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Thread: What if: the universe is a computer simulation

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    Member Aurast's Avatar
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    What if: the universe is a computer simulation

    This is something I dwell on perhaps an unhealthy amount ever since reading this paper which introduces the possibility of the world being a computer simulation.

    I accept the theory's general logic:
    • There is a good chance that it's technically possible to create a highly faithful simulation of the universe we live in, given advanced enough computer technology.
    • If such technology were to be attainable, then at least some civilizations that achieve it will have the will to use it.
    • If a civilization has the will to create such simulations, then, provided with enough resources, they will create many of them.
    • Hence the number of beings living inside of simulations can come to vastly outnumber those living outside.


    We can try to calculate the chance that we do in fact live in a computer simulation:



    So what if the world really is a computer simulation?

    The question arises: why do I (or you) have an experience of the present? It would save a lot of computational resources if everyone could be represented as p-zombies with memories of their pasts but no actual experience of the present. In other words, rather than giving you a 3D model of the world to walk around and be an idiot in, algorithms could just fill in your memories based on what you would have done in such a model of the world.

    A few possibilities:

    1. You don't have an experience of the present. You remember having one a split second ago, but it is a false memory.
    2. Rendering a model of the world requires insignificant computational resources compared to more essential operations (like simulating thinking). Everything you see around you is only rendered at a level of fidelity high enough to look real from your perspective. As you look more closely at something, it is rendered at a higher fidelity.
    3. The dude running the simulation is watching you right now, or is watching someone who is watching you (probably under your bed).


    But here's my favorite: I've been working with evolutionary programming lately, which involves using evolutionary concepts such as survival of the fittest and breeding/genetic recombination to "evolve" an algorithm that is well able to solve a given problem. Solutions that are produced in this way have an interesting property: they are damned hard to understand, even for fairly simple problems. You end up with an algorithm that does exactly what you want, but it's so crazy and convoluted that you can't figure out how it works. (This story about that is almost creepy)

    Perhaps this is how thinking beings were created within the simulation, and the computer does not understand how memories are created, stored, or accessed. Running a full-fledged simulation of the five senses and everything else is the only way the computer knows how to put memories in your head.

    What are we in for?

    Why run a simulation that takes place in a boring age where everyone spends all their time wanking off on the internet? The average simulation admin would probably want to see something more exciting.

    If you ask me, our time looks like the calm before the storm, a world where massive tension is close to boiling over. I do expect the coming decades to be more "exciting".

    It's also possible, especially if the "the computer doesn't know how memories work" posture is accurate, that simulating every age from the birth of the universe onward with high fidelity is necessary to get the simulation to the desired state. Kinda like how there is no random access on VHS tapes. If you want to get to a certain point, you have to rewind or fast-forward.

    Or perhaps humans are not the focus of the simulation at all. Maybe galaxy formation is, and the simulation admins don't care or don't even know that we're in here.

    Ethics

    How does the simulation admin reconcile all the pain and suffering its inhabitants are subjected to with their own ethics code? Perhaps they just don't care, maybe they're not even human, or they don't respect the inhabitants of the simulation as sentient. Or maybe they do care. This is really the only way I can see religious concepts such as Karma or Heaven having reasonable scientific explanations. They are your reward for being a test subject and suffering unnecessarily. Thanks, "God"!

    If we found out tomorrow that we do live in a simulation, how would we act differently?

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    Where are the solipsists when you need one?

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    a fool on a journey pensive_pilgrim's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aurast View Post
    This is something I dwell on perhaps an unhealthy amount ever since reading this paper which introduces the possibility of the world being a computer simulation.

    I accept the theory's general logic:
    • There is a good chance that it's technically possible to create a highly faithful simulation of the universe we live in, given advanced enough computer technology.
    • If such technology were to be attainable, then at least some civilizations that achieve it will have the will to use it.
    • If a civilization has the will to create such simulations, then, provided with enough resources, they will create many of them.
    • Hence the number of beings living inside of simulations can come to vastly outnumber those living outside.
    That last doesn't follow, unless beings only require simulated environments in order to live.

    I also don't see where the second comes from. We don't just invent technology and use it for no reason. "Let's see what happens" doesn't seem like it would be enough motivation for what would surely require a coordinated, sustained effort from lots of very smart people. Any other reason isn't just going to establish a motive, it's going to determine how we carry out the operation - are we simulating the world exactly as it is, or changing things? Are we manually manipulating particular variables? Which players and outcomes are we observing? The motivations of the simulators are at least as important as those of the participants.

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    Member Aurast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pathogenetic_peripatetic View Post
    That last doesn't follow, unless beings only require simulated environments in order to live.

    I also don't see where the second comes from. We don't just invent technology and use it for no reason. "Let's see what happens" doesn't seem like it would be enough motivation for what would surely require a coordinated, sustained effort from lots of very smart people. Any other reason isn't just going to establish a motive, it's going to determine how we carry out the operation - are we simulating the world exactly as it is, or changing things? Are we manually manipulating particular variables? Which players and outcomes are we observing? The motivations of the simulators are at least as important as those of the participants.
    The last one follows from...

    II. THE ASSUMPTION OF SUBSTRATE-INDEPENDENCE

    A common assumption in the philosophy of mind is that of substrate-independence. The idea is that mental states can supervene on any of a broad class of physical substrates. Provided a system implements the right sort of computational structures and processes, it can be associated with conscious experiences. It is not an essential property of consciousness that it is implemented on carbon-based biological neural networks inside a cranium: silicon-based processors inside a computer could in principle do the trick as well.

    Arguments for this thesis have been given in the literature, and although it is not entirely uncontroversial, we shall here take it as a given.

    The argument we shall present does not, however, depend on any very strong version of functionalism or computationalism. For example, we need not assume that the thesis of substrate-independence is necessarily true (either analytically or metaphysically) just that, in fact, a computer running a suitable program would be conscious. Moreover, we need not assume that in order to create a mind on a computer it would be sufficient to program it in such a way that it behaves like a human in all situations, including passing the Turing test etc. We need only the weaker assumption that it would suffice for the generation of subjective experiences that the computational processes of a human brain are structurally replicated in suitably fine-grained detail, such as on the level of individual synapses. This attenuated version of substrate-independence is quite widely accepted.

    Neurotransmitters, nerve growth factors, and other chemicals that are smaller than a synapse clearly play a role in human cognition and learning. The substrate-independence thesis is not that the effects of these chemicals are small or irrelevant, but rather that they affect subjective experience only via their direct or indirect influence on computational activities. For example, if there can be no difference in subjective experience without there also being a difference in synaptic discharges, then the requisite detail of simulation is at the synaptic level (or higher).
    To be sure, there are a lot of details and no one can really know what this will look like. But this isn't so much a technology that would be invented, so much as it's a further development of technology we already have. We have simulations of weather, plate tectonics, etc. And we have simulations of people too, even though they are very simple now (traffic simulations are an example). These simulations yield better results as they become more complex and take more variables into account.

    As technology develops, the development of even more developed technology becomes more approachable. Even if the only motive is that it's fun to play God, that can be enough to drive the development of the software when the barriers become low enough.

  5. #5
    a fool on a journey pensive_pilgrim's Avatar
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    If I accept the assumption of substrate-independence then it implies we're not just talking about human beings but also consciousness that would exist solely in this simulated environment. Wouldn't that make it simulated consciousness? Or from another perspective, it's not a simulation but the natural environment for this constructed consciousness.

    To me, to "simulate" the universe would mean to reproduce, through artificial means, its effects on the sensory organs of an organism that exists in the actual universe.

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    igKnight Hephaestus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sappho View Post
    Where are the solipsists when you need one?
    Dreaming of people.
    --Mention of these things is so taboo, they aren't even allowed a name for the prohibition. It is just not done.

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    The Experience Catoptric's Avatar
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    Some things I have experienced (and which some of you may be surprised, I don't talk about) have lead me to believe "things are not what they seem."

    I was just writing something that incorporated the idea of "God code" in the universe, but moreso incorporating possible ancient introduction of beliefs that were used to incorporate knowledge of future understanding:

    I do believe some deception has been used by mankind incorporating certain structures of belief (more like gradual acclimation to improved knowledge and eventual understandings) which has been carried out by ancient Roman control grid influences, and ancient Babylonian practices (ark of constellation--Shrine means Ark--Shrinar, Babylon.) The (G)od of the bible has been sanitized somewhat though in truth he had a mission it seems; and perhaps those whom he was trying to eradicate felt that they were privileged and entitled based off certain interests to control society through a "matrix" of enslavement. I do believe though that a clear and present similarity within Egyptian and Babylonian influences are present (they all refer to a Trinity of theology much like India and all have very similar constructs of development, with apparent influences from some "divine source" of knowledge. Toth aka Hermes Trismegistus by the Greeks carried out a continuation of sacred geometry (possibly tied to the city of Tyre which is where Plato's Pheonician influence came from and which, and of which the Bible refers to the King of Tyre as being 'Satan,' which in other words opposed the "Trinity" god construct.) What may have happened is this God was really a reference to a construct of civilization building, but which may have been exploited and turned into an obelisk where the bottom masses form the bedrock for the pinnacle of continuity" but likewise are analogous to the Joachim and Boaz pillars (similar to two serpents entwined with the Aesclepius (messenger?) Does one genetic lineage get manipulated into a direction opposed to another "side," used to continue the "controlled opposition" needed to advance and evolve society? Are their multiple constructs of "Trinity" that forms each side to the pyramid, that when looked up from space appear as X's or squares (and much like a shadow caste over a cylinder shaped object, could appear as a square.) Do some deliberately ignore the third angle of a pyramid and only focus on the base? Just as it should be noted, an angle could represent 'Angel' whereas 'El' is "God" in conjunction with the whole of 'God.' A lot of various ideas manifest with the numerology as well, and to indicate that things are not "what they seem" and how self-serving interests manipulate the public will become readily apparent after some analysis of what numbers represent (take 911 for example; roman numerals IX|XI and what is believed to be the concept of 'God'--if considering the "Ark of Constellations" idea with 10 being what follows after 9, leading to 11--transitioning with the ages of the "story ark" as has been taught more overtly with the Mayan calendar system and more subvertly within traditional religious concepts.) the 1-0 is binary which some scientist have more recently considered maybe the "language of the universe" but is likewise like "computer code" but is also what "breaks" the 911 matrix when you take the IX|I0|XI forming 11|11. To me this may indicate a very early introduction to a two-tiered system of the blind leading the blind; much like if someone had both-sides of their brain cut off from the corpus collosom, it would be difficult to have both sides figure out what the other hand is doing. . . This has always been the agenda. . . Though it is possible we don't know everything, I bet most are being conditioned to accept the reality for what it is, as a cushion where unfavorable expectations may be met for the vast majority of people that aren't conducive to the continuation of the plan.

  8. #8
    Member Aurast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pathogenetic_peripatetic View Post
    If I accept the assumption of substrate-independence then it implies we're not just talking about human beings but also consciousness that would exist solely in this simulated environment. Wouldn't that make it simulated consciousness? Or from another perspective, it's not a simulation but the natural environment for this constructed consciousness.
    If the environment is designed to behave like the "real world" then I would call it a simulation. Whether the conscious beings in it have simulated or real consciousness, I would say depends on whether that consciousness was designed to behave like something in the real world, or if it arose naturally within the constraints of the simulation.

    Another possibility is that we are real-world beings with our consciousnesses currently confined to a simulation.



    I don't consider it necessarily the case that everything within a simulation must be said to be simulated, but this is really just semantics.
    Last edited by Aurast; 09-05-2015 at 11:35 PM.

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    Amen P-O's Avatar
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    Yea but as far as we know, the fraction of civilizations that reach that level of technology approaches 0%.

    Simulating the universe would require a computer the size of the universe. In other words, the physics of the universe in which the computer is simulating our universe is going to be vastly different OR It would require a level of technology that is very far off from where we are (and where we're likely to ever be).

    The "life is a simulation" theory is as likely as (and not really distinct from) an afterlife/heaven theory.
    Violence is never the right answer, unless used against heathens and monsters.

  10. #10
    Pull the strings! Architect's Avatar
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    The human brain naturally creates virtual reality for itself. Read "Natural Born Cyborgs" for a treatise on this. Simple example; a woman in 1920 talking on a telephone. What happened to the rest of the world? Who is she talking to, this piece of plastic? The woman has entered the virtual world. I think the reason for this has to do with human cognition; the 'shadow on the cave wall' kind of thing.

    So is the universe a simulation? In reality, probably not. Does it matter? No, to us it's no different.

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