and writing about the Word (divine reason) for centuries and now I will tell you who He is.”
    https://www.compellingtruth.org/what-is-the-Logos.html

  6. 6
    Viola Lee says:

    Bornagain77 writes,

    Every computer and computer program that has ever been built or written has come from a intelligent mind, Therefore the simulation argument turns out, in the end, to actually be a argument for God.

    This is sort of what I thought when I first heard about this simulation idea a few days ago: only a supernatural omnipotent power would be able to create this hypothetical simulation that would be what we consider to be our universe.

  7. 7
    AaronS1978 says:

    It’s really explaining the same thing their way

  8. 8
    doubter says:

    Viola Lee@1

    The problem with using Occam’s Razor is that it’s not being properly applied. When considering quantum mechanics this isn’t really two explanations vying to be considered most likely based on which is the simplest – it’s one potential explanation (virtual reality simulation theory) against a non-explanation. Unless a “natural explanation” for quantum mechanics and all its weirdnesses can be found within the Standard Model, relativity and quantum mechanics itself. I don’t think so.

  9. 9
    Viola Lee says:

    Here’s a question I’ve asked Querius about this: if we are all beings living in a simulation, are we thus robots with no free will, just doing what we’ve been programmed to do? What do you think about this issue?

  10. 10
    doubter says:

    Most of the virtual reality simulation hypotheses assume the totally invalid materialist neuroscience position that human consciousness is algorithmic and totally based on data processing in the physical brain, so we ourselves are supposedly being generated by this hyper-computer processing, which is in effect simulating our consciousness. I guess that might make us essentially robots with no free will.

    There are a few world simulation hypotheses that recognize the deep problems with this (the “Hard Problem”, other strong philosophical arguments, and many lines of empirical evidence demonstrate that the mind is not the physical brain) and propose that we are instead the “users” or participators in this simulated virtual reality, and that accordingly our own true reality is ultimately the reality of the virtual reality simulators. I think Marcus Arvan’s proposed P2P virtual reality simulation is one of these approaches.

  11. 11
    doubter says:

    William J. Murray@4
    ” In order to program a simulation like this you have to live in the vary commodities and qualities of existence that we experience, which would indicate there can’t be any original world or else it wouldn’t be able to program the first simulation.”

    I don’t think there is any reason why the higher reality of the simulator(s) couldn’t be where the buck stops – the one and only true reality. And there is no reason why that one true higher reality of the simulator(s) couldn’t be vastly different than our simulated one, say a realm in which there are no weirdnesses of quantum mechanics for instance.

  12. 12
    Querius says:

    Doubter @8, 10, and 11,

    Nicely explained! 🙂

    -Q

  13. 13

    Doubter @11,

    I don’t think there is any reason why the higher reality of the simulator(s) couldn’t be where the buck stops – the one and only true reality. And there is no reason why that one true higher reality of the simulator(s) couldn’t be vastly different than our simulated one, say a realm in which there are no weirdnesses of quantum mechanics for instance.

    It sounds to me like your model is basically offering a promissory note based on the collateral of “bare possibility” of an original world completely unlike our own.

    The first problem with it is that it unnecessarily expands explanatory entities needed to explain our experiential reality by a whole domain, which is exactly the problem with external-world materialism. IOW, you’ve only kicked the problem back however many steps it takes to get to the “real” reality.

    The next problem is this: in the real reality, are we experiencing things there in something other than our personal, “local” mind there? If not, how would one know they were actually in the original world and not just in a world that is programmed differently using entirely different technology that produced a different kind of experience when examined from within the simulation?

    Stacked simulation theory doesn’t solve any problem because it just punts the problem up a level (or up countless levels, who knows), it unnecessarily adds explanatory entities in violation of Occam’s Razor and it relies upon the promise of a “bare possibility” without even a rudimentary hypothesis about the nature of the promised “original world.”

    Mental reality theory is obviously, by far, the better model.

  14. 14

    Viola Lee,

    Not having true free will is a non-starter position, because it eliminates the possibility of informed, deliberate, rational discussion and debate. If we’re programmed beings or biological automatons, we might be barking incoherently while simultaneously thinking we’ve said something meaningful – it just depends on the programming. “No free will” is not a serious position to take or argue because it is intrinsically a self-defeating argument.

  15. 15
    Seversky says:

    The other obvious question about any super-simulation is why is it being run?

    Is it just for entertainment purposes, something like a cross between the Matrix, the Star Trek holodeck and the fantasy vacations in Total Recall?

    Or is it being run to investigate deeper problems like the nature of consciousness and free will? We observe what appear to be random events in this universe. Did they program an entirely deterministic universe and then use something like a random number generator to introduce random events in order to see what would happen?

  16. 16
    Querius says:

    Seversky,

    The purpose is entirely speculative, of course, and we might not even be able to understand it. Speculations are grist for science fiction writers. For example, a future dying world runs simulations to see whether they could have avoided their current predicament and perhaps get clues on a better course of action in the future.

    A different type of purpose emerges when the initiating agent is God. For example, Jesus once asked his disciples, if you can’t be trusted with the world’s money, who will trust you with true wealth?

    In this case, the statement by Jesus seems to indicate some type of filtering process as the underlying purpose of this simulation we’re living in.

    It’s also like if your behavior in an online game is being monitored (which actually is the case).

    -Q

  17. 17
    Fasteddious says:

    For those who haven’t seen it, here is a brief exploration of some possibilities with a simulated world: https://thopid.blogspot.com/2019/01/our-simulated-world.html Some of the possibilities include different rates of time, “save game” and stop / rewind mode, etc. An active simulation even allows for and easily explains “miracles”.
    If reality is indeed a simulation, then it is not any less “real” to those of us inside. This is perhaps one way to synthesize “realism” and mental “idealism” as WJM keeps pointing to. The “external physical world” is then only the models programmed into the simulation and their resulting effects experienced by the simulated minds. The platform for the simulation may then be the universal mind, AKA God., so that no “real” physical reality needs to exist at a higher level.
    Finally, one aspect mentioned in the article, to “create perceptions of reality on demand rather than simulate all of reality all the time”, combined with the possibility that not all of the 7.5 billion people in the world are truly simulated, but merely part of the background, could render the simulation more plausible. It is presumably easier to simulate a few thousand minds, along with whatever “reality” they are exposed to at any moment, rather than 7.5 billion of us and the entire cosmos in detail. Add in the possibility that each femtosecond time step in the simulation may take eons in computer time, as well as the “eternity” the simulator has to write the program before pushing the “start” button, and the whole idea looks almost doable! Good fun!

  18. 18
    doubter says:

    Fasteddious @17
    “….and their resulting effects experienced by the simulated minds.”

    If our minds are simulated they are algorithmic and generated by data processing in the brain’s neural nets. We are ultimately robots with no free will and our apparent consciousness and free will are somehow illusions.

    You are assuming this materialist neuroscience point of view that mind is in some way one and the same as the brain’s neural structure and its functioning and is in essence data processing that in principle can itself be simulated.

    As has been explored many times in this forum, this materialist view is untenable. The only way the world virtual reality simulation hypothesis could be plausible is if it is postulated that we are the “users” or participators in the elaborate virtual reality simulation, and our true existence is in the higher reality of the simulators.

  19. 19
    Querius says:

    Doubter,

    Yes, indeed. One can create a fairly convincing AI, but it’s still not conscious and there’s known process or program that can make it conscious.

    The only options are that (1) everything in the universe is conscious or (2) consciousness is trans-dimensional.

    The only reasonable option in my opinion is (2), that our “self” is located elsewhere but is in tightly coupled with our primate bodies.

    -Q

  20. 20
    Viola Lee says:

    Why is it not the case that the trans-dimensional, immaterial self is located integrally with (in the same space) as the body? Why “located elsewhere”?

  21. 21
    Querius says:

    Viola Lee @20,

    We looked there and couldn’t find it.
    https://youtu.be/EXOX3RCpEbU?t=105

    What do you think of this?

    -Q

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