In my last post we talked about the simulation argument in relation to the 17th annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate . I inserted the video below if you want to watch it, it is a bit long but really cool. There are also a ton of other videos out there with similar topics to this one.
There are so many different ideas and theories that are discussed in the video that it is impossible to discuss them all. I have chosen a few to talk about. I think it is both David and Jim that first talk about the idea, that if we are in a simulation the creator/programmer being more or less the same as a deity. They throw in the word “Naturalistic” about a million times when discussing this. I will be honest when I say that I am not truly sure what that means when discussing this idea. However, I more or less understand what they are saying. This is somewhat of a tricky idea to talk about. On one hand I think that the idea of the creator of our simulation makes sense and coincides with our mindset of a deity, the creator of our universe. On the other hand, this “deity,” could be just a normal being in its universe. Meaning it is not a god at all just someone with technology and computing power far beyond anything we can comprehend. Does that make them a god? That is a very deep and philosophical question, but if you logically think about the situation I would lean towards a resounding NO. They simply have the technology to do things we cannot, which again does not make them a god. It was Author C. Clark who said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Think of the reverse, if we had the technology and computing power to simulate a universe and the beings inside that simulation were able to figure it out and communicate with us, they could very well think we were some sort of gods. But we would know that we are far from that title. We are human beings and not omnipotent in any way. I also think the beings would figure out pretty quickly after speaking to us that we are not the gods they had envisioned, assuming they have some sort of belief system. I think a similar scenario would take place if we are indeed in a simulation and we could somehow communicate with the creator of the simulation. The creators would seem god like, but could very well just be normal scientists running an experiment just like something we would do.
The next thing that I find somewhat interesting is the idea that everything, our entire universe, is mathematics at its base. This is really interesting and I think could be one of the largest proponents that our universe could very well be a simulation. If the universe is purely mathematics, meaning everything is quantitative, then I think it could also be programmable. So, and there are many who believe this, if the universe is just information, then that can be easily programmable, and if that is the case then I think there is a very good probability that we are in a simulation. But there are some that say that not everything can be simulated or programmed such as consciousness. However, I think that consciousness is just another level of information processing, and if that is the case then I think it is programmable and could be simulated. Again we do not have the technology to do this, but just because we cannot do this does not mean that it is not possible. Which leads into my next idea to discuss.
The idea that some of these things are possible is certainly interesting, but the fact that our brains either cannot comprehend them or that our brains are reaching their capacity in their ability to understand the universe is alarming on some levels. I have no idea what the limit of our mental capacity is, but I would assume that at some point we will reach it, if we are able to survive long enough. So then we really have to ask the question, will the limits of our cognition be able to fully comprehend and understand our universe? That is a really good question and I think as long as we are still moving forward I don’t think it really matters. Still though I think that at some point we could very well reach out capacity, but there is also an idea that at that point we, as humans, could evolve into something else. Which if that happens then we may never reach our capacity as we will simply keep evolving. Still though there could be something that no matter how smart we become we will never understand the depths of the universe in its entirety, although I do not in any way believe that. Not that I think we are some incredibly smart species of creatures, I just think that we are clever enough to find ways around problems that arise. Now certainly there are problems that we would have no answer to if they should arise but I think given enough time we could figure out a solution. To me eventually by chipping away at the problems of the universe eventually we will get to the core or chip away enough fragments to reveal what lies beneath.
Still things we think that are hard and or impossible could in fact be extremely easy. A being that is as far beyond us as we are chimps, as Neil talks about, could accomplish things that seem impossible to us very easily. If this is the case then it is once again very easy for me to believe that we could very well be in a simulation. Still there are a lot of “if’s” that will need to come to pass.
I think at the end of the video someone asks a question about how we might be affected if we were to truly and finally realize that we are indeed in a simulation. That is a very interesting question and one that is impossible to answer because at the end of the day we do not know. We can of course speculate, but that is not the same as knowing. A different analogy is used in the video but let’s say you go to see the Mona Lisa in person you see it and revel in its beauty. Then later someone tells you that it is actually a near perfect reproduction in almost every way. No one, not even the best expert in the world can tell the difference. Would you say that you saw the Mona Lisa, or that you saw a near perfect replica? I think you would say the latter and then feel disappointed that you did not see the real thing, but had no one told you, you would have gone on your marry way and be none the wiser. So to some extent I think that ignorance is bliss and it does not matter, and finding out could possibly be a bad thing. But on the other hand humans have an inherit desire to question their environment, so at some point in the future we could possibly have an answer. Still regardless if we live in a simulation I think it is mostly irrelevant to our everyday lives. This is still all we know. Yes there is quite possibly a whole other universe out there outside our own, but even if we are not in a simulation that still may be the case. I think finding out this would be somewhat exciting and somewhat disappointing at the same time. Although it would certainty bring up so many more philosophical debates that is for sure.
What I also thought was interesting was at the end Neil asks the panel to give a percent that we are living in a simulation. Almost all were skeptics and gave a near 0% chance other than of course David Chalmers who is the philosopher of the group, which gave a 47% or 42% chance I can’t remember. What I did find interesting is that Neil more or less said that there is a near certainty or a very high probability that we are living in a simulation. Which totally struck me because at the beginning of the discussion it seemed like he was very annoyed by the idea and thought it was beyond ludicrous. But again he said that he could very well see that we are in a simulation, which I found surprising as many of the other true physicists in the group seemed to poo-poo the idea.
The more I think about this the more interesting it becomes on so many different levels. I obviously do not know the one true answer, but if I absolutely had to guess I would have to say that there is a 55% chance we are in a simulation. I will lay out my thought process. For the sake of argument let’s say that creating a new real universe is possible with certain technology and the right amount of energy. Let us also say that simulating an entire universe is also possible given enough energy and computing power. Now even if both technologies are readily available I still have to think and assume that simulating a universe it much easier than creating a real one. It is easier to simulate a city than it is to build one. So following that logic I would argue that it could be much easier to create a simulated universe and for that reason we could very well be in one.
Now there is also the naturalistic viewpoint that needs to be accounted for. New universes may come into existence all the time just through the natural process of nature. We may never see them because they are parallel to our own, or they could be extremely small, or they could simply appear and then vanish from existence unable to grow into a normal universe like our own. They still may be there and they may be infinite, and in that case I would drop my percent chance to just about 30%, or less, that we are in a simulation. If this is not the case and the natural creation of a new universe is relatively rare and uncommon then I would increase my percentage to about 48% that we are in a simulation. If natural universe creation is extremely rare then I think that drastically increases the likelihood that we are indeed in a simulation, because as I mentioned above the ability, either artificial or natural, to create a real universe may be extremely difficult. So what is the next best alternative, simulate one!
So a naturally universe could easily come into existence, but I would say that this seems like an extremely rare occurrence, but as always we are not sure. So let’s just say that it is. If that is the case I think it would take an extreme amount of energy and technology to create a real universe in a lab. So again for those reasons I think the idea that we are in a simulation grows based on that logic.
For me it really just comes down to the how easy it will be for either nature or another super intelligent being to create a real universe. If this process is difficult then I think we are in a simulation, if not then we are intelligent beings in the upmost astronomical circumstances imaginable.
At the end of the day I think factoring everything in that I give a solid 55% that we are living in a computer simulation or some kind. I will also say that that percentage is subject to change!