“It strikes me,” I say to Hanson, “that a future intelligent descendant could be just as interested in abstract experimenting through simulation, how a consciousness reacts to various stimuli, rather than trying to enact history on a wider scale.”
“The simulation argument is based primarily on imagining historical simulations,” Hanson says. “But you could, of course, imagine lots of other types of simulation and imagine you’re in one of those.”
“And, just a back-of-the-matchstick calculation,” I say, meaning a back-of-the-napkin calculation, “what do you think? Does that change your mathematics at all if you include those kinds of simulations?”
“Again, for the generic simulation, the simplest calculation is how many real creatures are there and how many creatures in simulations are there,” Hanson says. “That ratio would be huge, right? There would be far more of the first sort than the second.”
This sounds implausible to me. “There are video games right now that have A.I. characters in them,” I say. At what point are we measuring the consciousness of the creatures in these simulations?”
“You are assuming that these characters in the simulation are conscious enough that you could be one of them,” he says.
“Right,” I say.
“So, if there is a simulation out there with an inhabitant that is not conscious — well, then, that couldn’t be you, because you’re conscious.”
“Right,” I say again.
“So, from the point of view of guessing what kind of simulation you could be in, you are, of course, limiting yourself to simulations where the things in them are conscious,” Hanson says.
“Is there a baseline test for consciousness that I could run on myself?” I ask. “Or is it just cogito ergo sum?”
“Uh,” says Hanson, momentarily nonplussed. “The literature overwhelmingly allows you the strong presumption that you are.”
“Ha,” I say. “Right, because—”
“And, in fact,” Hanson continues, “people have made that the axiom of the hill they will die on: ‘I know I am conscious, and I’m sure about that, and that’s the end of the discussion.’”
“I find myself only… only pretty sure that I am conscious,” I say slowly.