Have You Ever Had A Dream, Neo, That You Were So Sure Was Real?Morpheus (The Matrix, 1999)
Our world, our home, this table, that apple forms our reality… what we experience is the reality and déjà vu is déjà vu… or is it?
What if the funky sci-fi stories are correct? What if we are living in a simulation?
Taking just the ‘sci’ route for now, we move ahead.
Definition says – “A simulation imitates the operation of real world processes or systems with the use of models. The model represents the key behaviours and characteristics of the selected process or system while the simulation represents how the model evolves under different conditions over time.”
Nick Bostrom, a contemporary philosopher, in his seminal paper ‘Are You Living In A Computer Simulation?’ published in Philosophy Quarterly (2003) 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.
This galvanizing thought, also explored in literature, reached the masses, in leather-overcoat-black-shades defining manner, via the 1999 blockbuster film, The Matrix.
In a cyberpunk style, The Matrix, fantastically paints a futuristic grim image of us all ignorantly trapped/living in a simulation. But this world fluctuates as there is a ‘Neo’ hero and an ‘Agent’ villain and also a Polestar named Morpheus; while the villain manipulates, dulls and destroys, the hero trusts the revolution and liberates.
A journey with a final destination, the film knows where to end.
A hypothesis doesn’t worry about endings, it is simply and honestly a hypothesis; like one shared by Nick Bostrom, a straightforward, happy philosopher.
He states –
Proposition (1) doesn’t by itself imply that we are likely to go extinct soon, only that we are unlikely to reach a posthuman stage. This possibility is compatible with us remaining at, or somewhat above, our current level of technological development for a long time before going extinct. Another way for (1) to be true is if it is likely that technological civilization will collapse. Primitive human societies might then remain on Earth indefinitely.
There are many ways in which humanity could become extinct before reaching posthumanity. Perhaps the most natural interpretation of (1) is that we are likely to go extinct as a result of the development of some powerful but dangerous technology…
The second alternative in the simulation argument’s conclusion is that the fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor‐ simulation is negligibly small. In order for (2) to be true, there must be a strong convergence among the courses of advanced civilizations…
What force could bring about such convergence? One can speculate that advanced civilizations all develop along a trajectory that leads to the recognition of an ethical prohibition against running ancestor‐simulations because of the suffering that is inflicted on the inhabitants of the simulation…
Another possible convergence point is that almost all individual posthumans in virtually all posthuman civilizations develop in a direction where they lose their desires to run ancestor‐simulations.
This would require significant changes to the motivations driving their human predecessors, for there are certainly many humans who would like to run ancestor‐simulations if they could afford to do so. But perhaps many of our human desires will be regarded as silly by anyone who becomes a posthuman…
The possibility expressed by alternative (3) is the conceptually most intriguing one. If we are living in a simulation, then the cosmos that we are observing is just a tiny piece of the totality of physical existence. The physics in the universe where the computer is situated that is running the simulation may or may not resemble the physics of the world that we observe. While the world we see is in some sense “real”, it is not located at the fundamental level of reality. It may be possible for simulated civilizations to become posthuman. They may then run their own ancestor‐simulations on powerful computers they build in their simulated universe.
Such computers would be “virtual machines”, a familiar concept in computer science. (Java script web‐applets, for instance, run on a virtual machine – a simulated computer – inside your desktop.) Virtual machines can be stacked: it’s possible to simulate a machine simulating another machine, and so on, in arbitrarily many steps of iteration.
If we do go on to create our own ancestor‐simulations, this would be strong evidence against (1) and (2), and we would therefore have to conclude that we live in a simulation. Moreover, we would have to suspect that the posthumans running our simulation are themselves simulated beings; and their creators, in turn, may also be simulated beings. Reality may thus contain many levels…
In the dark forest of our current ignorance, it seems sensible to apportion one’s credence roughly evenly between (1), (2), and (3).
Talking about the second option, how wonderfully sublime, explicit yet indefinite it is? “Ethics”, Nick Bostrom, matter-of-factly, talks about ethics. That the post-human civilisation may find it ethically wrong or simply may not be interested in undertaking such “ancestor-simulations” is superbly intriguing.
Flood-gates of what is bright and reverberating distinctly, incessantly somewhere, suddenly leaves us with a promise – its nature and terms we know not as yet for we are too far away.
But this gratifying simple thought present as the second option balances and bridges the other two, quite possible, extremes, as if it knows the truth, as if it is the truth … while we wait and work our way towards…
Fate, It Seems, Is Not Without A Sense Of Irony.Morpheus (The Matrix, 1999)
Download and read Nick Bostrom’s complete simulation argument now –
Read a comprehensive article about the simulation theory here.
Also, listen to Stephan West’s coverage of Nick Bostrom’s simulation argument.