Are We Living in a Virtual Reality Simulation?

Are We Living in a Virtual Reality Simulation?
Numan
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Posted Mar 2, 2013 - 5:38 PM:
Subject: Are We Living in a Virtual Reality Simulation?
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A university mathematics professor friend of mine, who is an expert on General Relativity, has argued, only half in jest, that it is almost certain that we inhabit a virtual reality, like a game on a computer, and we and the world around us have no substantial reality.

He argues the point from several angles, but the one I like is a cousin of Pascal's Wager, which I am sure is familiar to everyone here.

Somewhere in the universe it is reasonable to suppose that there is a super-civilization, one that has been around for many millions of years and will last for many millions of years more.

For such an advanced species it would be child's play (perhaps literally!) to create an alternative virtual reality much more sophisticated than anything we have even thought about.

Once created, such a virtual world might exist for billions or trillions of years, far longer than we suppose the universe to have existed.

If a sub-routine of this virtual reality was a re-creation of the history of their (or our) universe, it is far more probable that we are living in the enormous temporal continuum of the virtual reality re-creation of the universe than in the relatively brief period when the actual physical universe existed.

Many things which presently appear strange --- parapsychology, weird co-incidences, things that go bump in the night, quantum entanglement, "spooky action at a distance," and all sorts of strange, unexplainable events could then make sense. They would just be part of a mathematical program in some super-computer on steroids.

I am sure Pascal would be horrified!

Dieu a tout fait de rien; mais le rien perce.
"God made everything from nothing; but the nothing shows."
---Paul Valéry
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Numan
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Posted Mar 2, 2013 - 6:07 PM:

'

I must admit that more than once I have had my doubts whether the people around me are conscious or not.

They seem to have great difficulty in retaining information in their minds for more than a very short time, and often are appallingly bad at making the very simplest logical connections.

I wonder if I appear that way to others? Perish the thought !! · · shocked

Anyway, I suspect that consciousness is much more fragile and episodic than most people are pleased to think.
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Posted Mar 2, 2013 - 8:40 PM:

Numan wrote:

Somewhere in the universe it is reasonable to suppose that there is a super-civilization, one that has been around for many millions of years and will last for many millions of years more.

For such an advanced species it would be child's play (perhaps literally!) to create an alternative virtual reality much more sophisticated than anything we have even thought about.

Once created, such a virtual world might exist for billions or trillions of years, far longer than we suppose the universe to have existed.


Are these steps of the argument actually reasonable?

1) Life elsewhere is highly probable, I would agree, but super-civilisations lasting millions of years has a far lower Bayesian prognosis given our sample space. Would you look at humans and planet earth and think "well this will have no trouble both ramping up exponentially and doing so not a few centuries but a few hundred thousand times longer than that?

2) Virtual reality is both doubtful and pointless. Turing machines can't cut it. You are suggesting what is (most likely) a technical impossibility. And then, why would any intelligence bother? It's not good enough just to say, well they would. The reasons why they wouldn't almost surely vastly outweigh the reasons why they might.

3) If you are the sole evidence of this simulated reality, then why would you expect the simulation to have been fired up trillions of years before you appeared? It seems more parsimonious to presume that the switch was only flicked quite recently.

Someone ought to introduce your friend to Bayesian reasoning!


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Posted Mar 2, 2013 - 8:56 PM:

This is just a modern update of Descartes' "Evil Demon" hypothesis.

The simple fact is that if we are in fact programs in a virtual reality, or in the throes of a hallucination generated by a demon, then the very structure of human perception of reality would prevent you from every proving it.

The idea that it is "more probable" that we are participating in a simulation has several issues.

The first is that the initial presumptions push back the probabilities into the unfalsifiable realm. For example, it's posited that it is more probable that we're in some simulation than a society that is somewhat technologically advanced. But what are the probabilities of the super-advanced society developing? Why are the odds of that society developing somehow greater than of our society developing?

I also seriously doubt it would explain the complexity and incomprehensibility of QM; after all, to simulate it, you'd need a computer system that is entire orders of magnitude more powerful than anything we can comprehend. This again ratchets up the improbability of the existence of the Super Computer Society.


I must admit that more than once I have had my doubts whether the people around me are conscious or not.

They're conscious.

Nor does the simulation theory indicate that they are not conscious. In fact, it puts the very question of whether those other people are real or not, beyond any possible test.

Suggesting that you are the only conscious person in an enormously complex computer simulation is, to put it mildly, a type of solipsism. It's not a particularly useful philosophical position.
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Posted Mar 2, 2013 - 9:47 PM:

Here's a nice perspective on the issue, that seems largely correct: home.sandiego.edu/~baber/an...r/analytic/Bouwsma1949.pdf
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Posted Mar 2, 2013 - 10:49 PM:

If we are in a simulation; then we are part of the simulation; made of and by it; at least our human self is; and thus it is as real as we; or we as it.

What does it mean to say reality is 'real' or 'simulated' if we are made of whatever it is?

Anyway two interesting talks on this notion of reality as an informational simulation:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEa...uF2mUiO7X1YywY-NsFU&lcor=1


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFpT9TbiMNM





180 Proof
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Posted Mar 2, 2013 - 11:30 PM:

What non-trivial difference could any answer to the OP make? confused
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Posted Mar 2, 2013 - 11:47 PM:

I don't think it has anything to do with Pascal's wager, (that we should accept a proposed behavior based on an expected value to an unknowable probability). It sounds like your friend proposes that we should simply accept an explanation because, if true, would therefore be the most likely explanation. You should remind your friend about "Occam's Razor", (as it is usually known). In this case, the explanation that this is a "what you see is what you get" reality, is far more simple than a "some other reality exists and created all this" reality. To justify looking into the possibility of a virtual reality simulation, you need to figure out the necessity of such an explanation from regular evidence.

But then, there is the circular relationship between what it means to say this or something else is really "reality", because that assumes you have a definition of what it means for something to exist. If all our perception and evidence is based on something, we might call that "reality", whether it was a simulation at another level or not.
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Posted Mar 3, 2013 - 6:45 AM:

I don't think we really need to define "reality" here to get things clear.

Take Solid Snake or any other video game character. For him, Metal Gear, or the soldiers he is trying to hide from, are certainly real. They constitute his reality. But he will certainly learn something if we were to tell him that he is actually inside a computer simulation.

Thus it is not meaningless to think that we humans could live as well in something like a computer simulation.

Now where I am having trouble with the argument is that it involves probabilities. In order to come to the conclusion that we very probably live inside a computer simulation, it uses reasoning about our own universe.

But the computer on which the simulation software is run is not in our universe. It belongs to another level of reality, so to speak. And since we cannot know anything about this level of reality, there is no way we can come close to making statements about the probability that some entity there set out to build a computer dimension.

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Posted Mar 3, 2013 - 10:23 AM:

Yes, we are living in a simulation. What else could it be?
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