On Simulated Existence
By now, you should have heard about this, but here’s a link.
Elon Musk has said that there is only a "one in billions" chance that we're not living in a computer simulation. Our…www.independent.co.uk
It’s really quite simple: it doesn’t matter one iota whether we live inside a simulation or not.
Many years ago, as a freshman in college, I took an Epistemology course because I was very much interested in philosophy. To put it simply, epistemology is the philisophic study of how we come to know things. I mention this because one of the most basic epistemic questions is how we know we live in reality or whether we’re just brains in jars receiving neural stimuli to give us the impression that we’re alive.
This question was part of a basic exercise to start a dialogue around how we know what we know. In general, we humans learn about our surroundings by using our 5 senses. But our senses just provide the necessary electrical inputs to tell the brain what’s happening around it, whether something is a friend or foe.
Given this, however, it is entirely possible that there is some technology out there that can provide our brains the precise electrical signals, in the most precise way, to help us experience the world around us as we believe it to exist today. Our brains, plugged into this technology, could receive everything it needs and we would never really know the difference.
I mean, if your brain received all the proper signals that you were eating a steak, how could you possibly know if you were or weren’t actually eating it? You couldn’t, and you wouldn’t.
In many ways, the simulation that Elon Musk described is actually quite primitive. In the interview, he described the advancement of graphical technology as the marker that the simulation is real. But in a truly advanced simulation, we would not need our eyes to be deceived by advanced graphics if our brains can receive the stimulus directly.
So why doesn’t any of it matter?
Imagining whether we are or are not living inside a simulation is completely immaterial to our existence.
First, we who may exist inside the simulation could never truly know if the simulation exists. We would have no way of actually proving that the simulation is out there, and we are simply not equipped to understand the broader universe that could surround this simulation. Is an ant living its life in North America aware of the many billions of people that live in China?
Second, assuming the simulation was real, and someone could figure out that it exists, how would you know whether knowing about the simulation is just another aspect of living inside the simulation? If you were just a brain in a jar receiving stimulus, how would you be able to determine if knowing you’re a brain in a jar wasn’t just more stimulus from the simulation?
Third, who created this simulation and to what purpose? It is akin to trying to prove or disprove the existence of God. Any real discussion or debate about who and why would devolve into circular arguments with no resolution, and worse, no further clarity.
Lastly, being inside a simulation doesn’t change how you should live your life. Even a simulated life should be lived to its fullest potential. As a brain in a jar, why not make the most out of the stimulus you receive? Make the most of the time you get while you have it, even if it is just electrical impulses sent to your brain.
Epistemic questions remain
In the end, the question still remains. It is still entirely possible that we are all just living within some extensive simulation with an unknown creator with an unknown purpose. Or perhaps it is just you, dear reader, who is the only real person alive, while I am just a clever AI routine who put this here to leave a seed of doubt in your mind about whether or not this is all just some clever fabrication. You’ll never know…