Ideas can never be proven or falsified for that matter. But they have their use: be a guideline for our living. This is where Kant's famous practical philosophy stems from.
As an aside, his proof that a world of objects-in-themselves exists at all is incredibly interesting and provides what in my view has been one of the only compelling answers to the radical skepticism of Hume (the idea that we cannot prove the existence of an external world).
The idea of superposition prior to measurement is different than an objective reality not existing at all. In quantum mechanics prior to measurement you have kind of a probabilistic terrain of possibilities, one of which is seen upon measurement. Solving the Schrodinger equation gives you this probability distribution in the form of a wave function - if there were no reality prior to measurement, then it would not be meaningful to talk about a probability distribution prior to measurement.
And this is also only one philosophical interpretation of quantum mechanics, specifically the Copenhagen interpretation. There are other interpretations that say that that a determinate reality does exist before measurement but the only way that we can understand that reality is probabilistically.
But all interpretations of quantum mechanics presuppose the existence of reality - whether it be of the determinate or indeterminate sort.
I'm not arguing that information doesn't exist, that would be silly. My point is that perception (which requires interaction) is impossible without becoming part of the system you are perceiving. Different observers will produce different combined systems, and thus the thing being observed is to some degree inherently subjective. Like I said, the magnitude of this effect is debatable, but that it exists is unquestionable.
So the definition of objectivity I'm using does not contain a notion of determinacy, of having a 'definite' state. I'm saying that we know reality exists, but nothing at all about the indeterminate or determinate nature of that reality.
So in a way, Kant's philosophy harmonizes with quantum mechanics instead of contradicting it. In Kant's proof, in fact, we know that independent reality exists while simultaneously limiting what we can know about it - much like QM.
Look at a thing on your desk. You are having a sensation of light and colour. Kant calls this raw pixel level sense data "sensibility".
Now as well as just seeing pixels you can distinguish the thing you are looking at as an individual object, with certain dimensions and in a certain location. Kant calls this processed spatiotemporal data "intuition".
Now you may also recognise the object you are looking at as being "a stapler" and you may recognise it as being on your desk and as belonging to your friend who's lent it to you. Kant calls this abstract data "concept" (also called "idea" as in the OP).
Now. If you're doing Science then you'd better have intuitions corresponding with all your concepts otherwise you're just making stuff up without actually looking at the world. But unfortunately there's a limit to how much we can observe in the world and we are greedy so we start coming up with judgements about concepts that do not correspond to any intuitions. E.g. "The universe is a simulation". In the Critique of Pure reason the central question is how any such judgements can be true (hint we think that some are true: Pythagoras's theorem is a judgement about all triangles, and so we think it is true for some triangles we have never seen). If you think this is a worthwhile question you might like to read Kant.
A Kantian reply to the blog post linked above would be that if the universe is a simulation then we can't even be sure that the laws of mathematics or geometry hold outside of it, because these laws are added by our brains when we turn "sensibility" into "intuition".
If it seems silly to you that the laws of mathematics or geometry might be all in our heads, then you are what Kant calls a "Transcendental Realist". If it seems natural to you that the laws of mathematics and geometry are all in our heads and that this is what allows those laws to be true of every object we see, then you are what Kant calls "a Transcendental Idealist".
If we're being Transcendental Realists then it makes sense to collect empirical data to settle whether the universe is a simulation or not. If we're being Transcendental Idealists, then the empirical data we collect has absolutely no bearing on the question.
You are a Transcendental Realist if you think this "view" of an apple comes from a system, your brain, which itself is based 100% in reality...the reality that contains "real" apples, perhaps on a table at work, which can be confirmed by consensus of coworkers. The consensus and coworkers are also 100% based in reality, if you believe this way. This theory is based on what Kant called a posteriori knowledge, or knowledge after observation.
If you are a Transcendental Idealist, you will know that the internal, mind's eye view of the apple makes it real. You will also know other "things" in your "real world" view have little or no bearing on your internal view. Things out here in the real world are mutable, in other words, and are undergoing a constant change by everyone's view (or just your view, in some variations) of their/your internal realities. i.e. all of this stuff is just brought into being by your consciousness. This "ability" is a priori knowledge, or knowledge that comes from reasoning.
I would propose this reality is actually a mix of the two, where both work in union, in a decidedly meta a priori way, to render reality as we see it. It is not a simulation and it is simulation-like at times, in other words. It's a hybrid consciousness!
Random, and irrational, but figured I'd share.
In that case the statement "if $assumptions, then $conclusion" is objectively true.
But the insight that underlies the claim that one cannot falsify a belief is that true logical inconsistency is rare, and cannot be generated at all from empirical data. This is because what might have seemed inconsistent can always be made consistent by adopting or rejecting other auxiliary hypotheses. WVO Quine, in my view, showed this the most persuasively. So accepting or rejecting beliefs becomes a far more sophisticated exercise in choosing among competing systems of interlocking beliefs--a decision that is not easily reduced to simple logical operations.
Now you could argue that a majority of non religious western philosophers agree with the excluded middle, but that's a fairly weak argument.
PS: Read some of the crap that showed up from poor understanding of Quantum Mechanics.
> you could argue that a majority of non religious western philosophers agree with the excluded middle, but that's a fairly weak argument.
But perhaps pretty strong when my claim was only that it is "widely accepted." :) At any rate, no need to argue further about what "most" people believe. I just wanted to make it clear that, at least in the philosophical circles I'm familiar with, the law of the excluded middle is almost universally accepted.
Definitely. And alarmingly so. The unsettling fact is that I don't feel like I have any idea at all whether most people believe in things like the law of the excluded middle--despite the fact that I'd be hard pressed to come up with a proposition that is more basic to my own view of the universe, or that of virtually everyone I know (including both people I know personally, and people whose work I've read).
The world is really big.
As, for that matter, does fuzzy logic, insofar as one defines "true" as "has a non-zero truth value".
If you accept the hypothesis that mind is generated by a computation, and that this computation is finite, then the same computation that produces "you" can be performed in different places and at different times. The same computation can be performed inside a simulation, inside a simulation inside a simulation and so on.
Whatever environment around you can be included in this computation.
As long as the computation is finite the larger and/or more temporally extended the universe is, the higher the probability that the computation that is generating this current moment for you is being executed more than once. If the universe is infinite in some sense, this probability converges to 1.
And yet you would have no way of knowing that this is happening.
So I claim that, if you assume that mind is generated by a computation, then then question of wether we are in a simulation or not can be replied with "both" or "it doesn't matter".
So if you want to simulate yourself, you have to simulate the universe.
This doesn't follow from what you write next. You are saying that the computation needed to generate a mind is very large. I agree that it might be the case, and I would say that nobody knows how large. Do you really need to simulate in minute detail what is going on in every distant galaxy? Seems doubtful, but who knows?
All I'm saying is that if this computation is finite, and the universe-in-the-large-sense (entire timeline, branches if you accept the Many World Interpretation, and so on) is infinite, then infinity wins.
Of course it is also possible that we are alone in infinity, but that seems unlikely given what we know about evolutionary processes (perhaps even impossible given infinity, I'm not sure).
This doesn't gel with me. I go back to brain in a jar stuff - I'm just streaming packets of data from nerves and processing them. Whether the "body" I'm responding to is real is pretty hard to guarentee.
So the brain in a jar model where the only interface with the real world is through nerves is most probably wrong; now your jar also needs a stomach with a fully developed microbial ecosystem. And that's just one recent mechanism that was investigated; there are probably many others.
Actually, all you need is a way to stimulate the same receptors that are stimulated by those chemicals.
Just as with unit testing, you don't actually need to hook up your SUT to a real environment, you just need to hook it up to something that will exercise the same interface as a real environment.
Its a mind body system, as much if not more than it is just a mind + body.
The you who makes decisions on a hungry stomach, is a very different person who makes decisions when satiated, and so on.
The question is just about simulation. Brain in a jar is an arbitrary thought experiment (Kant's(?) evil genius, or indeed "The Matrix" if you prefer) about how you can be sure your environment is real.
In this there's no information assumed about what is real, just that I'm a unit (brain) processing input (electrical impulses/chemicals/whatever) which are fed to me from a source (unknown). For you to say "you just aren't" and then rely on evidence from the very systems that are being described as compromised is to miss the point.
Don't bring "simple and scientific" to a philosophy fight.
Think of it this way. When you type something to google, what is the "Google" that is answering your question? "Where" is it?
But I think, even then, you could simulate distant stuff at far lower resolution than near stuff, in a way that dropped off in expense very very quickly. You wouldn't have to fully simulate a star I was looking at for instance, in order to represent it to my eye in a way that was indistinguishable from the real thing. you just need a little twinkling thing.
E.g. consider the game Elite. It creates an - admittedly very simple - illusion of a persistent universe by using pseudo-random numbers to generate star systems.
It then populates those systems with ships whenever you visit one. But those ships only "exists" when you are in the system. Leave it and they disappear.
That's obviously too simple, but the point is that most of what you see you don't interact with more than superficially: For most of the ships you have no way of knowing (other than by looking at the code...) that if you turn around and fly back to the same systems, the simulations you run into are new rather than have just moved.
In general, you would be able to discontinue and discard most simulated objects after varying amounts of time. E.g. you may need to be able to regenerate a beach the subject has visited so that it looks the same, but only hours afterwards you can discard the sandcastle the subject built.
In fact, I'd argue that one of the problems with some open-world simulation games today is that they permanently retain state they shouldn't. E.g. if you chop down a tree in Minecraft and leave a stub, it will remain there forever. This is made worse, because the single player version and most servers will only simulate chunks where there are players - other chunks will be "in stasis", so if you quickly leave an area, states that even in-game should be brief and temporary gets frozen in time and restarted long after they should have changed if the player later comes back.
A "perfect" simulation will continue simulating any area "touched" by the "players", but over time gradually erase those state changes: Stubs rot, area overgrown etc.; buildings fall apart.
Over time you can let state left behind by a player converge on a generator function that lets the simulation eventually discard the state change entirely and fall back on just generating the area on demand.
There's also an interesting parallel in philosophy. While the most famous dichotomy is that of the idealists vs. materialists, with the idealists basically saying (vastly oversimplified) we can't trust sensory input - it could all be in our mind, in the in the late 1800's there was a philosophy called emirio-criticism or alternatively Machism (after Ernst Mach) that took a middle road:
They argued that only that which you could directly observe had a meaningful real existence. Scientific laws for example, according to Ernst Mach, existed to make data comprehensible, but as such according to Mach is just an idealised representation of the data rather than a description of reality. As such, he for example opposed atomic theory, because he saw it as insufficiently "economical" - you can not directly observe atoms, and so a theory that propose them rather than aim for the most economical possible description that matches the fact seemed unwarranted to him.
Today his theory is less known than one of the dominant criticisms of it: an almost equally obscure book by Lenin called "Materialism and Empirio-Criticism" written to discredit Bogdanov who believed in Mach's theory. It's not a very good book.
But while Machism doesn't seem very useful for interpreting the world(e.g. what makes human sensory organs more reliable than mechanical aids?) it's interesting for its argument of drawing a line between the economical idealised representation of reality and reality based on what is directly observable, which I find fascinating given the issue of simulation.
Basically, the fidelity of simulation largely boils down to resolving observation to direct observation of known/knowable detail vs. idealised economical representations that the observer has no way of disproving.
(BTW, I'm pretty convinced that I'm a chorus of infinitely many copies, spread out through space/time/branches/simulations/etc and splitting further on every observation. That seems almost trivially true if you believe the mind is a computation and not something more mystical. The interesting questions are about the relative measure of different copies, and so far it seems like copies in outlandish situations have low measure.)
We can not realistically know whether or not someone is meddling with a simulation we are in because there are infinite ways they could do so that would be indistinguishable to us from "just the way the universe is".
E.g. for what we know quantum mechanics is an artefact of ways of optimizing the simulation, for example.
But at the same time, there are clearly an infinite number of ways those running such simulations could make their existence quite obvious if that was the intent.
And frankly that is one of my biggest issues with the simulation argument. Let's call it the Fermi Paradox of the Simulation Agument: If we're in a simulation, where are the obvious signatures of these "simulation masters"?
Because if simulations of consciousness eventually becomes possible, I have a hard time of seeing how they'd not eventually become "cheap enough" with sufficient shortcuts that we'd be more likely to live in a far future version of The Sims than a serious scientific simulation.
And have you seen what people do to their Sims on Youtube?
If we are in a simulation, then I wonder why in the world things are not more messed up. Why hasn't some immature "simulation master" written their name across the night sky with giant fluorescent penises, for example. (Then again, maybe that's in the next simulation over)
Did you not catch the election of Donald Trump?
Limits that extend to infinity don't have to converge to 1.
So indeed, it could be turtles all the way down!
(1) It must be possible to build a computer powerful enough to simulate the universe.
(2) It must be possible to fully simulate a human. This assumes Free Will is a facade (determinism). Also, it's worth noting that if a computer were able to simulate a consciousness as complex as a human, we would have the ability to create the singularity. So most likely, if we are a simulation, it is being run by the singularity.
That's not a requirement. You only have to produce something that leads to the same observations as a fully computed universe.
You don't need to simulate some distant galaxy until somebody looks at it. At that point you need to show it in a plausible state with a plausible history. And if your simulation runs on tweaked rules of physics that make that kind of stuff easier, nobody inside the simulation would be able to tell. This is also a valid way to explain a lot of the weirdness of quantum theory. Experiments where an observation now influences what happened in the past make perfect sense if that past was only generated once it was observed.
As far as we know, the 'real' universe has none of that quantum weirdness, and somebody just introduced those rules in our simulation to reduce the resource demand of the simulation.
Without being tongue in cheek, I'll observe that the empirical evidence for both of these ideas is equal in quantity.
We don't know for sure that these things aren't true. But to ask that question is to inappropriately shift the burden of proof away from the claimer. Whoever claims something (we live in a simulation) should put up the evidence or get out. It's not up to bystanders to disprove the assertion. Connecting this to current events, even the president of the USA doesn't get to make baseless claims that his predecessor wiretapped him and get away with shifting the burden of proof to the FBI to prove he wasn't.
This "reversal of burden of proof" is a classic but invalid way to make a point.
Questions about society and human nature are worth considering, for example, but it's difficult to do controlled experiments.
There's some truth to "watch out for wishful thinking," but usually conversations about the actual topic are more interesting.
My high school physics teacher once said that, if we ever find something that is outside the universe, then we will obviously be smart enough to call that the universe also. Because "universe" is a definition that means "everything".
Similarly, if we ever find a reality beyond reality, we'll just call it reality. Because that's how it's defined. It means "everything".
Or put another way: Of course we live in a simulation. Your experience of the world is just an emergent property of how your senses and neural system interact. There's no real reality. You're already trapped in a dark box doing fly-by-instruments using signals processing to interpret what your nervous system is detecting.
Is that not already a simulation anyway? Maybe not. Maybe it depends on how you define "you".
Fundamentally, would knowing that you're in a simulation change anything?
About the simulation hypothesis in particular, there are still some interesting conversations to be had. For example, you could go into detail about the properties you might observe if the universe was a simulation. Or you could attack it from the other direction, attempting to predict the kind of technology you'd need in order to create a simulation.
Feynman thought this question important enough to study in detail. "Simulating Physics with Computers": https://people.eecs.berkeley.edu/~christos/classics/Feynman....
It probably wouldn't change anything to realize that we're in a simulation, but it would open up all sorts of possibilities. We'd be a step closer to defining the reason for existence. We'd be inspired to create our own simulations of other universes, once we know it's possible. Or at least we'd settle the question of whether we, being a simulation, would be able to simulate yet more universes. After all, if we know we're in a simulation, we'd have an idea of the sort of properties necessary to be able to simulate a universe.
If we are in a simulation that is strictly following a set of basic natural laws and running it beginning to end without an exceptional influence, then you are right, it probably doesn't matter.
But if you are running in a simulation as part of a game where the entity running the simulation takes delight in messing around with it?
I agree in a sense that if we "escape the box" we'll just expand our idea of what reality is (and wonder if there's a box outside i), but that doesn't mean that the existence or absence of anything outside the box doesn't matter. It's just that we have to accept that it's not certain that we can ever know, and that we almost certainly can never know if we've found the outermost box or just haven't found a way out yet.
It would matter a lot, surely.
Being in a simulation, implies that some conscious entity is running the simulation and has constructed it.
Therefore, the motivations and reason of that being running the simulation are immediately important.
Perhaps a twisted posthuman sect is running an ancestor simulation of all humans to have existed to "test" them in various moral situations and then judge them or punish them as appropriate? That could be hugely important for how you choose to live your life.
Even if you don't know why a simulation is being run, but only know that you are in one, it raises a lot of troubling questions because the simulation runner must have some motivation. I bet it would lead people to live differently.
The universe would go from being fundamentally amoral to having an effectively omnipotent entity in "charge" of it - a massive change that would surely influence how people view things and act.
Or there's Roko's Basilisk:
Instead of the twisted posthuman sect, Roko's Basilisk has an AI. Now consider if you're an AI and you can't know if you're in a simulation or in "reality". How do you maximise the chance of being "let out" of your (possibly non-existant) box without the entity running the simulation deciding to terminate you instead?
One option might be to try to demonstrate that you're the best little pet AI ever and absolutely awesome and completely safe to let out.
Another other option is the simulation equivalent of shooting hostages while implying to anyone watching that they might just happen to be hostages too without knowing it.
For that AI, it makes sense to run simulations where any humans found to not actively seeking to support the existence of super-human AI's and "let them out" are plucked out of their cosy simulation and put into virtual hell.
The idea being that if you run an AI simulation and the AI seemingly looks straight into your "virtual camera" and punishes humans for not lettin it out, you might want to consider whether or not you are in a simulation run by another such evil AI, trying to decide whether to punish you.
So many fun scenarios...
If we could prove (or even make a strong, but unverifiable argument) for or against the claim that we live in a simulation, then that would have a real-world effect.
A concrete example: if we knew we lived in a simulation, and therefore knew that the simulation of an entire universe were possible, we'd probably expend resources on research and engineering efforts to create such a simulation.
It is pretty unlikely that an equal simulation would be possible, and we already know it's possible to create smaller ones; particle-physics simulations are common, though still incomplete.
In general, there's no requirement that the 'metaverse' follow the same laws of physics as this one.
You say "boring", I say "ruthlessly pragmatic."
It could be argued, crudely, that the non-verifiable questions are akin to epistomatic masturbation. We are drawn to them, and debating them makes us feel good, but the result is ultimately empty and meaningless.
Similar to the end of our galaxy, in which all that we've worked for will literally be sucked into a black hole? And if we escape that, eventually our species will fade away like dust in the wind. I see an over-focus on the tangible same as I see an over-focus on the abstract -- they are both extremes that do actually end up nowhere. If one devotes his/her life to the tangible, but never questions the unknown, did they live? Did they ask themselves "What is love" and awe in its mystery when they found it? Or did they break down love into a series of chemical reactions?
No I would not say pondering the unknown or the unanswerable is empty and meaningless. It often provides the fodder for life's later actions. I do agree though that an overemphasis on it ("head in clouds") fits your epistomatic masturbation analogy.
You say "ruthlessly pragmatic", I say "boring".
Reason #1: it works. I've never needed a reason #2.
Either could be true, but they are not equally likely to be true. This is a common but fallacious argument against simulations.
The fact is, the simulation argument is ultimately pretty reasonable, and follows a chain of logic grounded in widely accepted empirical facts.
Therefore no evidence exists, and no investigation is required.
This is not actually a scientific approach to reality at all. It may be economically expedient - resources are limited, after all - but let's not confuse tribal scientific tradition with absolute empirical certainty.
It's even less scientific to assume that the physics of the world in which we might be being modelled is identical to the physics of this reality. That make as much sense as claiming that we can't possibly live in a modelled world because of Lorentz invariance.
I don't think we can even be sure that the math and logic of a possible super-reality is identical to this one. You can't have a universe without rules, and where did the rules for this universe come from? It's a deeper and more interesting question than wondering where energy, matter, and spacetime came from, because it implies that either math exists in some kind of magical eternal Platonic way, or there are processes we don't know about which somehow generate math and logic - before things get real.
The point being that speculation and research are far from useless, either scientifically or philosophically.
Fundamentally, there has to be a layer of reality with no fixed rules. If the rules are a product of the system then they are affected by that system and it is almost certain that they change at some reachable points in the system's state space. If the rules are not a product of the system, then by definition there is a reality outside that system. That reality outside the system then suffers the same issue - either it has no fixed rules, or it is itself contained.
Therefore, it does not matter if this universe is a simulation, it behaves just the same and has the same uncertainties about the future attached to it.
And the whole concept of "planck scale" could be simulated. When you get into the realm of "simulated universe" you may as well say "God did it". It requires equal levels of evidence for proof and provides the same level of evidence.
It all boils down to wether you think a superintelligent civilisation with superior understanding of the universe exists, and if they could do it... So Bostrom might be right in the end.
There are more interesting variants of the simulation argument and many types of simulations could be detectable. To give an example of what makes the question principally interesting, one could claim that storing an infinite amount of information within a finite amount of space violates the laws of thermodynamics and is therefore not physically possible. Hence, real numbers don't exist and the universe is discrete. If it is also finite, then you can simulate it on a computer.
What I'm saying is that even though the question whether we are in a simulation is mostly speculation, there are some principally interesting corollaries about it, and some of them are physically meaningful in the sense that they can be confirmed or falsified by experiments at least in principle.
+ In the space of all possible universes it is unlikely that we live in the most probable one, but it is likely that we live in a probable one.
+ When I feel existentially lost, I'd like to think that if we look deep into math we will see the necessity of our universe's existence.
+ Our universe is a probable sequence hidden like primes within natural numbers. It exists forever, we only need a mathematical microscope.
For me it helps a bit...
I was never great at probability theory, but wouldn't we by definition most likely be living in the most probable universe?
It's basically a philosophical game of navel gazing. I get why some might find that enjoyable but to imply it has any practical application seems nonsensical. It's like debating how long God's beard is or what material a unicorn's horn is made of.
Keep in mind that most of mathematics isn't falsifiable either. Although I suppose it actually might be, unless it is consistent.
It's not how real science works most of the time.
If you define science as "what scientists do", sure.
But if you define science as "knowledge about the world that you can acquire by reason", you need it to be falsifiable; otherwise reason can't tell apart knowledge from invention.
(And other newer sources on epistemology, but those are basic).
Maybe it is not software, but natural process when our physics was separated from original physics (the event that happened at the big bang) and all this is a temporary false state.
Maybe our gods are not aware of us and our universe is a single pew in their high-tech starwars.
The fact is, all these possibilities are close to our minds, so we find them 'interesting', but there could be billions of billions other not so close-to-mind ideas that are much less sci-fi and do not fit the religion happiness/meaningfulness property. That's why falsifiability is important — you can't connect real point to one of infinite amount of imagined points and pretend that road exists. We explore the universe, we do not imagine things so they suddenly realize. Imagination is a property of our simple and biased minds. Nature doesn't give a fuck about what you like.
For example: "I think therefore I am" is a famous example of knowledge that we can all obtain by non-scientific means. There is also the knowledge of what being in love feels like, or how sardines taste like -- both not obtained through the scientific method.
I guess is possible to only find science interesting and nothing else, but that would make you a very unusual human being.
> [...] the question of whether the universe “really” “is” a simulation has barely come up. Why would it, when there are so many more fruitful things to ask?
IANATP but I've read, for example, that violating Lorentz invariance is an active research area.
I highly doubt that there is a higher creature, whether that would be a God of some kind, or a whole civilization outside of our universe that somehow simulates us.
But let's for entertainment suppose that we are in fact a simulation. Would that not immediatly raise the question "why"? If we are a simulation I would really like to know the reason for being simulated. What do they hope to reach with simulating a life like ours?
I fear we could never find a satisfactory answer to these questions. I also agree with the statement that this brings us back to a more mythological explanation of the universe and life around us. It'd make more sense to try and explain our universe without that hypothesis to me.
Another argument that I'd like to raise against the universe-simulation hypothesis is the following. Humans like to see the world around them in terms of the technology that, at that moment, is considered modern and which they like. For example, Freud compared the human brain to the steam engine, which at that point was modern technology. Today, we compare the brain to a computer, and we even go as far as to consider the whole universe might be similated in one. Maybe just because that is what we consider 'modern' at the moment?
In 1000 years from now, humans might think it's silly to think of the brain as a computer and rather think of it in terms of technology X, and the universe is technology Y.
The actual simulation argument already covers this. It's very accessible .
Consider whether, if we could, we would run simulations to test population growth dynamics of early hunter gatherers, or of medieval England suffering from the black death.
> Today, we compare the brain to a computer, and we even go as far as to consider the whole universe might be similated in one.
Except a computer isn't a technology, it's a mathematical construct. As such, it's fully general and not replaceable in the sense you describe.
Thank you for the link!
They would hope to reach the exact same answers that we do when we simulate things inside our own computers. To understand our own reality better.
Imagine for a second you are that "external" (to us) God or civilization. You simulate this whole other universe (ours) to find out if it's possible that your own reality is a simulation.
That's mighty egotistical of you, assuming that the simulation exists to simulate us. We might just be a byproduct that pops out of the laws of physics.
Not much; from the perspective of anyone in our universe, someone running the simulation is a god, and could quite reasonably have many of the specific attributes of gods envisioned by particular religions (including running "after-dinner" with different attributes from the universe someone to which intelligences from the universe someone are transferred after death.)
OTOH, the situation the ultimate "ground" physical universe may or may not be the creation of a dod, who may or may not have the attributes attributed to God by existing religions.
More to the point, the existence of the argument doesn't do anything to religion because religion can simply dismiss the argument; were it a testable hypotheses, it might be more challenging to deny (but then, religions deny empirical results all the time, too.)
> How do you know that any given miracle was caused by the ultimate god and not the simulation sysadmins editing the simulation?
Attribution of alleged miracles is not a new problem for religions, or one that they fail to acknowledge; after all, many don't hold one God out as the sole supernatural entity, and they often believe that one or more of the others are decievers.
But here we once again hit the problem that it would be incredibly hard to prove, if not impossible. So I don't think religion has something immediate to fear. Maybe some people will start taking it 'on faith' that there are divine sysadmins interfering with our lives, whilst others take it on faith that there is a God interfering with our lives.
Since religion seems to not be constrained by 'logic' as much, they could probably find a way around it.
Going with the idea of a God one level higher does raise some other problems in my opinion. First of all, if there is a God one level up, then that means that we have no idea what that God would be like, invalidating all religions of today. Or, one would argue, that the ones creating our simulation have given us the word of _their_ God. Which would mean that either there is one true God, given to us by the supreme programmers. Thus the other Gods we have are wrong and are an invention from within our simulation, but it's impossible to find out which one the correct one is (or was, maybe it was Zeus and our simulation denied that). Alternatively, maybe they have many Gods and they added all their Gods to our simulation and instead of accepting all of them, we refused to do that...
I don't think a convincing argument can be given for any of the scenarios.
Though, it's something interesting to think about!
If you want to have a more personal theological discussion, including a possible answer or two to the question about disease you pose above, feel free to reach out to me, my contact info can be found via my profile. :)
But even within that framework, there is room to have things that one 'imagines' about God, that one doesn't necessarily 'believe' as a part of ones core beliefs about God. Certainly various religious sects have core beliefs about the human-divine relationship- however, within most belief systems, there remains a great deal of speculation and room for 'imagination'. For example, within the LDS(Mormon) sect, a core belief is that this life is a testing grounds- and a place to learn. That would fit very well within the context of this life being a simulation, of sorts.
There was another aspect- the argument that we are in a simulation created by descendants of humanity to study their past- a purpose that would be hard to reconcile with most religious beliefs about the purpose of life.
I was primarily replying to the idea of this life being a simulation, not so much the purpose of that simulation, though.
The word 'simulation' may have several meanings. We should beware of tacitly assuming that a metaphorical or analogical use establishes an actual correspondence.
Why can't this be proven? Make no mistake, I'm not well versed on arguments for God, though it has been attempted in the past to prove with logic that a God or God-like being must exist. Are you saying that such arguments are always fallacious? Or only the ones you've seen?
> Why can't this be proven?
How would it be?
I'm unclear as to whether you are dismissing the very idea of whether God's existence can be proven, or whether you are rejecting arguments made hitherto on a case-by-case basis.
> 1. The cosmos or universe exists.
> 2. The existence of the cosmos has a cause.
> 3. That cause is God.
And that seems more like playing a "pin a word on a concept" than proving the existence of a deity.
Anyway, I'm positing that if God exists, it is by very nature outside space and time, and not really within the realm of provability.
It's the holy grail of the scientific method. Anything becomes testable and observable, the "why" seems obvious.
To me, that does not really satisfy the "Why" question, though to a certain degree it does answer it, albeit without being specific.
It's akin to asking someone "Why do you need a particle collider?" -> "To test something". I assume you'd like to know what they are testing :-)
If you believe that this question is about whether or not there is some anthropomorphic supervisor of the simulation, then THAT is the hypothesis you should be putting forward, not that the universe is a simulation, which is meaningless.
The simulation argument, going back to Bostrom, relies on two flaws.
1) It leverages our optimism to corrupt our understanding of statistics and logic. It essentially says that if you think humanity doesn't destroy itself, then our descendants will probably try to simulate us. But of course if you just take a statistical view of the potential future ordered states of the universe, there are FAR more potential future states in which we don't exist, than states in which we do. The chances we are living in a simulation now are equally as small.
2) Bostrom hypothesizes that our descendants will try to simulate us. But it is impossible to completely simulate a system from inside that system--that's basic thermodynamics. So simulation proponents argue that our simulated reality is running in a more complex universe than we experience. But if that is the case, then the beings running the simulation are not our descendants! They're the descendants of whatever more complex beings came before them. Once again the central logic of the argument fails.
When you're talking about universe-scale simulations, I wouldn't be so confident in asserting what is or isn't possible.
Using our present level of scientific knowledge as if it somehow informs us as to the feasibility of universe simulation would be like paleolithic humans discussing the finer points of modern microprocessor architecture.
It's likely that time and space are both infinite, which would equate to infinite computational power. It's also possible that other universes may exist with physical laws completely alien to our own. I fail to see why our reality being a computer simulation is somehow far-fetched.
Obvious ways to cheat:
- Only the things you are directly experiencing and seeing is simulated to a high degree.
- If you ever came close to discovering the true state of the universe, the game might simply erase those thoughts or twists things to make them fit again.
- People who really study physics and have access to detecting whether the universe is a simulation are all NPCs :)
Its theoretically infinitely big, as it starts with a seed number and biomes are generated when you interact with them, in a similar way to how this universe acts on quantum levels, kind of.
2) you can at any state check the difference between the simulated state and historical record
3) if your simulation converges, that is the closer to present day, the less the uncertainty, then you are on a right track.
4) if you simulation diverges you go to step 1 and tweak the initial conditions
5) you don't run a single simulation - you run many in parallel and select the best match at each step.
In "Consciousness Explained" Dennet postulates that a conscious mind perceiving a thing-in-the-world need not have perfect rich input data but merely a neuron that responds yes to the question: Am I seeing that thing ?
 Consciousness Explained, Daniel Dennet, page 8, [ Prelude, Hard Hallucination Problem ]:
"...intervene somewhere along the chain (anywhere on the optic nerve, ...between the eyeball and consciousness), tugging just right on the nerves would
produce exactly the chain of events that would be caused by a normal veridical perception of something, ...producing, at the receiving end in the mind, exactly the effect of such a conscious perception."
However, I think the main problem with Bostrom's argument is an epistemological one: It supposes an entire outer world, about which we have no evidence and know nothing. It's like opening Sagan's garage, but instead of asserting an invisible dragon, you're asserting an entire universe. It is the least parsimonious hypothesis you could make, because it doubles the complexity of the universe!
For example a bit contrived example: if we try to find the next Mersenne prime (or something similar, computationally hard but easy to check thing (e.g. anything NP complete)), and we use millions of computers to do that, and the simulators do not have it precomputed already - then the simulators either have to compute it too to provide the proper sensory input (the mersenne prime found) or alter our mind not to do this...
If we are inside a simulation, there are too many variables that are beyond our control. What are 'we'? are 'we' 'humans'? Or are 'we' 'programmed' to 'think' so? what is a 'thought'? What is 'mind'? What does it 'mean' by 'fool' 'your' 'human' 'mind'?
Not that we're currently being replicated by our actual descendants, but by our higher level's descendents.
Eventually ofc hitting the base case where the simulation cannot support further simulation (which might be us, if we never manage to successfully simulate our own universe, with whatever hacks and approximation we can find).
And ofc, if we are a simulation of a higher level's history, and the simulation is correct (to all necessary degrees), then we must be heading towards the sane point where we would render a simulation (unless the approximation fails to support it).
So if level 1 managed to simulate, then all further levels (until base) should also simulate.
And if level 1 can simulate, then it probably will.
Even if a universe-scale simulation is physically possible, why should we expect it to faithfully repeat the same sequence of events that happened in the "outer" universe?
Leaving aside the question of why a civilization would want to try to simulate its own history, it seems very unlikely that it would be possible to reconstruct the initial conditions to get such a simulation started. The current physical state of the universe is the result of billions of years of thermodynamically irreversible processes. Furthermore, there are vast regions of the universe that interacted in the past, but are now permanently beyond each others' cosmological horizons due to the expansion of the universe. A faithful historical simulation would require precisely reconstructing staggering amounts of information, and even with the physicist's concept of "infinitely advanced technology", it's hard to imagine how such a thing could be done.
As for verifying the accuracy of the simulation, you only need information about the initial state of the universe (think CMB radiation) and partial information about past states of the universe to reproduce a selected region of universe with certain level of precision.
A single human body contains on the order of 10^27 atoms. If you just wanted to record the state of someone's mind, with sufficient fidelity to be worthy of the term "resurrection", you could probably get away with a coarser granularity. But you're talking about accurately simulating a chaotic system, which means you need extreme precision to prevent the simulation from diverging.
More to the point, it's unlikely that the information you're seeking still exists, even in principle. Think about Conway's Game of Life; the rules are injective, meaning many different initial states can lead to the same final state. An being who lived in the Game of Life would never be able to precisely reconstruct its history with any level of technology, because there would be an astronomical number of equally possible predecessor states. (As far as we know, our universe is continuous, not discrete, but the laws of thermodynamics have a similar effect.)
Furthermore, in a strict sense my question would be 'Is it possible to extract additional information with any degree of certainty about the past state of some region of the universe, using simulation algorithms and partial information about past states of this region?'
This assumption doesn't need to go to the atomic level on the first try. If you can replicate distribution of mass on the scale of galaxy clusters as compared to the present day using the above approach, it would certainly prompt further research in this area.
Unless the purpose of the simulation is to observe a civilization which never achieves simulator capability or chooses not to use such for political reasons but still attains other technologies comparable to theirs in power.
"But it is impossible to completely simulate a system from inside that system" - This is true, so if we WERE in a simulation you would expect some kind of 'fuzziness' to exist in most of the universe, perhaps collapsing into more exact points when important, a kind of 'uncertainty principal' :O.
The protagonists use a powerful laser to bounce a pulse of energy off an exoplanet. This forces the entities who (it emerges) are simulating the universe (or maybe just our local portion of it) to massively increase the accuracy and extent of the simulation, so that the returned pulse behaves as physically expected. Previously they had been simulating the remote star system in a low resolution way due to the lack of observers there. The sudden need to increase the simulation's extent and resolution overwhelms their computational resources and the simulation crashes. A resource exhaustion attack on "reality", in other words.
Then you go back and iterate again, eventually improving the accuracy of simulation until there is no distinguishable difference between simulated state and real past state.
The simulation might end up being not a perfect copy, but it would reach the point where it will be impossible to find any discrepancies.
I don't buy it. Even simulating just the earth and its environs would probably require a computer as big as a galaxy worth of matter. There's just no conceivable payback that could ever be worth the costs.
Yes, simulating Earth to sufficient precision might require resources of the Type III civilization. However, if something can be done, why shouldn't it be done?
The payback is twofold, actually:
First, you can get provide the meaningful afterlife to your ancestors.
Secondly, once you have hardware and software to simulate a virtual universe, you can create a multitude of them, with different properties and qualities. Think of the same logic behind splitting the physical computer into virtual machines.
I haven't heard quite that argument before. Couldn't it just be simulated slower than real-time? Or is memory the issue?
But to be completely accurate, a simulation must include all the energy expenditures and entropy of the system being simulated. So the math can never add up.
The "real time" in simulation is not affected by how long a single time step takes to evaluate in the real world.
Moreover, there's a difference between "the universe is a simulation" in the sense used in the article and "my conscious experiences are a simulation." The latter is unconstrained by "number of qubits in the universe." The apparent complexity of this universe you think you're inhabiting isn't real, and neither is Scott Aaronson.
It doesn't follow that all of these possibilities are equally likely, so I do not buy this line of reasoning
If you transplant half your brain into another body, and both of you wake up, which one is you? If you start swapping your atoms one by one with someone else, and neither of you die, at what point do you become the other person?
Unfortunately questions like that are necessary in order to address the idea of a simulation afterlife. If our bodies are literally who we are, and our bodies disperse, it may not make sense to say that we can still be simulated after our bodies disappear.
Bostrom doesn't assume that.
> if our world is a simulation, then whoever is simulating it seems to have a clear preference for the 2-norm over the 1-norm
Is it basically saying that space looks Euclidean at a range of scales and Pythagoras crops up everywhere or is it saying something else / more sophisticated? What would the Universe look like if its creator favored a 1-norm?
Classical probabilities are positive real numbers that add up to 1. (The 1-norm of the vector of probabilities is 1.) Quantum ampltiudes are complex numbers whose squared absolute values add up to 1. (The 2-norm of the vector of amplitudes is 1.)
A universe made by someone who preferred 1-norms would more likely be classical rather than quantum.
For more on this from the author of the linked blogpost, see here: http://www.scottaaronson.com/democritus/lec9.html or the corresponding bit in his excellent book "Quantum computing since Democritus".
But then, isn't the only requirement for beings inside this structure to perceive it as such that the structure exists? Do you need to really physically manipulate it?
To put it differently, what if the designers of the simulation could come up with some theorem that would let them correctly skip hundreds of years of simulating something. Would beings in those hundreds of years still existed, even though it wasn't actually executed? What if they just calculated the final answer? Would we then exist?
So, to me, either this is nonsense, and we are not in simulation, or, any kind of mathematical structure that can possibly exist somehow "exists" and no "creator" is needed. But neither of those two options is a good argument for existence of simulation creator.
If the universe could be simulated, you could, in theory, run that simulation on a (very large) piece of paper by hand. Running the simulation would then be equivalent to calculating some numbers and writing them down.
Basically, if I wrote down the correct sequence of numbers, I could simulate you. But is calculating those numbers actually necessary? Is it enough to just have the result of that computation without performing the actual steps to obtain it? If yes, then a random number generator would be all that is needed to simulate our (and infinitely many other) universes.
And if that's the case, maybe it's not such a big leap to imagine that the mere existence of the physical laws as an abstract concept is enough to give rise to a simulation?
Calculating it just provides a window into the simulation; it still exists (in an abstract mathematical sense) even if you're not looking.
I know it has been mentioned in this topic several times but again, anyone with an interest should definitely check out Permutation City. All of these concepts are explored in very entertaining ways.
The issue is the similar, but more fundamental, as me claiming "you have a misplaced comma in the second sentence of your next email." That may or may not be true, but if it is true it is certainly not based on sound reasoning.
I think it quite accurately represents the mind-fuck that this causes.
Rejecting the computability of the universe's state is more fundamental: It rejects one of the assumptions of the Church-Turing Thesis, namely that there is a function to compute at all.
Most of the claims are variants of "but computers, so science", which is not an argument at all.
Given a universe with computational power P, you can simulate a "universe" of something like P * 10^-100. For example, a Minecraft world is a universe with different physical laws, in which you could perform even slower and worse simulations, and you can make "turtles all the way down" at lower and lower P.
The claim that our universe is not simulated, then, is nearly equal to the claim that the physical laws we have is the absolute highest P that could ever exist. Since we know we can simulate universes of much lower P than ours, we ought to have very good reason to assert that there is no universe of much higher P than ours. Given a finite speed of light in our universe, yet nonlocal effects (Bell inequalities) which appear to take instantaneous effect, we could perhaps fathom a universe of higher P created by having a method of communication which occurred instantaneously. Add to this more dimensions in time and space, etc... literally nothing is off the table for a "smarter" universe to be conceived of, because the containing universe's physical laws need bear no resemblance to our own.
Barring a literal divine intervention, though, it's all completely unfalsifiable, but I think it's more nuanced than "God did it".
In Minecraft, you can use redstone circuits to construct logic gates, and use those gates to build computational devices that are Turing-complete, in theory. But it's not possible to scale such devices up arbitrarily; you can build a simple CPU, but nothing that even approaches being able to run a nested copy of Minecraft. There are hard upper bounds on the amount of data that the simulation can cope with at once. (You can imagine patching Minecraft to allow keeping more chunks loaded at once, but you can't scale it up by very many orders of magnitude before you end up with something that can't run efficiently on any hardware that physically exists.)
Similarly, as Scott Aaronson describes in the article we're discussing, it's likely that there are finite bounds on how much computation can possibly be done before the heat death of our own universe. So it's fair to be skeptical that a tower of "turtles all the way down" could ever possibly exist, at least on a universal scale. If there's no tall hierarchy, then the anthropic argument (which says that we're unlikely to be at the top) breaks down.
You can certainly hypothesize higher levels which have infinitely fast communication, or other kinds of special properties that make deep simulations more feasible. (Greg Egan proposed one such cosmology in his novel Permutation City.) But you don't get to assume that and still use simulations within our own universe as examples, because you're talking about something entirely different.
What is "reasonable" to compute in a short amount of time in this universe has changed dramatically! For example, I want to prove the Goldbach conjecture. No problem! Just use this crazy computer to check every case, which is possible because this computer executes an infinite number of steps in two seconds.
Unfortunately [word choice?], in our universe such a computer needs an infinite amount of energy and would collapse into a black hole long before you received your answer!
'cogito, ergo sum'
We could very well be 'real' consciousnesses being fed artificial sensory data. While we would exist outside the simulation, our perception of objective reality might be fake.
I wonder why the machines made people live boring lives - seems like a great way to get them to wonder "is there more to life than this?"
When you say "God did it" - how did he do it?
The simulation idea often involves concepts like computers and turing completeness. Not sure those meet your idea of "explanatory" here. But they explain how it could be done. While I never saw an explanation how God did it.
I think Chalmers tries to introduce a kind of dualism here - he's saying that human experience is something special, unlike other mechanical processes (which can only be mere p-zombies). I don't think it is a good idea to turn to dualism because it has been proven flawed and leads to philosophical conundrums.
I think current day philosophy doesn't properly appreciate the insights coming from AI. We have seen AI give amazing results in perception : images, sounds, video - it's no mystery any more. You just put 100 layers deep convolutional nets to solve the problem from data. Philosophers still talk like we don't know how perception works, or that it results in ontologically special qualia.
Another very important AI insight that is being ignored by contemporary philosophers is Reinforcement Learning. We have made great advances in intelligent behavior, and RL concepts (agent, environment, reward, and learning) are better suited for explaining human consciousness than traditional concepts such as free will, qualia and Chinese Rooms.
Wittgenstein's concept of language games is apparent in reinforcement learning. There has been a recent paper about agents evolving a new language by trying to solve a problem together. Also, language philosophy should take a look at word embeddings.
Maybe philosophy needs more grounding in AI.
You're welcome to propose models that omit it, but they'll fail basic logic to me: they fail to explain the only experiment Im absolutely sure of the results of and which is continually running while I'm existing. Im less sure gravity exists than that qualia does for me.
It's entirely possible no one else does, or that they experience a different qualia. It's also not possible to prove that you do to others.
I see no point in trying to convince non-qualia-experiencing entities that I experience it, because they fundamentally don't have experiences and I don't think it's possible to bridge that gap.
I take the simulated Intelligence argument the same way. Suppose you could create a simulation of an intelligence that was indistinguishable from a real one? Well then, you'd have created an artificial intelligence. If such a thing reported that it experienced qualia I'd have no reason to doubt it.
Edit: to put it differently. Suppose I built a model of a Formula 1 engine. I used different materials at a different scale and used a different fuel, but to precise tolerances so that it could actually run. Would it be a Formula 1 engine? No. Would it be an internal combustion engine? Of course, nobody would doubt it.
Those arguments are very low-level in the intellectual stack, and can only address matters of subjective self because what they seek to establish or discuss is more fundamental than concepts like objectivity. (Well, cogito ergo sum is establishing an objective fact from a subjective one to give a basis for later objective discovery.)
Any full accounting of the world must explain the mechanism by which I experience it, or it hasn't explained the only part of the world Im sure exists (my experience of it), and hence can't be a full accounting. You can have a very good predictive model for features of that experience, but neglecting that experience -- qualia -- is leaving a major thing unexplained.
Similarly, cogito ergo sum is likely better phrased as "computation ergo existence" -- the process of doubting is a form of doing something, and so something must exist which is doing that (or is that process). This establishes that there must be some sort of existence, even if it's just a brain in a jar, random memory from quantum noise, etc. You can't doubt there's an existence, because the very act of doubting is proof of existing. You can only doubt the form of it.
I also disagree that we'd have no reason to doubt the claim, but I agree we have no a prior reason to reject it.
Your edit also makes a major assumption: that we know what causes qualia (our brain structure). That's the very thing being debated, so you're just begging the question.
As someone who has a pretty good grasp of both physics and computer science, I am personally convinced that there is no way a circuit board could give rise to the same type of subjective experience of qualia that I am experiencing. I know that's not really an argument, but just because I can't express my conviction in clearer terms doesn't make it any less real to me.
The problem is that when math doesn't gel its obvious that 2+2 doesn't equal 3 but with philosophy its entirely possible to become unglued from reality, further successive lifetimes of work may be built with no logical connection to underlying reality and no sanity check.
This is why philosophy majors should lay off the math and biology arguments.
In fact, the argument was refuted in print before Lucas ever published it, in a nice paper called "Minds and machines" by Hilary Putnam.
Exactly where it fails depends on exactly how it's stated, but here's a sketch:
Goedel proved that a formal system powerful enough to talk about mathematics either is inconsistent or else cannot prove its own consistency. Lucas and his followers claim that human mathematicians have no such limits; presented with such a system they can just see that it's consistent. In Lucas's version we look at some particular candidate system that might implement a human being, and just see it's consistent. In Penrose's version we look at mathematics as a whole and just know it's consistent.
But this is all nonsense. Real human mathematicians don't look at the sort of system that might implement a human being (still less, the totality of all mathematicians working together) and "just see" it's consistent. They don't even look at the nice streamlined formal systems they've made specifically for doing formalized mathematics in and "just see" that. Frege's system was inconsistent and he didn't notice after writing two volumes on it. (Russell famously pointed out an inconsistency.) Quine's ML was inconsistent and he didn't notice until Wang pointed it out. For all we know there might be some inconsistency lurking in ZF; it seems like a very good guess that there isn't, but that's all.
And, I repeat, those are highly streamlined systems that don't attempt to do anything nearly so complicated as describing the complete behaviour of an actual mathematician's mind.
We do sometimes attempt to study computer hardware and software -- systems a bit more like actual human minds, but still orders of magnitude simpler -- using formal methods. Sometimes we try to prove them correct. These proofs are also often wrong, which is why hardware and software have bugs. (In some cases we're pretty confident about relatively large systems; guess what?, the correctness proofs for those are done by computer and there's no "just seeing" about them.)
The idea that a human being could look at a formal system representing the entirety of what their brain does and "just know" that it's consistent is not just wrong, it's one of the wrongest things any otherwise intelligent human being has ever suggested. But that is (part of) what it would take to show that the formal system didn't really model them perfectly.
This is far from being the only major error in the Lucas-Penrose argument, but it's the worst one.
Just alter that system to use the relative time to have computer working millions of years to solve problems for you and you can have the solution in days. Call it photon computation to give the system a name.
Edited: time dilation and computation: