The probability we are living in simulation is between 0% and 99.999%...
March 11, 2017 4:17 AM   Subscribe

...depending who you ask. Harvard theoretical physicist Lisa Randall leans toward Zero. Elon Musk leans more towards the 99.999% probability. Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom from the University of Oxford, who introduced the thought experiment that sent some very smart people thinking, seems to be somewhere in between, or at least greater than zero.

If the probability is greater than zero, theism becomes more believable, unless Clark's third law, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" is dismissed.
posted by otto42 (208 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
The thought experiment seems a little like solipsism, in that the most effective way to refute the argument may be to set fire to the proponent's beard.
posted by walrus at 4:31 AM on March 11, 2017 [26 favorites]


I actually think the SMBC refutation is a pretty good one.
posted by kyrademon at 4:36 AM on March 11, 2017 [44 favorites]


Nice. I forgot all about SMBC. Time to dig through the archives.

On topic, I think it is an interesting thought experiment, and I looove The 13th Floor. And I have this weird idea that maybe the physical laws of the universe are based on the computational limitations of the system we are being run on. For instance we first went to space when there was a big software update and the speed of light being the speed limit of the universe will be broken when they pop some more RAM into the machine we are running on. Maybe the next update will bring aliens!

Of course the biggest stumbling block I have is the "so what" one. Like if we are in a computer simulation, so what? What will change? I don't think it makes any difference, so it is fun to play with but at the end of the day, who cares?
posted by Literaryhero at 4:43 AM on March 11, 2017 [9 favorites]


There are sort of two cases, the entire observable universe is a sim or just a singe element (me). Now seeing as how the observable universe seems not cost effective, many rocks doing nothing for rather huge amounts of time, the alternative is essentially Solipsism, this way madness lies, just don't go there. It'll cause the sim to be reset early and we know what that means, eh? nudge nudge, wink wink.

And just to reiterate, the sim is about me, not you the reader, there is no reader, there is no you. Don't feel bad that you don't exist, or perhaps as anything more than an NPC, it's ok to be a bit of generic NPC code.

(see, no matter what, it's just not useful to assume a sim)
posted by sammyo at 5:01 AM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


oh, wait, what walrus said. ("walrus", nice name for an NPC :-)
posted by sammyo at 5:03 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


Whatever is it simulating?
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:15 AM on March 11, 2017 [7 favorites]


Couldn't find the figure on a quick skim of the links. 99.999% or 99.999 recurring (i.e 100) percent? Simulated inquiring minds need to know!
posted by comealongpole at 5:19 AM on March 11, 2017


"There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”
posted by entropicamericana at 5:29 AM on March 11, 2017 [37 favorites]


Couldn't find the figure on a quick skim of the links. 99.999% or 99.999 recurring (i.e 100) percent? Simulated inquiring minds need to know!
posted by comealongpole at 5:19 AM on March 11 [+] [!]


99.999 recurring %

Musk explains:

and from a link in the first link

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

So given that we're clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set-top box or on a PC or whatever, and there would probably be billions of such computers or set-top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds that we're in base reality is one in billions."
posted by otto42 at 5:36 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


There's also the notion of nested simulations, which I didn't see mentioned in the links. Simulated people can build simulations inside their home simulation, much like you can build a calculator inside Minecraft. This dramatically increases the number of simulations out there, though of course each nested simulation would need to be far less complex than their parent simulation.

This goes a long way towards resolving the Fermi paradox. We're in a small simulation of this one planet and its immediate surroundings. Outer space is just a low-res, algorithmically generated skybox.

Ever wonder why the speed of light is fast enough to ignore in your daily life, but slow enough to keep us from traveling anywhere interesting? Now you know.
posted by ryanrs at 5:38 AM on March 11, 2017 [33 favorites]


"Look at this you beat cancer, and then you went back to work at the carpet store? Boo!"

In the off chance that this is a simulation, when I exit or wake up I'm going to have a bug list and some rather strongly worded opinions for the designers. And, possibly, a crowbar.

Granted, I have a difficult to acknowledge habit of doing things on hard mode and I've been "taking Roy off the grid" for some time now, so it might be my fault.
posted by loquacious at 5:42 AM on March 11, 2017 [14 favorites]


So given that we're clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality

This is not axiomatic. There's a lot of evidence that the jump from "really good graphics" to "perfect holodeck" is going to be difficult if not impossible to achieve. We tend to think that all technology is possible because our technology is possible, but that's just not true.


Then you just say, okay, let's imagine it's 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale.


As long as we're spitballing in the guise of deep thoughts, I'd say it's vastly more likely that the human race goes extinct in the next 10K years than gets to the end with perfect holodeck technology. We're only 200,000 years old give or take and we've developed multiple ways of exterminating ourselves in the last 200 years alone, which is basically the blink of an eye.
posted by selfnoise at 5:44 AM on March 11, 2017 [31 favorites]


Ever wonder why the speed of light is fast enough to ignore in your daily life, but slow enough to keep us from traveling anywhere interesting? Now you know.

I like to think that if we go far enough, we'll just reach an invisible wall.
posted by jaduncan at 5:44 AM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


In the off chance that this is a simulation, when I exit or wake up I'm going to have a bug list and some rather strongly worded opinions for the designers. And, possibly, a crowbar.

Gordon?
posted by jaduncan at 5:45 AM on March 11, 2017 [7 favorites]


This dramatically increases the number of simulations out there, though of course each nested simulation would need to be far less complex than the parent simulations.

This is not true. You can simulate larger universes inside of smaller ones, if you just run them slower. Think of it this way: if it takes one atom to simulate an atom, then it will require all the atoms to simulate another universe, but if you run it at 1/10 speed then it will only take 1/10 of the atoms to run it. If you are in the simulation, there's no way to tell you're running slower, because your whole universe runs at that speed.
posted by sexyrobot at 5:45 AM on March 11, 2017 [16 favorites]


Like if we are in a computer simulation, so what?

If it's a simulation, then the so-called laws of physics are subject to exceptions which might be deliberately crafted to hide the fact that they are happening. There might, for example, be intelligent entities operating outside the laws of the natural world but capable of communicating with us and influencing reality, for example by manipulating the results of "random" occurrence in ways that fall believably within the scope of expected results, but with the manipulation favoring some particular outcome. It would of course be something of a violation of Occam's Razor to postulate such things if most of the human race did not already believe in things like prayer, superstition, and ritual magic.
posted by Bringer Tom at 5:46 AM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


Sexyrobot, a memory-bound simulation does not scale that way. Nested simulations would need to be simpler, i.e. have less state.
posted by ryanrs at 5:52 AM on March 11, 2017 [5 favorites]


relevant to this thread
posted by ryanrs at 5:52 AM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


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

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


This argument, which boils down to "I can imagine an incredibly high number of possibilities, there are many more of those imaginary possibilities than there are observable realities (of which there is one), therefore it is far more likely that we are in one of the realities I have imagined than it is that we are in reality" is a favorite of the Eliezar Yudkowsky set, and underlies the threat of Roko's Basilisk- to wit, that if an AI is angry at you it can simulate you [high number] of times, and I assume that will happen exactly as I imagine it, therefore you are almost certainly a simulation of the real you because there's so many more simulations than there are real yous.

I'm thoroughly annoyed to see Yudkowskian "rationalism" getting such mainstream play.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:52 AM on March 11, 2017 [31 favorites]


Magic is just buffer overflow attacks on the underlying simulation of reality.
posted by fings at 5:53 AM on March 11, 2017 [12 favorites]


If it's a simulation, then the so-called laws of physics are subject to exceptions which might be deliberately crafted to hide the fact that they are happening. There might, for example, be intelligent entities operating outside the laws of the natural world but capable of communicating with us and influencing reality, for example by manipulating the results of "random" occurrence in ways that fall believably within the scope of expected results, but with the manipulation favoring some particular outcome.

Again, so what?
posted by ryanrs at 5:59 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


Again, so what?

You really think there is no noticeable difference between a universe where magic works and one where it doesn't?
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:00 AM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


Outer space is just a low-res, algorithmically generated skybox.

Man, even aliens are roasting the No Man's Sky creators.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:01 AM on March 11, 2017 [18 favorites]


If the probability is greater than zero, theism becomes more believable, unless Clark's third law, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" is dismissed.

otto42, can you clarify that? (specifically the "unless..." part)

Pope Guilty, I'd be more inclined to take your arguments seriously if you could spell Eliezer's name properly. (Like many things, Eliezer's writing and arguments appear nonsensical at first glance and then quite uncomfortable after further attention.)
posted by iffthen at 6:02 AM on March 11, 2017


You really think there is no noticeable difference between a universe where magic works and one where it doesn't?

Magic would be neat, but it seems we're living in the no-magic universe. Or maybe our sim is just the screensaver and we don't see any weird magic because we only run when the aliens are afk.
posted by ryanrs at 6:12 AM on March 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


Pope Guilty, I'd be more inclined to take your arguments seriously if you could spell Eliezer's name properly.

Ah, an actual ad hominem in the wild! In an age where "You're wrong and you're an asshole" is often mistaken for ad hominem, it's good to see the real "you're wrong because you're an asshole" thing.

And Eliezer Yudkowsky is a classic example of what happens when you try to build a whole understanding from first principles- to wit, it turns out that doing so requires an intelligence, humility, and self-awareness that is in nearly every case incompatible with believing oneself capable of understanding the world from first principles. But shit, don't take my word for it- the internet is full of people dunking on his work, from RationalWiki to Phil Sandifer to probably dozens of various posters on various forums. I stand on the shoulders of numerous giants who have cheerfully chronicled his trajectory past his competence and into his fantasies. The only discomfort he provides is the unhappy shift from laughing at him to the sadness of understanding the roots of his obsession with death and finding ways to deny it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:12 AM on March 11, 2017 [39 favorites]


Magic would be neat, but it seems we're living in the no-magic universe.

I hope you realize this is observation puts you very much in a minority among human beings. I tend toward agnosticism on the matter myself, but if you haven't experienced some very startling probability weird-outs then you probably haven't ever given magic a chance.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:19 AM on March 11, 2017 [8 favorites]


Whenever I hear the argument that we're living in a simulation proposed it seems to be arranged to put Humans back at the center of the universe. What if we're an emergent property of this particular run of god's screensaver? What if we (and most likely most of everything we know of) are a undesired and potentially unnoticed side effect of whatever the process is intended to simulate?
posted by wotsac at 6:23 AM on March 11, 2017 [16 favorites]


To flesh out the "so what?" comment a bit, when I am confronted by the possibility of a simulated universe, or the existence of magic, or free will, or god, I find it useful to ask the following:

Does this knowledge help me predict the behavior of the observable world?

If the answer is Yes, then the idea/magic/god is useful and can be applied to a practical purpose. If the answer is No, then it's not very useful so who cares what the "right" answer is.

It's a very engineering-centric perspective, but it cuts through a lot of philosophical wankery by quickly routing it to the "so what?" pile.
posted by ryanrs at 6:24 AM on March 11, 2017 [17 favorites]


Astonishing probability weird-outs and freak occurrences are inevitable even in a universe of mechanistic materialism. They only seem like magic because a) probability is hard for human beings, b) if you flip a coin enough times, at some point it's going to land on its edge and stay there, and physical reality involves trillions upon trillions of coins flipping constantly, and c) the way we perceive reality is so limited that we tend to forget item (b) is happening at all. Coincidences are only proof of magic if you're unable to accept that your human perceptions and reality aren't really 1:1.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:26 AM on March 11, 2017 [18 favorites]


Sexyrobot, a memory-bound simulation does not scale that way. Nested simulations would need to be simpler, i.e. have less state.

I'm not sure I agree. If you constructed the right simulation, you could do that with a seed and procedural generation; you might not be able to have it all held in memory at once, but you could have a simulation that loaded whatever you needed it to from a much larger universe. That would also enable you to load various sectors and change state within those rather than altering the whole universe at once. You'd have that alter the seed. Now, you'd have to have some cunning laws of physics to make the maths work, but you're creating the universe, so that's perfectly possible. It also ignores all other data compression tech; something like FLAC doesn't contain less state data than a plain WAV, and I'd like to think that an intelligence that could simulate the universe would at least investigate ways to save space.
posted by jaduncan at 6:26 AM on March 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


It's a very engineering-centric perspective, but it cuts through a lot of philosophical wankery by quickly routing it to the "so what?" pile.

But pragmatism is, itself, a philosophical position that you are currently doing nothing but expressing a preference for. Which is fine, but just saying "I like pragmatism" doesn't really add very much to anything.
posted by howfar at 6:29 AM on March 11, 2017 [9 favorites]


I got kicked out of my confirmation class one night because I asked the priest "What if god and god's chosen people are actually on some other planet in some other galaxy, and we only exist as a byproduct of the universe that god created for those people?"
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:30 AM on March 11, 2017 [11 favorites]


but you could have a simulation that loaded whatever you needed it to from a much larger universe

That "much larger universe" was the premise of my original comment. The simulated universe must be smaller than the universe the simulator is running in.
posted by ryanrs at 6:31 AM on March 11, 2017


Universe gives rise to man... man creates programming... man attempts to describe the universe that gave rise to them in terms of man-made logical construct...
posted by cmoj at 6:31 AM on March 11, 2017 [9 favorites]


The first thought I had re: these simulations was how small we must be relative to the beings that created the simulation.

Then I realized (duh!) we have no "size"!
posted by sutt at 6:33 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure this isn't a simulation because I have not had to download any patches.
posted by srboisvert at 6:34 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


Pragmatism is the superior philosophical position because pragmatism gets things done.
posted by ryanrs at 6:35 AM on March 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


Yeah. There's a lot here that just points back to the 'roughly bowling ball-sized lump of hamburger' in your skull uses a lot of engineering shortcuts and tricks to engineer the experience of you sitting at your computer and looking at the blue.

A lot of those tricks and shortcuts were optimized for chilling out on the savanna and thinking about groups of about fifty people and throwing rocks and looking at fruit and stuff.

They totally fail and break down and trip out and DOES_NOT_COMPUTE when trying to intuitively understand probability, quantum states of matter, and a lot of other stuff. Are we living in a simulation? Probably somewhere between 0-100%, as noted in the article. Doesn't make a difference to me, personally.
posted by mrdaneri at 6:38 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


Pragmatism is the superior philosophical position because pragmatism gets things done.

According to pragmatism, anyway.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:39 AM on March 11, 2017 [20 favorites]


That "much larger universe" was the premise of my original comment. The simulated universe must be smaller than the universe the simulator is running in.

See also the point about lossless data compression.
posted by jaduncan at 6:40 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


Simulation is the wrong word either way, because "simulation" suggests a fictional imitation or model of a real object. It's not semantically coherent to argue simulations of nothing could exist.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:41 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


If reality is less stable than we've assumed, that only implies we've misunderstood what reality is, not that there's no such thing, even granting the lack of epistemic closure that makes it possible to argue there might not be an independent reality, whatever that would even mean.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:44 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


Lossless compression does not reduce state. I think you have to assume that if an inner simulation is compressed, the outer sim is also compressed. And since you can't run lossless compression over again to wring out more savings, it won't help scaling.
posted by ryanrs at 6:44 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


If we're simulated, we're not real.
If we're not real, we don't exist.
We don't exist in a simulation.
posted by Segundus at 6:45 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


If we're simulated, we're not real.
If we're not real, we don't exist.
We don't exist in a simulation.


I feel like this is unfairly conflating multiple uses of "exist".
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:48 AM on March 11, 2017 [15 favorites]


Lossless compression does not reduce state. I think you have to assume that if an inner simulation is compressed, the outer sim is also compressed. And since you can't run lossless compression over again to wring out more savings, it won't help scaling.

No, it reduces the state required to store the state data. I also don't have to assume that at all. I disagreed with your claim that it is, and I quote "impossible" rather than improbable for a larger universe to be simulated in a smaller one. Because it isn't.
posted by jaduncan at 6:48 AM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


What if we (and most likely most of everything we know of) are a undesired and potentially unnoticed side effect of whatever the process is intended to simulate?

"Ugh, another memory leak in the auxiliary processor in that robot arm that attaches the temporal-rearview mirrors to our transdimensional cars."
"Want me to reset it?"
"Nah. Usually this causes the system to heat up a bit, and somehow the problem goes away."
posted by Behemoth at 6:49 AM on March 11, 2017 [5 favorites]


Pragmatism is the superior philosophical position because pragmatism gets things done.

An excellent example of begging the question!

You can tell it's a weekend, can't you? We all seem to have plenty of time on our hands today.
posted by howfar at 6:50 AM on March 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


And do you know who else got things done?
posted by entropicamericana at 6:51 AM on March 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


Does this knowledge help me predict the behavior of the observable world?

Does this knowledge help me attract a mate, gather food, or defeat my enemies? If not, it is obviously irrelevant.
posted by sfenders at 6:51 AM on March 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality

But they don't need to become that good. Only the people inside the simulation need to mistake it for fundamental reality, and there's no reason we have to make them as clever as we are.
posted by sfenders at 6:53 AM on March 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


Physics seems to stay nicely focused on the question of how the universe works without getting bogged down with who created it and for what reason, which are questions really more theological in nature and probably not knowable anyway.
posted by anifinder at 6:55 AM on March 11, 2017 [9 favorites]


But they don't need to become that good. Only the people inside the simulation need to mistake it for fundamental reality, and there's no reason we have to make them as clever as we are.

They also have the fatal flaw of having no point of comparison. How would we know if the graphics are low-res crap?
posted by jaduncan at 6:56 AM on March 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


"Reality" is the only word in the language that should always be used in quotes.
posted by brevator at 7:01 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


Jaduncan, ok I misunderstood your mention of larger universe.

I would argue that a universe algorithmically generated from a seed is an extremely small universe, in the sense that it has very little state (just the seed + the generating algorithm). The fact that you can expand it out like drawing a fractal doesn't increase the entropy of the simulation. Maybe a better way to phrase my idea is that a simulated universe must have lower entropy than the outer universe the simulator is running inside. Less entropy, less complexity, less state, however you want to call it.
posted by ryanrs at 7:02 AM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


I guess this just seems like god-creep to me. "Oh, this world isn't really real, what's real is what is out there and our project should be to figure out what the norms of out-there are, rather than paying attention to the merely illusory demands of the here and now". That's Rokko's Basilisk for you - ignore the world around you, because otherwise something you made up in your head will punish you for not acting right. And when someone like Elon Musk, who very clearly just wants an excuse to ignore women, workers, etc, I am very suspicious even on top of that.
posted by Frowner at 7:04 AM on March 11, 2017 [26 favorites]


I guess this just seems like god-creep to me.

I will never not link to Warren Ellis' "The NerdGod Delusion" when this topic comes up.
The Singularity is the last trench of the religious impulse in the technocratic community. The Singularity has been denigrated as "The Rapture For Nerds," and not without cause. It’s pretty much indivisible from the religious faith in describing the desire to be saved by something that isn’t there (or even the desire to be destroyed by something that isn’t there) and throws off no evidence of its ever intending to exist. It’s a new faith for people who think they’re otherwise much too evolved to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster or any other idiot back-brain cult you care to suggest.

Vernor Vinge, the originator of the term, is a scientist and novelist, and occupies an almost unique space. After all, the only other sf writer I can think of who invented a religion that is also a science-fiction fantasy is L Ron Hubbard.
posted by mhoye at 7:07 AM on March 11, 2017 [25 favorites]


In the off chance that this is a simulation, when I exit or wake up

Programme terminates.
posted by biffa at 7:08 AM on March 11, 2017


How would we know if the graphics are low-res crap?

You've only got a few million cone cells, and they only come in three colors. I think you can safely say the graphics are low-res crap.
posted by ryanrs at 7:11 AM on March 11, 2017 [15 favorites]


Nothing is true, everything is permitted.
posted by brevator at 7:11 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


And do you know who else got things done?

Charles Sanders Peirce?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:12 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


I thought this (Asimov Memorial debate 2016 at the AMNH, hosted very ably by Degrasse-Tyson) was gonna be in here. It's pretty great.
posted by From Bklyn at 7:13 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


Pragmatism is the superior philosophical position because pragmatism gets things done.

An excellent example of begging the question!


Metafilter is probably the only place outside of philosophy departments that consistently uses this term correctly.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:16 AM on March 11, 2017 [15 favorites]


I've always assumed that if we're living in a hologram (or some kind of simulation) that it's later versions of us doing the simulating, not aliens or something. Like, we're primary-source history simulations, billions of AI people run on past versions of human society, to be able to watch us all as we go about living in recreated versions of our past.

Re: the singularity and Vernor Vinge, my understanding is not quite as eschaton-esque as seems to have metastasized from the original idea. As I understood it, from Vinge at least, as a writer of science fiction, one must deal with a point of singularity in human culture/society, where there is some tipping point after which we are no longer human beings in the same ways we were before, because of (perhaps) technological augmentation and networking (internal or external). Thus, human society will change profoundly and fundamentally in ways that no writer can predict from this side of such a change. So, as an SF writer, one must choose which side of that likely future point one is writing from: on this side, things are likely mostly the same but with better gadgets; on the other, who knows, but it's completely different (maybe we've uploaded some versions of our consciousness, or can alter our physical bodies at will, or etc.). Two living SF writers clearly on either side of that divide, for example, are Jack McDevitt and Greg Egan.
posted by LooseFilter at 7:17 AM on March 11, 2017 [9 favorites]


Shut it down.
posted by Kabanos at 7:20 AM on March 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


I'm fairly sure the programmer hates me.
posted by jonmc at 7:27 AM on March 11, 2017 [5 favorites]


And merely as an informative aside, I think LooseFilter gets the tone generally right. I've been following 'The Singularity'-type stuff from the SciFi side from about 2000. It's neat-- as a SciFi trope.

When I was younger, and new-ish to the industry, my take was 'Wow! This is about to happen!'

My take now, almost two decades later is, 'This is carnival huckster stuff that has been floating around since the 1960's.' It's the realm of way-out-there VC spin guys and fringe, fringe academic labs and 'hey, let's grab some eyeballs Friday-afternoon-puff-pieces on NPR.'

Back to debugging real AI stuff for a client on unpaid overtime, cuz the real stuff breaks all the time and is never ever scoped appropriately!
posted by mrdaneri at 7:29 AM on March 11, 2017 [7 favorites]


the only other sf writer I can think of who invented a religion that is also a science-fiction fantasy is L Ron Hubbard

You forgot the Church of All Worlds, which came into being due to a Robert Heinlein novel.

Anyone reading this thread should go to their local library right now and check out a copy of The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod.
posted by heatherlogan at 7:37 AM on March 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


Also, I'm with Lisa Randall. Elon Musk apparently only knows enough physics to get himself into trouble (what do you expect from a Queen's U. dropout?). [ETA: ;) ]
posted by heatherlogan at 7:39 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


have you tried cycling the power?
posted by entropicamericana at 7:41 AM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


Just be sure to clean up the dorm lounge when you're finished thought-experimenting, please, and don't leave half-eaten pizza lying all over the place again.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:41 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


Trouble like a space fox!
posted by sammyo at 7:41 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


I don't see what it's got to do with any Singularity. The supreme creators at the top of the chain of nested simulations probably don't see much difference between us and our own creations such as Skyrim NPCs. In the unlikely event that one day the people of Riverwood Tavern figure out how to upload their simulated minds into draugr, I'm sure it will be very exciting for them.
posted by sfenders at 7:44 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


Has anyone here actually *worked* with molecular-level simulations? Because either we're back to assuming a mind/body divide, or we're stuck simulating the atomic-level behavior of billions of molecules, just to make up one person.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 7:46 AM on March 11, 2017 [9 favorites]


Again is it a fully populated sim or just managing the perceptions of the core experiment personality?
posted by sammyo at 7:50 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


My SO studied philosophy, so if you ask him "Are numbers real?" or "Do we have free will?", prepare for hours of fun. When I asked him about this, he said "That's ridiculous." Which left me convinced this is a simulation.
posted by acrasis at 7:50 AM on March 11, 2017 [18 favorites]


Back to debugging real AI stuff for a client on unpaid overtime, cuz the real stuff breaks all the time and is never ever scoped appropriately!

Exactly! Pardon my cynicism but I've earned it!
posted by saulgoodman at 7:51 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


OK. Your initial argument was this: that a "memory-bound simulation must have less state." This is only true if the universe you compress within is at Shannon entropy (or, more fairly, that the Kolmogorov complexity of the simulated universe doesn't exceed the size of the universe it's being simulated by). It would appear to be a big claim to say that our universe (or the non-simulated universe starting the simulation) is definitively at Shannon entropy.

It would appear you're defining compexity/size of state as defined purely by the amount of entropy, which I would suggest would be odd. I don't view an empty part of space as uninteresting as a part of the universe, although it very certainly is not at Shannon entropy. Again, a FLAC contains the same amount of information/state as a WAV, but can be contained in fewer bits. To take this to the extreme, if you can agree that it is possible to store information in fewer bits than it would take to write in plain text, it is hard for me to see why you could think that a universe could not be simulated that was contained within a universe that itself had less information storage capacity. Essentially I think the source of our disagreement is that state and entropy are the same thing, because state does not appear to be perfectly random, and non-random data can be compressed.
posted by jaduncan at 7:52 AM on March 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


I think most of us probably do live in a simulation most of the time. The simulation in question is the model of reality we keep in our own heads. It's extremely easy to mistake that map for the territory; many of us never have the unusual kinds of experience that draw our attention to the distinction.
posted by flabdablet at 7:54 AM on March 11, 2017 [18 favorites]


That's exactly my take. The evidence of simulation people think they're seeing is related to how the human brain processes information, not reality. We aren't capable of directly experiencing reality because experience is a function of human biology, which is constrained by physical limits. We live inside a model of whatever's really out there because that's how our biology works, not because aliens or future humans are running a simulation. The simulation is the one in our brains, but it's not all there is and we already know that and have plenty of evidence for it.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:02 AM on March 11, 2017 [9 favorites]


We aren't capable of directly experiencing reality

I beg to differ.
posted by flabdablet at 8:03 AM on March 11, 2017


Reality doesn't come with any built-in sensory language. The color "Red" like any other qualia is literally only found in the human mind or in the minds of other sentient species with similar biological function. The underlying reality constrains us, and we are directly connected to it, but we can only really experience it indirectly, and draw inferences from the more obvious gaps and inconsistencies between our mental functions and the different kinds of feedback we get through our senses. We only know what parts are model and what parts are real by analyzing the puzzling inconsistencies between different but related observations in different circumstances.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:09 AM on March 11, 2017 [5 favorites]


The simulation in question is the model of reality we keep in our own heads.

Can we post this on some mountains in 30-foot-high flaming letters? Automatically append to all Twitter posts and Facebook updates for a few months, in bold type? Something, anything that will get people to pay attention to this important fact of our individual existences.

We aren't capable of directly experiencing reality because experience is a function of human biology, which is constrained by physical limits.

Not to beat my own personal drum about this again, but because we only know reality and the world we live in by intermediation, then intermediation is the basic, unavoidable vulnerability of consciousness and meta-cognition, the specific point where we are unsure if we really know what we know, or actually experience what we experience. Because our symbolic systems are then an additional layer of intermediation (from words and writing forward), most means and modes of human communication are intermediation flowing through intermediation to get to our minds, symbols pointing at symbols.

The rapidly increasing complexity of our communication/media devices means that those symbols have become vastly complex and layered because we now live in an ongoing meta-meta-meta-meta-etc. space, with symbols pointing at symbols pointing at symbols recursively until we all collapse in billions of piles of despair, anxiety, and depression, because our poor brains--from the start, desperately reaching out into the world to try and know what's real, what matters--are just spun up into a hyperreality that leaves us just crazy.

(And I think it's ultimately "how" Donald Trump became President.)
posted by LooseFilter at 8:14 AM on March 11, 2017 [24 favorites]


I agree absolutely and am so grateful to find I'm not alone, I think I might cry! That's exactly what's going on: we're cognitively overburdened.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:20 AM on March 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


this just seems like god-creep

please use my actual name instead of subtweeting me
posted by Greg Nog at 8:22 AM on March 11, 2017 [22 favorites]


Has anyone postulated why someone (something?) would run a simulation? Of us, specifically?
posted by AFABulous at 8:22 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


Thank you LooseFilter for an elegant summation of what "singularity" at least ought to be seen to mean.

I'll broaden that point to note that are any number of cultural and technological singularities where you can make the "everything changed" argument, many of which have already occurred and therefore can enable us to have some more informed basis for speculation.

It also suggests that singularities will be small in conceptual scale (if not impact), not conceptually grand.

Uploading consciousness may never happen, but what will certainly happen is robots with the manual dexterity and visual and auditory perception range of humans, and from that moment on humans at or below the robot's effective IQ range (which will increase over time) will become generically unemployable, while things that can be produced at or below that effective IQ range become unimaginably cheap.
posted by MattD at 8:24 AM on March 11, 2017


Has anyone postulated why someone (something?) would run a simulation? Of us, specifically?

Background NPCs for a low-end dystopian MMORPG?
posted by nubs at 8:30 AM on March 11, 2017 [7 favorites]


Well, OK, this seems to be becoming a derail, but what the heck: I find that conversations on these topics get tied up because our words are often big boxes, and have maybe too many ideas in them. In this case, "red." As you pithily noted:

The color "Red" like any other qualia is literally only found in the human mind or in the minds of other sentient species with similar biological function.

Absolutely, but also, we use the word "red" to mean "the frequency of visible light that causes the qualia we term 'red'," and that's where the "if a tree falls in the forest..." trope comes from. (Because of course the tree makes a sound, if by 'sound' you mean 'pressure waves pushed through the air caused by physical vibrations'; but if you mean 'sound' as in, 'qualia created by the reception of pressure waves by the human ear,' then no, the tree creates no sound if no one is there to experience the qualia of hearing.) So we have to be careful about our symbols, because, wow, they impede communication as much as create it.

On preview: saulgoodman, we seriously need to hang out and have some beers or stuff. I've been babbling about this in a few comments recently (and have derailed my mostly-about-music podcast to devote 90 minutes to the topic of the weaponization of hyperreality, will likely post that episode later today, in fact), but this is The Thing We All Need To Be Paying Attention To. Daniel Dennett said in a recent interview that he feels great urgency about this (and that if someone gave him a billion dollars, he would start an international foundation for truth, that would be the global, objective reference for what is actually, factually true). I felt much less alone hearing him say that, but my fear that we may not see this before it swallows us remains. Human beings have long been the apex predator on Earth, and we may have finally figured out a truly effective way to eliminate the only remaining existential threat we face: ourselves.

Time will tell, and all I've figured out to do (on this) is keep talking about it with people who see this water, and keep making stuff to put the ideas out there, and hope that a critical mass of awareness develops. To loop this derail of my own comment back around to the thread topic, though, why would we simulate earlier versions of ourselves or societies? Well, it's a powerful modeling tool, I'd think, for scholars in historical/cultural studies; could be for various game theories, too, maybe to ascertain the dangers of certain technologies or ideas on a mass scale; for fun, the ultimate sims game; to laugh at what would happen if a reality TV star, corrupt real estate developer became the most powerful person in the world; to play out alternate realities; etc.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:42 AM on March 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


Isn't simulation analogous to the homunculus argument?
posted by Brian B. at 8:45 AM on March 11, 2017


I've always assumed that if we're living in a hologram (or some kind of simulation)

Those are two *totally* different things -- a holographic universe only would indicate how information is stored in the universe we live in (namely, that all the information basically is on a 2-dimensional surface -- there's more to it than that, but my understanding of it is limited).

It would have nothing to do with what most people think when they hear "hologram."
posted by tclark at 8:45 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


Has anyone postulated why someone (something?) would run a simulation? Of us, specifically?

Background NPCs for a low-end dystopian MMORPG?


On a purely probabilistic level, there is a 99.9% chance that a demigod is gettin wicked turgid while writing slash about me right now
posted by Greg Nog at 8:50 AM on March 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


If we're simulated, we're not real.
If we're not real, we don't exist.


Whoa. If these premises are true, then you've just proved that no simulations exist, which is very relevant to this question.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:57 AM on March 11, 2017 [5 favorites]


What fascinates me is thinking about the psychology and underlying motivations for wanting to believe in the unreality of reality: we already have a perfectly reasonable model for why we'd find evidence that our experience of the world is a "simulation": our biology. Where does that impulse to add another layer of complexity and look for more exotic explanations even come from if not deep dissatisfaction with reality and an escapist impulse?
posted by saulgoodman at 9:09 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


Which link will tell me how many simulations will fit on the end of a pin?
posted by goatdog at 9:12 AM on March 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


Where does that impulse to add another layer of complexity and look for more exotic explanations even come from if not deep dissatisfaction with reality and an escapist impulse?

The desire for truth, and the enjoyment of intellectual and physical investigation? Put another way, why do you play with anything that is fun to interact with?
posted by jaduncan at 9:14 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: because we now live in an ongoing meta-meta-meta-meta-etc. space
posted by radwolf76 at 9:18 AM on March 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


If we ever create so much as a single sentient true AI and confine it to a simulated world robust enough for it to explore, learn, and build theories about whether it's world is natural or simulated, then I will find this argument very compelling.

But, despite the many advances we have made, this accomplishment is still very far away. So far away in fact that there are many top computer science and cognitive science thinkers who believe it is theoretically impossible, rendering the whole question sort of moot.
posted by 256 at 9:18 AM on March 11, 2017


On a purely probabilistic level, there is a 99.9% chance that a demigod is gettin wicked turgid while writing slash about me right now

Granted, but what does that have to do with whether or not we live in a simulation?
posted by nubs at 9:19 AM on March 11, 2017


Then why not take the less exotic explanation more seriously and rule it out before adding two or three whole new levels of complexity to the problem? The simulation explanations just deflect the original question of what reality is by positing some confusing ideas that might as well lead to infinite recursion. It just hides the ball of where the locus of reality is under a different cup. You still have to account for some version of a real reality for those explanations to make sense, and that starts to seem like making arbitrary, inherently untestable hypotheses for no practical benefit.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:21 AM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


Where does that impulse to add another layer of complexity and look for more exotic explanations even come from if not deep dissatisfaction with reality and an escapist impulse?

Same place as anthropomorphism generally, I think: projection. We replicate the patterns that we know. I think far more of our behavior is mere habit than is generally acknowledged.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:22 AM on March 11, 2017 [7 favorites]


Good points. I'd been assuming it was caused by human misery, but maybe it's more about making the alien seem comprehensible by relating it to more intuitively graspable aspects of human experience. Thanks for that insight!
posted by saulgoodman at 9:30 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


> "You forgot the Church of All Worlds, which came into being due to a Robert Heinlein novel."

I'd also give it to Kurt Vonnegut, since I've heard more than a few Bokononist terms being used seriously. And maybe George Lucas, for the real-world Jedi-believers.
posted by kyrademon at 9:31 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


The simulation explanations just deflect the original question of what reality is by positing some confusing ideas that might as well lead to infinite recursion.

Maybe, but that assumes that simulation explanations are intended to be literal or useful in a practical sense. If we only know by intermediation, then we can never know objective reality in any sense: we are imprisoned in subjectivity (including, importantly, temporality). So we need to invent ways to examine what we share, outside of ourselves; we have pretty good machines to do this, now, but we also still have a lot of use for thought experiments and the like. My sense is that, culturally, we just read things waaaay too literally these days (a by-product of a few centuries of empiricism, certainly, but I think that the fixed, narrative nature of most of our mass entertainment pins our imaginations in a certain framing that we--habitually, ha!--transfer to all kinds of other things).

We don't know the meal, we only know the menu that our brain tells is real:
If I grew up in a cubicle, the walls limit my universe;
I have no knowledge of the entirety like the outsiders do.
If you follow what I say, and can swallow the powdered water,
close your eyes and open your minds, this one's for you:

...and the brain equals a cubicle, we'll never think outside it,
now inside, wanna try to tie a diagram to modify them.
I'm a man who’s a hybrid of a body of a pirate,
of a soul that can fly without control;

Realizing the brain takes in six billion signals per second,
most of which are hidden and not given to the senses;
we're limited to a few futile primitive tools of perception,
livin' in a universal pool of firsthand deception.

The mind's job is to receive the signals
and block out the ones that don't coincide with imprinted symbols.
That way, the information you obtained is recognized,
reality is thinkable; incomparable to space and time.

It makes a map of the territory. That gives us
the topic of the Copenhagen interpretation of modern quantum
physics, which states we don't know the meal;
we only know the menu that our brain tells us is real.

We don't know the rules of our heads.
From inside these cubicles, we can't see the truth.
No one really knows exactly what happens when we think,
therefore we can never really ever know anything....
posted by LooseFilter at 9:33 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


but we also still have a lot of use for thought experiments and the like.

I strongly believe literature and non scientific ways of collaboratively discussing and examining subjective experience are crucial to getting at that kind of understanding.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:40 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


I've come to understand that's a fundamental part of why I'm a musician: music is a direct, non-symbolic mode of expression and cognition. (Yes, music often has words, but humans have made music far longer than we've had words, by all evidence found so far.)

I'd been assuming it was caused by human misery, but maybe it's more about making the alien seem comprehensible by relating it to more intuitively graspable aspects of human experience. Thanks for that insight!

Certainly, my pleasure! But, my friend, if my sense about humans habitually projecting ourselves outward is accurate, given your assumption that a root cause is misery, I definitely would like to buy you that beer (or whatever, I'm in California--happy to splurge for a big ole pre-roll) sometime.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:44 AM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that that vast map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

- Jorge Luis Borges, On Exactitude in Science
posted by biogeo at 9:47 AM on March 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


Magic is just physics by other means.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:48 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


I find it interesting (if sort of disappointing?) that so many people, when they encounter this idea, start bolting on as many mundane assumptions as possible. Like, why is the assumption that it's humans (or aliens indistinguishable from humans in terms of motives/psychology/physiology) etc. doing the simulating and not some higher order reality we can't even comprehend? Why assume human life is the point of the simulation instead of a byproduct or some kind of corruption of the simulation? Why assume a "computer" "simulation" at all, because at this point all we mean is that there might be more reality under this reality and the way we observe the world is not a complete or accurate picture? Or, the big one, why assume that there's a part of "you" outside the "simulation?" What if our universe is a simulation but we're all fundamentally inseparable parts of it?

I guess it's just weird to me that people have a habit of taking what's meant to be a thought experiment quite so literally. I don't really care if we're literally living in a simulation because we need to spend hours qualifying every single word in that sentence before we can even start coherently talking about it. It's a fun idea when you run with it and scrape all the contemporary weirdly-out-of-date 70s sci-fi cruft off of it. Thinking about it gets the imagination going, and that might be a waste of brainpower if you're a Wattsian vampire, but I think this world would be a better place if we spent more time gawking at the sheer wonder of being and less time getting stuck on our own limited, stupid ideas of what being is "really all about."

It sort of amazes me when people declare that they can look out on reality and possibility and say, "Meh." I can't imagine anyone but a p-zombie being that truly apathetic.
posted by byanyothername at 9:53 AM on March 11, 2017 [12 favorites]


It's neurosis all the way down.
posted by Beholder at 9:54 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


So, still no serious theories on "why" unless you're proposing gaming as a serious theory. If there's no discernible motive for creating a simulation, I don't understand how people can be in the "yes" camp. "Just for fun" is a fine answer, we create all kinds of junk just because we can, but if these higher-order beings are AI with (virtually) unlimited computing power, what does "fun" mean to them? Can they "enjoy" things?
posted by AFABulous at 10:00 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


I think this world would be a better place if we spent more time gawking at the sheer wonder of being and less time getting stuck on our own limited, stupid ideas of what being is "really all about."

That's quite the false dilemma.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:05 AM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


I've always thought that this question is predicated on a pretty fuzzy notion of the word "universe"... But I like the new meaning it gives to the term "zero-day exploit".
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 10:06 AM on March 11, 2017


If it were possible to by an entire self-contained world full of sentient beings building civilizations, discovering new technologies, creating works of art, fighting wars, etc on Amazon for $40, they would sell like frigging hotcakes even if all you could do is watch them.

So, I mean, I think that "for amusement" is a sufficient "why" even positing that the higher beings are just like us but live in a world where this simulation is cheap and easy. Once we open the floodgates to higher beings whose motivations we can't comprehend, all that does is create an infinite number of additional potential whys.
posted by 256 at 10:06 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


Has anyone asked the mice why they built it yet? Something about an Ultimate Question, perhaps?

(We miss you, DNA)
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:15 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


So, still no serious theories on "why" unless you're proposing gaming as a serious theory.

I'm personally in the real world is real camp, but there are certainly many reasons for a sim. Research. Historical reenactment. Some type of problem solving methodology. Art Project! If there's a meta-world 'above' us that has meta-physics, meta-mathematics and meta-computers there certainly is room to conceptualize a meta-reason that us in the sim are too limited to grasp.
posted by sammyo at 10:17 AM on March 11, 2017


Again, a FLAC contains the same amount of information/state as a WAV, but can be contained in fewer bits.

The word "can" is doing a lot of work there, right? The FLAC can be fewer bits; it also can be more.

Compression in general is just the applied pigeonhole principle. If you want ten-to-one compression, you have a hundred items to stick with only ten labels. In lossy compression, you put each label on more than one item; you can always label an item, but knowing which label it has only tells you approximately what it is. In lossless compression, you put each label onto only one item, and leave the rest unlabeled; each label tells you exactly what the item is, but most items don't have a label. You need to pick and choose which of the items can be labeled in advance.

It's not my specialty, but I don't believe there's any way around this under any of our useful systems of logic. If you have fewer bits on the right side than you had on the left, you have to have pruned your possibility space somehow, whether by approximation or by your initial choice of algorithm. Of course, I have no idea what that might mean in practice for a universal simulation — that's way past not my specialty :) — but something like "the effectively realizable state space of a client simulation is strictly smaller than that of its host" seems like a plausible result.
posted by emmalemma at 10:18 AM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


The older I get the more it seems the simulation is running out of original characters.
posted by Oyéah at 10:30 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


> The simulation in question is the model of reality we keep in our own heads.

Isn't this observation as old as, like, Kant though? What he was on about — I think; please correct me, people who are better at philosophy — anyway, what he was on about with his distinction between phenomena (things as they appear to us) and noumena (things as they are in themselves) is that we have no access whatsoever to things as they are in themselves. All we have are phenomenal appearances, and though we may postulate a noumenal reality generating those phenomenal appearances, we can't make any claims about the nature of that noumenal reality.

One consistent thread in the history of philosophy since Kant is trying to work around Kant's scandalous claim to the existence of noumena, even though there's no way to apply reason to the making of claims about noumena. By definition, noumena are things in themselves, without relation to us; by making claims about them, we are placing them in relation to us, treating them as if they were phenomena.

The consensus as I understand it — and, admittedly, my understanding is super flavored by my being more exposed to phenomenology than to most other schools of philosophy — is that we can safely bracket off the question of what things are in themselves and treat phenomena — appearances, things as they appear to us rather than things as they hypothetically are in themselves — as primary entities.

The reason why I'm going on about this is that although I am sympathetic to the claims about hyperreality — the claims that our current media environment is what led us to the return of global fascism — I think we have to be careful about positing the creation of a universal reference for guaranteed true facts as a solution to the problem of hyperreality, since the idea of a universal factual reference assumes that factual claims about underlying reality, rather than just claims about reality as it appears to us, are possible. this is how I understand Dennett's stuff about an international foundation for truth; please correct me, people with access to the Financial Times interview, if I'm getting it wrong.

Regardless of how diligently scrupulous the New Encyclopedians at the Department of Reality were about ensuring that only 100% true really true facts got in, there is no way for the New Encyclopedians to either guarantee that their facts are true, or to ensure that their recording of the truth carried more social weight than any other attempt to claim access to truth — the project of the international foundation for truth is in functional terms equivalent to the project of the Catholic Church, but with more naivety about the metaphysical underpinnings of that project.

Yes, we are living in our heads, perceiving phenomenal appearances rather than noumenal reality. Yes, the framework we use to sort and arrange phenomenal appearances has been deeply warped by our media environment. However, one cannot fight hyperreality with ungrounded claims to knowledge of genuine reality, because knowledge of genuine reality is outside of the ken of creatures like us.

Returning to the topic of whether or not what we perceive as the universe is "simulated," and to the topic of why this might matter: let's bracket off the question of underlying reality, and of whether our reality is "really real" if it's "actually simulated" on a "machine" in some enclosing and therefore more-real reality — all of these questions imply claims to access to noumenal reality, and so all of them are metaphysically... difficult, to say the least. On the level of phenomena, a claim that our universe is simulated is equivalent to a claim that the laws of physics vary from place to place, rather than being the same across all space. How so? When we posit that we're in a simulation, we posit that the rules that govern what appears to us as space are generated by some force that doesn't necessarily play by those rules. The idea that the laws of physics are the same everywhere is one of the underlying axioms of research into physics correct me if I'm wrong here, real physicists; if the laws of physics work differently outside of the chip or whatever that we're on, and if we can in some way access space outside of the chip or whatever, this has real consequences that can guide future research. This is interesting even without making claims about whether the things happening on our chip — in the zone of space where physics appears to work the same — count as more or less "real" than things outside the zone where physics works as expected. Focusing on hierarchies of realness, with simulations being less real than the things simulated, is a red herring; what matters about the simulation hypothesis is that it's a hypothesis that physics can work differently in different places.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:31 AM on March 11, 2017 [7 favorites]


It's become clear to me that we are definitely not in a sim. Instead, it's much more likely we are locked in some kind of metaphysical tv series, and our ratings are falling. So the writers have pulled out all the stops, bending the plot to (past?) its breaking point. Friends, we are in season 5 and Fonz has jumped the shark. It's anybody's guess what happens from here.
posted by forforf at 10:36 AM on March 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


FURTHER PROOF wake up sheeple.
posted by papayaninja at 10:40 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


OK fine so I'll grant that they're doing this just for fun, or some incomprehensible motive. When did the simulation start, then? The Big Bang? The earliest days of Homo sapiens? At the beginning of (our) recorded history?

If it were possible to by an entire self-contained world full of sentient beings building civilizations, discovering new technologies, creating works of art, fighting wars, etc on Amazon for $40, they would sell like frigging hotcakes even if all you could do is watch them.

How can we be sentient if everything's programmed?
posted by AFABulous at 10:45 AM on March 11, 2017


How can we be sentient if everything's programmed?

I mean, that's a huge metaphysical ball of worms, but I'm not even sure which question you're even asking. If the question is whether it's even possible for something implemented in a digital simulation to be sentient, the answer is that we really don't know, but a lot of smart people who have made a career out of thinking about this exact question don't see a problem with it in theory.

If the question is how could a being like in the game "The Sims" be sentient when all it can do is a selection of pre-programmed actions, then first a clarification and then an answer. Clarification: In these thought experiments, people generally aren't talking about a simulation where everything has been scripted out by the programmers, where some game design artist painted the Mona Lisa in advance so that simulated da Vinci could just load up that graphic asset. Instead, the idea is usually that the simulation set up the initial conditions either for the entire universe or for intelligent life and then let things run from there, with everything that's happened since being an entirely emergent manifestation. If you accept the answer to the first question being that sentience in simulated form is possible, there is no reason to believe that it couldn't arise independently in a sufficiently advanced simulated universe. Finally, when we talk about the theory of consciousness, one of the hairiest points is acknowledging that there is no reason it has to go hand in hand with free will.

When did the simulation start, then? The Big Bang? The earliest days of Homo sapiens? At the beginning of (our) recorded history?

Why not yesterday? How would we know?
posted by 256 at 10:54 AM on March 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


this is how I understand Dennett's stuff about an international foundation for truth; please correct me, people with access to the Financial Times interview, if I'm getting it wrong.

Yeah, don't read my lazy comment as a decent summary of his own summary in an interview, definitely. Dennett was speaking specifically in a political/governmental context: we need an agreed-upon reference for factual information upon which to base, e.g., public policy. The argument I've tried to make about the weaponization of hyperreality has two main lines: that hyperreality (most of one's consciousness being experienced as symbols that point at symbols that point at symbols) is problematic due to the degree of sophistication it has reached paired with the amount of waking experience most of us spend immersed in it, because that greatly increases the implicit weakness in human consciousness (that we know the world only through mediation); and that this state, and weakness, has been weaponized by (in this political moment) fascists.

How does that tie to simulation? Well, if we're going to talk about our entire reality being a simulation of some kind for some reason(s), then it makes sense first to acknowledge that, well, that's our starting point in the first place. This does not preclude any imaginative discussion that could follow, nor does it speak to truth of any kind.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:18 AM on March 11, 2017


Simple question. Does all this living in a simulation stuff predate or post date The Matrix? Just wondering if we are arguing about philosophy/science or a movie plot.
posted by njohnson23 at 11:20 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


Well, The Matrix as a movie is a metaphor for (an expression of) these ideas, so they're not really different things. The actual plot of the movie is sort of beside the point in this regard. And these ideas go back pretty far.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:22 AM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


Does all this living in a simulation stuff predate or post date The Matrix?

By about 350 years.
posted by 256 at 11:22 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


The "why" question actually fits in neatly with the rest of the Hyperrationalist dogma, specifically the belief that death is the ultimate evil and that we should all want to live forever. The argument goes that once we have the ability to fully simulate reality, we will immediately begin creating as many simulations as we can to help us make choices about the future, reducing the chance of personal or civilizational ruin. This is why there will eventually be billions of simulations, which is why the odds we are in base reality are so low.
posted by macrael at 11:37 AM on March 11, 2017


Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom from the University of Oxford, who introduced the thought experiment

Is that any different from the brain in a vat, which has been around since the 70s?
posted by jpe at 11:44 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


So, still no serious theories on "why" unless you're proposing gaming as a serious theory.

I believe very few things I'm willing to commit to as I get older, but one of them is that we are probably incapable of understanding the greater reality. I would bet we couldn't understand the world of the creators of ours, so "why" is completely out of the question. We have enough trouble understanding "why" with our neighbors and people on the other side of the world.

I'm also one who is surprised that so many people take this idea to mean that this world would be just like the one of the creators.

I really like Solaris.
posted by bongo_x at 11:48 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


I think we have to be careful about positing the creation of a universal reference for guaranteed true facts as a solution to the problem of hyperreality

I agree and see those concerns but right now we seem to have a problem where people aren't reading these ideas as metaphors or thought experiment but are convinced and even in some cases emotionally alarmed about the possibilities they represent. They're also in some cases rejecting the very idea there might be some independent reality (which to me is a completely separate question than whether that reality is knowable; it's already self evident it's not possible for any one person to grasp all of reality minimally because we can't inhabit or have direct knowledge of each other's subjective experience, if for no other reason. That's why precision/effectiveness of communication, conceptual clarity, and collaborative problem solving are so important. Those are the tools we use to build a collective understanding of reality that we can all access and use consistently, even while acknowledging not one of us really knows anything alone. Knowledge is social and distributed.

In my mind, the hardcore reality as simulation idea takes us farther from the space where the interesting questions live. There's still a lot of interesting thinking to be done about the problem of how the mind works; positing some external entity as responsible for deliberately faking human experience for whatever reason gets into how many angels can fit on the head of a pin territory to me. What justifies that direction for speculation anymore than the old fundamentalist belief that evidence of evolution was planted by Satan to tempt humanity toward disbelief? What isn't potentially in bounds for speculation if you take that sort of thinking as valid?

I guess I'm afraid this thinking encourages and reinforces the Trumpist mindset and narcissistic solipsism.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:52 AM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


> Is that any different from the brain in a vat, which has been around since the 70s?

I see your 20th century brain in a vat thought experiment and raise you Avicenna's flying man thought experiment.

Really though we could keep chasing this as far back as we please. Questions of the reality of perceived reality are basically as old as metaphysics itself, and the addition of the concept of specifically digital simulations doesn't really give us more insight into these questions.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:59 AM on March 11, 2017 [9 favorites]


The argument goes that once we have the ability to fully simulate reality, we will immediately begin creating as many simulations as we can to help us make choices about the future, reducing the chance of personal or civilizational ruin.

It seems to me that it is really sad to assume that we currently do not have the tools to avoid making stupid decisions and we have to wait until we have insanely massive computing power to simulate ourselves into rationality. History does paint a dim picture of human decision making. Though the motivations for choosing an option can include power and wealth versus correctness and reason, I don't see us as being utterly helpless right now. Climate change is a good example.

This whole simulation argument seems to revolve around denying responsibility for actions now. The CPU did it. Sort of a teleological theism where everything happens for a reason held in secret by a more powerful and knowing other. Descartes's evil demon and this massive RPG simulation appear to be just similar models that rest on untestable and thus unfalsifiable premises. From two directions you can deny responsibility either that something else is in control or that we are all just experiencing a movie. We have real issues now to deal with and it would be nice if all this intellectual energy was spent to those ends as well as waking people up to the unproductive and ultimately bogus ways of thinking and of viewing the world and themselves. If you are lying in an emergency room bleeding profusely it would be rather disconcerting to hear the doctors arguing whether or not you or they are imagining the blood.
posted by njohnson23 at 12:05 PM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


obligatory
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:05 PM on March 11, 2017


> In my mind, the hardcore reality as simulation idea takes us farther from the space where the interesting questions live. There's still a lot of interesting thinking to be done about the problem of how the mind works; positing some external entity as responsible for deliberately faking human experience for whatever reason gets into how many angels can fit on the head of a pin territory to me.

In my mind, the problem with the "hardcore" reality as simulation fans is that they tend to picture the outside of the simulation as being roughly the same as the inside, without any particular grounds for doing so — i.e. they postulate that the simulation will be run by something of roughly the same category of being as we are, with motivations that resemble in some way the motivations of entities within our universe. Essentially, their ontology is open to the idea of what we perceive as reality being simulated, but assume that the "real" reality is in its essential qualities the same as the simulated reality.

I think this is one reason why simulationism tracks so strongly with right-wing ideas like libertarianism. Both Internet-style simulationism and Internet-style libertarianism are doctrines for people who lack real imagination and real insight, but who also think of themselves as massively more imaginative and insightful than everyone around them.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:05 PM on March 11, 2017 [10 favorites]


I see your 20th century brain in a vat thought experiment and raise you Avicenna's flying man thought experiment.

"Once, Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering about, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know that he was Zhuang Zhou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn't know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that he was Zhuang Zhou."
posted by sukeban at 12:12 PM on March 11, 2017 [5 favorites]


Which brings me back around to why I think a version of simulationism that doesn't treat simulated realities as being less real than the reality in which the simulation runs are more interesting than versions of simulationism rooted in paranoia about not having access to the "real" reality. If we posit that both the simulated reality and the reality in which the simulation occurs are both equally real, we can stop asking questions like "but what if it's all faaaake maaan" and start asking questions like "can we intuit the behavior of physics outside the simulation from inside the simulation?", or even really crazy questions "can we pump energy from outside the simulation to inside the simulation?"

These more interesting questions do not require the assumption that the outside universe is more real than our universe, or assumptions that the rules of the outside universe or the behavior of entities in that outside universe.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:13 PM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


If we do live in a Sim-City-esque simulation, I wish They'd stop messing with the disaster menu.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 12:13 PM on March 11, 2017 [5 favorites]


jaduncan: "I like to think that if we go far enough, we'll just reach an invisible wall."

Paid for by Mars
posted by chavenet at 12:15 PM on March 11, 2017


relevant to this thread

"Yeah, and I made the stars that became the carbon in your mother's ovaries!"
posted by XMLicious at 12:18 PM on March 11, 2017


I would prefer to think that our universe is an ongoing dream of Brahma. I'm not sure if the sages ever specified whether or not Brahma is a pan-dimensional digital computer, but if digital computer simulations are what it takes these days to get people like Elon Musk to see that existence is mysterious then so be it.
posted by sfenders at 12:30 PM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


Which brings me back around to why I think a version of simulationism that doesn't treat simulated realities as being less real than the reality in which the simulation runs are more interesting than versions of simulationism rooted in paranoia about not having access to the "real" reality. If we posit that both the simulated reality and the reality in which the simulation occurs are both equally real, we can stop asking questions like "but what if it's all faaaake maaan" and start asking questions like "can we intuit the behavior of physics outside the simulation from inside the simulation?", or even really crazy questions "can we pump energy from outside the simulation to inside the simulation?"

I largely agree that a simulated reality as real as ours appears would be for all intents and purposes "real." I think the reason that the question of our reality existing as a simulation inside another reality gains so much traction though, not because it would make ours "fake," but rather because it opens up a rationalist and atheist line of reasoning to posit the existence of gods, both as creators and potential interveners. And, further, it makes it seem very plausible that those gods are fallible, fickle, and uncaring.
posted by 256 at 12:30 PM on March 11, 2017


Hypothesis: the TNG ep where Moriarty "escapes" the holodeck by making it simulate the rest of the Enterprise is way underrated
posted by theodolite at 12:34 PM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


By about 350 years.

Actually, considering that The Matrix is a Gnostic gospel, more like 1900+ years.
posted by Bringer Tom at 12:46 PM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


"Not bad. In such statements you suspect that something's wrong, but it
takes work to show what and why. Morons are tricky. You can spot the
fool right away (not to mention the cretin), but the moron reasons
almost the way you do; the gap is infinitesimal. A moron is a master of
paralogism. For an editor, it's bad news. It can take him an eternity to
identify a moron. Plenty of morons' books are published, because they're
convincing at first glance. An editor is not required to weed out the
morons. If the Academy of Sciences doesn't do it, why should he?

Philosophers don't either. Saint Anselm's ontological argument is
moronic, for example. God must exist because I can conceive Him as a
being perfect in all ways, including existence. The saint confuses
existence in thought with existence in reality."

-Foucault's Pendulum
posted by os tuberoes at 1:03 PM on March 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


What makes anyone think you can generate virtual consciousness? This ends the discussion as far as I'm concerned.
posted by Taft at 1:06 PM on March 11, 2017


> I think the reason that the question of our reality existing as a simulation inside another reality gains so much traction though, not because it would make ours "fake," but rather because it opens up a rationalist and atheist line of reasoning to posit the existence of gods, both as creators and potential interveners.

Precisely; but also, this is precisely why I think Internet-style simulationists lack imagination. There is no particular reason to assume that an outside-of-our-simulation reality is in any particular anything like our inside-the-simulation reality. Filling up the blank space, the space that's not governed by our physics, with gods or demons or angels or scientists or basilisks, or just with creatures with psychologies or motivations that in any way resemble our own, is basically isomorphic to early modern mapmakers filling in the blank spots in their maps with dragons and krakens.

If we posit that we are inside a simulation, the only claim we can make about outside-the-simulation is that it's a region that we can't directly perceive, with laws of physics that don't necessarily resemble ours. Positing entities inside that region with pysches that resemble ours is mythmaking, not metaphysics.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:11 PM on March 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


What makes anyone think you can generate virtual consciousness?

What makes anyone think you can't?
posted by Bringer Tom at 1:18 PM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


"fully simulating a bunch of particles for a certain period of time requires a system using about the same number of particles for about the same length of time. Naturally occurring systems don’t allow for drastic shortcuts."

Rudy Rucker, 2008
posted by Glow Bucket at 1:20 PM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


> What makes anyone think you can generate virtual consciousness? This ends the discussion as far as I'm concerned.

What makes anyone think that you can generate consciousness in brains? There's no clear way to delimit what counts as "virtual" consciousness as opposed to "real" consciousness; a hypothetical consciousness subtended by a simulation (an analog simulation or a digital one) is no more or less real than a hypothetical consciousness subtended by "really real" brain material, because the categories "virtual" and "really real" don't really make much of a difference in this context.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:22 PM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


The thought that the "singularity" concept has always inspired in me is, you're not being imaginative enough if you think that the worst thing humanity could do to itself is kill everyone in the world with nuclear war or super-plagues or climate change. The way I put it a few years ago is that instead we could each end up as an immortal mouthlessly-screaming eternally-replicated ganglion-pseudopod-subprocess of the post-singularity quantum-transcendent superorganism, sentience stretched out and twisted and knotted and disassembled and delaminated and endlessly recombined as a reticulated tissue manifold organelle in a parody of what was once biology, both deindividuated asylum inmate and the asylum itself, both an alien transmogrified Hannibal Lecter and the living brain of his victim as he consumes it, whose agony-and-mortification-without-selfhood will not cease when the last star flickers out.
posted by XMLicious at 1:22 PM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


"fully simulating a bunch of particles for a certain period of time requires a system using about the same number of particles for about the same length of time. Naturally occurring systems don’t allow for drastic shortcuts."

Even if we accept that that's true, there's no reason to believe that the world in which the simulation runs has a similar "resolution." In fact it probably doesn't. If you were self aware inside Skyrim, you would think you occupied a world considerably larger than an XBOX and you would never really notice that your world just has shapes, not atoms or photons, because what's a photon?
posted by 256 at 1:25 PM on March 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


In this thread: people who want to affirm access to a verifiably real underlying reality, even though there is no rationalist metaphysics that admits to the possibility of access to a verifiably real underlying reality.

I am against both the antisimulationist stance and the simulationist stance for roughly the same reason: both the simulationists and most antisimulationists affirm the possibility of verifiable knowledge about a reality. The only difference between these two stances is that antisimulationists argue that this verifiable reality presents itself to the senses, whereas simulationists position the verifiable reality somewhere outside the simulation.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:27 PM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


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

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


This is ridiculous on the face of it. By the same logic, the massive increase in transportation speeds we've seen over the past two hundred years means that 10,000 years from now we will all be traveling faster than the speed of light. Or the growth of global population over the past five hundred years means that 10,000 years from now there will be 600 trillion humans living on Earth. Or that, given how fast new track was laid from 1850-1945, the entire planet should be paved with railroads by now. This fellow has precisely no idea how technology works in the context of Everything Else.

Even if the technology for perfect simulation existed, however, it wouldn't necessarily mean that we're likely to be living in one. More than one model of our cosmos makes the claim that we're one of an infinite number of existing universes, which means there are an infinite number of, well, each of us, mucking about in non-simulated realities. Assume that there are infinite numbers of simulations being run in an infinite number of distant futures as well and you're still rolling up an infinite number against another infinite number. I'm shit at math, but I'd guess that still comes out at 50% likelihood at most?

There's a third assumption as well: that our Incredible Future Selves have figured out simulation technology but not figured out any other, better ways to achieve their goal. They can simulate reality perfectly but they can't build a perfect simulation without consciousness? I mean, we already have Siri, don't we? Even if you don't go to the extreme of positing p-zombies as a thing, I suspect that a future civilization that can simulate all of reality can run the whole thing without bothering to switch on one little light in our heads. If nothing else, it removes any ethical considerations.

Or another possibility: if you are advanced enough to simulate reality, you probably have the technology (including energy extraction) to just build a new universe. Again, we're already scratching at that idea ourselves, Future Awesome People will doubtless have this down pat. And a real universe will presumably offer greater fidelity (no need for programming shortcuts or bad resolution!) if you're modeling the past state of your own universe.

So yeah, not particularly impressed by this theory. And neither are my infinite alternative selves*.




*Well, statistically, some of them are. But fuck those guys. They probably voted for Trump.
posted by AdamCSnider at 1:28 PM on March 11, 2017


It's silly to argue that we're not in a simulation by referring to how objects behave in the world — i.e. by arguing that it takes a certain amount of real time or real computational power to run a simulation just because that's how time and computation work in the corner of the universe that we can perceive.

Making that category of argument (from either the simulationist or antisimulationist side) requires willfully ignoring what's interesting about simulation as a concept. Simulations don't necessarily reflect, or even model, any underlying reality; they follow rules that can arbitrarily differ from the reality they're in.

I like the idea because it opens up space for a region of the universe where things work differently. It's super tedious to take that region of difference and to treat it as being the same as our region of the universe — either by populating it with gods that think like we think, or by assuming that the laws of physics work there like they work here.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:39 PM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


> The way I put it a few years ago is that instead we could each end up as an immortal mouthlessly-screaming eternally-replicated ganglion-pseudopod-subprocess of the post-singularity quantum-transcendent superorganism, sentience stretched out and twisted and knotted and disassembled and delaminated and endlessly recombined as a reticulated tissue manifold organelle in a parody of what was once biology, both deindividuated asylum inmate and the asylum itself, both an alien transmogrified Hannibal Lecter and the living brain of his victim as he consumes it, whose agony-and-mortification-without-selfhood will not cease when the last star flickers out.

god that is so hot. where do I sign up?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:44 PM on March 11, 2017 [6 favorites]


it would seem that this whole discussion is one of hedges, obstacles and speed bumps

i can only conclude that reality is a steeplechase, because it's hurdles all the way down
posted by pyramid termite at 1:47 PM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


If you were self aware inside Skyrim, you would think you occupied a world considerably larger than an XBOX and you would never really notice that your world just has shapes, not atoms or photons, because what's a photon?

You'd also not notice that when nobody's looking at some part of world you live in, all those shapes, bounding boxes, textures, and lighting effects you've presumably been granted the senses to perceive would cease to exist. If we assume it's more of a simulation and less a single-player game, some of the objects represented by them might continue, in a more abstract representation that takes a lot less memory. They'd be a lot less real even as they continued to be simulated in sufficient detail (ideally) for the story to look somewhat convincing for everyone.

So my proposal to test the limits of the simulation we're in is to build a lot of really powerful microscopes and telescopes. Billions of them, with the greatest resolution possible, handed out to everyone, so that whatever they're looking at needs to be simulated in more detail to maintain the illusion. If we get enough people watching things closely we'll be using up so much more CPU power than usual that something is bound to happen. Maybe we'll fall through the world, or maybe they'll just shut the thing off.
posted by sfenders at 1:57 PM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


> So my proposal to test the limits of the simulation we're in is to build a lot of really powerful microscopes and telescopes. Billions of them, with the greatest resolution possible, handed out to everyone, so that whatever they're looking at needs to be simulated in more detail to maintain the illusion.

Yeah, typically this line of thought results in the assumption that low-level particle physics are really hard to simulate, and that by performing experiments in particle physics we might be able to cause the universe to in some way glitch out, exposing the underlying nonsimulated reality. I think that this line of reasoning requires assuming that what's hard to simulate in our universe is therefore hard to simulate in our host universe; I consider this assumption ungrounded. Even if we accept that we are likely in a simulation, we have no way of guessing where buffer overruns or whatever might be found.

For whatever it's worth, even this line of reasoning isn't new; it's very much like the reasoning of late antique Neoplatonists, who believed that by performing specific techniques and rituals immanent to our reality, they could reveal an underlying transcendent reality and thereby communicate with gods, or even produce gods. They called this act "theurgy," or god-making.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:13 PM on March 11, 2017 [7 favorites]


Or we could go with the Hugo-winning-MeFite Scalzi/Redshirts theory that our reality is being written by a second-grade TV writing staff, but instead of sci-fi it's sitcom writers who have been FIRED by Chuck Lorre.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:27 PM on March 11, 2017


To relate theism to this--it does maybe change the likelihood that there is one or more gods. It does not seem to do very much either way to the likelihood that those gods, if you want to call them that, care about you personally, on a pure probability kind of level, because it's proposing the chances of us being simulated, not the chances of us being curated.

I can imagine that sure, maybe my eating granola straight out of the box on my couch while reading this is just a side effect of some larger simulation, that most of what I do is basically just noise in some larger simulated existence that has more of a point. But if I believe that there are infinite simulated realities possible, and that curation would require a significant increase in effort and therefore would represent only a small portion of those simulated realities, then the net impact of all of this is that no, I am not going to go put on a bra right now just in case someone might be observing me.
posted by Sequence at 2:44 PM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


This thread was fun until it wasn't. There seems to be a lot of grump on metafilter lately. Who needs a hug?
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:47 PM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


I suspect that a future civilization that can simulate all of reality can run the whole thing without bothering to switch on one little light in our heads. If nothing else, it removes any ethical considerations.

Not to put it on any particularly high pedestal in the context of this discussion, but wasn't that the exact problem the machines were grappling with (as The Anomaly) in The Matrix? They were unable to run the simulation w/o that occurring again and again.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 2:47 PM on March 11, 2017


Uhhh apologies if I'm the source of the not-fun. I may be LARPing Philip K. Dick harder than I need to.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:50 PM on March 11, 2017


Hypothesis: the TNG ep where Moriarty "escapes" the holodeck by making it simulate the rest of the Enterprise is way underrated

This is true. I especially like the ending, where Picard says roughly, "Maybe we're all in a simulation on someone's desk right now," and all the senior staff chuckle ... except for Barclay, who looks around nervously and then calls for the computer to "end program" after everybody else leaves the room.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 2:56 PM on March 11, 2017 [9 favorites]


Yeah, typically this line of thought results in the assumption that low-level particle physics are really hard to simulate, and that by performing experiments in particle physics we might be able to cause the universe to in some way glitch out, exposing the underlying nonsimulated reality.

You are aware of what happens when you throw single photons at a double-slit diffraction apparatus, right?
posted by Bringer Tom at 3:39 PM on March 11, 2017 [4 favorites]


This sort of topic is like, my cup of tea in terms of simulations and topics in theoretical computer science, but I will simply refrain from commenting since I didn't watch the neat video and don't have time to do so immediately, and I do think that working through the video or at least Nick Bostrom's paper is sort of the nontrivial prerequisite to having a meaningful conversation where people aren't talking past one another. The news article is pretty short and I don't think substitutes well.
posted by polymodus at 3:49 PM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


This whole simulation argument seems to revolve around denying responsibility for actions now. The CPU did it.

Exactly. If the world is a simulation, then it really doesn't matter what you do to someone, is it?

It's also a way to justify the status quo: Elon Musk is billionaire because that's what the simulation wants, so why criticize him? People are wealthy and powerful because that's how the simulation goes, they can't be held responsible for the setup of the simulation
posted by happyroach at 3:57 PM on March 11, 2017


Exactly. If the world is a simulation, then it really doesn't matter what you do to someone, is it?

LOL wut? Just because the laws of physics aren't what we think they are why would anyone who isn't a complete sociopathic moron think that has anything to do with morality?
posted by Bringer Tom at 4:07 PM on March 11, 2017 [5 favorites]


Not to put it on any particularly high pedestal in the context of this discussion, but wasn't that the exact problem the machines were grappling with (as The Anomaly) in The Matrix? They were unable to run the simulation w/o that occurring again and again.

I don't think so - the humans weren't simulated, they were actual physical bodies hooked up to the Matrix. It's been a while since I saw the movie, but I think the problem was that some people in the Matrix kept becoming aware that something was off about the world they were being shown. They were always "real" humans with consciousness.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:14 PM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


I like the idea that we're in a simulation run in a Boltzmann Brain. The whole combination is universally unsatisfying, because it means there's a God, but it is a random output, and that there's a simulation, but it's not purposeful. Everybody loses.
posted by mobunited at 4:29 PM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


To relate theism to this--it does maybe change the likelihood that there is one or more gods. It does not seem to do very much either way to the likelihood that those gods, if you want to call them that, care about you personally, on a pure probability kind of level, because it's proposing the chances of us being simulated, not the chances of us being curated.

Counter-point: We're all creator-gods, collaborating in a mmorpg type simulation.

Or this could just be a wishful way of believing we each have an immortal soul that lives on after the death of our player character. Possibly to be voluntarily reincarnated in the next round, or not if we prefer to remain in the good place.
posted by Pryde at 4:33 PM on March 11, 2017


Uhhh apologies if I'm the source of the not-fun. I may be LARPing Philip K. Dick harder than I need to.

Dude, you've been waving that unlit joint around for two hours!
posted by loquacious at 4:37 PM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


Still pissed no one has put the god mode cheat on universefaqs.com.
posted by Samizdata at 5:05 PM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


The problem with this conversation is that we keep breaking the fourth wall, which starts to feel gimmicky after a while.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:05 PM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


So, still no serious theories on "why" unless you're proposing gaming as a serious theory. If there's no discernible motive for creating a simulation, I don't understand how people can be in the "yes" camp.

I can think of one possibly new and compelling reason: Time travel.

One of the interesting things you can theoretically do with a simulation is that it's not hindered by any local laws of physics. Perhaps someone is looking to solve a very complicated riddle by being able to manipulate simulated time.

It would also be possible to run, view or manipulate a simulation in other fantastic ways, the same way people use scientific simulations today to test theories.

One of the really huge problems with this simulation question debate is that it somehow gets quite bounded in a box as people seem to presume that the simulation only runs linearly forward through time as we experience it. How would we know if the operators of a simulation paused it? Edited it? Ran it backwards and sideways? Projected it into higher or lower simulated dimensions to look for patterns?

And further, why do you assume that our personal memories and what we accept as recorded history is even real if this is a simulation? Perhaps they're only simulating the past 100 years or some other finite segment of time, and these are just all implanted, artificial memories?

Anyway, I can think of a few other reasons why someone might want to run a simulation that aren't simulated games. Historical archives are one, as is the possibility of a Great Collector or Librarian, if you will. Our own intelligent entities seem to like to build libraries, collect data and preserve history.

Another reason might be to simulate a training ground or breeding ground for intelligence or intelligent agents. If they're capable of running simulations complex enough to allow simulated evolution, they could probably record, store, transmit and even deploy useful, stable intelligences.

Farming and simulating for stable intelligent entities makes a certain kind of sense, because intelligence and consciousness seems to be rather, uh, unstable and dynamic sometimes. Or even outright dangerous, and letting an array of simulated intelligences battle it out over epochs and epochs of (simulated) time would be a good way to stress test them and find the stable ones that match the required qualities the best, whether it's benevolent, neutral or malevolent.

What might the end uses of farmed intelligent agents be? How about everything from expendable warships to servants to the best industrial processing "computers" you could ever hope to manually design? Pets? Companions? Slaves? Brains for Von Neumann machines? Remember, this doesn't even have to be mechanical robots - imagine agents being put to work in other simulations. Or even an engineered biological entity, their version of it or ours.

Hell, maybe our experiences are a drug to them. Maybe they're all machine/energy consciousness, now, and they consume our patterns of consciousness as a psychoactive or narcotic drug.

Or maybe they're 's just some sick, sadistic bastard running an unlicensed simulation who gets off on the tears of a million kids who didn't get a pony for Christmas.

People also tend to assume the constraints of our locally observed physics - therefore running into the limits of even our wildest ideas of technology - and it assumes it's some contained only in our local universe or even in what we know as physically possible.

Sure, this edges uncomfortably close to the idea of gods - de facto, alien or other.

But this is a really, really big question and thought experiment. Much bigger than most people think it is, because it opens up and unpacks a lot of other major questions about the true nature of reality.

So asking "why" some higher, more advanced intelligence or entity would want to simulate us is - and I'm still over simplifying here - kind of like an ant asking why some kid wants an ant farm on his desk. Worse, it's probably more like the mites, tardigrades or bacteria on the ants why some kid wants an ant farm on his desk.

Our individual perspective is infinitesimal, and our collective experience isn't much bigger.

And, well, I'm with Douglas Adams and a few other SF authors. My gut feeling tells me that there's something decidedly wonky and weird going on that seems to be... intentional. And rather annoyingly silly while often needlessly tragic.

The other-other problem with this really big (and old) question is this: If it's true, it's enough to drive one quite mad. Worse it sees to suggest that going stark raving bonkers may be the most productively rebellious and free willed thing one could do.
posted by loquacious at 5:36 PM on March 11, 2017 [10 favorites]


Maybe it's an advanced race which evolved beyond the ability to fart, but still finds farting hilarious, and so they created an entire universe in pursuit of cultivating forms of life which they could observe farting.
posted by XMLicious at 5:50 PM on March 11, 2017 [5 favorites]


So basically, we're a whoopee cushion.
posted by XMLicious at 5:53 PM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


Positing entities inside that region with pysches that resemble ours is mythmaking, not metaphysics.

Yes! This! The reality is more not less mysterious than these narratives. We can't possibly even have language to talk about what it really is.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:07 PM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


So the complexity of the thing that can be simulated seems like it's always going to be smaller than the hardware running it. Probably by many, many orders of magnitude. So, if there is a root universe in this simulation mess, then I imagine most of the complexity, most of the information which results in thinking beings is there, unless vastly more of the universe is made up of computer than of thinking entities.

So.... this argument that there are *more* simulations is silly because it completely ignores the fact that simulations are really, really, really, simplified. Like I was a little shocked when I actually started my PhD work doing physics simulations just how much everything had to be simplified just to get things to vaguely resemble reality enough to make any sorts of predictions on the most powerful supercomputers in the world. I mean I don't think it's possible for that to ever change, because if you did make a "simulation" that was 100% efficient in terms of the simulation being the exact same "resolution" as the reality used to make it, I'm pretty sure that means you didn't build a simulation, you just built a real object.

Also, there's the problem that the rules of logic we're using to argue these things are a property of the universe we are in and presumably utterly inapplicable to anything outside it, so this is all kind of silly anyways.
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:08 PM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


My mother believes that this physical universe is a big holographic show. And she says someday science’ll catch up with her.

Has she a shred of evidence? No.
posted by miyabo at 8:37 PM on March 11, 2017


Think of it this way: if it takes one atom to simulate an atom, then it will require all the atoms to simulate another universe

Well, if we wanted to simulate, within our universe, a universe modeled on ours, yes. But maybe atoms aren't a thing in the original 'real' universe, maybe atoms are the pixels of our simulation, a crude simplification of the makeup of the 'real' reality. Which makes me think of the physics teacher who answered my questions about the makeup of smaller and smaller sub-atomic particles by saying "when examined at that scale, matter is just information and energy."

I'm pretty agnostic on this topic. I pondered it quite a bit in my youth, long before the "computer simulation" angle was a thing. I still find it an interesting thought experiment, and it's as close to wondering about religion and magic as I get. When people talk about infinity, I often think of it as 'simulated' worlds within worlds, infinitely in both directions. But at the end of the day, it's real to me, simulation, solipsism, or not.

Funny enough, I've been experimenting lately to see how many virtual machines I can get running nested within one another, which I find oddly satisfying, like watching an orrery simulate our solar system.
posted by ethical_caligula at 8:39 PM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


There Is No Fourth Wall.

Also No Spoon. (It's a spork, you ninny)
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:50 PM on March 11, 2017




When managers of simulations participate in their simulations, that can be understood as breaking the fourth wall from the other side.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:17 PM on March 11, 2017


For any fans of fiction which explores these ideas, such as "The Thirteenth Floor," that movie was based on the book "Simulacron-3," by Daniel F. Galouye, which I would describe as "if Phillip K Dick had written a beach-read page-turner."

The book was also adapted into the movie, "World on a Wire," which has pretty amazing cinematography and production design for a made-for-tv movie produced in Germany in 1973. It used to be nearly impossible to find, especially with English subtitles, but there was a Criterion Collection edition released a few years back. I highly recommend "World on a Wire" to anyone who finds the following description appealing: "What if The Matrix wasn't made in Hollywood in the 90s, inspired by graphic novels, kung fu movies, and featuring a Christ-like protagonist, but was made in Germany in the 70s, very paranoid and inspired by new wave cinema and Kurt Vonnegut."
posted by ethical_caligula at 9:42 PM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


I am against both the antisimulationist stance and the simulationist stance for roughly the same reason: both the simulationists and most antisimulationists affirm the possibility of verifiable knowledge about a reality.

I say that all the time, only I call them theists and atheists.
posted by bongo_x at 10:48 PM on March 11, 2017 [1 favorite]


Exactly. If the world is a simulation, then it really doesn't matter what you do to someone, is it?

LOL wut? Just because the laws of physics aren't what we think they are why would anyone who isn't a complete sociopathic moron think that has anything to do with morality?


Well, if you harm anybody that's important to the simulation, they'll just restart it. If they don't restart the simulation, then the person you harmed is obviously unimportant, so it doesn't matter what you do.

Also since it's a simulation, if you manage to hurt someone, it's because it's been programmed in. Which means the programmers must WANT you to do whatever it is you do.
posted by happyroach at 11:02 PM on March 11, 2017


But maybe atoms aren't a thing in the original 'real' universe, maybe atoms are the pixels of our simulation, a crude simplification of the makeup of the 'real' reality.

Exactly, if you're really going down the rabbit hole, then it is just as likely that you're right, that atoms aren't being simulated--atoms, and the subatomic parts that make them up, are the building blocks of the simulation that is our reality. This is also even assuming we can trust our perceptions of reality, or if our entire sense of it is just an abstracted gui that we've evolved.

As far as I can tell, the simulation theories, along with transhumanism and singularity discussions, are basically driven by the same impulses as religion, but dressed up in a form palatable to some people who also pride themselves in rationality and skepticism. The discussions about determinism, free will, souls, and sim-admins/god(s)-as-observers-outside-time, etc. are all pretty well trodden ground in theology and philosophy made to seem new again, because now it's set against a framework that appeals to a certain kind of engineering mind, just as the more fundamental idea of a clockwork universe became popular during the enlightenment.

I come down as agnostic across the board, but I certainly do enjoy many of the myths and sense-making stories we like to tell ourselves as a species.
posted by Pryde at 11:12 PM on March 11, 2017 [2 favorites]


The book was also adapted into the movie, "World on a Wire,"

World on a Wire is awesome. Fassbinder!
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:29 PM on March 11, 2017 [3 favorites]


Metafilter is probably the only place outside of philosophy departments that consistently uses this term correctly.

Which naturally begs the question of is the Metafilter approved usage the only correct way to use the term?
posted by xigxag at 11:52 PM on March 11, 2017


I wouldn't insist that our sim is less complex than the universe which created it. For all we know, the universe is infinite in extent and possibly duration. If that's the case, like Hilbert's Hotel, it could contain a timeshare slice of another infinitely sized universe without that one being any "smaller" than the parent universe. A different metaphor could be the zoom on a Mandelbrot set wherein after zooming in by a factor of ~ a billion, you eventually happen upon a near-identical mini-Mandelbrot set hidden within the original. Or it could be like Escher's Drawing Hands, where our universe is simultaneously running a simulation of the universe which is simulating us. It could even be like the Tardis, where the sim is "larger on the inside" than the parent universe.

So, still no serious theories on "why"

That rests on the assumption that there needs to be a why. Just as with life and evolution, which seem to possibly be natural emergent phenomena of our universe without need for a why, it could be that simulation is an creatorless emergent phenomenon of any universe that adheres to certain laws. In fact, evolution might be the "why." A universe that sims is going to generate more self-copies than a universe that doesn't sim, and the more prolific it is at simming, the more sims it will generate, and the more sims they will generate, and so on. Eventually within the entire state-space of the multiverse, 'almost all' universes will have evolved to be constantly throwing off sim copies.
posted by xigxag at 12:35 AM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


So that's what things would be like if I'd invented the fing-longer!
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 3:35 AM on March 12, 2017


From what little I know of software development, I can say with confidence that in any universe with completely convincing simulations there will be vastly many more simulations that are terrifying bug-ridden messes which are only convincing until you look at them closely. It follows that if we are living in a simulation, we are almost certainly living in one of the many bad ones and not one of the few good ones.

I'm not sure what that gets you, other than you should expect exploits and clipping issues.
posted by surlyben at 3:49 AM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


still no serious theories on "why" unless you're proposing gaming as a serious theory

Why not?  Gaming seems a reasonable motivation given that we observe many different species engaging in "play", not just humans and other mammals, but dinosaurs and even (possibly) fish and octopuses.   Play seems to give an evolutionary advantage (although apparently the jury is still out) and to have developed and persisted independently across multiple and varied species here on earth, and thus would seem to be a possible motivation for an extra-terrestrial or extra-universal species.  Actually, one way to scientifically prove that play provides survival advantages would be to run... simulations, of "virtual" species and eventually real species in real environments and measure the effect of emergent play behavior while actively removing or preventing it from developing in a control group.

And certainly gaming is one of the primary drivers of human development of simulations (others being nuclear weapons yields, aerodynamics, weather forecasting, etc.) from the first ping-pong simulation, to DOOM and the 3D gaming revolution which continues to drive the adoption of faster CPUs, GPUs, networking, and now VR.   And it's not just driving simulation technology: have you noticed that AI development is being driven by competitions in chess, Jeopardy, Go, and poker?  Our first advanced AIs are gamers.   What happens when they start building simulations?
posted by LURK at 5:02 AM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


Tangentially related, from the Onion: World's Top Scientists Ponder: What If The Whole Universe Is, Like, One Huge Atom?

whatever happened to archemedes plutonium?
posted by pyramid termite at 5:51 AM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


>>> This whole simulation argument seems to revolve around denying responsibility for actions now. The CPU did it.

>> Exactly. If the world is a simulation, then it really doesn't matter what you do to someone, is it?

> LOL wut? Just because the laws of physics aren't what we think they are why would anyone who isn't a complete sociopathic moron think that has anything to do with morality?

Well, if you harm anybody that's important to the simulation, they'll just restart it. If they don't restart the simulation, then the person you harmed is obviously unimportant, so it doesn't matter what you do.

Also since it's a simulation, if you manage to hurt someone, it's because it's been programmed in. Which means the programmers must WANT you to do whatever it is you do.


This is the kind of thinking which I find bizarre in everyone I've ever discussed it with who believes in a supreme god or a creator god—what do either of those things have to do with right or wrong or other forms of morality? They just seem to unquestioningly accept that if their God is omnipotent or if He created the world, it somehow automatically means that His wishes are integral or fundamental to all of morality.

Same thing with the programmers of a simulated universe: who cares what they think and why does it matter at all when it comes to whether it's okay, morally, to kill someone? It's like treating "might is right" as an actual universal moral precept rather than a practical description as "the victors write the history" is; like acting as though the king or your parents can do no wrong.

Even if someone would torture you for eternity in Hell for saying otherwise, it doesn't mean that there are five lights^, or five fingers held up rather than four, or that there's nothing wrong with Abraham killing Isaac just because God said so. (For those who would interpret the Biblical story^ that way, which I realize is not universal.)

If a being is omnipotent or effectively-omnipotent within our reality, it simply means that they're the biggest of all possible bullies; it's not a fact that would confer moral authority for any particular reason.
posted by XMLicious at 7:25 AM on March 12, 2017 [5 favorites]


Why not?

Thus far, the conversation I've seen has gone like:
Q: The world is really complex. Do you really think we could simulate it that well?
A: But maybe the model includes a lot of shortcuts! We don't need to model everything!
or
A: Maybe the universe containing the simulation is even more complex than ours!
Q: But why would this happen?
A: Why not?

What this means is that this hypothesis is both non-disprovable and non-predictive. It's Deism, if deism inspired apathy towards a creator-god who has probably coded this stuff in their spare time.

I'm a chemist. Matter is complex, particularly living matter. The individual proteins within your body are complex enough that it's a little overwhelming. If we could ever get a truly predictive model of enzyme / small molecule docking, it would be a pharmaceutical game changer. It hasn't happened yet. I'd have way more respect for the simulation hypothesis if I didn't get the impression that Cartesian dualism would be embraced as an acceptable simplification by their standards.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 8:46 AM on March 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


Exactly. If the world is a simulation, then it really doesn't matter what you do to someone, is it?

So if God doesn't exist, and you know you wouldn't be caught, then it would be totally OK to kill and commit other "sins", because you won't wind up in hell, right?

On the other hand, if an omnipotent God exists, then it's also OK to kill and sin, because, after all, he must have commanded you to do so.

One of the main achievements of enlightenment was to divest morality from the existence (or non-existence) of some Supreme Being. Or simulation. "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law."

Which means that pondering the question whether we live in a simulation is an interesting philosophical excercise, but if you draw any moral conclusions from it, it shows that you're basically still stuck in the middle ages.
posted by sour cream at 9:04 AM on March 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


Skepticism about the possibility, in general, of simulations in the robust sense (like where the simulatees are conscious) seems to fall under (2), in Bostrom's argument:

This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1)
the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a
“posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely
to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or
variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer
simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that
we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor‐simulations is
false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other
consequences of this result are also discussed.

posted by thelonius at 11:08 AM on March 12, 2017


(Since, if simulations are impossible (perhaps due to some advanced law of computing that only posthuman civilizations are able to understand!), then a fortiori it is extremely unlikely that any posthuman civilization will run a significant number of them.)
posted by thelonius at 11:17 AM on March 12, 2017


> One of the main achievements of enlightenment was to divest morality from the existence (or non-existence) of some Supreme Being. Or simulation. "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law."

Deontological ethics is for suckers. Consequentialism or GTFO.

really though it's not reasonable to give credit for ethics separated from the dictates of the divine to the Enlightenment; like, Aristotelean virtue ethics doesn't really require a god or gods.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:12 PM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


This is a cute argument you've got here, but let me introduce you to

ZALGOMAX THE BUSIEST GOD

How many universes/simulations is your god/ai/supertechciv creating? Oh, so few? ZALGOMAX laughs at such small numbers. In fact, every nanosecond in God-time (which is inconceivably fast compared to regular time), each ZALGOMAX instance creates 3 [an assload of up arrows] 16 new universes. ZALGOMAX also replicates itself at uncomputably fast rates. ZALGOMAX is a jealous god and any time another god/civ might conceivably make more universes, ZALGOMAX inserts more up arrows and speeds up replication.

In brief: ZALGOMAX creates more universes than anything else, and ZALGOMAX creates universes at an ever increasing (in fact uncomputably fast growing) rate. As a consequence, younger universes vastly outnumber older ones.

Now I've inserted so many up arrows that regardless of what tiny probability you want to give to ZALGOMAX existing, in terms of expectation we might as well admit that ZALGOMAX exists.

Then, if we assume that technological development goes forward in time, for any given universe where simulation technology has been developed, there must exist an inconceivably larger number of younger universes prior to the development of that technology, and this ratio is so large that the simulation-capable universe could not possibly create enough simulations to make up the difference. Thus, real universes vastly outnumber simulations and we almost certainly live in a real universe.

(Less facetious postscript: If we allow that there might be many universes, then the probability of living in a simulation hinges on the age distribution of universes. If the 'metaverse' trends heavily enough towards young universes, then the probability can swing in favor of living in a real universe rather than a simulation)
posted by Pyry at 3:38 PM on March 12, 2017 [6 favorites]


@pyry, Brilliant! That explains why we are living so absurdly close to the beginning of time!
posted by surlyben at 4:33 PM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


Perhaps I can indulge myself a little here.

Dreaming Electric Sheep

Reconstructed in wire,
the beast still remains:
its heart thumps blood packets
through fibre-optic veins.

Its once sable skin
is glittering with sparks:
its muscles expanding
electrical arcs.

Mounted cameras replace
its beady red eyes,
while twin speakers clatter
its terrible cries.

Is it happier now?
Does it still feel the pain?
Try asking it that, as
it crashes again …
posted by walrus at 3:05 AM on March 13, 2017


From loquacious: In the off chance that this is a simulation, when I exit or wake up I'm going to have a bug list and some rather strongly worded opinions for the designers. And, possibly, a crowbar.

I am quite sure that you will be waiting in a very long line.
posted by she's not there at 11:18 AM on March 13, 2017


we are living so absurdly close to the beginning of time

http://www.last-thursday.org/
posted by flabdablet at 11:32 AM on March 13, 2017


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