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Are We Living in a Computer Simulation? ”We are currently living in a computer simulation”, says Nick Bostrom who originated the Simulation Hypothesis. He means literally, “we are living in a computer simulation created by some advanced civilization in a computer they have built in their Universe”. This implies, “that everything we see and our brains themselves would just be part of this simulation”. Bostrom argues this isn’t just speculation, but based on empirical considerations, including the computing power available to advanced civilizations. The Simulation Hypothesis, “couldn’t be conceptualized before we had the concept of the computer, so it’s really in the last several decades that the Hypothesis could even be entertained”.
The Game of Life John Conway’s Game of Life is a simulation, a cellular automaton, that provides support for the Simulation Hypothesis. Conway says that although the rules in the Game of Life are “tiny, trivial laws” compared to the laws of the Universe, they do exhibit interesting behavior. “It proved an important point, which is that a system like this, the Game of Life, could have some of the properties of the real Universe. So, in a way, its design was copied, but in a very trivial way, from real-life biology and correspondingly it became a kind of artificial biology “. Bostrom says, “We can’t be certain to what extent the actual laws governing the natural world are similar to those in the Game of Life. We do know the laws governing the natural world are simple. We can write them down in simple equations. We can program computers to simulate them and from great simplicity we derive great complexity”.
Existence Inside a Simulation If our existence is inside a simulation, are we real at all? Nick Bostrom states, “Speculations about the nature of reality and whether it might be an illusion or a dream goes back for thousands of years – philosophers have been pondering these questions. If we are in a simulation does that mean that nothing is real? I think a better way of viewing it that it would mean that reality is something slightly different than we thought. For most practical intents and purposes, you would still behave as you do anyway. We have no reason to get depressed by the philosophical implications of these things because the everyday aspect of life is always going to feel the same, regardless if we actually have free will or not, regardless if the Universe is going to end in a Big Crunch. I think for all the thinking humans like to do on the big things, what really, really gets to us emotionally are the everyday little things. They are what they are. Max Tegmark, a cosmologist, says, ”Ultimately, if we are a simulation, then in the ways that matter to us, we are real enough. Whatever force has guided our creation, mathematical or intelligent, it is constructed from simple atoms. Humans are a creature capable of thinking beyond the limits of physical investigation.
What is the Purpose of the Simulation? A simulation implies a creator, design, and purpose. If we are simulated, might we have been simulated for a purpose? Might there be a creator with a grand design, just as our ancestors believed? Nick Bostrom notes, “These kinds of arguments show at the same time the limitations to the reach of the human intellect. We’re discovering how our little corner of the world might indeed just be a small, small, small, small, small corner of a vastly bigger world than we ever imagined. We might never, even in principle, be able to look out at other parts. At the same time, these arguments also emphasize the astounding reach of the human intellect that we can begin to formulate theories and hypotheses that extend way beyond the world around us that we are evolved to cope with, i.e., how many lions entered the cave?, will it rain later this afternoon?, what does that person think of me? – these kind of very down-to-earth issues since our brain evolved. But it turns out it can be used to grapple with these fundamental questions of existence and the nature of the world.”
Alternative Creation Theory An alternative explanation to the religious accounts of our creation results in a possibility, via the Simulation Hypothesis, that is incredibly similar: an all-powerful, all-knowing, super-intelligent being, an entity whose motives are unfathomable and whose existence is unprovable. Max Tegmark adds, “It is very important for us physicists to not dismiss ideas just because they are weird. Because if we did, we would have already dismissed atoms, black holes, and all sorts of other marvelous things. When you ask the basic question about the nature of reality, don’t you expect an answer which is a little bit weird? I think anything but weird would be a big letdown. Let’s just accept that the Universe is weird and view that as part of its charm.” Nick Bostrom says, “There’s no reason that the human brain should have evolved just far enough to simulate the deepest nodes of reality, what is amazing that we have been able to make so much sense as we have of the external world. I believe when the history of science is written then what’s been discovered about our Universe in the last decade or two will be one of the most exciting chapters.But the key question, of course, is what we still don’t know and that is the challenge for the coming century.”
Big Think Summary Big Think reported, “Imagine a super-advanced version of The Sims, running on a machine with more processing power than all the minds on Earth. Intelligent design? Not necessarily. The Creator in this scenario could be a future fourth-grader working on a science project. Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom argues that we may very well all be Sims. This possibility rests on three developments:
(1) the aforementioned megacomputer.
(2) The survival and evolution of the human race to a “posthuman” stage.
(3) A decision by these posthumans to research their own evolutionary history, or simply amuse themselves, by creating us – virtual simulacra of their ancestors, with independent consciousnesses.”
Simulation Hypothesis The Simulation Hypothesis by Nick Bostrom 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.
Transcend Conclusion The only theory that explains all the scientific facts and human experiences, in the totality of reality as perceived by humans, and in the entire known Universe, is Simulation Hypothesis Argument #3: we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. Further, the purpose of the simulation is probably either experimentation or entertainment. Any other purpose cannot be determined and proven from human experiences and scientific facts discovered to-date. Further, the creator of the simulation, from a human’s perception within the simulation, is all-powerful and all-knowing. However, there is no proof the operator of the simulation is the creator of the simulation. Every human experience, scientific fact discovered, and human philosophical belief is within and explained by these propositions. What do you think? Can you prove me wrong?
Computer Simulation A video about the possibility that we are actually living in a computer simulation, Matrix like.. Narrated by David Malone.
About Nick Bostrom
(Professor, Faculty of Philosophy and Oxford Martin School; Director, Future of Humanity Institute; Director, Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology; University of Oxford) Nick Bostrom: Prior to taking up my current post as the founding director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, I was a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Faculty of Philosophy. Before that, I was a lecturer at Yale University, in the Department of Philosophy and in the Institute for Social and Policy Studies. Beside philosophy, I have a background in physics, computational neuroscience, mathematical logic, and artificial intelligence. I studied several subjects in parallel as an undergraduate—my performance set a national record in my native Sweden. Before degenerating into a tweedy academic, I also dabbled in painting, poetry, and drama, and for a while did stand-up comedy in London.
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