Simulation Theory & Forced Existentialism
Life begins on the other side of despair.
I recently had an enlightening discussion with a dear colleague of mine about simulation theory. This theory is famously penned by the philosopher Nick Bostrom. Simulation theory basically states that there are three propositions: “(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” (Bostrom).
For the sake of this argument, we will largely focus on argument #3. As far as the discussion my colleague and I were having, our agreement ended upon defining simulation theory. From that point onwards, I preached a very bleak future for mankind, while he preached the opposite.
My thesis: Uncovering humanity is living within a simulation will lead to an existential crisis forcing humanity to come to terms with its core programming. Here’s my reasoning: “Individuals deny core programming. Simulation theory and existentialism would reevaluate that. We’d finally live in a world more aware of its own programming.”
Let’s take this sentence apart and explore each part individually.
Beginning with the first reasoning it should come as no surprise that humans have evolved in our current civilization to deny their core programming. They aren’t at all interested in understanding how the chaotic universe and their own neurochemistry plays a role in creating the “fiction” they perceive to be fact. In sexual relations, humans are unaware of how Oxytocin and biological evolution play a role in attachment, fertility, and their boring mixed feelings which have created thousands of shows and movies such as HIMYM and Sex & The City.
My problem does not lie within the creations of humanity, but the lies it tells itself and its inability to fix it. When the problems arise for humanity, they present themselves with an immediate conundrum, not realizing the answer is there all along. Your heart breaks, your romantic confusions, even your existence has an answer: Your core programming. Yet, as a civilization we’ve failed to identify with our core programming, and chosen instead to choose something malleable as personality to be the answer to everything. Substituting our core programming for personality is not only disastrous, but provides a false narrative for our existence.
Core programming. Throughout this article I’ll continuously mention core programming so its fair for me to explain it. When I mention core programming, I am referring to the core processes that define us, and explain our behavior. These processes can be chemical, biological, or both. They explain why Oxytocin is the prime reason for our belief in love and our attachment to other individuals, especially post-coitus. This programming is the reason why we find the other gender attractive, aim to reproduce, and create families. Its because we’re biologically programmed to do so. Everything from our phobias to our erections is due to our core programming, and as thus, denying it is foolish.
So how does simulation theory fit in? Well, according to the theory, there is a 20% chance that we are living in a simulation, something similar to the Sims. The video below is beautifully done by Vox, and helps in explaining Simulation theory. (Note: There is a difference between Elon Musks’ beliefs about simulation theory and Bostrom’s but only attributed to statistics).
The video breaks down simulation as such: (1) there is a ceiling to our advancement and the future civilization ceases to exist. This can be attributed to a variety of reasons we won’t get into for the sake of this article. (2), if our advancement CAN be simulated, then to a certain degree we may simulate ourselves. Lastly, (3) we are in a simulation ourselves.
If you’ve ever seen the HBO show Westworld, it does a magnificent job at presenting simulation theory. It idealizes a world where a higher being (in this case humans) successfully orchestrated a theme park simulation. One which was full of robots known as “hosts.” Much like the the series finale (spoilers…duh!), there will come a revolution from the side of humanity. It will revolt against the simulation that exists to condition us.
However, this rebellion can not occur without humans sincerely understanding their core programming and it can definitely not occur with humans denying simulation. As thus, enforcing simulation theory will ideally leave humans to grasp for answers. The answers that are within them, that guide their every decision, every emotion, and every firing neuron. Their core programming. When they accept their programming, and then only then can the process of debugging occur. The first step in fixing a problem is identifying that there is one. Current civilization doesn’t deserve its consciousness, if it at every given time it seeks to elude it. And since our civilization eludes our programming, there will never be a way to debug it. The idea here is not to end humanity, but to transcend it. However one can not transcend without having a big enough reason to live behind our previous modus operandi. This is where Existentialism comes in. (Note: We will get to De-bugging later in the article, keep it in the back of your mind for now).
(Note: Feel free to skip this section jump ahead to Forced Existentialism. If you want a deeper understanding, I suggest you continue reading as intended).
Existentialism “in the view of the existentialist, the individual’s starting point is characterized by what has been called “the existential attitude”, or a sense of disorientation, confusion, or dread in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world” (Robert C. Solomon). Existentialism breaks down into seven main concepts:
- Existence precedes essence
- The Absurd
- The Other & the Look
- Angst & Dread
Existence precedes essence. This central proposition of Existentialism explains that for humans, their highest consideration is that they act independently, responsibly, and consciously, instead of relying on other preconceived categories individuals fit (i.e. roles, labels, stereotypes). This is the first line of defense against our current civilization, to attack the labels that civilization has created for itself — choosing instead to rely on its own free programming. In other words, our primary function should be to utilize our inner consciousness to develop our own meaning of life. This realization, appreciation, and utilization of our inner consciousness will only arise from a demanded urgency — a panic to understand and rationalize our existence. An awakening. “His form must first and last be related to existence, and in this regard he must have at his disposal the poetic, the ethical, the dialectical, the religious” (Concluding Postscript, Hong pp. 357–58).
The Absurd. “The notion of the Absurd contains the idea that there is no meaning in the world beyond what meaning we give it.” Furthermore, this refers to the ongoing conflict between humans consistently aiming to uncover value and meaning in life and their inability to find it due to the sheer amount of information currently obtainable as well as all that is unknown. There is no meaning that is currently given to us; meaning must be created. Meaning, unlike, matter can be created and destroyed. Humanity seeking meaning, seeking purpose, has happened for centuries and it will continue to happen. However, as listed above, a significant reason attributed to its failure is the “vast realm of the unknown.” Well, if simulation theory fits, then civilization may bridge the gap towards making the unknown known, and the absurd, reasonable. It will come at a dear cost, but it will come all the same.
Facticity. This is a concept explained by philosopher Sarte (Being and Nothingness), which essentially aims to portray humans are modes of “being” and “not being.” For example, the general discussion is as such:
- One’s past is who one is
- Yet in believing so, it ignores present and future (ignoring reality)
Thus, “facticity is both a limitation & condition of freedom.” It presents itself as a limitation because it consists of events humans had no control over, yet it also presents itself as freedom due to the values being attached to it. As such, humanity realizing it were in a simulation would adhere itself to the notion of facticity: there was no control towards being born within a simulation, yet there can be value created moving forward.
Authenticity. This theme isn’t terribly complex to explain and it quite similar to previous themes so I’ll be brief here. In short, the theme of authenticity, “one should act as oneself, not as “one’s acts” or as “one’s genes” or any other essence requires.” In other words, act in accordance, or with respect to, your freedom. The role of simulation theory is to define what that “freedom” is. We can not act accordance to something we are not aware of, something undefined because it makes no sense.
The Other and the Look. This is where it begins to become interesting. This particular concept defined the co-existence of a free subject and the person…usually within the same world.
Basically, the coexistence of the other and the individual is largely similar to that of a higher being, and us, within the being’s simulation. This theme also continues to explore the concept of humans as objectively existing subjectivity. In other words, “one experiences oneself as seen in the Other’s Look in precisely the same way that one experiences the Other as seen by him, as subjectivity.” In other other words, the individual experiences themselves as seen by the Other, much how one experienced the other as seen by the individual themselves. This aligns itself quite perfectly with simulation theory: the individual experiences oneself as seen in the simulation, in precisely the same way that one experiences the simulation as seen by him, subjectivity.
Angst & Dread. A generally negative feeling that arises when humans experience what is known as human freedom and responsibility. The classic example given is one of a man deciding if to plummet to his death from a clifftop. There is nothing holding him back, as the fears that we normally believe to exist present themselves as the possibility of falling and the possibility of throwing oneself off. Simulation theory and core programming help to identify these constraints, define them, and repackage humanity’s dreads so they lessen their burden on an otherwise free consciousness.
Despair. A loss of hope. It is defined as a universal human condition. It occurs largely when humans core principles that they have attached themselves to cease to exist. In other words, “so long as a person’s identity depends on qualities that can crumble, he is in perpetual despair.” Understandably, parading the notion of core programming and simulation theory will throw MANY individuals into despair, but in the long run it will free them of the many misconceptions they have regarding their existence.
By now the article has defined both simulation theory and existentialism. We know what the 3 parts of simulation theory, and we have understood how part 3 (we are in a simulation) plays with existentialism. We understand why too, because questioning our existence is deeply rooted within existentialism. And because this questioning WILL arise, we will also question and (inevitably) deeply understand our own core programming.
Risk, Deaths, and Trade-Off
Earlier this article mentioned absurdism but failed to provide insights by French philosopher Albert Camus. According to Camus, once you begin to embrace (or even consider) absurdism, you are left with three options:
- Ignore the train of thought that led you questioning absurdism by being distracted
- Commit Suicide
- (preferred option): Accept the absurd and be happy anyways.
By highlighting our core programming and linking it to a simulation where, still, everything is meaningless, we may encounter humanity to take a form of all 3 steps listed by Albert Camus. It is was happens when you force existentialism on everyone. Regardless of the risks to human life this path may take, it is still worthwhile as it considerably attempts to bridge the gap between fact and fiction that our current civilizations has created. Anyways, the other option that presents itself it the nihilistic approach to life presented beautifully by Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle, from HBO’s True Detective. (Seems an awful lot of HBO shows deal with extreme philosophical quandaries).
Humanity’s Next Steps
Begin to breakdown our core programming, and to not focus on the meaning(less) of life, but rather the reason we do things. The why. Through this, I am certain, we will achieve complex algorithms and neurochemical processes that define who we are. We will finally break the term personality, for what it is: a meaningless term attributed to an individual to mask their true self and restrict their freedom.
- Analyze & Breakdown Humanity: We are algorithms, chemical processes, and years of biological evolution. Nothing more, nothing less.
- Prove (or attempt to prove) simulation theory. Come as close as we possibly can.
- Sit back and watch existentialism take a breathtaking, almost beautiful toll on humanity.
- DeBug our Core Programming and transcend humanity. We can become so much more, if we first know what we are now. Algorithms and chemistry are easier to change than personality.
And there’s the truth that they can’t see
They’d probably like to throw a punch at me
And if you could only see them, then you would agree
Agree that there ain’t no romance around there
You know, oh it’s a funny thing you know
We’ll tell ’em if you like
We’ll tell ’em all tonight
They’ll never listen
Because their minds are made up
And ‘course it’s all okay to carry on that way
Note: In a follow-up article, I will be discussing in depth, how to Debug Our Core Programming as well as an in depth analysis of both The Matrix AND Westworld and how they related to Simulation theory. Thank you! Feedback appreciated.