After the matrix came the simulation.
Posted Oct 10, 2016
Since Don Quixote de la Mancha is a crazy fool and a madman, and since Sancho Panza, his squire, knows it, yet, for all that, serves and follows him, and hangs on these empty promises of his, there can be no doubt that he is more of a madman and a fool than his master. ~ Cervantes
Close your eyes and pretend it's all a bad dream. That's how I get by. ~ Jack Sparrow
You are probably aware (and were aware before I became aware) that some tech billionaires south of San Francisco are allegedly funding secret research to bring us out of the computer simulation in which they think we live [see here]. You may think this is fascinating, ludicrous, or long overdue. I suspect that the first (fascinating) and the last (overdue) sentiment are quite common. Why? Because many of us believe that this world is deeply flawed, wish for a better one, and think that that better one is just around the corner if we only dare to go there. These are all too human sentiments and they are not new. The history of ideas is full of stories of bygone golden eras and golden eras to come (in our time!). There is also the human tendency to believe uncritically that which cannot be refuted with facts right away, and even then . . .
The simulation argument cannot be refuted with facts. It is always difficult to disprove and idea as impossible, and especially so if the idea itself comprises the claim that it is irrefutable. Notice that according to the simulation hypothesis, we are “living” as if we were alive, which means that we cannot see through the illusion; if we could, it would not be an illusion.
But therein lies the problem for the simulation hypothesis. If the simulation creates, shapes, and controls our consciousness with the mandate that we cannot know that we are being simulated, then it ought to be impossible to come up with the idea that we are being simulated. Now that—with the help of the billionaires—we have been introduced to this idea (and by science fiction before then), we must conclude that the simulation itself has seen to it that we get wise to it (being in a simulation). While we are in the simulation (if this is where we are), our worries about being simulated are themselves simulated.
What does it mean to break out of the simulation? What, assuming this is even a sensible question, would we wake up to if we succeeded to hack the code and unplug? I asked Billy, my insightful and intuitive gas station attendant. He didn't hesitate a second. “We’d be free!” he declared. Yes, that is the idea. We are living in a flawed world of pain and meanness, controlled by forces we cannot comprehend. To think that it is all a sham, not real, and easily torn down, is as seductive as any promise of redemption offered by religion or mindfulness seminars. If there are so many parallel universes, there must surely be a better one. It just puzzles me that it should be tech billionaires, who have done so well in this simulation, that should lead the way. If the law of regression to the mean applies, they will not be at the top of the food chain in the ‘real’ world.
Cervantes's 'hero' Quijote (or Quixote), the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance, was by all accounts delusional. Sancho and everyone else knew it, was entertained by it sometimes and threatened by it at other times. Eventually Quijote discusses his own madness. Perhaps his madness consisted of his consciousness simulating (creating) a different reality from that assumed by his contemporaries. He was mad because his simulation was a lone one. What if the contemporary simulation hypothesis becomes the dominant perception of 'reality?' When our most basic assumptions about the grounding of it all are beyond empirical evidence or logical argument, we get into the realm of faith, and those who don't share it are suspect at best and dangerous at worst. But then again, it need not come to that. My point is that the simulation hypothesis is self-defeating. But then yet again, since when has that stopped anyone?