Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
Odds are we're living in a simulation, says Elon Musk (theverge.com)
45 points by jwblackwell 418 days ago | hide | past | web | 135 comments | favorite



"A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!""

— Hawking, 1988

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turtles_all_the_way_down#Histo...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Infinite_regress#Consciousness

edit: What if we talked about the idea rather than worried about who said it?


He didn't say it was turtles all the way down though... he said there was a one in a billion chance we are the bottom turtle.


I like that story, but it doesn't really apply to simulation hypothesis. Each simulated universe would necessarily have much less computing power than the level above it. We should expect there to be a limit on how powerful the computers we could build are, if we were in a simulation.

Perhaps if we tried to build a simulated universe, things would start breaking, or events would happen to prevent it, or our simulation would just be shut down or reset.


You are assuming that all simulations run at the same speed. A simple way to look at it is if you have half as much computing power to apply towards the simulation, run it at half speed. This is undetectable from within the simulation.


Still, the universe only contains so much energy. There is a limit to the number of computations that can be done, and only a tiny percent of those can be allocated to our simulation.


What makes you assume that a simulated universe has to match the base universe in every respect? It's entirely possible that the simulations, including us if we're in one, are running an extremely constrained version of the real universe, however many levels removed it is.


Well then that's not "turtles all the way down", it's just turtles 2 levels down.

Second, the simulation argument is about our own universe someday making simulated realities. Assuming we are being simulated by a radically different universe is entirely different.


> We should expect there to be a limit on how powerful the computers we could build are, if we were in a simulation.

We should expect there to be a limit on how powerful the computers we could build are, if we are in a universe governed by the physical laws we now understand, whether or not we are in a simulation.


Yes, but a simulated universe would have bounds much lower than that. E.g. the laws of physics say that building a computer of size X is possible. But whenever we try to build it, it should mysteriously fail.

Because the laws of physics aren't actually being simulated, any more than a video game simulates every particle and photon of light. It's just an approximation, and the computing power isn't there to actually simulate a computer that big.


> Yes, but a simulated universe would have bounds much lower than that.

No, it wouldn't. A simulated universe would have exactly the limits of the laws of the simulation, which would be exactly the physical laws of the universe as seen from within.

> Because the laws of physics aren't actually being simulated, any more than a video game simulates every particle and photon of light. It's just an approximation

The approximation (of some idealized laws of physics conceived in the external realiy) being simulated would be exactly the laws of physics observed in the internal reality of the simulation.


No, the simulation would not be able to fully simulate physics! It would need to cheat, a lot. A lot of sections would be unsimulated. When you observe the result of a physics experiment, the result would be made up on demand by some caretaker AI. Not by actually simulating physics.


> No, the simulation would not be able to fully simulate physics!

Yes, whatever the simulation simulated would be the physics observed within the simulated universe. They may not fully match some idealized physics (perhaps those of the external universe, perhaps some alternative designed for the purpose of the simulation) for which the code of the simulation is an approximation, but from the inside of the simulation the rules by which the simulation determined outcome would be exactly the empirically-discoverable laws of physics of the simulated universe.

The only way to observe a discrepancy is to escape the simulation, find out what the creators were intending to approximate, and then compare it to the results of the simulation, but you can't do that from within the simulation.


The point is that the physics would be heavily approximated in obvious ways. E.g. you would observe artifacts of 3d rendering, which we shouldn't expect to observe at all.

However a sufficiently clever simulator could cover that up a bit. By say altering the results of physics experiments that would detect that.

However there is a limit to how far they could go. We couldn't have computers too big, or it would break the simulation. So at some point they would have to intervene and prevent us from building them, or just reset the simulation.

Either way, you can't have "turtles all the way down". Each nested simulation would only have a tiny, tiny, fraction of a percent of the computing power required for the parent simulation. After just a few levels it would inevitably reach 0.


> The point is that the physics would be heavily approximated in obvious ways.

Whether they would or not depends on the complexity of the computer and software running the simulation, the limits to which are set by the laws of physics of the "real" universe in which the simulator exists (which may not be those of the simulation). Our intuition of what is practical in a simulation based on our own technology and what is practical in our universe simply don't apply.

> E.g. you would observe artifacts of 3d rendering, which we shouldn't expect to observe at all.

Our universe has a lot of quantization artifacts which defy intuition based on assumptions about continuity of physical quantities. Once we systematically observed and cataloged them, we incorporated models of them into our understanding of physical laws. Whether those are "real" physical laws in a non-simulated universe, intended simulated physical laws of a simulated universe, or simulation artifacts representing limitations of the simulation in a simulated universe are impossible to distinguish from within our universe.

> However there is a limit to how far they could go. We couldn't have computers too big, or it would break the simulation.

If the simulation is sufficient to model a universe the size of our observable universe at the detail level our universe is observable too, the maximum scale of computer we can have without breaking the simulation is a quantum computer of the complexity of our physical universe. Anything up to that scale is within the capacity of the simulation.

Basically, all of the assumed limitations you propose are undetectable from within.

You may be making the additional assumption that not only is there a host universe, but that the host universe has a scale and physical laws basically identical to those that we observe in our universe, such that the simulation would need to be substantially less complex. But there is no reason that either the scale or general physical laws of the host universe would have to mirror those in the simulation.

> Either way, you can't have "turtles all the way down".

If you assume the host universe is infinite in scope and information content (and the assumption that it is infinite in time and that all of that time is available to civilizations, which seems to underlie the conclusions on the that our universe is likely to be a simulation, implies this), then no matter how small of a fraction of its capacity one thinks a simulation can have, it can support an unbounded number of layers of simulation underneath it.

If you assume a finite root universe, then (even leaving aside other reasoning flaws in the argument), the conclusion that our universe is likely to be a simulation falls apart rapidly.


it appears you are insisting that regardless of a simluation existing the laws of physics must be the same for those inside and outside the simulation.

that doesnt make any sense to me.

If i create a simluation in my computer of a world without gravity, to the inhabitants of that simulation, gravity does not and never has existed.

similarly - what we understand to be the laws of physics could have been laws that were designed for our simulation but have no bearing on the laws that govern the world in which the computer simulating us exists.


But that's not the simulation argument. That's not related to what Elon Musk is saying at all.

The simulation argument is about simulations of our own universe, within our own universe. It's a very specific claim about the parent universe, and the nature of our simulation. As opposed to more general simulations, which can't make any predictions at all and tell us nothing.


> The simulation argument is about simulations of our own universe, within our own universe.

The original simulation argument paper is about simulations intended to simulate the historical predecessors of the simulations creators in their own universe, but, even so, any anomalies from the approximation of the physical laws of the root universe used in the simulated universe would only be detectable by reference to the root universe, from the perspective of those within the simulation, the behavior of the simulation would be the physical laws of the universe they live in.

(This is equally true in the more general case where the intent of those creating the simulation is not specifically to do an "ancestor simulation" in a universe approximating the physical laws of their own universe, but restricting to the scenario envisioned in the original paper doesn't change it at all.)


>the behavior of the simulation would be the physical laws of the universe they live in.

That's just a tautology. Yes the code of the simulation are the laws of physics for the beings living in the simulation.

But the point of a historical simulation is to simulate your own universe. Not a completely different universe. We should expect simulated Earth to be exactly identical to real Earth. Or at least you shouldn't be able to tell the difference. So we should expect the laws of physics to appear the same, but things that require lots of computing power should fail.

We shouldn't be able to simulate universes within our own simulation. That would be a pointless waste of computing power.


> We should expect simulated Earth to be exactly identical to real Earth.

If a best-effort ancestor simulation is made, we should expect the laws of the simulation to be identical to the laws of the root universe to the limit of the resolution of the simulation.

> Or at least you shouldn't be able to tell the difference. So we should expect the laws of physics to appear the same, but things that require lots of computing power should fail.

Except, that if we are in the simulation, we have no reference point as to what the actual laws of physics are in the root universe, so we have no way to distinguish between our universe being the root universe operating by the "real" laws of physics and our universe being a simulation which fails in some respect with regard to the root universe. The only way to detect the latter case is to be in the root universe and observing the simulation. Which we could do for a simulation we create, but not for a simulation we are in.

(And, the "things requiring lots of computing power should fail" expectation is unwarranted, at least from the perspective of being something that could be observed from inside of the simulation.)


Or, to put it another way, "could god create an emulator that runs faster than the computer it's running on?"


Or more computing resources would be automatically allocated to us.


But we can't have more computing power than the parent universe. And if we are only one simulation out of millions, we couldn't have more than a fraction of a percent.


So why is Musk better qualified to talk about this than every stoner high school kid who read the first few pages of Descartes, saw the Matrix or simply used their imagination when playing a SimCity style video game?


Ideas don't need qualification. Think about it.

What he said was that there is a one in a billion chance that our reality is base reality.

If you agree with Occam's Razor, there's no reason to believe we aren't in base reality and just the result of incredible luck (the same incredible luck that leaves us the only known life in the universe).

Understanding the probability of something is not the same as claiming the majority result of that probability.


My point is that it's the same old unfalsifiable, adolescent speculation that every teenager of sufficient nerdiness or THC intake has had at some point.

We're broadcasting these ideas, not because they're at all new, or interesting (they've been around for about 400 years, at least). We're broadcasting them because Elon Musk is saying them. His only new idea, AFAICT, was asserting some probability that he pulled out of his ass that this idea is false.

In the absence of new ideas, maybe we weight this by the authority of the speaker. If a theoretical physicist said this stuff I'd be more inclined to take some kind of notice (since they'd have a deeper insight into the structure of the universe than I do). A car salesman - not so much.


Except the "one in a billion chance" was pulled out of something soaking in a hot tub, and Occam's Razor obviously favors base reality alone rather than the superset consisting of base reality plus some very advanced civilization living in base reality plus some bizarre reason why that very advanced civilization has nothing better to do than run hyperrealistic simulations of a much more primitive civilization.


> Understanding the probability of something is not the same as claiming the majority result of that probability.

I see no evidence (empirical or otherwise) that this probability is accurate.


That's why you're supposed to think about it.

Technology advances -> Simulations exist -> We're either the first civilization in infinity or we're a simulation.

It's possible we're the first civilization in infinity, and it's the simplest explanation given no additional information. However, just because something is true doesn't mean the probability of it being true is very low and just happened to end up that way. You can believe in both probability and reality.


> Technology advances -> Simulations exist -> We're either the first civilization in infinity or we're a simulation.

Doesn't follow; there could be lots of civilizations in the same reality, so we could not be the first civilization, and still not be in a simulation. If simulations of the detail level of our universe are possible given the laws of nature governing the reality underlying everything, then either we are in the base reality or a subordinate reality (if such simualtions are not possible, we are definitively in the base reality.)

The information we have provides very little basis for computing probabilities here: any estimate is just a projection of the biases of the person providing it.

> However, just because something is true doesn't mean the probability of it being true is very low and just happened to end up that way.

If something is true, it's probability is 1, by definition. (Something may have low probability based only on particular prior information, but that's a different story.)


Have you read Bostrom's argument? Which premise do you think is true?


Not when he uses the phrase "chances are", which means high probability, but based on what? magic?


Based on scale...

If the universe is of infinite age, the chances of our being the first civilization in infinity to create a realistic simulation is one in infinity. It's not magic, it's the simplest possible train of thought.


> If the universe is of infinite age

An assumption for which there is no evidence (in fact, there is considerable evidence that the universe is not; the simulation scenario requires assuming that our universe is not the "root" universe, and that some other universe exists outside of it -- which is not only something for which no evidence exists, but is something for which no evidence can exist.)

The "infinite age" conjecture is already assuming that our universe is a simulation (or, at least, an pocket universe embedded in some other universe.)

> the chances of our being the first civilization in infinity to create a realistic simulation is one in infinity.

No, that's only true if there are an infinite number of civilizations in the history of the universe, not merely if the universe is of infinite age. The two assumption are not equivalent.

And, in any case, its irrelevant, because not being the first civilization to develop a simulation doesn't mean we're in a simulation. If, say, the ancient Greeks had a breakthrough and were the first civilization to develop universe-level simulations, that wouldn't make the ancient Chinese living in a simulation.

> It's not magic, it's the simplest possible train of thought.

Its the sloppiest possible train of thought, that starts with assuming most of its conclusion, and then proceeding by unwarranted leaps to conclude the rest of it.


> the simulation scenario requires assuming that our universe is not the "root" universe

Assuming by "simulation scenario" you mean the theory that there is a chance we are running in a simulation, it doesn't assume we aren't the root universe (but it does make a lot of other assumptions), just that of some number of realities both simulated (s) and real (r), our chance of being in a non-simulated reality is r/(s+r).

Some (but not all) of the assumptions required are: Simulated reality is possible, human level AI is possible, it's possible to simulate a universe to the level we are at before the heat death of the simulation running universe (or the simulation running universe has different constraints, more time or power, etc).

> Its the sloppiest possible train of thought, that starts with assuming most of its conclusion, and then proceeding by unwarranted leaps to conclude the rest of it.

I don't think it's quite that, and I don't think it assumes most of its conclusion. I think given the assumptions the argument takes for granted, then it's a valid argument. While I think many of the assumptions are probably, it only takes one of those, and a much greater likelihood to be true, to greatly affect the original calculation, but even then, you have to assume that if there's a parent universe, it follows the same laws, otherwise you can't assume anything.

Ultimately, the thing we all need to keep in mind is that it doesn't matter. We have no ability to control or predict the consequences of being in a simulation, and given that our universe seems ultimately to conform to laws, and not act in what appears to be a capricious manner, it's inconsequential in the truest meaning of the word.


> Assuming by "simulation scenario" you mean the theory that there is a chance we are running in a simulation, it doesn't assume we aren't the root universe

The argument premised on the infinitesimal chance of our being the first in an infinite timeframe requires assuming that our universe, which seems to have a finite age, is not the root universe.

That assumption is a fairly key part of the conclusion that the universe is a simulation; even assuming the rest of the steps of reasoning were correct, its not an argument for P(Our universe is a simulation | What is now known and observed) but P(Our universe is a simulation | Our universe is a pocket universe embedded in a root universe of infinite age)


> The argument premised on the infinitesimal chance of our being the first in an infinite timeframe

I'm not sure where you're getting the infinite time frame requirement, besides previously in this thread (from someone else). I think that's an artifact of this thread, not a requirement of the "simulation scenario".

Assuming we could accurately model one universe to our age within another universe of similar laws (a sentence which contains many assumptions on both sides of the proposal), we are presented with a situation where we are either the base universe, or the modeled one, and without a way to determine which, we have a 50% chance of being in other. I see the main argument as this but scaled with a few assumptions, the biggest of which and the one that really allows for exponential growth, being that the root universe need not have the same constraints as the simulated universe.

I'm not totally sold on the simulation scenario idea being true, as there's a lot of assumptions that could break down and make it impossible, but as of yet I'm not sure I've seen any evidence suggesting it's impossible at any scale. Then again, I'm treating the chance that we could be in a simulation as distinct from the likelihood that we are in a simulation, so I might not even be arguing the same thing (although I don't think the difference really matters).


> If the universe is of infinite age

Infinity is only an abstract mathematical concept. It does not exist in reality.


You misunderstood my post again. "chances are" is an idiom.

http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/chances+are

When used in a phrase it means highly likely. I'm not talking about probability here, rather his use of the idiom.


You're misunderstanding what highly likely means. It means there's a high probability of something.

The use of an idiom doesn't change the definition of the words.

Probability is not causal. Just because something is "highly likely" does not mean it is true.


> The use of an idiom doesn't change the definition of the words.

Then you don't understand what an idiom is.

"The ball is in your court" is an idiom. It doesn't mean you have a ball or a court.

When an American says "chances are" he's not talking about probability. The closest replacement for a non-American would be 'probably'.


> When an American says "chances are" he's not talking about probability. The

Yes, he is. "Chances are" (or, equivalently, what the headline actually says, which is "odds are") is an idiom that means "it is more likely than not", or, in probabilistic terms, "there exists a probability of greater than 50% that..."

More to the point of arguing about the meaning of an idiom, in this case, Musk has actually been a lot more specific and quoted a specific odds ratio of 1 billion to 1, or approximately 99.9999999%.


Ok, so who is qualified to talk about it? And is Musk not allowed to have opinions on things?

Anyway his thoughts aren't based on the Matrix. This is a well known idea called the Simulation Argument, invented by Nick Bostrom (who Elon Musk is a known fan of): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simulation_hypothesis


He's allowed to talk about them, sure. But nobody listens to the ten million high school students who have variations on these same thoughts, with roughly as much insight on the subject as Musk does.


He's not pulling those numbers out of his ass, he's reporting the results of a paper Nick Bostrom wrote: http://www.simulation-argument.com/simulation.pdf.

You might agree or disagree with Bostrom's paper, but one of those is a high-schooler/tripper/moviemaker's _idea_, and one is a scientific paper, which is meant to be repeatable, experimental, etc.


The "Simulation Argument" by Nick Bostrom

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnl6nY8YKHs

Even if it is true, it changes nothing. Since this is the world we have to deal with and there is no indication we can influence the (supposed) simulation. If our world/universe is a simulation, it is simply too good.

I also recommend to read "The Big Picture" by Sean Carrol, chapter 11 "Is It Okay to Doubt Everything?" deals with these kinds of thought experiments (including Bostrom).

The 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate was about "Is the Universe a Simulation?":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgSZA3NPpBs


It's essentially the question of God, only in disguise. It's absolutely untestable (just like the existence of God), so it's a matter of faith and nothing else.

If God - as understood by major human religions - does exist, then the world IS a simulation. I mean, all atoms and particles are "real", but ultimately they form a simulation device, one that invokes the sense of existence in sentient beings.


The difference between God and simulation, is there is no particular reason to believe in God. Religions have traditionally argued that the universe needs a creator, therefore there must be a God. But then who created God?

There is a reason to believe in the simulation hypothesis. We already have a massive industry devoted to making world simulations, video games. We know our computing technology advances steadily every year. So it's not unreasonable to suppose it's likely we will someday create such simulations.

The second belief is also untestable, it's a prediction about the future. But a prediction about the future seems much more grounded than religion. It's taking into account our observations of the world, and what future outcomes seem probable. Not just making stuff up.


There were reasons to believe in a God some two thousand years ago. Those might have been wrong reasons, but still the belief in gods reflected people's understanding of the world at the time (i.e. pretty much none at all).

I personally don't see much difference in the two. Before modern astronomy, people looked at the frequency of the revolution of visible planets and thought their ratios resembled musical ratios, and that this had to be the work of someone (such was the belief of Pythagoreans, Stoics and Neoplatonists). Nowadays people look at some other physical quantity and think that this has to be the work of someone. In this sense, they're pretty similar. And if the error of those ancient philosophers lies in that supposition, I don't see how the degree of reality of our idea of who's doing it (e.g. aliens vs. a hazy concept of a "Demiurge") makes it any better.


Well people believed in wrong things a thousand years ago. I'm not sure what your point is. Are you saying we probably shouldn't have any beliefs at all, because they might be wrong a thousand years from now? That's just silly.

Clearly we know a lot more than the ancients do. E.g. the concept of a "simulation". And so we can make more accurate predictions than they would have been able to.


I wasn't really pushing a point. I was trying to add some perspective on the issue. But if I were to push one, I'd say that the question of whether or not our experience is "real" should really be considered a pseudo-problem, because it's a question that can't be really answered.

I don't see an issue with believing things that might be considered incorrect in the future, but I do see an issue with asking the wrong questions over and over again.

I see no particular reason why someone ought to be responsible for the patterns of experience. Thinking it so is the crucial mistake here.


Well, it's based on some totally arbitrary assumptions, such as that people in VR wouldn't typically be aware that they are in VR.

This is certainly not the case nor the intention with video games (from which the whole argument is extrapolated), no matter how realistic they can get


I'd say God is a different question: Even if this entity can't help you while you live, you still can gain points for the supposed afterlife (I guess that is the mayor selling point of religions these days?). There is no such concept in the Simulation Argument.


> Even if it is true, it changes nothing.

I haven't watched the videos yet, so apologies if this is covered. Looking forward to seeing them.

If it is true, it changes everything. If you're simply a character in my simulation and not a real human, then there's no reason why I shouldn't screw "you" over to maximize my personal enjoyment.

That's the most actionable point of the thought experiment, to illustrate the importance ethics.


To clarify, there's no "my simulation" and "your simulation" in the present discussion. What's potentially being simulated is the entire universe, with no privileged viewpoint. That the universe is being simulated simply means that the laws of physics of "the universe" have been implemented on a computing device that exists outside of "the universe" (and which therefore does not itself necessarily obey those same laws of physics).


> To clarify, there's no "my simulation" and "your simulation" in the present discussion. What's potentially being simulated is the entire universe

The Simulation Argument (to the extent it applies to anything at all) applies at least as well to solipsistic simulations where all that is simulated is one observer and their personal observable universe.


The simulation argument by Nick Bostrom neglects an important (probable) reality.

While the number of simulated universes may vastly the exceed the size of the real universe, the size of these universes may diminish faster than the increased number can make up for. Bostrom's argument is that we're likely in an ancestor simulation, but if the size of the simulated universes decreases faster than the number of simulations increase, it could easily be the case that the the probability that we're a simulated person is lower than the probability that we're a real person: real people may vastly exceed the number of simulated people.


Interesting argument! It makes sense - without some unexpected breakthrough in computer science, it takes a proportionate amount of energy and materials to run a simulation. Even if computing power, speed, and storage improve in the next million years to densities approaching the Planck length, power requirements approaching Landauer's limit [1], and cycle rates approaching the Planck time[2], the requirement that it can't be bigger on the inside still holds (at least in our universe, under our physics).

Thinking about it for a few minutes, we would have to do at least one thing to make it work:

1. Make it more granular, so our sub-subatomic storage could record the states of atoms without being as large or larger than the stored data.

2. Make it slower, so our faster-than-light computer could have time to simulate all interactions.

3. Make it simpler, so our complicated computer mechanism operating on some exotic principle wouldn't have to simulate the same principle.

4. Make it smaller than our computer. It's easy even now to simulate a few atoms with a computer consisting of several kilos of matter, but I can hardly imagine any universe devoting a significant fraction of its mass to ancestor simulations.

These restrictions would eventually limit the ability of child universes to simulate grandchildren, but I am not convinced that it significantly reduces the number of sentient beings (simulated and non-simulated) which is the key to our estimate of whether or not we are in a simulation. If in the parent simulation, room-temperature superconductors are common, cold fusion is easy, there is no speed of light in the parent universe, Landauer's Limit does not hold, and computers are built on a scale far below quantum mechanics, our (apparently) large universe could easily be one of trillions of ancestor simulations.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landauer%27s_principle [2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_time


> real people may vastly exceed the number of simulated people

... presuming that the outer simulator consists of fundamental laws that support more than one identity.


What he's really saying is, "I'm taking an extreme materialist view of the mind in order to grab headlines in a time when AI is becoming hot, which will further my access to human resources." Elon Musk does not really think that we are in a simulation. He's not saving the world. He's not trying to help humanity escape earth and colonize Mars. I think we've had enough of this. He's playing a massive chess game against other billionaires, and he's playing it extremely well, having amassed millions of intelligent, talented tech followers in the process who are willing to work for him in exchange for prestige and a lower salary, thereby helping him reach his goal of beating Bill Gates / Warren Buffet / etc.


This is such a basic way to think. How is someone supposed to save the world? How is someone supposed to help humanity escape earth and colonize Mars?

Elon Musk is as close to doing those things as anyone has ever been in history. What else is he supposed to do to appease you?


"Talented tech followers in the process who are willing to work for him in exchange for prestige and a lower salary"

To be fair these engineers are taking a lower salary but are getting paid really well in terms of stock options.


You really think he's motivated by greed?


Not greed for money, but ego. One of my coworkers used to report to Musk and says Musk is competitive.


Yes.


You really think there's a rich man in this world who isn't?


Look at Bill Gates and tell me the man is greedy.


Ok, done. Now what?


Is there a poor man who isn't?


Sure, and I know several of them personally. They tend to be freelancers, homesteaders, or involved in modest lifestyle businesses where they're scraping by doing what they love. Anything else?


I know rich people like that, too.


I sincerely doubt that you do. It takes a certain mindset to profit off the work of others.


For you to have to say "He's not saving the world"

Someone had to say Elon is Saving the World.

Of course that's ridiculous but we put guys like Gates and Musk on a pedestal

and then we're being so edgy when we say they're not really that great.

He's doing some interesting things and saying some interesting things.

I don't think he's playing a chess game. I think he was having fun.

A person asked him a question outside of his expertise and he answered it.

The boring thing to do is say "I don't know ask an expert".

Of course people are only paying attention because he's a celebrity Intellect.


You're preaching to people who either don't understand what you're saying, or don't want to believe what you're saying.


Well, what he gave is an opinion. And a possibility. But there is no proof of it. So far Musk has not been on any major scandal, nor has he been caugh to financial fraud, talking giant lies, etc. So on the scale of billionaires, he is currently in the top 25 percentile. And because what he does capture the imagination, people want to believe he is just building stuff out of passion. And that's another opinion. And a possibility. From now, either you prove it, or you believe. And I guess most of us just believe.


I think you're missing one thing, which is that history has a lot to teach us about the kind of people who seek this level of success, achieve it, and are capable of risking so much to do so. People who thrive where Musk is, but again, it's still a matter of belief and not proof.

A lot of life is, until it's too late and we're speaking in terms of hindsight. If you want to believe in something, at least believe in something that's likely to be true.


Or don't want to live sad cynical lives.

P.S: I understand it is a balance but Musk has done nothing to warrant this derision...yet.


There is a vast middle ground between cynicism, and giving a successful billionaire the benefit of the doubt on the pseudo-philosophy he spouts.


Or perhaps you could say, the religio-corporation he has created...but instead of selling jewelry in the midwest through multi-level marketing and talking about how great Jesus is, he's talking about how tech will create a utopia and doing it in Silicon Valley.


> he's paying it extremely well

heh.


Says Elon Musk, repeating a well-known (in philosophy) argument that's over a decade old. What lazy reporting.


This happens a lot with Musk, through no fault of his own. For example, on The Late Show, he talks about terraforming Mars with nukes, which has certainly been on the Wikipedia page of the subject for a long time, but many articles reported on it like he came up with the idea himself, when he never claimed anything of the sort.


While I have great respect for Musk and know he is very smart, he is not a cosmologist, astrophysicist or theoretical physicist.

So I'm going to disregard him on this one.

If this is a purposeful simulation done by an advanced intelligence, then it is a sick puppy.

If he means this is an accidental simulation, ie. a projection of 4D from a 3D plane, or a 4D shadow from a 5D plane, then maybe, just maybe.


He didn't come up with the idea. Philosophers came up with the idea, and Musk read about it.

The media doesn't report much on relatively obscure philosophical discussions, but they do report on what celebrities talk about.


He makes it clear he's speaking of an advanced intelligence as he explains how soon (relatively speaking) we'll be creating such simulations.


Simulation of ancestors.

1) This idea makes me think that the simulation hypothesis is wrong. If some advanced civilization has the power to create simulations, why would they create us, specifically? Why would they bother recreating a primitive world of the past? Wouldn't it be way more interesting to create cooler, crazier worlds? Do you really believe a post-human ultra-intelligent civilization would create something as present-day ISIS? Is someone having fun watching how we experience this world's horrors and pains?

2) Then I think the following: yes, the above scenario is possible, given that organized intelligence is able to realize more possibilities of the universal computational space. With enough computing power, organized intelligence would be able to spawn near-infinite world simulations, and ours is just one of those.


What would the world look like if the Nazis had won World War II? Or if Russia had nuked the world in the 1980s? Or Henry VIII had had a surviving male heir early in his reign? Or if Yeltsin hadn't have been an easily manipulated alcoholic?

I could go on - at length. And this only scratches the surface of alternative world history, which is just one of a crazy number of reasons to simulate something that involves a previous history's peoples.

Hah, I wonder what geologists would get up to?


"Is there a flaw in the argument?" - I don't see a flaw because I can't see any argument in the first place.

How is the (let's say, quite likely) hypothesis that eventually we're going to create VR that's ingistinguishable from actual reality supposed to logically lead to the notion that there's a billion to one chance we're living in VR right now?

It feels like something along the lines of the "???? PROFIT!!!!" meme (originated from a South Park episode). Clearly a crucial step is missing


He's using the quickness with which we've progressed to VR as an existence proof that creating universes is not as hard as once expected, such that "universes" might actually be numerous and commonplace. From there, it's a statistical argument -- if "existence" contains one billion "universes" and only one of them is the base level of reality in which all the other simulations are nested, then if we assume a uniform distribution over universes, we have a one in a billion chance of being in the base level of reality.

That's a very simple version of the argument with obvious flaws, but that's what he meant. Nick Bostrom has made a much more elaborate version of the argument.


Computing technology is developing rapidly, which he cites as the reason it is likely we are simulated. However, if we are in a simulation, the laws of physics are likely different from those in "base reality." Moore's law in the sim would have no basis in underlying reality. The sim creator may have tuned the laws of physics to make it easy to develop microprocessors, when in base reality it is difficult. So I don't think his argument is valid at all.


A complete simulation would require infinite means to process, memorize and exhibit. It is safe to assume that these infinite means could not exist.

So, just like a physic's simulation that uses limited means, say like floating points, exception cases need to be taken care of (like detecting resting-cases in physics and then clamping floats to a small epsilon in order to avoid weird reactions).

The treatment of these exception cases would add discontinuities in the physical behaviours we observe. For example, in a simulation, a force like gravity would be explained as: F = G (m1m2/r2), unless r is very close to 0 in which case F=0. In our reality, the "unless" part does not exist, in fact, if you have this exception, it is actually a symptom that your formula or approach might not be the perfect one.

In our reality there are no glitches nor can we detect means by which glitches where avoided, in fact it is quite the opposite, metaphysics seem to exhibit an undeniable amount of coherency and consistency.

I'm not convinced by the simulation argument at all.


By a small epsilon do you mean something like there being a lower limit to how much we could measure, say, position and momentum concurrently?

Would you expect the glitches to appear as random events if you look too closely?

'Cos until you wrote this I didn't think it was likely that we were in a sim. Now you've made me question that...


for example, floating point numbers can only hold a specific amount of decimal points, so very small numbers would end up becomming zero, leading to tons of divisions by zero or NAN's ect.

In order to avoid these glitches we need to clamp these numbers to values that are very close to zero and basically stop simulating the objects concerned until we detect that these objects move again.

Although this is an example, an imperfect process would have an upper and lower limit of numerical representation, requiring patches to limit glitches.

patches would be detectable in a simulation.


> patches would be detectable in a simulation

As limits. We have those, or at least our accepted view of physics has both lower and upper bounds on what we can know. How are they that different from what you're suggesting?


It's not so much about limits or bounds, they do exist.

It's about limits or bounds that are incongruent with how physics normaly works in reality (patches would always do that), for lack of a better expression, I call these metaphysical inconsistencies.


>>A complete simulation would require infinite means to process, memorize and exhibit.

True - but a perhaps a clever simulation could concentrate it's computing near the observers and approximate distant or non-observed events.


That would be clever, but you would probably still notice discontinuities between the distant and close objects.

But more importantly, the laws of physics would be observably non consistent.


> But more importantly, the laws of physics would be observably non consistent.

Isn't that what's happening during our observation of the galactic rotation curve?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galaxy_rotation_curve


Indeed! But ff you did notice discontinuities, the simulation could reverse and readjust the simulation until you don't notice.


Anything can exist in that circumstance, feels like a reductio ad absurdum.

I didn't go this far, so I'll have to think more about it.

thanks for the food for thought.


> A complete simulation would require infinite means to process, memorize and exhibit.

Only a complete simulation of a universe with an infinite number of the smallest components would require infinite means.


Agreed, it's kind of my point,

- because a complete simulation would require infinite means

- simulations can only be incomplete

- incomplete simulations would exhibit metaphysical irregularities

- yet to this day, metaphysics seems coherent and consistent

- therefore we are probably not in a simulation


Except the finite observable universe made of matter and energy that comes in quantized packets would not take infinite means to simulate. It would take fantastically large means, but not infinite means.

Therefore, it could be a simulation. Or not. There's no way to tell the difference.


> Therefore, it could be a simulation. Or not. There's no way to tell the difference

If the Milky Way were to re-arrange itself to say Game Over, I think I'd be inclined to go for sim.


The Simulation Argument is just taking a more general intuition that is also behind the Fermi paradox to its full limit. This intuition that Mankind is a grain of sand in much greater goings on, is one of the key dogmas is modern scientism; probably best personified by patron saint Sagan.

We laugh now at the 19th century man unable to accept that "man evolved from a monkey", but his case more charitably stated is the reluctance to give up the dignity of being made in his creator's image.

Likewise, I think people who build the 21st century secular myths are setting themselves up to be "disappointed" by the actual data when comes in barren in the next two centuries - telescopes that can measure exo-planet atmospheres basically confirm or deny.

I'm not taking either side, but if the "fact" turns out to be that we are alone, not anybody's simulation, not part of multi-verse, etc, this seems to be reality that modern scientism would have the most problem accepting.


It's all fun to think about but we should be mindful of how falsifiable things are. We should ideally be careful to not give too much credence to non-falsifiable propositions, even if they might be true. This violates most people's intuition, but it prevents us from being bogged down wasting time on problems which we cannot gain ground on. If we are in a simulation, and it is falsifiable, rest assured some physicist will figure it out. Until then I doubt rumination on the subject will get us much closer because unless something is falsifiable you can't actually KNOW.


The movie https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Thirteenth_Floor gives IMHO an interesting insight on the subject.


Here's the semi-classic "simulations all the way down" short story that pops up here every few months:

https://qntm.org/responsibility


I find the dichotomy between simulation and reality a bit absurd.

A simulation is just as real as the reality that hosts it, and it only differs in it's fidelity to the inspiration. The same can be said about fractals.

Let's assume we do live in a computer simulation. Then what? The fact that this knowledge doesn't change a single thing about the way we should do things means that it's not particularly interesting or useful. The same is true regarding the debate of free-will.


Very clever, young man; it's simulations all the way down.


Wouldn't it follow that the "simulators" are also simulated, ad infinitum? (see: "turtles all the way down" comment)

Certainly, no matter how far you go back, the simulations are "real" in the sense that they exist. Why is this simulated reality considered less "real?" Would we (or whatever we really are) be able to experience "base reality" as he puts it? Can you see your own eyeball directly?


The longer the string of simulations, assuming they have the concept of time, the more likely one in the chain will end and the entire rest of the chain cease to exist.


Our Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark is an extremely relevant book. I'm only about half way through it but it's been very engrossing. It's so far been a pretty concise overview of our current understanding of physics and supposedly ends up claiming that the ultimate level of reality is made up purely of mathematics.


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

Uh... following this precisely 10,000 years from now would at 1/1000 of our current advancement rate would look like 2026 (assuming our current rate doesn't slow down). We don't really have photorealistic graphics now and I'm not convinced that we'll have them in 10 years. Even if it is photorealistic, it'll just barely look that way on the macroscopic scale. Now simulate all the particles in the universe.

>Musk said, the odds that we are living our lives in base reality — that is, "real" reality — is one in billions.

Musk just presents an interesting argument and asks "can you find the flaw." Sure. The flaw is that there's absolutely no reason to think that:

...computers are going to speed up by 40 orders of magnitude, ever

...and there will be planet sized computers

...and civilizations will be motivated to spent their planet sized computing resources on simulations

The whole thing is absurd.


I agree with your first two points, but as to the 3rd point, what else would you do with a planet sized computer? There just isn't that much interesting stuff to do with that much computing power besides simulation.


Science of course! Maybe you simulating the entire universe for science is a thing you want to do, but there's no reason to think you'd want to (or even be able to without simulating the earlier bits) t=4.5 billion years rather than t=0.

And the numbers I gave only allow you to simulate roughly in realtime, so... your civilization has to stick around for another 4.5 billion years to get to us.


> Uh... following this precisely" 10,000 years from now would at 1/1000 of our current advancement rate would look like 2026

Only if advancement is linear.


The question I've recently been pondering is, how do I transfer my consciousness out of the simulation?


Sacrifice a goat to appease the simulators. When you die, they'll transfer your consciousness to a robot outside the simulation.

Serious question: any practiced religions that are built around that sort of idea?


Well, the whole Hell / Heaven idea and the life after death of the christianity ? Which might be heavily influenced by older religions, like buddhism ?


Some of the older ones (look for what they buried with the dead), but I think most of them have faded out.


You'll have to talk to the/a Simulator. Hopefully they've simulated a nice afterlife for us.


This brings about an interesting ethical problem. Should we get to the point where we can simulate life and consciousness to a level that is indistinguishable from the original thing (as perceived by the simulator), do our standards with regard to, say, human rights apply within, or does the ability to reboot or restore the simulation from a backup make is exempt from any ethical issues?

Either way, I reckon this will one day be used to generate an infinite amount of behaviourally customized cat videos for our simulators' facebook feeds.


The "White Christmas" episode of "Black Mirror" touched on the subject of ethics towards AIs. Highly recommended.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Christmas_(Black_Mirror)


I forgot to specify - How do I transfer my consciousness out of the simulation, without dying?



Look for the paradox at the shadow of an edge case of physics.

Programmers don't really do formal proofing or enough unit testing after all.


The question seems meaningless, I mean, how do I transfer Postgres out of the computer? Or transfer Knight Solaire out of my copy of Dark Souls?

What would that even mean?


Hasn't this been already solved by Descartes and his Cogito? ( that the very act of doubting one's own existence served—at minimum—as proof of the reality of one's own mind; there must be a thinking entity—in this case the self—for there to be a thought. )


No. Descartes' apprehension of his own existence as a "thinking substance" doesn't say anything about the nature of the external world.

The simulation argument is connected with Cartesian philosophy though. It is one of the possible forms of the "Cartesian demon" argument [0]. Descartes tried prove the truthfulness of experience through a twofold proof: a proof of God's existence; and a proof of His unwillingness to deceive. He does all this in Meditation III [1].

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evil_demon

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meditations_on_First_Philosoph...


Applying the term "simulation" from subsystem (our attempts at VR) to the system (our world) are meaningless. The system above is nothing "like" what we have in the system over here.


It doesn't seem like he was saying that we _are_ living in a simulation, but that at some point in the future we will be living in a simulation since virtual reality technology will be so good.


> It doesn't seem like he was saying that we _are_ living in a simulation, but that at some point in the future we will be living in a simulation since virtual reality technology will be so good.

No, he's saying that his speculation about the future quality of our VR is proof that simulations of the quality of our universe are possible, and that if those simulations are possible then, our universe probably is such a simulation, because obviously anything that can be done has been done by someone else first.


How can anyone argue with his rationale?


How is this theory different from solipsism?


It's like he's Justin Biber or something ...




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | DMCA | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: