The Simulation Hypothesis
ANIL MITRA © June 2016—July 2016
The Simulation Hypothesis
We live in a world of appearance. The ordinary world is the world we see everyday. We don’t normally see the physical world of atoms, molecules … or of fields and fundamental particles. Yet, from empirical evidence and repeated verification of predictions of scientific theories, we accept the latest science as the best empirical knowledge so far. Reason also gives us some general elements of an empirical view—see Pure metaphysics and related discussion.
I will use the term ‘realism’ to describe view that reality is as in ordinary experience corrected by empirical evidence—supplemented by science and reason.
That is the concept of realism here. Of course the actual view changes as we learn more.
What lies behind realism? What created this world? One answer is naturalism—the view that realism defines the world… except as stated that the view is subject to correction but not essential change.
Alternatives to realism are proposed (1) Because of intellectual or emotional dissatisfaction with realism (2) There are alternatives to naturalism that seem consistent with naturalism (3) As skeptical challenge to realism—which can have a range of reasons but the main one here is to improve understanding of realism. I could say ‘discard’ realism but the result, even ‘ad hoc-ism’ would be a kind of realism.
Brain in a vat
Realism is essentially wrong.
Realism is an interpretation.
Realism is an essential component of a ‘larger’ view, e.g. the universal metaphysics.
Simulated reality is reality.
With ‘universe’ as all there is, there is nothing to simulate the universe.
The universe could perhaps be called or in some cases be interpreted to be a self-simulation. But that would be a verbal distinction without any real distinction. Because—check this—the universe can be seen as a self-simulation! To have any significance it would have to be a certain kind of self-simulation. What kind? The universe is in certain state. It sets up computers. Computer reality comes into being. Now the rest of the universe and the computers un-exist and all that is left is the simulations. Think about this.
Later we will see that Nick Bostrom argues that simulation hypothesis is a metaphysical position. On the other hand Bostrom argues that Maya, solipsism, brain-in-a-vat, are skeptical positions.
Here ‘metaphysical’ means real. A skeptical position, however, is not intended as metaphysical but as a challenge to standard versions of realism with the aim of getting a proper account of realism.
However, Bostrom’s argument is categorially wrong as follows—all of the positions considered can be viewed either as metaphysical or skeptical. The difference is in our perspective or intent but not the position itself.
But it would be a weak argument if it would derive strength from being metaphysical. For in the universal metaphysics we see that there is a definite distinction between a sound metaphysical position and a possible metaphysical speculation. The simulation hypothesis falls into the latter category and cannot be brought into the former category. It can of course become scientific but for that we would need detailed evidence that is far from clearly forthcoming.
What does it mean that a part of the universe is a simulation?
Imagine our situation—we build virtual realities. They are becoming more ‘realistic’. We can perhaps empathize with virtual persons. We ascribe consciousness to them. But the virtual persons are not just ‘flat’. They are not persons at all; a screen has changing patterns of dots to which we ascribe, because of the limitations of visual responsivity, things and personhoods. They could be conscious? There is no medium to be conscious in the sense of persons. Sure, the underlying physical substrate might have some mentality but it is not necessarily anything like ours. In our physical universe we can in principle engineer conscious organisms but they would have to be organisms and not just illusions assigned to a screen.
Now look at organisms higher than us. When they ‘created’ us, then if we are dots on a screen, we would have no consciousness of the kind we do. For such consciousness to arise, we would (a) be created out of their physics or (b) be virtual realities that the higher beings somehow imbued a new but real and not virtual physics.
See the References.
Bostrom’s simulation hypothesis argument rests upon a trilemma. Details and quantitative argument are in Bostrom’s 2003 paper Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?
Bostrom’s trilemma can be written as a dilemma—
Bostrom concludes that if 2 is true, then we are almost certainly a simulation.
The argument is further that this is not a merely skeptical claim but a metaphysical one.
Bostrom states a corollary—
“Unless we are now living in a simulation, our descendants will almost certainly never run an ancestor-simulation.”
Of course, it may be that alternative #1 that is true.
However, under the assumption of finite computational resources (why we should assume that is a good concern) and quantum field theory there should be observational consequences including anisotropy in the distribution of ultra high energy cosmic rays. Such observations would not prove the simulation hypothesis but would give it some support.
For a beginning, see