Culture Magazine

The Simulation Hypothesis, a Reductio Ad Absurdum [where Have All the Good Minds Gone, Stark Raving Mad]

By Bbenzon @bbenzon

Tyler Cowen has an interesting take on the simulation hypothesis (the idea that we’re living in a computer simulation):

As you may already know, my view is that there is no proper external perspective, and the concept of “living in a simulation” is not obviously distinct from living in a universe that follows some kind of laws, whether natural or even theological. The universe is simultaneously the simulation and the simulator itself! Anything “outside the universe doing the simulating” is then itself “the (mega-)universe that is simultaneously the simulation and the simulator itself.” etc.

I agree with him on that first clause, there really is no proper external perspective (a problem that Kant, among others, wrestled with). As for the rest of it, well, OK, why not?

But it seems to me that it does empty Bostrom’s thought experiment of most of its juice. As Bostrom originally proposed the simulation hypothesis there is a carefully prepared frame and set-up (Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?, Philosophical Quarterly, 2003, vol. 53, No. 211, 243-255). First he argues that we ourselves are not so very far from having the computational capacity to simulate a full-on human consciousness. If we can do one, then surely we’ll be able to do 100s, 1000s, millions and billions! At this point we’re in the future watching over the shoulders of superintelligent beings with super-duper-intelligent computers running scads of simulations of the world and somewhere in one of those simulations we’ll find ourselves.

Except of course we won’t. We’ll just get dizzy.

That is, the simulation hypothesis is not just the bare idea that we’re electrons spinning around in a cosmic computation. It’s the whole frame that contextualizes that idea. And that frame holds out the hope that out/up there somewhere are beings who see and understand all.

Except of course they don’t. As they are us.

What kind of blinders must one assume in order to find such puzzles intellectually worthwhile?

I note, that for all the criticism and ridicule it has received, post-modern literary criticism hasn’t produced anything sillier than the simulation hypothesis, and its siblings, the various conceptions and contraptions of transhumanism. And then we have the foundations of physics with its five decades of empirically fruitless theorizing. Has the whole world gone mad?

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For more on the simulation hypothesis see these older posts:

My problem with the simulation argument: It’s too idealist in its assumptions (all mind, no matter), July 25, 2018

Two silly ideas: We live in a simulation & our computers are going to have us for lunch, July 22, 2018

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