Intelligent Design

Does the Cartesian Demon Really Exist?

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Eon Musk assures us that it is highly probable that a techno-version of him does in fact exist:

The strongest argument for us being in a simulation probably is the following: 40 years ago we had pong. Like, two rectangles and a dot. That was what games were. Now, 40 years later, we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously, and it’s getting better every year. Soon we’ll have virtual reality, augmented reality.

If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, even if that rate of advancement drops by a thousand from what it is now. Then you just say, okay, let’s imagine it’s 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale.

So given that we’re clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set-top box or on a PC or whatever, and there would probably be billions of such computers or set-top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds that we’re in base reality is one in billions.

Tell me what’s wrong with that argument. Is there a flaw in that argument?

Philosopher Berny Belvedere’s take on Musk’s claims:

Here’s the problem: there is a universe-sized metaphysical gap between ruling out andruling in — I can’t rule out that invisible fairies are currently swirling around the room, but I have very little reason to rule it in. I can’t rule out that I am the only thing that exists, but I have very little reason to rule it in. These are reasonable positions to take. Musk, however, rules in that we’re all characters in a video game.

4 Replies to “Does the Cartesian Demon Really Exist?

  1. 1
    EvilSnack says:

    The problem with the Cartesian daemon is that the only logical response to its being true, or even the possibility that it might be true, is to (pardon the language) STFU.

    The people who blabber on about the Cartesian daemon clearly to not believe in it. Why should the rest of us waste a single brain calorie worrying about it?

    (Note: This is also the chief problem with Platonism.)

  2. 2
    Robert Byers says:

    I don’t know much about Elon musk except I think he is a foreigner from israel. not sure. So what does he know. Will a day come when billions of free dollars to Israel yearly become only a virtual reality.
    Anyways.
    Its accurate to say virtual reality can mimic real observation. This because we are never looing at reality. We are always looking at a video of it. We only observe our memory of what our senses tell us.
    Nobosy has ever seen, heard, touched, tasted, smelled anythin in the natural world. We only observe a memory of these things sent by the senses to the memory.
    Thats why optical, audio etc illusions takev place.
    We do live in reality but by way of watching a video with slight editing.
    So some computer could finally mimic the real world to us and we not know the difference.l. Games are not.

    Yet the world isrea

  3. 3
    vjtorley says:

    OK, I’ll bite. Suppose that the simulations of the video game characters were perfectly detailed, right down to the subatomic level, as in real life. Suppose also that the video game was causally isolated from other physical systems – i.e. that there was nothing that could interfere with it or turn it off. Suppose that the game characters were organisms: microbes, fungi, plants and animals. Here’s my question. What would there be to distinguish the virtual organisms from real ones?

    Would the foregoing argument apply to sentient animals, too? I can’t see why it wouldn’t. Few people think that God creates a new soul for every rat or mouse that’s conceived – and yet most of us would grant that they’re sentient. So their capacity to experience pain, colors, sounds and smells must be grounded in their neurophysiology. I can’t see any good reason why a simulator couldn’t create a sentient mouse in a video game.

    With humans, of course, the situation is complicated by their possession of rationality and free will. I can’t see how a video game creator could possibly endow a character with these immaterial capacities. But then, what if the video game creator were God?

    Would there be any difference between a fine-grained simulated universe (including people) created by God, and an actual one? Philosopher Berny Belvedere apparently thinks not, for he writes:

    I’m a theist. If I were to adopt Musk’s categories, I would say that God is the designer and he’s run just one “simulation.” Within this framework, consciousness makes lots of sense. There is a richness that it furnishes us with, even if, strictly speaking, it’s a metaphysical add-on that we could have done entirely without.

    Finally, as Belvedere points out, Elon Musk’s suggestion is not original. Nick Bostrom first proposed it, back in 2003.

  4. 4
    aqeels says:

    Good response as usual, vjtorley.

    I have never understood why so many theists take umbrage with the simulation idea.

    We have to consider it as a distinct possibility, particularly when you consider that we actually do have some strong lines of evidence for it.

    Quantum Mechanics tells us precisely this. The weirdness often associated with QM is only there when one is wedded to the idea of an objective clockwork universe being “out” there. However, if you consider the universe as “information” and “computational”, then the aforementioned “weirdness” dissipates very quickly.

    Consider the following: –

    1) The QM wave function is a computation that collapses when we make an observation? Question – what or who is performing the calculation? In a clockwork universe it makes little or no sense that the wave function is even real, but yet all modern electronics require it to be so.

    2) Highly entangled systems where spatial separation is not important. Perfectly, reasonable if one considers that the information of the system is being calculated by the wave function of the entire state. If “Alice” measures one thing on one side of the universe, the information based rules simply compute the opposite on the other side where “Bob” is making his measurement. From a computational point of view this is trivial and not strange at all.

    3) The world famous “Josephson Junction” result which demonstrates that an electron does not really exist until it appears on one side of the junction or not (being wholly determined by its wave function). Remember, this experiment and subsequent ones show that the electron does not really tunnel through any barriers, it just appears on one side or the other because that is what the computation is telling it to do! Once again, not so strange if you consider the idea of a simulation universe.

    We are living through a revolution, where QM is uncovering the reality of an ontology that ultimately contains no matter, no fields, but only pure information.

    Exciting times indeed!

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