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Thursday, February 28, 2013

The simulation hypothesis and other things I don’t believe

Some years ago at SciFoo I sat through a session by Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute, who elaborated on the risk that we live in a computer simulation and somebody might pull the plug, thereby deliberately or accidentally erasing all of mankind.

My mind keeps wandering back to Bostrom’s session. You might think that discussing the probability of human extinction due to war, disease or accident is a likely cause of insomnia. The simulation hypothesis in particular is the stuff that dreams and nightmares are made of - a modern religion with an omnipotent programmer. In this light, it is not so surprising that the simulation hypothesis is popular on the internet, though Keanu Reeves clearly had a role in this popularity, which now gives me an excuse to decorate my blog with his photo.

But while I do sometimes get headaches over questions concerning the nature of reality, the simulation hypothesis is not among the things that keep me up at night (neither is Keanu Reeves, thanks for asking).  After some soul searching I realized that I don’t believe in the simulation hypothesis for the same reason I don’t believe in alien abductions. Before science fiction literature and its alien characters became popular, there was no such thing as alien abduction. Instead, people commonly thought they were possessed by demons. It is believed today that sleep paralysis is a likely origin of hallucinations and out-of-body experiences, an interesting topic on its own right, but the point here is that popular culture creates hypotheses, and present culture is a collective limit to our imagination.

People today ponder the idea that reality is a computer simulation in the same way that post-Newtonian intellectuals thought of the universe as a clockwork. The clockwork universe theory seems bizarre today, now that we know many things that Newtonian mechanics cannot describe. But then people used to wear strange wigs and women stood around in dresses barely able to walk, let alone breathe, so what did they know. And chances are, 200 years from now the simulation hypothesis will seem equally bizarre as the idea to transfer fat from the butt to the lips or take notes by rubbing graphite on paper.

A more scientific way to phrase this is that the simulation hypothesis creates a coincidence problem, much like the coincidence problem for the cosmological constant. For the cosmological constant the coincidence problem is this: Throughout the expansion of the universe, matter dilutes and the constant stays constant. Why do we just happen to live in a period when both have about the same value? For the simulation hypothesis the coincidence problem is this: Why do we just happen to live in a period where we discover the very means by which the universe is run?

To me, it’s too much of a coincidence to be plausible. I will put this down as a corollary of the Principle of Finite Imagination “Just because humans do not or cannot imagine something doesn’t mean it does not or cannot exist.” Corollary:  “If humans put forward a hypothesis based on something they have just learned to imagine, it is most likely a cultural artifact and not of fundamental relevance.” Though the possibility exists that present day human imagination is the eclipse of scientific insight, the wish to be special vastly amplifies believes in this possibility.

That having been said, another way to approach the question is to ask for scientific evidence of the simulation hypothesis. There has been some work on this, and occasionally it appears on the arxiv, such as this paper last year which studied the possibility that The Simulator runs state-of-the art lattice QCD. I find it peripherally interesting and applaud the authors for applying scientific thought to vagueness (for other attempts at this, check their reference list). Alas, the scenario that Bostrom has in mind is infinitely meaner than theirs. As he explains in this paper, to save on calculational power only that part of reality is simulated that is currently observed:
“In order to get a realistic simulation of human experience, much less [than simulating the entire universe] is needed – only whatever is required to ensure that the simulated humans, interacting in normal human ways with their simulated environment, don’t notice any irregularities.”
So you’d never observe any effects of finite lattice spacing because whenever you look all symmetries are restored. Wicked. It also creates other scientific problems.

To begin with, unless you want to populate the simulation by hand, you need a process in which self-awareness is created out of simpler bits. And to prevent self-aware beings from noting the simulation’s limits, you then need a monitoring program that identifies when the self-aware parts attempt to make an observation and exactly which observation. Then you need to provide them with this observation, so that the observation is the same as they would have gotten had you run the full simulation. This might work fine in some cases, say, vacuum fluctuations, because nobody really cares what a vacuum fluctuation does when you’re not looking. If you have a complex system however, reducing the complexity systematically and blowing it back up is difficult if not impossible.

Take a system that’s still fairly simple, like a galaxy. If nobody is pointing a telescope at it, you don’t want to bother with its time evolution. But then how do you make sure that observations at different times are consistent? And then there’s the possibility that somewhere in the galaxy that humans weren’t observing intelligent life developed that would one day land on planet Earth. If your simulation by design doesn’t take into account events like this, it’s strangely anthropocentric. It also then raises the question why bother with 7 billion people to begin with? Would not an island do, and the rest of us pop in and out of existence to amuse the islanders? This reminds me, I have to book a flight to Iceland.

To avoid these problems, The Simulator would use a much simpler method: deter observations that might test the limits, much like it is difficult to reach the boundary of Dark City. And suddenly it makes sense, doesn’t it? All the recent budget cuts to research funding, even in areas like theoretical physics, the possibly most cost-efficient insight engine running on little more than graphite rubbing on paper. It’s all to deter us from discovering the boundaries of our simulation. Now if saying hello to the programmer who runs the simulation we live in isn’t an argument to support basic research, then I don’t know what is. I’ll leave you with this thought and book my flight before I pop out of existence again.

44 comments:

  1. Quantized gravitation and SUSY show reality is not modeled. "So you'd never observe any effects of finite lattice spacing because whenever you look all symmetries are restored" The movie Inception. Perceived existence is layered deceit whose coarse mesh is dreamer auto-elaborated at scale. "It's all to deter us from discovering the boundaries of our simulation." A chirped pulse FT microwave spectrometer. Optically-resolved D_3-trishomocubane (from p-benzoquinone and JP-10 fuel precursor). Three days of supersonic vacuum expansion 5 kelvin rotation spectra (left shoe, right shoe, racemic). Find physics by looking where it is not.

    Mankind cannot imagine its future. Science fiction lists defective futures, blocking their creation. Discovery finds loopholes.

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  2. Interesting, Bee, and I basically agree with you. I still think it is possible, and the right answer to "can we know" is neither purity but rather, "maybe." As you note and has been proposed, there could be tell-tale signs that we (or me! - heh) were in such a simulation etc. Note, let's don't confuse this with the issue of whether the universe is just a math model (ie, "made of math") which means more like, the distribution of features and numbers that can describe it, literally is the reality and not just math "about" other, real material stuff (like Max Tegmark's MUH and modal realism.) Some may consider the two similar or equivalent, but they aren't. (Sorry no time for more detailed case from this HS classroom.)

    I posit a fundamental distinction between mere "data processing" and "really existing" (assuming that modal realists are wrong, and there is one ...) It works off some ideas of Jaron Lanier, and I described it in my blog post here:
    http://tyrannogenius.blogspot.com/2010/09/jaron-lanier-inspires-this-takedown-of.html. Basically, I argue that since the formalism of a computational system does not and cannot identify the distinction between "this procoess is running on a material system" versus "this is just a conceptual operation", our being able to sense that we "really exist" means that our minds are not just "computations." If not, then they can't be simulated by mere conmpuations, either. (Intution pump - you can't write a computer program, that following through the operations "on paper" would give one result, while if actually embodied, would give another result - other than cheating by non-deterministic, non-computational tricks like physical RND generators etc.) Food for thought.

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  3. This is interesting.

    There are three broad kinds of experiments that one can devise to test hypotheses involving the relevance of quantum effects to the phenomenon of conscious ness. The three kinds address three different scale ranges associated roughly with tissue-to-cell (1cm-10 μ m), cell-to- protein (10 μ m-10nm) and protein-to-atom (10nm-1Å) sizes. Note that we are excluding experiments that aim to detect quantum effects at the “whole hum an” or even “society” level as these have consistently given either negative results or been plagued by irreproducibility and bad science (e.g. the various extra sensory perception and remote viewing experiments [4]). TOWARDS EXPERIMENTAL TESTS OF QUANTUM EFFECTS IN CYTOSKELETAL PROTEINS

    I have been having extreme difficulties accepting such a hypothesis myself, yet, I have got myself wondering how the universe could at it initial states thought to have expressed itself as Kravtsov may have displayed then for me now, seeing it as some neurological basis as to what the "mind is" in this universe. I might have said, Lightning, as Strings strike?:)

    Then, the question of being self aware? Is consciousness, a emergent possibility? Do we create reality by observing?

    These are Noetic principles Edgar Mitchell might have for you that forced his thinking into searching for the answers to his own experience. Not in religion, but in ancient thoughts about esoteric applicable functions as to what enlightenment may mean. For Edgar Mitchell it was about such possibilities for a man of science himself to being able to have such an experience.

    Imagine then that such a possibility can exist for you to be in "two separate subjective states" so as to imply that you can be "aware of being aware?"

    This goes to the notion that how deep you go in terms of your subjective experience there is something still "aware of you" in all of it.

    We all would like to try and emulate nature, as well as the fundamentals of consciousness Oui/Non? So what do we do that is natural in terms of quantum effects? Can you identify these things in nature? This is a leading idea then in terms of the physics of organic chemistry?

    Best,

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  4. It is always interesting that what we see of reality is so "circumspect by the rules and regulations which we adhere too," as a foundation of our intellectual dominance( I shall not forever call an individual a Copernican:). You are the Observer are you not?.

    Consciousness Emerges From Light

    How is information then allotted so that we can say it is always at our finger tips?:)Or, it is granted to any subjective, reflective state, that such an idea can emerge from places unknown? Perhaps, you just did not remember where you seen it? Perhaps you were connecting neurons in way that may be similar to a new universe coming into being?

    A thought crossed my mind today that it does not matter that such a condition could exist, for an earth to be out their amongst the many stars. I thought, for how ever that biology developed, or, evolved, it would be as much to understand the culture, is as too demonstrate such a search for our historical forbears and to try and understand them. See how alien that sounds?

    Best,

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  5. "Take a system that’s still fairly simple, like a galaxy."

    I understand the point you are making, but until we know how galaxies form and what they are primarily composed of, I'm not sure that we can safely characterize them as "simple".

    We know that they have 100 bilion moving parts that we can observe, and at least 10 times more that we cannot observe.

    Theoretical physics: Modeling a cow: Consider a sphere...

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  6. Perhaps, question the relevance of Theoretical Physics and Organic Chemistry?

    Spectra are complex because each spectrum holds a wide variety of information. For instance, there are many different mechanisms by which an object, like a star, can produce light - or using the technical term for light, electromagnetic radiation. Each of these mechanisms has a characteristic spectrum. Let's look at a spectrum and examine each part of it. Introduction to Spectroscopy

    Best,

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  7. “If humans put forward a hypothesis based on something they have just learned to imagine, it is most likely a cultural artifact and not of fundamental relevance.”

    This is related to Barrow's remark that a universe simple enough for us to understand might be too simple to contain us.

    I disagree, in general, though, with your main point. It sounds like we can never really understand anything, since this coincidence argument could be applied to everything. Just because there was a series of wrong ideas in the past does not mean that science doesn't ever converge on the right idea. It's very unlikely to win the lottery, yet someone wins every week.

    Another point: Usually, Moore's law etc is invoked to demonstrate that, since it looks like we will soon have the computational power to simulate living beings etc, then it must be probable that we ourselves are simulated. This might be true, but once one admits the possibility that one is a simulation (or a Boltzmann brain), then one has to give up the idea that we can learn anything at all about the real universe, since the laws of nature in the simulation might not be the same as the ones in the universe in which the simulation resides (and false memories of a Boltzmann brain can include laws of nature from a completely different universe than the one in which the Boltzmann brain resides).

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  8. Your coincidence argument, Bee, is clever: "Why do we just happen to live in a period where we discover the very means by which the universe is run?" It is also reminiscent of another of Nick Bostrom's favorites: the doomsday argument.

    But your argument fails. Suppose the simulation hypothesis is true. Then future historians will be making lots and lots of simulations of various periods of their past. What period will they mostly focus on? Of course the most interesting one, which as a physicist would have to agree is the one "where we discover the very means by which the universe is run". And so since most simulations will be of that period, finding ourselves in that period is exactly what we would expect!

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  9. Hi Olle,

    The doomsday argument is nonsense. It assumes a statistical distribution over time, when there are clearly causal relations and one should instead talk about distributions of paths that respect the causality. Events with causal relations among them are clearly not statistically independent. I discussed this long ago here.

    Your argument about "future historians" makes a lot of unwarranted assumptions. To begin with that there are future historians and that they are primarily interested in *our* past rather than in the past of some other simulation or civilization or call it what you like. I also don't know why it would be interesting to re-run the past over and over again. As a physicist, what I would want to do is have a controlled variation of initial conditions so that one can study *different* time evolutions (pasts), which is essentially the opposite of what you say. Best,

    Sabine

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  10. Aventivre wie gvnther gen isenlande
    nach prvnhilt fvor

    Itniuowe maere | sich hvoben vber rin
    man sagte daz da waere | manech scoenen magedin
    der gedaht im eine erwerben | gvnther der kvnech gvot
    davon begvnde dem rechen | vil sere hohen der mvot...

    Es ging nicht guot aus :=(

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  11. As you saw if you followed my link, Sabine, I agree with you that the doomsday argument is highly problematic. But if you reject the doomsday arguemnt ("it is too much of a coincidence that we should live among the earliest percentiles of humans"), then you really ought to reject your own anti-simulation argument (which I take the liberty of paraphrasing as "it is too much of a coincidence that we should live in the very percentile of humanity witnessing the fundamental breakthrough on the nature of reality").

    Concerning the scenario I outlined, I entirely agree that it contains a lot of implicit and unwarranted assuptions. I did not mean to say it describes reality, only as a possible reality serving as a counterexample to your argument. The idea theat future historians might want to vary initial conditions need not invalidate my scenario, and in fact I touched upon that very idea on p 127 of my latest book:

    "Varför skulle det vara förbehållet professionella historiker att köra dessa simuleringar? Nog kunde det bli ett populärt nöje, åtminstone bland lagom nördigt inriktade personer, att i sina datorer upprepa historien, eller ännu hellre se hur den hade utvecklats då förutsättningarna varieras på olika sätt? Kanske Gud egentligen är en pubertetsfinnig 15-åring anno 2243 som kommit att fundera över det otroligt jämna amerikanska presidentvalet år 2000 och över vad som egentligen hade kunnat hända om den där religiöse och halvt imbecille alkoholisten till motkandidat faktiskt hade vunnit?"

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  13. Hi Bee,

    My experience being when given a choice between the blue pill and the red one there’s not much to choose from, as not confident that the certainty of either would result in a better reality since suspecting the truth to be overrated :-)


    ” O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams.”

    -William Shakespeare, “Hamlet Act 2, scene 2”

    Best,

    Phil

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  14. Does our physical world come up with solutions to NP-Complete problems?
    ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NP-complete )

    If it does, then postulating us to be a simulation in a computer will require a really super-duper computer, or P=NP, or else, they take initial conditions from our simulated world, get their physical world to provide the result and then feed it back into the simulation. All of these are implausible.

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  15. I agree with you completely. The whole "simulation" idea is cultural, but it antedates the modern computer.

    One of my favorite takes on it is Heinlein's 1941 short story "They" in which the protagonist is a patient in a mental hospital being treated for his solipsistic delusion. * SPOILER * The twist in the story is that he really is living in a simulation. * SPOILER * Another fun story in this vein is "The Little Terror" (Will Jenkins) which puts the idea that nothing exists if it is not perceived to the test. It's a charming story.

    Of course, the idea is much older. Wasn't it a major tenent of medieval Christian theology that this world was but an illusion, and on Judgement Day God would roll back the heavens to reveal the true nature of the universe? The Hindu take on the nature of the real world as mere illusion is pre-Christian and much older.

    When I was a kid growing up, aliens were little green men. Then, somehow, alien civilization changed and they started looking like Spielberg's pale elongated aliens. Has alien physiology changed that much in my lifetime?

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  16. In your opinion is the corollary "If humans put forward a hypothesis based on something they have just learned to imagine, it is most likely a cultural artifact and not of fundamental relevance." applicable to non euclidean/differential geometry and general relativity? If yes the corollary is false.

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  17. That the sun makes a journey around the earth is an illusion. Is it illusions that we are discussing?

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  18. Hi Phillip,

    You write:

    "I disagree, in general, though, with your main point. It sounds like we can never really understand anything, since this coincidence argument could be applied to everything."

    Presently the coincidence argument could be applied to pretty much everything that makes claims about the nature of reality simply because science is a very recent development in the evolution of mankind, yes. My criticism on Tegmark's mathematical universe is essentially the same. To believe that reality must be fundamentally mathematical because we don't presently know of anything better than mathematics to describe reality strikes me as terribly shortsighted given that we basically only just discovered the power of mathematics.

    Alas, it's not true that we can never understand anything, it's a question of qualifiers. Science does not normally make claims of knowing the nature of reality. Science is about finding accurate ways to describe specific systems. It comes with this that one knows what system the description is good for and to what accuracy. In that sense, we do understand a lot, always within the range of applicability of the theory. Best,

    Sabine

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  19. Robert:

    I meant "simple" as compared to, say, a human brain. Best,

    Sabine

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  20. Hi Olle,

    The coincidence argument has absolutely nothing to do with the number of people on the planet and their statistical distribution over time. I don't know what connection you see. The doomsday argument relies on the increase of population over time. The coincidence argument would apply also if there was only one person in the whole universe trying to figure out the nature of reality. Best,

    Sabine

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  21. Hi Unknown,

    If the hypothesis is that differential geometry is the fundamental nature of reality, I would argue that the corollary applies. But I'll agree that my formulation is sloppy in the sense that it doesn't specify the type of hypothesis it refers to, though it should be clear from the context. As I said in my comment to Phillip above, if you properly specify the range of applicability of your theory then we can claim to understand. Best,

    Sabine

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  22. Hi Kaleberg,

    This is interesting! As so often, science fiction has been ahead of science. Best,

    Sabine

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  23. In science the belief or disbelief has no place. We have arguments for hypothesis or against it - or we haven't. That's all.

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  26. Under label of virtual reality I had forgotten that I had recorded this previous subject, "Reality is Information?" ....must be old age?:)

    I was having trouble with some insights that had been generated by another individual quite similar to proposition given by Nick Bostrum's topic. An individual writes," As I recall he considers the computer running the simulation, literally. Campbell does not."

    The thing is that in subjective states, who would ever imagine that that one could gain access to untold amounts of information and it was nothing more then you hold the fishing line(your fishing bowl) and sending it deep in tho the vast reservoir of information. What is on your hook is your connection. Some people relax by streams.

    So while not being completely up today here and seeing this distinction, I of course go off on tangent. Sorry. Of course I respect your views on the recognition that what you see is all there is and that to consider the depth of the subjective reality far exceeds what a lot of us never considered before. Do you not think our own brain not capable of more then that supercomputer.

    NASA Supercomputer Enables Largest Cosmological Simulations

    THREE “BOLSHOI” SUPERCOMPUTER SIMULATIONS OF THE EVOLUTION OF THE UNIVERSE ANNOUNCED BY AUTHORS FROM UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, NEW MEXICO STATE UNIVERSITY

    Supercomputers are fancy ways of generating perspective views where one might of thought brain, could really mean brain?:)Your developing the capacity right?:)


    Best,

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  27. You have the capacity to run your own simulations, yes. You do that every time you think of tomorrow and what you have to do. That is a a valuable insight to consider although I cannot lay claim to it.:)

    http://www.eskesthai.com/2012/11/tedxcambridge-jeff-lieberman-on-science.html

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  28. In AWT the Universe is the more random, the wider/more general scope is used for its observation. Such an Universe is infinite, eternal and therefore it doesn't requires to be simulated. After all, how the simulation concept could help the universe explanation? It's the similar semantic circular reasoning like the assumption of Universe beginning.

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  29. Sabine, you ask what connection I see between your coincidece argument and the doomsday argument. Let me make it explicit.

    You write "Why do we just happen to live in a period where we discover the very means by which the universe is run? To me, it’s too much of a coincidence to be plausible". Now, to say that something is "too much of a coincidence" means claiming that it requires some specific event of very small probability to have happened. To make sense of that statement, we need to specify the probability measure. Here you leave it to the reader to fill in the blanks. I took (overhastily, it seems, and under influence from previous exposure to the doomsday argument) the probability measure to be uniform distribution on the set of all humans who have ever lived or will live.

    Apparently I misunderstood you, and I'm still puzzled what kind of probability model you have in mind, especially after your latest comment that "The coincidence argument would apply also if there was only one person in the whole universe trying to figure out the nature of reality". But assuming that the true nature of reality in ever discovered, and that I am the only person ever "trying to figure out the nature of reality", then the event that I live in the very period that the discovery is made sounds more like a necessity than a coincidence.

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  30. What you seem to be somewhat discussing is to some extend wether there exist some god(s).

    That is if I replace "simulation" with "creation by god" and if I replace "computer" with "human mind accessible universe" then your discussion looks very similar to that discussion.

    Finally wether something feels "simulated" or "real" is quite a question of perception. You may eventually want to read:
    http://www.randform.org/blog/?p=1424

    And since there are quite some humans who claim that they already saw/perceived/DISCOVERED the "simulator(s)" your "coincidence problem" seems to be spread over all centuries.

    you wrote:

    "To begin with, unless you want to populate the simulation by hand, you need a process in which self-awareness is created out of simpler bits. And to prevent self-aware beings from noting the simulation’s limits, you then need a monitoring program that identifies when the self-aware parts attempt to make an observation and exactly which observation."



    Why should self-awareness (of limitations) be necessary to simulate self-aware entities? In fact a simulation of (aware) entities could happen by un-self-awarely mimicking a construction process and/or by chance. In that case your simulation would neither be a "creation of an aware god" nor be it "fully self-organized by some abstract laws and/or random outer conditions". And thus there seems to be in particular no reason why simulated entities need to be kept from noticing that they are simulated like in order "to save on computational power" - that is they could awarely simulate without knowing that they are simulated themselves or they could even simulate whatever while being completely unaware of whatever. Both would need calculational power.

    In fact I do think that nowadays "simulations" in computer games (and related computer environments) use up a lot of power, labour, time etc. and that this seems to have already quite an economic impact:
    http://www.azimuthproject.org/azimuth/show/Economic+growth+and+limitations

    So you’d never observe any effects of finite lattice spacing because whenever you look all symmetries are restored. Wicked. It also creates other scientific problems.


    (short side remark: There exist of course also fractals)

    Considering the alien question: The reason that we have sofar not detected any "aliens" could of course be also for the reason that mankind has sofar been regarded as a kind of "baby civilization" and has thus sofar been protected from any shocks which could result from meeting the aliens...




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  31. Do we operate under the assumption that there is a single reality, one that serves as standard for the real? Is that the first, unspoken axiom of our science?

    Is it not equally and simultaneously true that there are a multitude of realities, one for every distinction in the whole and each one describing over time its own valid conic section of the real?

    As a practical matter, we each of us wanders in our separate universe, often with seeming sanity, other times less so. Then, this being “real,” who makes that decision? Do we try to reach consensus, compare the reflections upon our imperfectly coded surfaces? Do we employ the weight of some device to pin it down, declare that here and now “this is so”? But, is that necessarily a universal truth, a matter of every moment?

    Psychology aside, what is the nature of scientific reality in this regard?

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  32. nad0815:

    The limits on precision and the attempt to hide them are necessary for Bostrom's argument because he wants to show that we are exceedingly likely to live in a simulation. Now if you take part of the universe and use it to simulate another universe, then iterate, everything we presently know about the laws of nature would tell you that you cannot in fact repeat this process arbitrarily often and that it isn't so likely after all that we're simulated as compared to not being simulated. I've tried for a long time to make sense of a universe that's fundamentally self-similar over many scales, one in which you wouldn't run into this issue, but haven't managed to. There's some rather deep issues about the scale dependence of gauge couplings that make this very difficult to realize mathematically. Best,

    Sabine

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  33. Hi Olle,

    What I mean is roughly thought-time expended on the issue, which does depend on the number of people thinking about a question (here: fundamental nature of reality), but also simply on the time that's being spent thinking about it. That having been said, if you'd tell me that for 100 billion years all intelligent beings in the universe have tried to find a description of nature that's more useful and more powerful than mathematics, but failed to come up with something, then I'd assign some probability to the statement there just is none. If you tell me that some thousand humans have thought about the question whether we live in a computer simulation for two decades and came to the conclusion that it's most likely what the fundamental nature of reality is, I assign this a very small probability. Now, I have little ambition to quantify what means small or not so small, because to do that you'd have to know something about the link between thought-time and scientific progress, but I am basically assuming that there's a positive correlation between both and that compared to the history of the universe half a generation of humans is not much, they can't gather a terrible lot of input simply because of resource limitations, and their brains have limits too. Best,

    Sabine

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  34. OK Sabine, that's a different argument from what I first thought, and with little or no similarity to the doomsday argument. But to me the argument as you now phrase it sounds like skepticism-gone-to-far. A creationist could use your argument, mutatis mutandis, to conclude that evolution by natural selection is most likely not at all how we came about, as it would be too much of a coincidence that so-and-so many biologists (with their limited brains) over the course of merely a century and a half would be right about it. A climate denialist could similarly adapt your argument to conclude that CO2-induced global warming is most likely not a real thing. And so on.

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  35. Hi Olle,

    Neither evolution nor climate change make any claims about the nature of reality. They're models with applicability to specific systems over some amount of time. The scientific method works on that very well. If you wanted to use the coincidence argument on that you'd have to make a statement saying it's unlikely that soandsomany human scientists can come up with a good model (good meaning: to such and such precision) for climate change 50 years after they recorded first evidence. I don't know why this should be unlikely. The human brain is quite capable of doing this and we have the resources (time, people, knowledge). What reason do we have to even believe that the human brain is capable of comprehending the nature of reality? Zero. And if, what reason to we have to believe that we've already discovered it? Zero. Do we have the resources to ever do it? We don't even know. Best,

    Sabine

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  36. So it boils down to your belief that the human brain is incapable of understanding the fundamental nature of reality. OK, that's a position I obviously cannot refute...

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  37. Hi Olle,

    No, I don't think the human brain is necessarily incapable of understanding the fundamental nature of reality. What I'm saying is it's a scientifically very difficult question and we haven't yet spend very much person-hours on it, so everything we've come up with so far is unlikely to be correct because we're missing too much knowledge and understanding.

    Look, if the scientific area of archaeology didn't exist and just yesterday somebody dug out the first ever found relic from the stone age and reconstructed the history of mankind from it, would you believe the story they told you? I at least wouldn't. Even if there's no known evidence speaking against that story, it just seems exceedingly unlikely that the first model constructed from the first evidence got it all correct. It is possible it is correct if it's in agreement with all existing evidence, but if you believe that there is more to uncover it seems very unlikely that no new evidence will ever challenge this story.

    So you could say that it's not that I don't think the human brain is capable of understanding the nature of reality, I just simply don't think we have all the pieces together and have had time enough to assemble them correctly.

    Best,

    Sabine

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  38. All right, Sabine, perhaps we're converging towards much less disagreement than it seemed at first. When you write, concerning the quest for the fundamental nature of reality, that you "don't think we have all the pieces together and have had time enough to assemble them correctly", then about this we're in total agreement! I'm pretty sure Nick Bostrom would agree as well, as would any sane, non-religious and scientifically literate person... I just don't think the italicized view has much import on whether or not we live in a computer simulation.

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  39. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  40. Well could be if reality is something like Julian Barbour's Platonia or Paola Zizzi's computational loop quantum gravity.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platonia_(philosophy)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paola_Zizzi

    I would still think anybody pulling plugs would mostly effect their own reality though we could be caught in kind of a statistical average of plug pullers.

    From Knight-Jadczyk, Laura (2013-01-15). Comets and the Horns of Moses (The Secret History of the World) (pp. 358-359). Red Pill Press. Kindle Edition:

    Information Theory is possibly the bridge between ex nihilo creation and the theory of evolution. Information can – and does – exist in a non-physical state and some of that information could very well transition into matter, which might then dynamically interact with additional information to get the evolution ball rolling. This appears to me to be what was behind the ideas of the Stoics and led to their basic cosmic economy, which goes as follows:

    (a) The world is rationally organised, and so explicable and understandable. The pattern is complete throughout.

    (b) Within the organisation, different elements and parts are dynamic and governing, others are passive in function.

    (c) The world is purposefully providential; so there is also a design as well as a pattern, and the good end is discoverable by the rational understanding of this.

    (d) The divine element is completely and only immanent. [2]

    (e) As the system is an organic whole, the understanding of any part contributes to the understanding of the whole, and vice versa. Even the operation of any part is relevant to the operation of the whole. (Think fractals here.)

    (f) The operational law of cause and effect runs right through the behavior of phenomena and of living creatures.

    (g) The understanding and explanation of its operation lies within, and only within, itself.

    There are several things that follow logically from the above. The first is that we can learn about the world in any number of ways by examining the parts and applying principles of scale (as long as our analysis is objectively encompassing of the selected part). In other words, it is a more fully explicated version of ‘as above, so below’.

    Secondly, since we are operating with physical senses, we can only infer information/concepts from function and behavior of material things.

    Thirdly, god, per se, is not only the guiding force of the universe in the form of information, but is the prime constituent. As the Sufis say: everywhere you look, there is the Face of God.

    Finally, the purest form of godliness is rationality; that is, coming as close as possible to the information that informs, and forms, matter.

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  41. "Take a system that’s still fairly simple, like a galaxy. If nobody is pointing a telescope at it, you don’t want to bother with its time evolution. But then how do you make sure that observations at different times are consistent?"

    I heard that this is exactly how the core of "The Sims" runs. According to Will Wright, he program calculates the time evolution of other characters only if you interact with them, otherwise they are kind of freezed in the bkg.

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  42. Hi Olle,

    Well, it does not, of course, have any relevance for whether or not we live in a computer simulation, which either is the case or not. It just has a relevance to how seriously we should take the proposed idea. The more relevant information we are missing, the less likely we are to come to the correct conclusion. Given that mankind has only engaged in science for a few generations, we are most likely missing loads of relevant information, meaning it is extremely unlikely, though not impossible, that we'll come up with an explanation that is, fundamentally, correct. It can be correct to some approximation in some limit. But speculating that nature resembles approximately a computer simulation just drives home the point that it's a pretty much useless hypothesis generated by people who've spend too much time playing video games. Best,

    B.

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  43. I thank you, Sabine, for patiently explaining your position in spite of my repeated misunderstandings.

    But now it seems we've come to the end of the road of this discussion. Talking about "a pretty much useless hypothesis generated by people who've spend too much time playing video games" is just patronizing. How would we ever approach the fundamental nature of reality unless we're free to formulate hypotheses, and how would we ever be able to come up with hypotheses unless, ultimately, we drew inspiration from stuff we encounter in our lives? If you wish to make a strong case against the simulation hypothesis, I think you need to engage concretely with the arguments that have been put forth, rather than just reiterating your conviction that our civilization has not come far enough to be on the right track.

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