Neurophilosophy

Do we live in a computer simulation?

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In today’s New York Times, John Tierney discusses an argument by Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, that our existence could be nothing more than a computer simulation being run by posthumanists.

Dr. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or “posthumans,” could run “ancestor simulations” of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems.

Some computer experts have projected, based on trends in processing power, that we will have such a computer by the middle of this century, but it doesn’t matter for Dr. Bostrom’s argument whether it takes 50 years or 5 million years. If civilization survived long enough to reach that stage, and if the posthumans were to run lots of simulations for research purposes or entertainment, then the number of virtual ancestors they created would be vastly greater than the number of real ancestors.

The article includes links to four others related to Bostrom’s argument, and there’s a lengthy discussion going on at the TierneyLab blog. Also, see my recent post about the philosophy of The Matrix.

Comments

  1. #1 Jonathan Vos Post
    August 14, 2007

    It’s an ongoing outrage that Nick Bostrom gets any credit for precisely the argument that I published years before him.

    I was the first to publish a scientific article on the likeliehood that we are indeed simulated by positron-electron entities at least a googol years from what humans think is the present, in the magazine Quantum Science Fiction (which published both fact and fiction).

    Years later, Nick Bostrom got great publicity by rediscovering my argument, and claiming that he was the first to publish.

    It is widely believed by Physicists, yet neither proven nor unanimous, that the universe is a quantum computer.

    Richard Feynman had this in mind (and discussed it with me) when he became the great-grandfather of Quantum Computing. There were some revisions in his original proposal, but still wide agreement with his assertion that the universe computes it own next state by real-time integration.

    I’ve thought about that since he and I were at Caltech togther 1968-73. Before I graduated, I gave Post’s corollary to Feynman: “The universe is the smallest (least action) computer that can compute or simulate the future of the entire universe.”

    I stated then and still believe that we could be nested as a simulation inside a larger universe, which could in turn be nested as a simulation inside a larger universe.

    I specifically suggested that we (me and the readers of the essay) were likely to be embedded in a simulation by a far far future electron-positron civilization (citing Freeman Dyson’s physics theories of the deep future).

    I was the first to put this in print, at: “Human Destiny and the End of Time” [Quantum, No.39, Winter 1991/1992, Thrust Publications, 8217 Langport Terrace, Gaithersburg, MD 20877; ISSN 0198-6686.

    Professor Gregory Benford acknowledged to me that he drew on this theory in his novels of the galactic core (whole sentences in his novels, even paragraphs, in italics, were from his notes while he read my essay, many sentences and phrases of mine were used with permission for poetic and cosmological value), and then years later philosopher Nick Bostrom (director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University) redicovered what I’d published first, and did a better job than I at getting mainstream PR on it.

    The germ of the idea was in science fiction even before me and Feynman. “The Matrix” and “The 13th Floor” popularized the idea
    further.

    You might also ask Dr. G. David Brin why Brin dropped out of a publishing project with Dr. Bostrom, or why the founders of the Transhumanist movement disavow Dr. Bostrom.

  2. #2 Anonymous
    August 14, 2007

    Basically what you’re saying Jonathan Vos is “first”, what you say is an elaborate version of what the following highlights as amusingly immature. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLpmGB3CPVk

    When thinking of research, yes, MAYBE it’s a good thing to publish who you are quoting, or who was first to publish such a theory, but at the end of the day is it not the theory itself that is the important thing. Infact, maybe it is because of this shortsightedness in wanting to be acknowledged as “first” that means you’re not cited?

  3. #3 Howard Schamest
    August 14, 2007

    If the universe is indeed an ongoing simulation, then originality and priority have no meaning, and outrage seems futile.

    But the struggle for recognition, acknowledgement and the accompanying prestige does indeed seem real, as does the feeling of loss when being cheated.

    How does the latter square with the notion of simulation?

  4. #4 David Dolinsky
    August 14, 2007

    The question of whether or not “post-humans” would “play” the simulations or merely jack directly into their own pleasure space is mote. Our behavior today indicates both activities are very likely.

    As luddite as this sounds, my issue is with the assumption that through advanced computer code we’ll be able to create self-aware life. For all of my regard of science and it’s promise, I firmly believe there is an intangible aspect to our consciousness which I can’t fathom being created as posited.

  5. #5 roe begua
    August 14, 2007

    i just want to let you all know that hubbard — the reviled scientology founder — came up with this concept (control of us “virtuals” by more creative sentients) maybe 50 -60 years ago. i am not affiliated with the scios but i think there’s interesting stuff there. do you all read the wall street journal? check out the amazing article (8/10/07) “is this cheating?”

  6. #6 Andrea
    August 14, 2007

    Dr. Bostrom as a scientist should know that we are made from the same particles as the stars, therefore we are the universe. We are governed by the same laws that make the earth, and the galaxies move. To think that our existence is a computer simulation is sci-fi. When was the last time you
    walked in nature and by admiring the beauty all around felt
    your inner most being shine. I suggest for Dr. Bostrom to spend a little more time being and little less time thinking
    what we are.

  7. #7 Scott Guerin
    August 14, 2007

    This is kind of a digital anthropic principle argument. If true, I am surprised how boring the simulation is. Why is there no real magic? Why is everything painfully banal? If they are experimenting with history and can model every electron I hope they pull the plug soon.

    S

  8. #8 Peter
    August 14, 2007

    What if, instead of a computer, it is only someone’s dream? When that person awakes….

  9. #9 Jacqueline Strax
    August 14, 2007

    I attest to the fact that “It is widely believed by Physicists, yet neither proven nor unanimous, that the universe is a quantum computer.”

    Norman Strax, physicist, my late husband, told me about the universe as computer when we were courting in 1979. From everything I know about him, Norman was cognizant of and working on this model of the universe from his time at Harvard, where he presented his dissertation on Neutron-proton Scattering in 1966. His interest in the topic may have been stimulated by ideas of Richard Feynman, one of his heroes, during or even before the period Jonathan Vos Post mentions (“Caltech . . . 1968-73″).

    Norman, half-jokingly, cited “the computer” for various daily-life events, e.g. coincidences. In virtual worlds like those generated by flight simulators, the program economizes by extending virtual reality only where the pilot moves his eyes. In our “reality,” the computer economizes similarly, reusing events and/or splicing one event onto another, where we direct our attention. We’re all familiar with encountering some long forgotten, rare or even seemingly unprecedented event or reference then, soon after, coming across it again, even multiple times. Norman regarded that as one small sign of the computer’s/universe’s letting slip a bit of how it works to save data storage space. And maybe just for fun, in play. I took this to mean that in this respect the universe/ computer is like a child learning to talk, who, acquiring a new word, especially a curious word, uses it again and again in rapid succession till she lets it go and it drops into the normal pattern of frequency in her speech. (If so the universe/computer is very like a person.)

    I’m not a physicist and I’m not sure how this related to my husband’s other interests in physics (magnetic monopoles and “time-backflow in time”), which were unpublished. I do know that about 30 mins before he died (May 7, 2002), he sent me on an errand to the corner drug store and I picked up the latest issue of the New Yorker, which featured 2 stories on the cover, one about a hobby-horse of mine (which as it happens is represented in key part now by the NYT computer as I write by the image of Vesalius’s meditating skeleton on the sidebar of amazon ads) and the other about Einstein. This was one of our last communications before he died (of prostate cancer to liver and lungs, age 66). I said, Oh, Norman, look what they have on the cover. He said, OK. Help me to sit up.

    John Tierney writes:
    Then again, maybe the Prime Designer wouldn’t allow any of his or her creations to start simulating their own worlds. Once they got smart enough to do so, they’d presumably realize, by Dr. Bostrom’s logic, that they themselves were probably simulations. Would that ruin the fun for the Prime Designer?

    If simulations stop once the simulated inhabitants understand what’s going on, then I really shouldn’t be spreading Dr. Bostrom’s ideas. But if you’re still around to read this, I guess the Prime Designer is reasonably tolerant, or maybe curious to see how we react once we start figuring out the situation.

    Sure. Might be comforting to the unanalyzed to believe that the computer/universe lops years off certain lifespans because those individuals “realize what’s going on.” And/or that the Grand Simulator cuts off certain others here and there to take make them its own companions. However, isn’t this a recycling of theology (especially of Christianity)? Even down to explaining the deaths of infants from disease or neglect by saying G-d wants them in Heaven? Why should we replace the model of a personal G-d with the model of a Prime Computer Geek? In some ways my husband was a religious man and from what I’ve read in some ways so was Feynman (and so too Einstein). Tell me if I’m wrong, but this idea of the Prime Designer seems like a vulgarization compared to the theory which Feynman, Vos Post, my husband and others have pursued in speaking and writing of the world as a simulation and universe as a computer.

  10. #10 Charles H. Green
    August 14, 2007

    Mr. Vos Post suggests the idea was in science fiction “even before me and Feynman.”

    You bet it was, and very well formed to boot.

    In the July 24, 1978 issue of The New Yorker, Stanislaw Lem published “Review of ‘Non Serviam.’” The abstract in the New Yorker catalogue reads as follows:

    a fictional bobok by a fictional scientist named James Dobb documenting his research in personetics, a sciencce described as an offshoot of the cybernetics and psychonics of the 80s, crossbred with applied intelletronics. In lay terms, it is the artificial production of intelligent beings. These personoids live in a computer, in a purely mathematical world. They have no bodies, only souls. They have been programmed for language. The science has split into 2 schools. The American school at MIT aims at giving personoids a sex life. Dobb represents the English school, the behaviorists of personetics, who observe without interfering. Our minutes correspond to whole eons in the computer, making it possible to watch the emergence of a personoid history. In the 8th generation the notion of a Creator appaears. Personoids divide into godlies (believers in God) and ungodles (atheists). In their discussions, recorded by Dobb, they prove logically that if there is a God, they don’t owe him anything. Hence the title of the book, “I am not serving.” The personoids have the same relationship to Dobb as persons do to God. When he disconnects the computer, he will bring the world to an end.

  11. #11 Scott Eric Kaufman
    August 14, 2007

    Banned? I’m banned from trackbacking? Fine, see if I…who am I kidding? I love this stuff.

    It’s probably an automated message, but I thought I’d drop you a line, since I think the “www.typepad.com” domain’s been blacklisted by Scienceblogs.

  12. #12 ngong
    August 14, 2007

    So…maybe quantum physics is just the algorithm that best conserves memory in a universe inhabited by conscious entities.

    Anyway, Jonathan, there’s less incentive to feel bitter if it’s all just a simulation.

  13. #13 ngong
    August 14, 2007

    Another thought from a non-physicist: it seems like physicists are always trying to reconcile relativity and quantum physics. But if the universe is just a simulation, could it be that a resolution of certain quandaries (of physics)is impossible?

  14. #14 Ed Peay
    August 15, 2007

    The essence of all this is that we can never perceive a “real world” directly or even know that there is one. Our only experience is through our sensory perceptions. This idea goes back at least to Bishop Berkeley in the 18th century. The rest is just a superstructure of elaborate speculation.

  15. #15 Ali Develi
    August 15, 2007

    To my opinion, the hypothesis that posthumans created a super-computer generating our lives in a simulation is simply false. One needs to keep in mind that, all things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one. There are too many improbable assumptions in the simulation hypothesis.

  16. #16 Paul
    August 15, 2007

    Confucious once asked – “Does the fish know the happiness of the fish?” Meaning, does the fish even understand their own environment and relative place in the world, not to mention what is beyond the water? Do we humans?

  17. #17 Jonathan Vos Post
    August 15, 2007

    First, I thank the blog-host for this fine thread.

    Second, I am delighted with the comments.

    Third, I agree that L. Ron Hubbard wrote about the concept, most entertainingly in “Typewriter in the Sky” which was better thought through than a recent film about a man confronting the author of the book in which he realizes he is a character. Hubbard wrote, to use the NESFA summary: an excellent example of a character being projected into a story and forced to live out the plot line. Horace Hackett, writer of melodrama, crime, love stories, etc. unknowingly sends his friend Mike de Wolf into a world of pirates on the Spanish Main. Not strictly SF but certainly close enough in feeling to be included, if only for the great last line.
    [Unknown 4:3 November 1940 (pp.9-) and 4:4 December 1940]; Fear & Typewriter in the Sky, Gnome Press, 1951; Typewriter in the Sky & Fear, Kemsley CT409, 1952]

    See also: Moore, Raylyn, “Out of Control”
    George Mapstead is taking adult education classes in order to learn to be a writer; it doesn’t seem to help. However, after his nervous breakdown he creates a fantasy world and finds himself in it. He is able to modify this world by writing on his typewriter (the opposite of the situation in Typewriter in the Sky). This control enables him to improve his mundane life and he decides to dismantle the fantasy universe. However, he does so complete a job that he finds he has forgotten to provide himself with the means of returning home. [The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, 39:2 August 1970 (pp.118-128); Laughing Space, (edited by Isaac Asimov & Janet O. Jeppson), Houghton Mifflin 30519-5, March 1982 (pp.374-382)]

    As a child, I found the ending of “Harold and the Purple Crayon” a terrifying ontological epistemological nightmare. Amazon reviews: “One night, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight.” So begins this gentle story that shows just how far your imagination can take you. Armed only with an oversized purple crayon, young Harold draws himself a landscape full of beauty and excitement. But this is no hare-brained, impulsive flight of fantasy. Cherubic, round-headed Harold conducts his adventure with the utmost prudence, letting his imagination run free, but keeping his wits about him all the while. He takes the necessary purple-crayon precautions: drawing landmarks to ensure he won’t get lost; sketching a boat when he finds himself in deep water; and creating a purple pie picnic when he feels the first pangs of hunger.”

    “Crockett Johnson’s understated tribute to the imagination was first published in 1955, and has been inspiring readers of all ages ever since. Harold’s quiet but magical journey reminds us of the marvels the mind can create, and also gives us the wondrous sense that anything is possible.”

    Fourth, I’m particularly happy to hear about Dr. Norman Strax. I’m unclear on Feynman’s religious beliefs, for all the time we spent together, but he did agree with my that Einstein was religious in a way quite parallel to Spinoza. Einstein was Oppenheimer’s mentor, Oppenheimer was one of Feynman’s mentors, so I heard a lot from Feynman about Einstein.

    Fifth, ngong, I’m not particularly bitter about this. Given that I’ve produced over 2,500 publications, presentations, and broadcasts, it is statistically inevitable that I’ve been plagiarized plenty of times. Including by the coauthor of a popular textbook which now bears only the department chairman’s name, Arbib, and likewise the Chair later removed my name from the Teacher’s Guide of which I was sole author. I, a mere grad student, got a flat $2,000 but he earned at least $250,000 from multiple editions, translations, and reprints. Feynman never got a penny for the paperback rights to his Lecture Notes in Physics because, he says, he never expected that such a thing could be published.

    Once I wasted $250,000 in legal fees pursuing the matter, which had led to my being fired from a lucrative job by the plagiarist’s defamations. That was a waste of time, to be sure.

    Someday, as an old man, I’ll be a tenured professor, and my tales of times spent face-to-face with Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Feynman, Jerry Garcia, Allan Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, and others, will be listened to with amazement by students not yet born.

    Until then, I’ll keep creating and spreading ideas and, as my friend Dave Brin suggests, being the genial promulgator of wisdom instead of the a bitter martyr to parasitism.

    And, whether or not I’m a simulation, I prefer to act AS IF there is Free Will, and thus take full responsibility for my actions. My wife told me to say so.

  18. #18 Scott Bryson
    August 15, 2007

    Oh the vanity! Check out John C. Lilly: Programming and Metaprogramming in the Human Biocomputer: Theory and Experiments; ISBN 0-517-52757-X (reprinted 1987 of 1972 original) and Simulations of God: The Science of Belief; ISBN 0-671-21981-2 (1975)

    More likely–we are the avatars for the universe’s aliens, in a Second Life type game. The reports of UFO’s and abductions are just the maintenance for the nanotech sensors the aliens implant in us to live vicariously through us.

    Even the 1971 film THX 1138 by George Lucas had the idea of a holographic television character escaping into the “real” world”, not far removed from the above theory.

    You better reboot your wetware and update your BIOS…

  19. #19 Scott Bryson
    August 15, 2007

    He was even earlier than the above dates which were from Wikipedia:

    Programming and Metaprogramming the Human Biocomputer (1967)

    Simulations of God: The Science of Belief (1956)

    from: http://www.johnclilly.com/

  20. #20 Jonathan Vos Post
    August 15, 2007

    Hans Moravec on living inside a simulation
    http://www.boingboing.net/2007/08/15/hans_moravec_on_livi.html

    Charles Platt says:

    Hans Moravec, the robotocist and author of the brilliantly predictive book Mind Children, propounded exactly the same concept as this guy Bostrom back in the 1990s. I mentioned this in a profile of Hans published in Wired 3.10 in 1995. The concept was identical, including the ingenious argument that we are more statistically likely to be living in a copy of reality than in reality itself, because there will be multiple copies and only one original.

    I’m not saying that Bostrom ripped off Moravec, but — well, I have suspicions.

    Here’s the relevant extract from my interview with Hans:

    200708151647But by this logic, our current “reality” could be nothing more than a simulation produced by information entities.

    “Of course.” Moravec shrugs and waves his hand as if the idea is too obvious. “In fact, the robots will re-create us any number of times, whereas the original version of our world exists, at most, only once. Therefore, statistically speaking, it’s much more likely we’re living in a vast simulation than in the original version. To me, the whole concept of reality is rather absurd. But while you’re inside the scenario, you can’t help but play by the rules. So we might as well pretend this is real – even though the chance things are as they seem is essentially negligible.”

    And so, according to Hans Moravec, the human race is almost certainly extinct, while the world around us is just an advanced version of SimCity.

    [When I was a book editor at Wired, I published a line of science fiction books called The Cortext Series which included Charles Platt's excellent science fiction novel, The Silicon Man, that explores these concepts (yes, Platt credits Moravec in his book). -- Mark]

  21. #21 Amiya Sarkar
    August 16, 2007

    Dear Mo,
    A very fitting sequel to your previous ‘matrix’ article. Somehow, I could not resist commenting on this article,since I too wrote a quasi-scientific article regarding ‘Reincarnation’ in my blog, where I pondered about ‘virtual identities’ floating in space. Thus, I am not the only one who harbors this apparently ‘crazy’ idea.
    Great going!!

  22. #22 rfd
    August 16, 2007

    I’m just a punter who found this interesting discussion from the NY Times.
    It may be just me but I’m kinda drawn to the metaphor of “Deep Thought” from “Hitchhickers’ Guide” than the Matrix. Granted, I’m not a philosopher, physicist, neurobiologist, computer theorist or an expert in anything, really, but I have a few questions: Do we really have a comprehensive, mapped-out understanding of the functioning of brain? Consciousness? Memory? (guess these are some of the things those sexy “posthumans” have solved, and, that this “posthuman” designed quantum computer can simulate sentience – ooh – is there a difference between simulated sentience and sentience?)
    Also, I’m wondering, this “virtual world” – is it conceivable that the virtual sentients can develop to a level equal to the “posthumans” and develop their own virtual “virtual world”?

    Sorry, I think I just crashed my wetware….

  23. #23 Labinot Marku
    August 16, 2007

    “Transferring the human soul” from the physical particles organized in a biological systems-neural cell(networks) to another physical systems like semiconductors or maybe in the future something more sophisticated. Could be maybe one of the steps of Evolution, with the purpose for increasing the chance for survivor of the human soul.
    Our behavior has one purpose to survive, and the “execution of the human soul” – human behavior is strongly determinated, well Spinoza put it this way: “Men think themselves free because they are conscious of their volitions and desires, but are ignorant of the causes by which they are led to wish and desire.” And Schopenhauer said pretty much the same thing when he said: “A man can surely do what he [wants] to do, but cannot determine what he [wants].” Even Einstein agreed with Schopenhauer.
    So the conclusion is that ” we have not made the rules, we just execute them ” and it’s just a meter on which physical environment this happens – biological or other kind of.

  24. #24 Labinot Marku
    August 16, 2007

    “Transferring the human soul” from the physical particles organized in a biological systems-neural cell(networks) to another physical systems like semiconductors or maybe in the future something more sophisticated. Could be maybe one of the steps of Evolution, with the purpose for increasing the chance for survivor of the human soul.
    Our behaviour has one purpose to survive, and the “execution of the human soul” – human behaviour is strongly determinated, well Spinoza put it this way: “Men think themselves free because they are conscious of their volitions and desires, but are ignorant of the causes by which they are led to wish and desire.” And Schopenhauer said pretty much the same thing when he said: “A man can surely do what he [wants] to do, but cannot determine what he [wants].” Even Einstein agreed with Schopenhauer. So the conclusion is that ” we have not made the rules, we just execute them ” and it’s just a meter on which physical environment this happens – biological or other kind of.

  25. #25 Anibal
    August 17, 2007

    In the long breeding-strain of that kind of thought experiments (aka. the philosophical alternative to lab work made by scientists that it is used to know the consecuences of our ideas), the first author credited with imagine “what if” -we are livng in a world of false seemings- etc. was Plato (cave alegory) then the second most famous was Descartes (malignant genius), and in modern times was followed by Putnam (a brain in a vat), Chalmers with his cultural dablings with the “Matrix saga” and perhaps the last one, because he launchs a new and exciting “what if” we are running in a simulation made by future humans (post-humans or trans-humans) simulating their own past, is certainly… Bostrom.

  26. #26 Jonathan Vos Post
    August 17, 2007

    rfd asks: “is it conceivable that the virtual sentients can develop to a level equal to the ‘posthumans’ and develop their own virtual ‘virtual world’?”

    That is the central premised of the film “The Thirteenth Floor” (1999), directed by Josef Rusnak from his screenplay adaptation of the remarkable novel “Simulacron 3″ (1964) by Daniel Francis Galouye (as Daniel Galouye) born 11 February 1920, New Orleans, Louisiana, died 7 September 1976, also in New Orleans. Ironically, Bush pulled the plug on hurricane-battered New Orleans, and parts of it will be re-built as a Disney-esque simulation.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simulacron-3

    “Probably influenced directly by Philip K. Dick’s Truman Show-esque novel Time out of Joint, Simulacron-3 can be rightly regarded as one of the first descriptions of virtual reality, even if the topic was already treated more than two thousand years ago in Plato’s allegory of the cave.”

    This topic is also explored on the thread about “People Who May or May Not Exist” on the n-Catgeory Cafe web page.

    Again, I ask, why is Bostrom given ANY academic credit at all? In the academic world where I was raised, what matters is: who published first? Not who has the best-greased PR campaign. And what has happened to the New York Times fact-checking?

    There are interesting ideas; they need not be channeled through a bottleneck even more egotistical than I am. Oh, wait, I have more coauthors. Maybe it’s because I don’t steal credit from my colleagues.

  27. #27 Jonathan Vos Post
    August 18, 2007

    The background of my article “Human Destiny and the End of Time”,
    published years before Bostrom’s rediscovery, was my own prior
    publications on extrapolating the advance in computing power.

    Jonathan V. Post, “Quintillabit: Parameters of a Hyperlarge Database”,
    Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Very Large
    Databases,
    Montreal, Canada, 1-3 October 1980

    The above coined the term “1 Shannon = 1 mole, avogadro’s number, of bits.”

    Simulating a person, or the entire universe, is estimated in Shannons.

    My PhD work included analyses of how many bytes per second are
    processed in a singel cell (bacterium or yeast) and extrapolating to
    how many computations per second are needed to simulate an entire
    organism in ultra-high resolution. The chapters of that dissertation, arguably the first ever on what became Nanotechnology, were read worldwide, and expecially intrigued scientists at U. Moscow and U. Leningrad, which the State Department preferred I not correspond (this being the Cold War, and my doing highly classified work for Boeing, Rockwell, Lockheed, Army, Navy, and Air Force).

    So I am not asserting that I published PART of what made Bostrom
    famous. I’m asserting, with complete support from edited literature, that I discovered ALL of what he later claimed, and that I left out the more foolish parts of his hand-waving.

  28. #28 Zachary Tong
    August 18, 2007

    Andrea: Your assumption is that matter itself can’t be simulated. Who is to say that our phsyical universe and all the laws that govern it are not also simulated? Your assertion that we are the stuff of stars, merely matter, directly juxtaposes your position that we are “special” in some regard and incapable of being simulated.

    Matter is governed by the laws of physics. It therefore follows that if we are made from matter, we follow the laws of physics as well. If you simulate the laws of physics and all of matter, humans are simulated because the entire universe is being simulated.

    As an aside, it also isn’t hard to believe that *if* we are simulated beings, the laws of physics which govern the universe of our creators do not nescessarily behave as ours do.

    Rfd: I would assume it is possible (and is indeed talked about in the original paper) as long as the creators gave their simulation a means to eventually do the same. The simulation would have to be detailed enough to give them the ability to give rise to science, physics, chemistry, etc.

  29. #29 David Harmon
    August 20, 2007

    Actually, Zachary has just turned up what I think is the fatal flaw of the idea — a basic presumption that matter can in fact be simulated. The problem is that quantum mechanics plus chaos theory pretty well scotch the possibility of “strong determinism”, which tends to undercut the idea of “multiple runs of the universe”. If you think about it, those would come out as completely separate universes, perhaps similar in overall structure, but completely different in detail.

    It remains possible that physical law in general could be “emulated” by a cellular automata, but the whole point of that computational structure, is that every point of the “simulation space” carries its own state. There’s little or no non-local interaction, much less I/O as such. Basically, that’s not a “simulation” of reality you’re talking about, it’s an implementation. The only way to distinguish it from a genuine reality would be to find an I/O port, or something else which is clearly not fully constrained by local physics. (Speaking of which, I think James Hogan hit on this idea too… one of the Giants novels.)

  30. #30 David Harmon
    August 20, 2007

    On the other hand, one thing that would make such an “emulation” much more plausible, would be if the “parent reality” had at least one more dimension than ours… two might be better.

  31. #31 Jonathan Vos Post
    August 20, 2007

    Note that Bostrom, over at Robin Hanson’s blog, reacting to Peter Woit’s deleting comments about Science Fiction predecessors to Bostrom, utterly fails to address the issue of his blatant failure to cite those who published his idea before him. You’d think that a real human being would feel the need to apologize. The Bostrom on Hanson’s blog must be just a simulation.

    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/08/pseudo-criticis.html#comment-80102141

  32. #32 Jonathan Vos Post
    August 27, 2007

    Bostrom did not start me thinking about whether or not I was in a simulation, as I’d published that hypothesis in great detail years before he did. But I wonder how many of his followers are simulations, and why they deny that I exist.

    My experience in following the link about Bostrom, over to Robin Hanson’s blog, was extremely nasty, for me and two of my esteemed colleagues.

    There have been more than 20 emails and phonecalls back and forth between these loons, their leader Nick Bostrom, myself, my coauthor Professor Philip V. Fellman, and John Sokol (of Free BSD fame, creator of California’s first Internet cafe, inventor of the LiveCam, prolific inventor, and formerly Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s webmaster).

    Myself and my colleagues have answered dozens of questions about our publications, employment, awards, and the like. The blogmasters then explicitly emailed us to say that the style of our emails are the
    same, and so we are still guilty until proven innocent, and must be the same person, and lying about our academic status and publications.

    They have said so on their blogs, after misusing GoogleScholar, although Professor Bostrom incorrectly emails to say that all such defamations have been removed from the web sites. I think that a cult has accreted around him, regardless of what one thinks about his many intriguing publications, plausible given that one of the Directors of the Institute for the Future of Humanity is the ex-wife of Eric Drexler, who was the organizer of the “Cult of Drexler” that the
    scientific press eventually discounted.

    The timing of this is where damages might come in.

    I’m in the midst of credentialing processes in at least 3 subjects at Cal State L.A. School of Ed to get California State approval, modulo No Child Left Behind, to teach in one of 3 possible high schools,
    including the one where I finished teaching summer school earlier this month. Plus, my part time teaching at L.A. Valley College, the first day of which I have not taught, is to L.A. County employees, including the L.A. County Sheriffs.

    It would be very bad if they googled me and found this tripe.

    Whether nonexistence, censorship, denying the validity of my CV, and claiming that I engage in identity fraud is or is not Defamation would be determined way down the line in a law suit. Since they think that I do not exist, and that Fellman and Sokol are merely my “aliases”, they could be unpleasantly surprised. I did, after all, work 15 years on and off as a paralegal in Pasadena and Beverly Hills.

    John Sokol is upset, having made a phonecall to one of the blogmasters and being screamed at, abused, and threatened in that call.

    Another blogmaster, him self an Economics professor, bizarrely refuses to verify the identity of Professor Fellman, also (outranking him) an Economics Professor, even though Fellman listed half a dozen people they know in common, any one of whom could verify Fellman’s identity with a single email or phonecall.

    The Bostrom Cult is engaging in “reckless disregard of the truth” — which can be a component of defamation.

    I am somewhat paranoid, having lost a job that paid (corecting for inflation) $180,000/year due to an equally insane pre-emptive attack to cover up plagiarism. hence, to defend myself, the question is “am I paranoid enough?”

    Until a lunatic, crackpot, or cult attacks you, it is hard to believe that such things go on.

    As a writer and a scientist, all I own is my intellectual property (and Bostrom is at best sloppy with citations) and my reputation (which has been directly attacked).

    We were told by email and phone that we were all 3 banned because we did not EXIST as 3 distinct people, and because I was systematically lying on my curriculum vitae.

    Under US employment law, in many states, an intentional lie on a CV is cause for immediate dismissal. I ran Sherlock Holmes Resume Service for 700 clients, and so advised them. I volunteered for 2 years at the Pasadena unemployment center running mock interviews, each 1 hour long and videotaped, for unemployed scientists, software engineers, teachers, and informed them of this legal nicety.

    Professor Bostrom wrote only to me, since his minions persuaded him that Professor Fellman did not exist separately, assuring me that all defamations had been removed. However, the postings that Fellman and Sokol were my “aliases” remained online.

    Nor will any of the blogmasters verify the facts by the means that we suggest, or call any of the people we mentioned that we know in common with the blogmasters to verify our existence from people they already trust. Rather than apologize, they continue to insult us.

    Although we’ve wasted many hours, we cannot prove any dollar damages, and hence legal action is extremely unlikely.

    But I think that this is an emergent phenomenon on the internet, and will happen more and more as children of the Facebook and YouTube and MySpace generation go to job interviews and are rejected because of
    versions of identity theft. People will have to prove that it was not them, but a clever imitator dancing naked on that restaurant table in the video.

    We have the Macaca Moment; now we will have the dark side of that, in vast multiplicity.

    Of course you readers don’t know who the 3 of are, but the phenomenon is real, and can be very painful.

    Or, in the alternative, we are all simulations anyway.

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