Over at Pharyngula, PZ pokes at the simulation hypothesis and finds it wanting.
I’ve never understood how it’s gotten so much traction, anyway. As PZ Says: “That is the wrong question. He asserts
The odds we’re in base reality is one in billions. Instead we should ask, “what simulated ass did you pull those odds out of?”, because he’s got no rational justification for that claim.”
The simulation hypothesis is fairly easily refuted by Rich Rosen’s observation: “anything is possible, but very few things actually happen.” The number of possible things that could happen, and won’t, is vastly larger than the number of possible things that could happen, and do. It’s silly to say “because future people might make near infinite numbers simulations, it’s vastly more likely that we are in a simulation” – there are vastly more non-simulation potential futures than there are simulation futures even if we grant that there will be simulation futures. So the argument “it’s likely we’re in a simulation” fails because the simulationist has chosen to ignore the vast number of non-simulation futures and cherry-picks the simulation futures, declaring a tiny subset of all of them “most likely.”
I’ve created (and deleted) about 30 vaults in “Fallout Shelter” yet no philosophers are worrying about the experiences of the dwellers in my games.* Fallout shelter has been downloaded 50 million times (supposedly) if a reasonable number of those players have created a reasonable number of vaults, there have been way more vault dwellers than there are humans on Earth! Thus, the probability is… still not that you’re in a vault. Because there is a vastly more likely probability, namely that the world is as it appears to be. It seems to me that the number of possible futures in which the universe is as it appears to be is vastly larger than the number of possible futures in which philosophers imagine they live in a software simulation. And that number of possible futures is, in turn, even larger than the number of possible futures in which the simulation hypothesis is taken seriously.
The simulation hypothesis is a simple mental hack that takes advantage of our natural inability to effectively imagine large numbers and confuses us by comparing numbers of potential futures to our imagined potential futures. We are limited by our imaginations when we try to imagination “potential futures of mankind” but it’s easy to imagine “simulation” and then treat “simulation” as an ‘implied space’ of infinite size. An implied space, in gaming, is when you create a region that’s an empty region until you look more closely at it: it’s a potential space, a potential future that only gets filled in when it needs to be there. Sort of like how Elite: Dangerous simulates the Milky Way galaxy – there’s no server sitting somewhere with all the maps to all the planets orbiting 300 billion stars – it’s all done with lookup tables into a hash code, and brought into the game’s reality as necessary. The simulationist points at the implied spaces of the simulations and compares their potential size against the actual size of actual reality, but they’re making a false equivalency.
I fact-checked my observation with a Real Mathematician(tm)** and he pointed out that probabalistic arguments are meaningless: any given instance of you is either in a simulation, or isn’t. Probabilities only describe the likely results of tests, which is interesting but doesn’t tell us anything about our current test.
One of the funny things about Fallout Shelter is the goofy smiles on the toons’ faces: they’re programmed to enjoy their lives! Here, my ‘A team’ goes up against a pack of deathclaws – it’s pickaxes and flamers against fangs, horns, and claws! The fun!
Walter Jon Williams: Implied Spaces
I’m tempted to argue that the simulation hypothesis would also argue that there’d be a majority of human experiences that were science-fiction or fantasy: I.e.: we’d be orcs in Lord Of The Rings MCVIII more often than we’d be conventional humans. Who would simulate anything as stupid as 2016? Or as irritating as Elon Musk?
The mathematician’s argument is similar to the weak anthropic principle as formulated by Carter: for us to be worrying about how life arose, we exist, and therefore life can arise. For us to be worrying about whether or not we’re in a simulation, maybe we’re the lucky “sims” that exist in the real world. There would be infinities of “sims” that didn’t worry about it at all because the programmer left that capability out.
(* I’m cruel to them, too: I occasionally send them out into the wasteland only armed with a butter knife. “Have fun!” Yahweh-style.)
(** A topologist who can tell the difference between a coffee mug and a donut because one holds coffee. I guess that makes him an experimentalist and not a pure theorist.)