I Don’t Know if You’re Simulated (Yet)

Another call from skeptics to do less science about something they don’t like


So I just stumbled on a nice summation of simulation hypothesis skepticism:

Let’s break down what the problems are with how the skeptics approach this.

I wonder who it is who decides which *currently* unprovable theories we should or shouldn’t focus on, probably someone with a crystal ball. Simulation hypothesis is essentially a variation of theoretical physics, no more or less scientific or provable than, say, string theory. The string theory has only been worked on more by smarter people, that’s it.

It’s also absolutely how science works, which makes it baffling to me that so many scientists don’t see it in this case. How are we supposed to know whether a workable experiment can be devised if we don’t ponder the problem first on a theoretical level? Simulation hypothesis is not the same as religious theories to which it is frequently compared because it has to work in a way that’s logically consistent and technically doable in some physical universe.

Every computer has engineering limits, even a superduper one, and every simulation must have a design, also with limits. Sure, if this world is a simulation, it could be one of a large number of designs, just like there are a large (probably infinite) number of mathematical ways a physical universe can work on the level of particles.

Any test of the simulation hypothesis would be possible only once one selects one specific version of the hypothesis, and any version of it should allow some way of testing it unless what you have in mind is a magic computer controlled by god, at which point what you have has just ceased to be a scientific version of the simulation hypothesis.

As for consciousness and meaning, we may not be able to make a computer that can create either of those phenomena, but assuming the simulation hypothesis is in some form correct, our world doesn’t have to be exactly as any computer that we can make, only substantially computer-like. What innovation would there be if we couldn’t conceive of a new type of device that requires some things that we don’t have or can’t do yet (or ever)? That’s again what theoretical physics are supposed to ponder — new dimensions, anomalous materials, strange what-ifs.

Also, given that our world has consciousness and meaning in it, it’s not meaningless. Our simulations might be meaningless, but if our reality is a simulation, it clearly looks like a meaningful simulation. I believe the knee-jerk reaction here stems precisely from the fact that in science as a group of people who share similar values, there’s a clear bias against the idea that this world could in any way be created. Of course, as scientists should recognize, reality doesn’t care about what we believe about it, it simply is, even if it’s created.

Don’t get me wrong, meaning might factor into physics in a created universe, as well as it could in an emergent one if meaning is a truly natural property, but physics are still going to remain physics. Even if they’re changing in time or are conditional, there still must be a tangible, consistent, and persistent system on which everything is based, as all of our science seems to indicate so far about our world.

Where the skeptics really go off the rails is when they start assuming what a simulation has to be like on the level of design simply because some choices seem inherently more “rational”. This is a common problem of materially and quantitatively oriented scientists who would literally apply “rational choice theory” about maximizations of gains and efficiencies to everything. Just look at many of our computer games and explain to me the utilitarian rationality behind something like Doom where you kill demons that got let loose on Mars because people have been mining there the energy from hell.

I’m not saying it doesn’t have a logically consistent rationale, it’s just not a rational one. Simulations are immersive experiences and their logic depends more on what someone wants to subjectively, qualitatively experience than how wasteful or practical it might be. It’s true that it makes more strictly utilitarian sense to simulate only a single person’s experiences solipsistically and cheat on the level of detail, but isn’t it more cool or otherwise meaningful to actually make a full physical simulation that makes rise to whole worlds of intelligent conscious beings?

Even, or especially, if it’s for the purposes of a scientific experiment, which seems to be the only use of a world generating computer that physicists can imagine anyone would like to experience. Because of course they do.

Maybe the way that this simulation cheats is that in the original world, there are more dimensions, like full access to time in all directions, or the spatial multiverse, so whatever computer they can have has little problem simulating all this. Maybe the question to ponder is to figure out what are the limitations of simulating what our world needs in terms of physics in a computer that operates in more dimensions. Which is beyond my ability, but I can absolutely imagine it can be pondered by someone with the ability to do so.

What we have here is a great opportunity to look at the universe from a completely different angle which could not have been properly conceived of more than a few decades ago, and yet, most scientists seem to already be certain there’s no point in even trying. Personally, I don’t know, because we don’t know, and I think we could at least try to figure out if we can figure it out before we decide we can’t figure it out. As you do in science.

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