Musk and the Simulation Hypothesis

Elon Musk has recently been quoted as mentioning the simulation hypothesis formulated by Nick Bostrom, a professor at Oxford University. Bostrom’s hypothesis was published in 2003 and is available online. Nobody knows currently whether we are in a simulation, but the topic of simulation is worthy of discussion from the standpoint of the posthuman possibilities of our species. A serious problem with the hypothesis would seem to be that one needs to be outside, literally, an environment to create a model of it or to be aware that a model exists. When we create models of something, we study it (in the case of science) or design it (in the case of engineering). It (the phenomenon) is separate from us. Phenomena are simulations of themselves by definition. So, to say that “the earth is simulating itself” is reasonable. Simulations tend to strip away all but essential aspects of what is being studied. In the limit, the simulation becomes the phenomenon where nothing is abstracted away. If a posthuman civilization were to create a simulation with a highly-advanced AI (Artificial Intelligence) component, that component has no way of knowing its simulated status because it is part of the simulated system. The intelligent components of a hypothetical simulated environment can look for something odd or peculiar in their world, and then know that they are part of a designed system. With things like quantum mechanics, though, how could things get weirder? And yet quantum behavior is part of our natural world and so does not imply that we are in someone else’s simulation. The movie, The Matrix has the right idea in its script of Neo who chooses to ingest the blue pill offered by Morpheus. Only by swallowing this pill will Neo be able to figure out that he is part of a simulation. Unless we can track down the equivalent of Morpheus, I am afraid we’ll never know whether or not we are simulated. Speculation along these lines may be no different than engaging in theology.

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