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Posted: 10/10/2007 10:08:26 AM EST
LINK TO ARTICLE

August 14, 2007
Findings
Our Lives, Controlled From Some Guy’s Couch
By JOHN TIERNEY

Until I talked to Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University, it never occurred to me that our universe might be somebody else’s hobby. I hadn’t imagined that the omniscient, omnipotent creator of the heavens and earth could be an advanced version of a guy who spends his weekends building model railroads or overseeing video-game worlds like the Sims.

But now it seems quite possible. In fact, if you accept a pretty reasonable assumption of Dr. Bostrom’s, it is almost a mathematical certainty that we are living in someone else’s computer simulation.

This simulation would be similar to the one in “The Matrix,” in which most humans don’t realize that their lives and their world are just illusions created in their brains while their bodies are suspended in vats of liquid. But in Dr. Bostrom’s notion of reality, you wouldn’t even have a body made of flesh. Your brain would exist only as a network of computer circuits.

You couldn’t, as in “The Matrix,” unplug your brain and escape from your vat to see the physical world. You couldn’t see through the illusion except by using the sort of logic employed by Dr. Bostrom, the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford.

Dr. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or “posthumans,” could run “ancestor simulations” of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems.

Some computer experts have projected, based on trends in processing power, that we will have such a computer by the middle of this century, but it doesn’t matter for Dr. Bostrom’s argument whether it takes 50 years or 5 million years. If civilization survived long enough to reach that stage, and if the posthumans were to run lots of simulations for research purposes or entertainment, then the number of virtual ancestors they created would be vastly greater than the number of real ancestors.

There would be no way for any of these ancestors to know for sure whether they were virtual or real, because the sights and feelings they’d experience would be indistinguishable. But since there would be so many more virtual ancestors, any individual could figure that the odds made it nearly certain that he or she was living in a virtual world.

The math and the logic are inexorable once you assume that lots of simulations are being run. But there are a couple of alternative hypotheses, as Dr. Bostrom points out. One is that civilization never attains the technology to run simulations (perhaps because it self-destructs before reaching that stage). The other hypothesis is that posthumans decide not to run the simulations.

“This kind of posthuman might have other ways of having fun, like stimulating their pleasure centers directly,” Dr. Bostrom says. “Maybe they wouldn’t need to do simulations for scientific reasons because they’d have better methodologies for understanding their past. It’s quite possible they would have moral prohibitions against simulating people, although the fact that something is immoral doesn’t mean it won’t happen.”

Dr. Bostrom doesn’t pretend to know which of these hypotheses is more likely, but he thinks none of them can be ruled out. “My gut feeling, and it’s nothing more than that,” he says, “is that there’s a 20 percent chance we’re living in a computer simulation.”

My gut feeling is that the odds are better than 20 percent, maybe better than even. I think it’s highly likely that civilization could endure to produce those supercomputers. And if owners of the computers were anything like the millions of people immersed in virtual worlds like Second Life, SimCity and World of Warcraft, they’d be running simulations just to get a chance to control history — or maybe give themselves virtual roles as Cleopatra or Napoleon.

It’s unsettling to think of the world being run by a futuristic computer geek, although we might at last dispose of that of classic theological question: How could God allow so much evil in the world? For the same reason there are plagues and earthquakes and battles in games like World of Warcraft. Peace is boring, Dude.

A more practical question is how to behave in a computer simulation. Your first impulse might be to say nothing matters anymore because nothing’s real. But just because your neural circuits are made of silicon (or whatever posthumans would use in their computers) instead of carbon doesn’t mean your feelings are any less real.

David J. Chalmers, a philosopher at the Australian National University, says Dr. Bostrom’s simulation hypothesis isn’t a cause for skepticism, but simply a different metaphysical explanation of our world. Whatever you’re touching now — a sheet of paper, a keyboard, a coffee mug — is real to you even if it’s created on a computer circuit rather than fashioned out of wood, plastic or clay.

You still have the desire to live as long as you can in this virtual world — and in any simulated afterlife that the designer of this world might bestow on you. Maybe that means following traditional moral principles, if you think the posthuman designer shares those morals and would reward you for being a good person.

Or maybe, as suggested by Robin Hanson, an economist at George Mason University, you should try to be as interesting as possible, on the theory that the designer is more likely to keep you around for the next simulation. (For more on survival strategies in a computer simulation, go to www.nytimes.com/tierneylab.)

Of course, it’s tough to guess what the designer would be like. He or she might have a body made of flesh or plastic, but the designer might also be a virtual being living inside the computer of a still more advanced form of intelligence. There could be layer upon layer of simulations until you finally reached the architect of the first simulation — the Prime Designer, let’s call him or her (or it).

Then again, maybe the Prime Designer wouldn’t allow any of his or her creations to start simulating their own worlds. Once they got smart enough to do so, they’d presumably realize, by Dr. Bostrom’s logic, that they themselves were probably simulations. Would that ruin the fun for the Prime Designer?

If simulations stop once the simulated inhabitants understand what’s going on, then I really shouldn’t be spreading Dr. Bostrom’s ideas. But if you’re still around to read this, I guess the Prime Designer is reasonably tolerant, or maybe curious to see how we react once we start figuring out the situation.

It’s also possible that there would be logistical problems in creating layer upon layer of simulations. There might not be enough computing power to continue the simulation if billions of inhabitants of a virtual world started creating their own virtual worlds with billions of inhabitants apiece.

If that’s true, it’s bad news for the futurists who think we’ll have a computer this century with the power to simulate all the inhabitants on earth. We’d start our simulation, expecting to observe a new virtual world, but instead our own world might end — not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with a message on the Prime Designer’s computer.

It might be something clunky like “Insufficient Memory to Continue Simulation.” But I like to think it would be simple and familiar: “Game Over.”
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:16:53 AM EST
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:16:54 AM EST
This would be best contemplated while completely stoned.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:17:39 AM EST
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:18:34 AM EST
The Matrix has you......................
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:18:41 AM EST
I came up with that theory in 1985. Plagiaristic fuckers.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:18:45 AM EST

Originally Posted By kill-9:
This would be best contemplated while completely stoned.


"What if C-A-T really spelled DOG?"
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:19:17 AM EST
Puff Puff Pass
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:19:44 AM EST
If this is true, it's definitely running on a Microsoft OS.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:20:02 AM EST

Originally Posted By macman37:

Originally Posted By kill-9:
This would be best contemplated while completely stoned.


"What if C-A-T really spelled DOG?"


Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:22:34 AM EST
How do they know what chicken soup tastes like?

-Foxxz
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:23:28 AM EST

Originally Posted By Foxxz:
How do they know what chicken soup tastes like?

-Foxxz




It tastes like............ chicken.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:24:03 AM EST

Originally Posted By Strider47:
If this is true, it's definitely running on a Microsoft OS.


Oy! You ain't kidding!
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:24:39 AM EST
Wait, so the Matrix IS real ????? And we're living in it?????


Whoooaaaa
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:36:25 AM EST
You people have seriously never been stoned and dreamed this shit up on your own?

I must have been weird or something then because I have, about 15 years ago.

Yes, that would have been when Commodores still ruled the planet.



Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:37:25 AM EST
I'll take the blue pill please.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:38:34 AM EST

Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:39:27 AM EST

Originally Posted By Justa_TXguy:
You people have seriously never been stoned and dreamed this shit up on your own?


No.

I've never been stoned.

Occasionally while mowing the grass or while watching some horrid chick flick to appease a girl I was dating or while sitting in some god-awful meeting I have pondered the question of "What is reality?", but I've never come to the conclusion that I am in fact a chunk of computer code programmed to be insanely good looking, charismatic to a fault, and unbelievably good in bed.

I'll gladly leave those thoughts to the guys with poor hygiene who smoke joints while their Phish album plays in the background.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:39:39 AM EST
Matrix, destroying social lives since Star Wars.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:40:09 AM EST

Originally Posted By John_Wayne777:
If this is a computer simulation, how come I can't pull down the console and enable cheat codes like:

GOD or UNLIMITEDAMMO or ALLWEAPONS or 30FOOTWANG....



To get into the cheat code menu, you need to go out into the median of an interstate highway, then do the following steps. All facing north.
R-R-F-F-B-F-B-F-L-L then drop pants and moo like a cow. Then you can enter the cheat codes with your cell phone.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:42:00 AM EST

Originally Posted By John_Wayne777:
If this is a computer simulation, how come I can't pull down the console and enable cheat codes like:

GOD or UNLIMITEDAMMO or ALLWEAPONS or 30FOOTWANG....



...ARFCOMMOD... BABEMAGNET... UNLIMITEDFARTS

*sigh*

I'd break the Matrix with my 30FOOTWANG though...
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:44:39 AM EST
Old news. Ms. Cleo already told me this.

Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:44:48 AM EST

Originally Posted By macman37:
I'd break the Matrix with my 30FOOTWANG though...


My current 15 footer doesn't seem to be a problem for the system, so I think I could pull 30 off with no problem.

Wait....I discovered a cheat code that works....

If you holler LIGHTNING BOLT while staring at another person, it will make them run from you in terror....or at least that's what it will do to a coed. Unknown whether this enables some sort of fear function, or lets them glimpse the 30 foot wang....

I'll update when I have more information.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:45:34 AM EST
I have noticed some errors in the simulation.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:46:15 AM EST
WOW, plagarizing Doug Adams for fun and profit.

Pretty sure this has been done before, I think it was called the hitchhikers guide to the galaxy.


Not very original of the professor, now is it.

TXL
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:47:16 AM EST
Did anybody else see a black cat?
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:48:17 AM EST
Did anybody else see a black cat?
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 10:48:44 AM EST

Originally Posted By TexasRifleman:
Did anybody else see a black cat?


Oh shit just heard a knock at the door.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:00:57 AM EST
[Last Edit: 10/10/2007 11:01:36 AM EST by markmars]
This theory is more like the move the 13th floor, then the Matrix. In the movie they build a stimulated world based on 1920’s Los Angeles and come to find out that the they the creators of this stimulation are in fact a stimulation of a more futuristic society great movie.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:02:46 AM EST
[Last Edit: 10/10/2007 11:09:29 AM EST by bdub]
http://www.simulation-argument.com/

read his actual writings

nick bostrom is awesome. Ive read most all of his stuff because of debate. He makes the argument that for every second we delay space colonization 100 trillion potential human lives are lost.

http://www.nickbostrom.com/astronomical/waste.html

Go to his site and read it all. its great.

ETA: He also talks about super intelligence and posthumanism.

really interesting are his theories on world ending catastrophe.
http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0512204



Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:05:40 AM EST

Originally Posted By macman37:

Originally Posted By John_Wayne777:
If this is a computer simulation, how come I can't pull down the console and enable cheat codes like:

GOD or UNLIMITEDAMMO or ALLWEAPONS or 30FOOTWANG....



...ARFCOMMOD... BABEMAGNET... UNLIMITEDFARTS

*sigh*

I'd break the Matrix with my 30FOOTWANG though...


You are using the wrong ones. Try IDDQD and IDKFA

If those don't work. GABBAGABBAHEY
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:10:01 AM EST
reading that made my eyes splay.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:12:17 AM EST
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:13:18 AM EST
There is no spoon.

(and this is certainly not a tag)
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:14:37 AM EST
Hmmm....tag
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:17:38 AM EST


Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:20:57 AM EST

Originally Posted By Beltfedleadhead:
LINK TO ARTICLE

<snip>
The math and the logic are inexorable once you assume that lots of simulations are being run.
<snip>


You can reach any conclusion you want if you first make the necessary assumptions.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:23:27 AM EST

Originally Posted By NoStockBikes:
I came up with that theory in 1985. Plagiaristic fuckers.


Me too, As a bored pre-teen while staring at the popcorn ceiling. No drugs involved. Later I mentioned the concept to my friends and got chastised. Later, I came to the realization that it doesn't matter what the origin of this world is. Just live within it. Conform as little as possible and have fun.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:25:48 AM EST
fuck, does this mean when I die, I go a microsoft reprocessing center?

that is hell....
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:25:55 AM EST
BRB,

I'm off to try to jump from the roof of the house to the garage.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:28:40 AM EST

You couldn’t, as in “The Matrix,” unplug your brain and escape from your vat to see the physical world.


In theory:

Says who? What if that's what happens when your physical body dies and the 'soul' driving it detatches itself? Hmmmmmmm.....
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:30:50 AM EST

Dr. Bostrom doesn’t pretend to know which of these hypotheses is more likely, but he thinks none of them can be ruled out. “My gut feeling, and it’s nothing more than that,” he says, “is that there’s a 20 percent chance we’re living in a computer simulation.”



Dont know why, but that made me laugh a little bit........it is interesting to think about though. I know I've wondered these things myself before.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:33:46 AM EST
Reincarnation = teh reboot button

Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:34:08 AM EST
[Last Edit: 10/10/2007 11:35:13 AM EST by Lucidvizion]

Originally Posted By MRW:
It fits with the Biblical view of reality quite seamlessly. This world we call physical reality is not ultimate reality at all, but a dim shadow, a projection, of some deeper, more fundamental reality. Where is heaven? On what level of reality do angels and demons exist, and where is the immaterial human soul located? I wonder if part of the curse of the Fall of man was that he was locked into only four of the ten dimensions (or locked out of the other six), for now.

Virtual reality indeed


I am far from what you would call religious but I made the same observation.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:36:42 AM EST
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:39:03 AM EST
Yeah, yeah, I've heard this scenario in the old X-1 radio shows.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:43:26 AM EST
A long time ago (can't remember the title), I read a book where an advanced
civilization uploaded simulations of themselves and all their stuff into a giant
computer.

The story was that it was the only way to save themselves from a dying planet ..... or something.

Sci-Fi is not my bag.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:43:46 AM EST
[Last Edit: 10/10/2007 11:44:28 AM EST by MauserMark]
whatever, I'm the only real form of existence.

Solipsism.
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:48:50 AM EST
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 11:52:13 AM EST
tag for when my computer crashes
Link Posted: 10/10/2007 6:06:44 PM EST
[Last Edit: 10/10/2007 6:07:34 PM EST by justsayin]
I read an article on the cutting edge techniques they used to create the huge CGI armies in the "rings" movies.
They created individual soldier types, with differing skills and skill levels, rudimentary personalities, different aggression levels, and a certain amount of AI for EACH individual soldier.
They would then group these soldiers and put them at war with each other with NO set instructions controlling outcome, to determine which to keep and delete.
They said once an entire group that was vastly outnumbered stopped attacking, and RAN AWAY.
They had NOT been programmed to do this..... They said it was the eeriest thing they had ever seen.
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