There’s a wave of irrationality sweeping through the over-privileged, ridiculously wealthy world of coddled millionaires and billionaires of Silicon Valley. Some of them seem to think The Matrix was a documentary, and that we’re code living in a simulation, so they like to get together and wank over this idea.
That we might be in a simulation is, Terrile argues, a simpler explanation for our existence than the idea that we are the first generation to rise up from primordial ooze and evolve into molecules, biology and eventually intelligence and self-awareness. The simulation hypothesis also accounts for peculiarities in quantum mechanics, particularly the measurement problem, whereby things only become defined when they are observed.
No, that makes no sense. It exhibits a lack of awareness of modern biology and chemistry; “primordial ooze” is a 19th century hypothesis that did not pan out and is not accepted anymore. This guy is ignorant of what would have to be simulated, and thinks that if we were just created with the appearance of having evolved, he wouldn’t have to understand biochemistry, therefore it would be simpler for him.
And where have I seen that “created with the appearance of X” phrase before?
If we are simulated, it doesn’t make the problems go away. This would have to be such a complete simulation that it includes all of physics and chemistry and biology; that models quantum chemistry and the mechanics of all the chemical reactions that produced us; that includes viruses and bacteria, and includes all the evolutionary intermediates; that has such a rich back story that it would be easier to have it evolve procedurally than to have some magic meta-universe coder generate it as some kind of arbitrary catalog. It just doesn’t work. It definitely isn’t a simpler explanation — because it would require all of the complexity of the universe plus an invisible layer of conscious entities running the whole show.
I’ve also heard that phrase that “creation is a simpler explanation than evolution” somewhere before.
I hesitate to say this because I’m no physicist myself, but I don’t think this Terrile fellow understands physics any better than I do, either. The observer effect does not imply a conscious, intelligent, aware observer, as he claims. The observer effect does not mean that there had to be some super-programmer watching over every physical process in order for it to occur.
I don’t think these yahoos even understand what a simulation is.
According to this week’s New Yorker profile of Y Combinator venture capitalist Sam Altman, there are two tech billionaires secretly engaging scientists to work on breaking us out of the simulation.
I think there must be some scientists somewhere who are milking a couple of gullible billionaires out of their cash.
This makes no sense. If we are, for instance, code programmed to respond to simulated stimuli and emit simulated signals into an artificial environment, how can you even talk about “breaking us out”? We are the simulation. Somehow disrupting the model is disrupting us.
If you don’t think this sounds like febrile religious crapola, let’s let Rich Terrile speak some more:
For Terrile, the simulation hypothesis has “beautiful and profound” implications.
First, it provides a scientific basis for some kind of afterlife or larger domain of reality above our world. “You don’t need a miracle, faith or anything special to believe it. It comes naturally out of the laws of physics,” he said.
Second, it means we will soon have the same ability to create our own simulations.
“We will have the power of mind and matter to be able to create whatever we want and occupy those worlds.”
I’ve written some simulations myself — I have some code lying around somewhere that models the interactions between a network of growth cones. We already have the ability to create our own simulations! These guys are all gaga over increasingly complex video games; those are simulations, too.
The NPCs in World of Warcraft do not have rich inner lives and immortality. They do not have an ‘afterlife’ when I switch off the computer. My growth cone models are not finding meaning in their activities because they are expressions of a higher domain of reality.
I, however, am wondering why the Great Programmer in the Sky filled my virtual reality with so many delusional idiots and oblivious loons. The NPCs in this universe are incredibly stupid.
It’s just a repackaged god argument. The problem is we have respected individuals like ndgt who are supposed to be popularizers of science spouting it now.
Gah! The simulation hypothesis again, I am so sick of that.
It goes: There is only one universe, but many simulations, and they can be nested.
Therefore the ratio of simulations to reality is infinity to one, so we are probably all living in a simulation.
BUT I SUPPORT HAT THEORY:
There is only one universe, but many hats, and they can be nested.
Therefore the ratio of hats to reality is infinity to one, so we are probably all living in a hat.
Somehow ostensibly competent thinkers take this shit seriously without ever seeing its obvious flaws.
Because artificial intelligence is hard, but artificial stupidity is easy.
David Gerard says
This is your punishment for not sponsoring the AI.
“But if cattle and horses and lions had hands
or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do,
horses like horses and cattle like cattle
also would depict the gods’ shapes and make their bodies
of such a sort as the form they themselves have.
Ethiopians say that their gods are snub–nosed and black
Thracians that they are pale and red-haired.”
– Xenophanes, quoted by Clement of Alexandria
Presumably whoever is running the simulation doesn’t want us to “break out”. That would spoil the aims of the simulation. I predict that if we ever get close to it, they will either pull the plug on all of us, or (hopefully) just pull the plug on as many billionaires as they think necessary.
Does this guy even logic? The solution he argues for is not a decrease in complexity, but an increase. Instead of having a naturalistic universe in which life arose, evolved and gained awareness, we have a computer-hosted universe in which those things were simulated. An explanation that requires a Simulator to have arisen somehow, in whatever universe it arose in, plus our own universe. The act of an awareness arising in a naturalistic universe hasn’t been obviated, but has been pushed back by one universe and has a ‘universe simulator’ added to it.
This truly is creationism, but with sci-fi terms substituted for fantasy ones.
Isn’t that the theme of Lidsville?
At first I read the guy’s name as Rich “Terrible” which made sense.
Sean Carroll has a pretty interesting post on the Simulation Hypothesis.
#5 You are absolutely right.
One Norman Mailers’s last books was about how god is actually an artist:
so of course these programmers would see god as a …. programmer.
For supposedly being folks who promote themselves as being the most creative in the world this is truly disappointing. If a white supremicist stated that god is a Jewish black woman, that would be news. This is not.
^^ yeah, that was indeed a helpful exploration into the logic failings of this.
…er Marshall’s reference to Carroll I mean.
@4 David Gerard
So the basilisk got PZ too?
This is particularly silly. I can make a pot out of clay, but that doesn’t imply the pot can make a hat. Just because a creator of some kind has a given ability doesn’t means anything it creates has the same capabilities.
Also the entire hypothesis is wildly unparsimonious, as Holms @ 7 points out.
#7 Holms: It’s worse than that. If everything is a simulation, it falls into the potential infinite regression trap, with simulators of simulators of simulators…ad infinitum. The goddists (as they are wont) will typically put an end on it and say there is an Ultimate Simulator behind all those lesser ones…but then they don’t notice it defeats the virility of an Original Creator if all His Products come to nothing but an endless parade of sham con-artists.
FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says
Gah, this fucking thing. It’s been showing up in my Facebook feed lately, usually accompanied by “wouldn’t it be great if it were true…” type rhetoric. It’s a clear demonstration that the non-religious also fear death.
And no, it most assuredly *wouldn’t* be great. This nonsense has the same problem of with suffering that god created universes do.
If the creators know about it and could stop it then they’re evil for not doing so.
If the don’t know about it, or do, but can’t stop it then they’re negligent.
The only reason I’d want to ‘break out’ would be to make the fuckers pay for all the horrible things that they’ve put people through.
Phillip Helbig says
The Guardian article is a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous. The former is the basic argument, which is much more subtle than you give it credit for, and not without reason has been debated by, quite literally, the great minds of our age. The latter is the “break out of the simulation” nonsense. Your argument against it is almost at the level of “Why are monkeys still around?” as a disproof of evolution.
Yes, I think the argument is probably wrong, but wrong on a level most people don’t even reach.
Tegmark: ““In order to make the argument in the first place, we need to know what the fundamental laws of physics are where the simulations are being made. And if we are in a simulation then we have no clue what the laws of physics are. ”
Readers of his book Our Mathematical Universe (of which the simulation argument occupies only a small part) will notice that Tegmark credits me by name for the argument above. (I’m also mentioned in a footnote, and in the introduction as a superhero in the same sentence as Ed Witten.)
(OK, my ego’s had a good massage and should be able to work well again for a while.)
A Masked Avenger says
Minor point, but I’m pretty sure he’s not saying that the observer effect requires a super-observer (namely, the computer running the simulation). Wearing my programmer hat, I’m pretty certain he means that when something isn’t being observed, the simulator doesn’t even bother to work out the details; when you observe it, the computer only then has to decide what it is that you actually observe. He’s suggesting that the observer effect is an example of “just in time” computing.
I’m not sure whether this is falsifiable. There are experiments intended to confirm that some “decisions” are indeed made at the point of observation, and not ahead of time. E.g., linked particles (which always have opposite spin) don’t decide their spin direction at the time they’re created or linked, but only at the point where the spin is measured (which leads to “information” “traveling” faster than light — what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”).
I’m no physicist, but I’m guessing that this interpretation of the observer effect is not falsifiable: IIUC, Schrödinger’s cat was a gedanken experiment meant to illustrate this very notion that if quantum “decisions” are made “just in time,” then in some weird sense (again quoting Einstein) we can’t be sure the moon is there until we look. I.e., the cat can’t be alive or dead until we look, because the lethal action can neither occur nor not occur until measured.
That’s aside from the FSM problem. A simulator, like a flying spaghetti monster, is inherently not falsifiable because anything we observe can be explained away as a rule of the simulation. So that was a fun little wank.
If we’re in a simulation, who cares? It’s a pretty convincing, even fulfilling, and enjoyable, one, and there’s nothing we can do about it. The only thing we can do is work to make things better for all people, and, since that’s the same only thing we can do if the world’s not a simulation, this is not high up on my list of things to worry about.
It’s right under invasion of aliens from Jupiter, in fact.
A Masked Avenger says
Yes, I enjoyed “The 13th Floor” as well. It was a great concept, and very well done. The only thing I would change: when Craig Bierko wakes up in futuristic California to find that he had broken out of the 20th-Century simulation, he needed to ask Gretchen Mol, “Have you ever been to Tucson?” right before the credits rolled.
Unrelated anecdote: I know someone who uses virtual private servers — virtual machines hosted by Amazon or whoever — but who doesn’t trust them not to pry into his data. So on the virtual machines, he runs his own virtual machine, and keeps his data inside that. There’s a performance hit, though. The thing stopping an infinite regress is that each additional layer adds a slowness factor: computation seconds per simulation second.
bluerizlagirl . says
The problem with the simulation hypothesis is that it unnecessarily increases complexity.
A bunch of elementary particles whose intrinsic behaviours and properties are conducive to eventually forming a non-God-requiring universe, appearing out of nowhere, is bloody unlikely — but it’s still a few orders of magnitude more likely than some complex being appearing out of nowhere and then constructing a universe that looks as though it does not require a God.
Jeff Lowery says
I believe we’re living in a simulation of a simulation, in another simulation. In fact, it’s simulations all the way down.
I have a degree in physics and no, “consciousness” and “quantum physics” do not belong in the same sentence ever.
There is nowhere in quantum mechanics where you need a “conscious” observer.
Terrile is a hack who does not understand quantum physics and does not realise he doesn’t understand it. He must be getting his physics from Deepak Chopra.
And yes, he’s a creationist. Shame on the Guardian for publishing such shit, and on the “journalist” for giving weight to such nonsense without calling it out or doing due research.
A Masked Avenger — yes, I think you’re right that he means that an observer collapsing a wave function is a way of reducing processing power, just like the old 3D polygon games like Elite would use simplified models for distant objects.
But (1) a lot of physicists don’t accept that observers collapse wave functions, and (2) even assuming this model, the universe carries *more* information around in “unobserved” space. Essentially an uncollapsed wave function is the sum of all possible quantum states of a system. Observing the wave function “collapses” it to a reduced number of possible states. This is, I think, the opposite of what Terrille was proposing.
A simulation is a simplified (computer or other) model of reality. For example, if I were to simulate the solar system, I could model all the planets and moons as ideal spheres with fixed mass and radius, thus neglecting any surface features (and also the rest of the universe…) If we are living in a simulation then reality is, by definition, more complex than the world around us. This cannot be a ‘simpler’ explanation for our existence in any sense.
Oy, it’s God Game. Again.
consciousness razor says
If by “accounts for” you mean “doesn’t offer any proper scientific resolution to the measurement problem,” in the same sense that God accounts for why flowers have a pleasant fragrance.
I don’t think anyone will be too impressed with the claim that, yes, the moon exists when you’re not looking, but only as lines of code in some other plane of existence because everything is simulated. That doesn’t look like a solution to the problem, which is a problem with the theory as it’s conventionally formulated, not some kind of bullshit “observer effect” in the world that needs an explanation.
Well, this isn’t clear at all from the article, but claims sort of like this are often premises in “the simulation argument,” which is distinct from the hypothesis. (Both are silly.) Sometimes people, creationists especially, jump straight to the conclusion. It goes something like this:
– We’re “observers” of some kind. (Hardly worth saying, but anthropic reasoning will appear shortly, so be prepared for suspicious crap.)
– If observers can make them, they’d make many simulated worlds.
– So, there are a vast number of simulated worlds, with potentially vast simulated populations which greatly exceed those of the non-simulated.
— So, we are more likely than not in a simulation.
However, to be fair, we do have a few features that are supposed to be prerequisites for simulation-making. We’re intelligent conscious agents, and we’ve made rudimentary simulations of non-universes. Those kinds of abilities and intentions, and so forth, seem to improve our chances of doing it compared to for example a (simulated or not) rock.
I’m not sure if that’s a very great argument against it — maybe not very appealing in this case, but infinite things aren’t logically ruled out, not by any reliable evidence or principle I’m aware of. On the other hand, it’s not clear how they do any counting of simulated vs. non-simulated worlds/people/etc. We don’t have any evidence of what it is we’re counting, and even if we did, extending the procedure to infinite sets isn’t at all trivial.
The Greek Philosopher Plato beat them all to it. Does anyone remember reading “The Cave” in high school or college?
For those who didn’t read it, Plato posits that men are simply creatures who have been shackled and thrown into a cave by god-like characters to be observed, The reality that the men believe that they are seeing is merely a projection on the walls of the cave. Through philosophy, a mere man can learn to break the chains and join the gods. (All from memory, might be somewhat wrong. I haven’t taught this stuff in a few years).
When I was teaching, I would use this to introduce Greek philosophy. I would show my students the clip from The Matrix in which Neo discovers that he’s trapped in a machine and escapes. Then we would move to the computer lab, where I had placed a link to the story of “The Cave” on the students’ computers. I also had placed this question on their computers – “Read the story at the link and then write a short paragraph explaining why your Latin teacher just showed you a clip from “The Matrix”. I sat at the teacher’s station and gleefully watched as the lightbulbs went on and the students gasped and began furiously writing. The discussion back in my classroom would have made Plato proud.
So it seems to me that these Silicon Valley residents need to learn a bit about Greek Philosophy. It’s much like the argument that xtians reject the gods of the Hindus or the Pagans, so how do they know that their god is the right one and those other religions are wrong? Same thing here. They would reject Plato’s theory as wrong. They would also reject the theory that the writers of The Matrix posited as pure fiction. If those theories about Man’s existence are wrong, then why is their theory the right one, hmmm?
I do so love a philosophical discussion with my morning coffee!
Richard Smith says
I’m willing to concede that those are hats, but I will never accept that Mayor McCheese… I mean H.R. Pufnstuf… is a dragon.
Marcus Ranum says
Pyrrhonian skeptics came up with a whole framework for dealing with the world as it appears to be, accepting that our senses are probably lying to us and withholding judgement about pretty much everything. It seems to me now that the simulationists are too ignorant to have studied their history of philosophy and skepticism, or they would realize that they’re mining a vein that’s already played out.
The simulationists have the same problem the pyrrhonians do, namely, “so what?” The pyrrhonians answer was to live with the world as it appears to be, since there’s really no alternative. At least they figured that out. Bostrom has really unleashed a nasty little philosophical fewmet that’s going to hang around stinking up the ivory tower for a few decades, much like the trolley cart problem – it’s going to cause many a sprained eyeball and perhaps an infarction or two.
Simulationism doesn’t go far enough, though. If we’re in an ancestor simulation it seems most likely that we’re in an entertainment system (they get that right) which probably means we’re extras in a great big sitcom about ancient American electoral politics. If that’s the case let me just say to the script-writers: not amusing! Story arc is ridiculous and the villains are improbable. I expect the season finale to be a great big ho-hum and I hope you don’t get picked up for next season. Can we do something about ancient Rome next? Or maybe Portal 3. Kthx.
consciousness razor says
That is a story you could tell, based on assumptions about the simulators’ intentions or agency. They wanted cheap/efficient/whatever simulation.
And God wanted some children to die horribly and painfully, to teach us a lesson, because they’re sinners, because he’s an asshole, etc.
The chicken crossed the road because it wanted to get to the other side.
This is not a satisfactory scientific explanation of anything. It’s a joke.
Depends on your quantum theory. Some versions of collapse theories (like GRW) have already been falsified, because rates of collapse and so forth were found to be inconsistent with the evidence. To stick with GRW, it makes a variety of predictions which are different from QM, but some are hard to detect currently.
A Masked Avenger says
For some value of “philosophical.” This kind of stuff is why us hard-science majors used to mock the humanities majors “sitting around in coffee shops, wondering whether they’re just heads in a jar dreaming of coffee shops.”
consciousness razor says
Sorry, that’s not to say GRW is known to be false … certain versions, with certain parameters.
Pierce R. Butler says
And yet our esteemed host offers no better hypothesis to account for the – personally reported! – phenomenon of falling into an alternate universe.
AMA@33 — I regret to report that physicists are also prone to this kind of wishful thinking about the universe. Fred Alan Wolf has admitted that he accepts a version of MWI partly because it allows him to believe his son is still alive in some sense. Frank Tipler has come up with some spectacularly ridiculous ideas to satisfy his desire for eternal life.
Star Ocean 3 is not a documentary. Seriously, engaging scientists to break out of the simulation is EXACTLY the plot of that game.
SO3 is a Japanese RPG which, In a Star Trekian Universe a couple thousand years in the future, the science of Symbology flourishes, which is basically casting magic with runes. After scientists discover that there’s a higher plane of existence – 4d space – and that agents from there are coming to destroy the Milky Way, they engineer 3 humans with special Matrix-like Symbology. One that can destroy the Universal code (think nuke to the nuke power), one that can rewrite it and one to translate their code into 4d space. By the end of the game, your party pops out into 4d space, discover that the Universe is actually an MMO called Eternal Sphere and all the “natives” are NPC’s, including themselves, and the Real World is a utopian post-scarcity society where most people aren’t allowed to work. So you invade the corporation that runs the Universe to prevent the CEO and his lackeys (Luther, Azazer, Belzeber, and Berial – yeah) from destroying the Milky Way, but he goes crazy and Deletes The Universe. And then…uh, the Universe lives on, because the minds of all the residents transcend mere code and don’t believe in the end of existence, so the universe is created in their minds, or…something. It…gets pretty weird.
Anyway: Not a documentary, no breaking out the Universe to beat up the Devil in all his names.
But this is why we humanities majors have argued for years that even the hard-science majors need a well-rounded education that includes some humanities. A Silicon Valley denizen who has studied some Greek Philosophy could recognize this “new” simulation philosophy what what it is – yet another attempted rationalization for reality by those who don’t really understand that reality. Hopefully, that well-educated person could then work on talking his peers back into logical, rational reasoning.
On the other hand, as one of those humanities majors, I’m glad that I was required to take a few math and science classes. Those classes taught me to think logically and to appreciate a blog such as this one, as well as helping me to better understand my science-oriented husband and daughter.
I think that PZ will understand this. He often advocates for a good liberal education for all undergrads.
The biggest problem that I have with the Simulation Hypothesis is simply this: what’s the point? What are the entities running the simulation trying to achieve?
The most common answer I’ve seen is “ancestor simulation”, in which some postulated post-human civilisation is attempting to learn about their ancestors by running lots of simulations and seeing what their simulated ancestors do… This is completely stupid. It entirely ignores the contingent nature of history. You can run millions of different simulations of different possible histories, but none of this tells you anything useful about actual history. Nick Bostrom (the originator of the current form of the Simulation Hypothesis*) simply leaps from the belief that it would be possible for his postulated post-human civilisation(s) to run an arbitrarily large number of simulations at an arbitrary level of detail (itself a somewhat iffy proposition) to the assumption that they would actually do so. He presents no argument of any kind on this point, he just takes it as read (the closest he gets is “there are certainly many humans who would like to run ancestor-simulations if they could afford to do so”). However, you don’t need to be an Oxford philosopher to see that just because you can do something means that you necessarily will. I’m pretty sure that any civilisation with the necessary capabilities would also realise that it’s a completely pointless endeavour – and I strongly suspect that they’d also have much more effective options for investigating any of the questions that you might consider investigating through ancestor simulation.
(*It’s worth noting that his original paper on the subject is a good deal more circumspect than many of the people it has apparently inspired, and hedges its conclusions fairly heavily. The idea that we are living in a simulation is merely one of three possible conclusions offered, and he states that “it seems sensible to apportion one’s credence roughly evenly between [them]”. The other possible conclusions are that there are very few post-human civilisations, or that very few of them are interested in running ancestor simulations.)
Dear simulation “hypothesis” people. I will consider your argument when it is presented as an actual scientific hypothesis.
Hypothetical conjecture is not the same.
To me as a computer “scientist” all of the following are good tools for identifying a simulation as humans create them:
A. A clearly identified central focus/examined component. A bridge simulator has a lot of detail on the bridge, especially its load-bearing capacity
B. Heavy optimization of variables outside those dealing with A. A bridge simulator just creates a fake gravitational field matching earth’s because that’s much easier than simulating each particle’s spacetime distortion and applying them in aggregate.
C. (sometimes)Some method of the user of the simulation to interact with it and adjust it on the fly.
All of these have small subtle implications about the nature of the universe that, in theory, ought to be testable. Just like you can refine the concept of “God” until he becomes an invisible, incorporeal dragon in the garage, you can refine your theory of a simulation until the above components don’t apply. But even put to the most preliminary tests, a simulation hypothesis has serious shortcomings.
The simulation idea is unprovable and unfalsifiable. It’s an interesting idea to noodle around with from a philosophical standpoint (as Plato and Descartes both showed with their own noodling) or a storytelling perspective (as the novel Simulacron-3 and the movies the Matrix and the 13th floor show), but is not anything beyond that.
And anyone who thinks we can “break the simulation” has missed the entire goddamn point. You can’t break the simulation because the simulation is a construct that is the entire universe. All of the physical laws and anything you might do to interact with the simulation are controlled by the simulation. You might as well expect Pac-man to stop eating pellets and come out of the screen to get you.
In the novel Simulacron-3 the people running the simulation were a marketing agency attempting to use this very complex and amazing bit of technology to figure out the best way to market things in their own world. (The movie the 13th floor was based on the novel – loosely – and IIRC dropped this bit, but it’s a hilarious bit of social commentary in the book).
PZ Myers says
And then you’re in an Adam Sandler movie, and you might as well just kill yourself.
Area Man says
The worst thing about the simulation hypothesis, if it can even be called that, is that it doesn’t even matter. Whether our universe as we perceive it is “real” or “simulated” has no implications because it is equally real to us. We still study things around us, have desires and fears, and go about our daily routines. There would be no reason to stop doing these things even if we could prove that we lived in a simulation anymore than if we could prove that we don’t. And since it’s impossible to prove one way or another, it’s all a waste of time.
Perhaps you’re already dead and hell is being in an Adam Sandler movie.
Speaking of weirdness and physics: Stephen Hawking as a Bond Villain. Now don’t run out and buy a Jag.
consciousness razor says
I’m not convinced this. We do things like archaeology now, or gather other kinds of empirical data (obviously much cheaper), since these things are all in our past. We can learn useful things from that about what probably happened. But there’s never any guarantee that you’re accurately reconstructing actual history. Even if you stumble on exactly and literally what happened (with no way to confirm you’re accidentally correct), I don’t know what deep or interesting things there are to learn, when it concerns a single contingent thing as you described it. You could have a whole bunch of isolated facts, but they’re mostly pointless trivia unless you can apply them in all sorts of ways that don’t pertain to extremely specific things like what was happening in northwest London on June 23, 874 (probably nothing terribly interesting).
Anyway…. If you ran millions of such simulations, if they were working approximately the way they should, you could gather statistical data about what probably happened. I wouldn’t want to be in the position of saying that it’s all useless, unless you demonstrably know that you have everything exactly right about the actual past.
But of course this is assuming you already know enough about your “ancestors” (or whatever) to design them in a way which works as intended, which defeats the purpose. You don’t need simulated people having realistic experiences. Why would we be in one of these, if its job is to produce some data about what really happened? If they designed my simulated-brain to work such that I’m having these specific experiences right now, they’ve learned nothing about the experiences of a person was actually one of their ancestors. That’s because they designed it to work however they thought it should work, so they’d still be plagued with all sorts of epistemic problems (“post-human” or not). And if they had enough empirical data about some actual-me to put together a simulated-me, then running the simulation doesn’t seem to be doing anything extra which would be useful to them.
OK, a few minor administrative details first.
PZ, I just got served malware in an advertisement. Malvertisement is the term. You might just want to address that with your ad provider. False Firefox update is the specific, I broke connection before recording the URL, my bad, but this machine isn’t as well protected as my personal computers.
Second, I’m an old IASO (Information Assurance Security Officer) and also a longstanding systems administrator. For credentials, the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_cyberattack_on_United_States didn’t happen for me, I followed best practices.
I got to ignore the hell out of the billion dollar attack and the classified unto today secondary attack.
As for simulations, under that context, I’ve set up more virtual machines than Carter has Little Liver Pills. Do you think that I’d let anything unpermitted to go between VM’s?
Most virtual environments will never know about any other environment than what I choose to let them “know” about. Some, never, ever *see* the internet (an example is printer vlans and their print server(s).
WTF would I want anything from my virtual (anything) to visit my universe, hell, even my world?
Honestly, I don’t think there’s enough booze on the planet to convince me to even consider the subject beyond that mere notion.
What’s that? I might want feedback? That isn’t from the output of the experiment, it’s from the experiment that I want feedback.
No scientist ever asked a paramecium for feedback for a good reason.
chigau (違う) says
In the banner at the top of the page is a button called “Tech Issues”.
You can use that to report tech issues.
Actually northwest London was a pretty interesting place in the middle of 874 (London, of course, being a tiny river port at this point, so its northwest then would be its dead centre now). London had been conquered the previous year by part of the Viking “great army”, which had sacked it and retreated to subdue the kings of Mercia and Northumberland in 874. So it was effectively occupied territory during a massive and bloody war of conquest for control of the British Isles. Some of PZ’s more adventurous ancestors might even have been hanging around, stinking the place up with their mead and herrings.
@chigau (違う), thanks. Senile or dyslexic or stressed moment gaffe. Thanks for reminding me.
Lemme copy/pasta the complaint, lacking proper URL complaints to them. :/
Seriously, my gaffe for not properly recording the miscreant URL.
That’s something that the staff can operate upon and I failed to record it. Bad week, not thinking clearly. I want such things addressed, but have life things going on that distracted me badly.
Hopefully they have a proper log, although the timing is somewhat vague.*
*I’ve done some things involved with online events and law enforcement.
I royally screwed up, in this instance.
My heartfelt apologies.
slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says
jumping right in without reading beyond “breaking out of the simulation”. [not trying to derail, honestly]
going with they hypothesis that we are actually simulants, I interpret that phrase to imply that they are exploring whether this simulation allows self-alteration, where the subroutines its running can modify the master program itself.
Similar to how the brain can modify itself, through its own thought processes essentially “rewiring” itself to acquire new skills.
ulp, I also see a way to account for “real, actual, non-SFF magic”. By allowing the magician (coder) to rewrite some of the simulation code to make an effect suddenly happen spontaneously.
This sounds like the fantasies we frequently had during my undergrad bull sessions at MIT. oops. *bows head, walks out*
Richard Smith says
I’ve been preparing an indignant reply along the lines of “Why hasn’t anyone mentioned Dan Galouye’s Counterfeit World?” Turns out it’s the English title of Simulacron-3.
I want to put in a mention for Fred Pohl’s short story The Tunnel Under The World (1955) which also explores the idea of using a simulation for test marketing. It was one of the first things that turned me on to science fiction.
Yep, one of the silly things that smart people fall for. Their main argument is to claim that since the physical world is quantized, and since data is quantized into bits and bytes, then maybe the physical world is bits and bytes. So we are in a hologram. The truth is more likely to be the other way around. Data is in bits and bytes because the physical world is quantized. Don’t they know how computer chips work?
A Masked Avenger says
A Masked Avenger says
Dang, formatting problem in #55.
Yep. I was only stating a fact (what science majors in college say) without commenting on its truth or falsity (except that these wankers exemplify the stereotype).
I bought into it at the time, because in my experience most humanities majors were kind of dumb. It has since occurred to me that humanities majors are a subset of undergraduates, and most undergraduates are kind of dumb, and so I was falling for the disjunction fallacy.
consciousness razor says
I stand corrected. That’s fairly interesting. However, the target wasn’t as broad as the most general features of England during the Viking raids of the period, so you didn’t really hit the mark there, not that you should’ve bothered to try.
I’d say the very specific particular facts about that time and place and those people are probably not all they’re cracked up to be (nothing against Vikings or the British … I mean any time/place/etc.). You didn’t bother to give them, which is no great loss, since they weren’t necessary for me or others to learn something from you about the subject. So I’d say it’s a win for both of us that you didn’t waste our time on pointless minutiae. It’s definitely not worth the many years and many, many, many trillions of dollars needed to even think about starting a project like a realistic universe-scale simulation with self-aware AIs wandering around in it.
Again, all of this is of course assuming that you would get any such facts from a simulation, ones about your actual history. That doesn’t make much sense to me. If determinism is true, then sure, I can make sense out of the idea that you could try to learn the exact laws and initial conditions, so they could be evolved to any time or place of interest, telling you everything about everything.
But that’s not making a simulation in the relevant sense, creating some new existence over which you (or your machines) have some control to design as you see fit, one with people in it who may be asking themselves whether they’re living in a simulation…. Those simulated people and their world are by hypothesis not yours, so the purported motivation of learning something about yours is dubious at best. Instead, you’d just be calculating stuff (lots of it) using data from your real world, which suffices for the information you wanted to learn about that world, if that type of information is important after all. That you might do (to an extent we already are), and you could get some real mileage out of it. But simulated universes? No.
I saw a cartoon some time ago I have forgotten just when that this discussion reminds me of I would truly love to see it again. this is as follows as good as I can remember. In a little city state with a king and such there was one of the people who was engaged with making “science observations” and he sees some how that the entire island kingdom is the dream of a guy sleeping in a bed dreaming and he somehow finds that on the table beside the bed is an alarm clock which is getting close to going off. There is a huge uproar at the thought that they will soon cease to exist. So it is decided that they will stop everything else they are doing and try to save their existence by going out of their “world” and into the room where the sleeper sleeps and dreams. They manage to do that and then covering him with pillows so as not to disturb him drag him back in to their world still sleeping.
If any one knows what that cartoon is called and where I can see it again I would be very grateful
“The simulation hypothesis also accounts for peculiarities in quantum mechanics, particularly the measurement problem, whereby things only become defined when they are observed.”
This is bogus indeed. That particular peculiarity simply says that your equipment influences your measurements to such a degree that we can’t know anymore what actually happens without that equipment. That’s what Schrödinger’s Cat tries to make clear: your equipment interacts significantly with your experiment.
The simulation hypothesis doesn’t make that go away and hence doesn’t account for it any more than The Flying Spaghetti Monster does, who loves to gamble when having drunk too much beer. So calling this Silicon Valley Creacrap is spot on.
@57: The thing is, it’s those very specific detailed facts that we build history out of. Sure, any one of those tiny little details of the minutia of people’s lives is individually inconsequential, but its only by synthesising the details that we can put the bigger picture together. And sometimes we unearth a tiny, almost inconsequential fact, which ultimately leads us to a significant revision of our previously-held ideas…. History is all about the details.
Another point is that most the the really interesting things about history are either arbitrary or unusual, so probabilities aren’t really very useful. A lot of what we’re really interested in is wildly improbable, but happened anyway. History’s funny like that.
@consciousness razor, who says: “I’m not sure if that’s a very great argument against it — maybe not very appealing in this case, but infinite things aren’t logically ruled out, not by any reliable evidence or principle I’m aware of.”…
And then says, “Again, all of this is of course assuming that you would get any such facts from a simulation, ones about your actual history. That doesn’t make much sense to me. If determinism is true, then sure, I can make sense out of the idea that you could try to learn the exact laws and initial conditions, so they could be evolved to any time or place of interest, telling you everything about everything.
“But that’s not making a simulation in the relevant sense, creating some new existence over which you (or your machines) have some control to design as you see fit, one with people in it who may be asking themselves whether they’re living in a simulation…. Those simulated people and their world are by hypothesis not yours, so the purported motivation of learning something about yours is dubious at best. Instead, you’d just be calculating stuff (lots of it) using data from your real world, which suffices for the information you wanted to learn about that world, if that type of information is important after all. That you might do (to an extent we already are), and you could get some real mileage out of it. But simulated universes? No.”
That’s the point.
Somebody watched _Tron_ and took it way too seriously.
Kimberly Dick says
I have a Ph.D. in physics, and I can confirm that this description of the “observer effect” is absolute bunk.
The physical process at work here is decoherence. What happens is that when we have a state that is in a quantum superposition, and that state interacts with a complicated system, the wavefunction appears to collapse leading to the appearance of a definite state rather than a superposition. This can happen when an observer measures a system. Or it can happen when a system interacts with its environment.
They’ve even done experiments where they turned on just such an interaction (without ever measuring the result of the interaction), and showing that the interaction itself causes the decoherence, rather than any observer:
Anders Kehlet says
The problem is not that it runs slower per se, but rather that it has less resources available due to overhead.
Stated generally: A simulated environment is always less complex than the host environment.
Obviously this has implications for infinite nesting.
Though I think the more immediate problem this poses is that in order to run a perfect simulation of the solar system, you’d need a computer more complex than the solar system. To the proponents of this nonsense I can only say: Good luck with that.
ck, the Irate Lump says
I started out loving that game when I started playing it, and started hating it the moment I got to that “twist” in the story. I can accept a science-based magic system in a game world. I can accept that the “Real World” doesn’t have this magic system. I can even stretch the suspension of disbelief enough to allow the cross-over between world, although barely. The fact that Fayt, Sophia and the others somehow transfer this magic capability over into the “Real World” upon crossing over went way too far, though, especially when the explanation given for this is completely threadbare.
But this game’s story deficiencies are somewhat off-topic. So, on to the topic at hand:
From the article:
There would never be any reason to simulate the molecules of matter (not to mention atoms, particles or quarks) to make a game simulation that can fool a person’s senses. These unseeable particles would be an unnecessary complexity (and computational drag) to a system that does not require it. Current games are doing pretty well at that using little more than a grouping of connected triangles. Using the techniques we have along with various tricks that have been developed to enhance the realistic feel of these non-real structures is more promising than trying to emulate subatomic particles to build a world that way.
But let’s explore this idea anyway. If you’re a simulation within one of our computers, your perceivable world consists of three sided polygons, vertexes and texture maps. How can you infer that you’re in a simulated world from that observable data, and how would you ever discover the properties of the real world given how completely isolated you are from it? All you’d know is that your “soul” made up of algorithims is somehow bound to your “body” made up of polygons. Coincidentally, lots of people believe something similar about our universe.
Meg Thornton says
As someone once said, you can tell a lot about the way the gods feel about money by looking at the sort of people they allow to have a lot of it. Tech billionaire advertisements for Dunning/Kruger, immature bullies like Donald Trump (who gives every evidence of never having matured psychologically beyond toddler-hood), manipulative Machiavellians like the Koch brothers, the sorts of “cashed up white trash” people widely scorned in the various “rich kids of $WHEREVER” feeds, and so on. Clearly the stuff is toxic – possibly someone should be minting coinage out of depleted uranium just to get the point across?
Besides, if we’re all characters in a simulation, clearly what they’re running is the largest, and most boring, game of the Sims EVER. (Everyone check over their heads and see whether they can spot spinning green diamonds!) Fortunately for all of us, the player appears to be playing this very straight indeed (presumably they got exhausted with all the various ways of killing people in interesting fashions back in prehistory, and are essentially using us as a form of soap opera).
Meg Thornton: yeah, that throws up another problem with the idea: even granting the ability and desire to run all these simulations, it’s almost certain that vastly more people are interested in running fantasy MMOs (or other forms of game) than ancestor simulations. Therefore ancestor simulations are a very small fraction of the total simulations running. Therefore, we are all NPCs in a fantasy MMO. It only looks like a really boring fantasy MMO to us because we think it’s all normal.
Yes, I’ve said elsewhere (mostly in jest) that if Trump wins, I’ll conclude that we’re living in a simulation in the U-Xperience-It Corporation’s “Wacky, Wacky Pasts That Just Might Have Happened!!!” series.
#66 @Meg Thornton
possibly someone should be minting coinage out of depleted uranium just to get the point across?
Ha! You just described ‘The Roentgen Standard’, by Larry Niven!
To Kimberly Dick in post 63
Seemingly, what you wrote is contradicted by this section of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Could you reply please and correct my understanding? Is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy simply wrong on this point? Or: Are you perhaps implicitly assuming many-worlds without making that explicit?
Rob Grigjanis says
EnlightenmentLiberal @70: KD’s point wasn’t, I think, about decoherence solving the measurement problem. It was about classical probabilities emerging via interaction with the environment, with or without an observer. So, a wave function consisting of a superposition of (appropriately chosen) states with complex coefficients c₁, c₂,… resolves to a set of positive-definite probabilities |c₁|², |c₂|²,…
So, no, decoherence doesn’t solve the measurement problem, but it goes a lot of the way to explaining the transition from the quantum to the classical domain, without any reference to an observer.
consciousness razor says
I can’t speak for Kimberly Dick, but the SEP is correct that decoherence by itself is not a solution to the measurement problem, if that’s what you’re focusing on. Let me address a few points, in a way that might be helpful to some people:
1) Characterizing the measurement problem as an “observer effect” is completely bogus. You may say there are strange phenomena to explain, but things immediately go off the rails with the implication that they’re about “observers” being the cause of an “effect.” That’s a thoroughly misleading way to describe things.
2) As Kimberly said, “observers” and their “measurements” (to the extent those are even well-defined things) are not the only cases when there seems to be a collapse of the wavefunction (whether “collapses” are real or effective/apparent), since it applies just as much to interactions with anything in the environment.
3) You should think of the measurement problem as a problem with understanding/interpreting what textbook QM says about the world, not something that we know happens in a particular way as demonstrated by some evidence. You have this nice theory that seems to work extremely well in a certain sense. But you need a way of explaining how QM can end up giving any definite predictions about anything, because our experiences are of definite things happening at fairly specific places/times.
4) The suggestion that observers have some kind of psychic power to negate the dynamical laws of physics (“collapsing” things into definite states), only for them to be reinstated whenever you’re not looking, is totally fucking wacky. And it’s certainly not the only or best way of understanding QM.
5) Many ways of resolving the problem do not hinge on differences in their experimental predictions — they mostly/entirely agree on those, or it is so difficult to differentiate them in that regard that for the moment they’re practically equivalent. Now, notice that “observers do it (& environmental interactions don’t)” is not just fucking wacky but is contradicted by the evidence. However it may actually work, according to whatever viable theory you have, that simply isn’t it.
So like I said, decoherence doesn’t solve everything here. I’d disagree with “the physical process at work here is decoherence,” which is too strong a claim but may not be what Kimberly meant anyway. However, the rest looks okay to me.
I once saw that same cartoon, but I was very young and do not remember more. Maybe I need to post some kind of cash reward online if someone can find it.
With this simulation, I think this is just tech dude bros who saw movies like ‘the matrix’ too many times wanking. It’s like the current ‘clown panic’ but it’s something tech dude bros are susceptible too, more than any other population.
chigau (違う) says
uncle frogy #58
is that it?
chigau (違う) says
My link is to a live-action framing TV show.
You can skip James Earl Jones to get to Rarg.
I’ve seen a few of my friends talking about this on facebook. My input was ignored, alas, but it irritates me that they couldn’t see that the whole “simulations explain everything weird about the quantum nature of the universe!” argument is no better than the old “cosmic dung beetles explain the sun rising and setting!” argument. Oh well.
SBMC had a better answer anyway.
anym@76. And just what is wrong with the cosmic dung beetle theory??? Teach the controversy!!!