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You’re living in a computer simulation, and math proves it

Ed Grabianowski — Is your life really your life, or is it actually the dream of a butterfly? Or is it a complex computer simulation indistinguishable from "real" reality? Don't worry, it's just a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something.

Questions about the nature of reality weren't invented by high-as-a-kite college sophomores. Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi noticed sometime around 300 BCE that his dreams of being something other than human (a butterfly, most famously) were indistinguishable from his experience being Zhuangzi. He could not say with certainty that he was Zhuangzi dreaming of being a butterfly rather than a butterfly dreaming of being Zhuangzi.

The whole "reality is an illusion" idea has been kicked around by everyone from Siddhartha to the existentialists. It is Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom who is most often associated with the idea that we are living in a computer simulation. His premise is based on a series of assumptions:

1). A technological society could eventually achieve the capability of creating a computer simulation that is indistinguishable from reality to the inhabitants of the simulation.

2). Such a society would not do this once or twice. They would create many such simulations.

3). Left to run long enough the societies within the simulations would eventually be able to create their own simulations, also indistinguishable from reality to the sub-simulations inhabitants.

As a result, you have billions of simulations, with a nearly infinite number of cascading sub-simulations, all of them perfectly real to their inhabitants. Yet there is only a single ultimate progenitor society. The math is actually pretty simple: the odds are nearly infinity to one that we are all living in a computer simulation.

One very strong argument against this unsettling theory is that a computer with the computational power to accomplish this is impossible. Setting aside the fact that today's computational power surely seemed unimaginable 100 years ago, there's a more interesting solution – the computer only actively simulates what it needs to. This is something that actually happens in modern computer games, and you've seen it if you've ever moved faster than your graphics card was capable of rendering the scenery, as the trees and buildings that had previously been beyond your view were drawn on the screen before your eyes. It actually explains a few of the trickier things about quantum physics, like why particles have an indeterminate position until they're observed.

Even more disturbing, it may be a much smaller simulation that you think. There could be just a few active simulation inhabitants, with the rest of the world filled with "non-actor" or NPC characters controlled by the computer. Their actions are only simulated as you perceive them, carefully performed so as to present the illusion that they have entire lives separate from yours. This helps explain why the creepy homeless guy at the end of your street doesn't seem to do much other than hang out and ask you to bring him 10 dire wolf pelts.

If all that seems too weird, let's just kick it back to Zhuangzi. There are almost seven billion people in the world. They all sleep. They all dream. Odds are we're all just living someone else's extremely vivid dream.

Source: Bostrom, Nick. "Are you living in a computer simulation?" Oxford University.

io9. We come from the future.
 

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@Promethea - I think about this stuff all of the time. Thanks for sharing. The actual paper on which the blog was based is very interesting.
 

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Theoretical physicists, James Gates and John Wheeler, are currently doing research into the hypothesis that the structure of the universe is very similar to computer codes, I.E. the Matrix. There's no solid experimental data, because the research is largely theoretical, but it's interesting to see the connections they have made in the past few years.

Gates talks about his research in this brief interview:


John Wheeler says:

"It is not unreasonable to imagine that information sits at the core of physics, just as it sits at the core of a computer.

It from bit. Otherwise put, every 'it'—every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself—derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely—even if in some contexts indirectly—from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. 'It from bit' symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom—a very deep bottom, in most instances—an immaterial source and explanation; that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes–no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and that this is a participatory universe."

Here is a short description of Wheeler's theory, "IT from BIT," which includes some of the problems and solutions and predictions that may arise:

http://suif.stanford.edu/~jeffop/WWW/wheeler.txt

If you want to push deeper into the "illusion" of reality, physicist and best-selling author, Leonard Susskind, talks about the Holographic Principle:

 

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This is very interesting, but I do caution with a reminder from Occam's razor.

"One should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything."

This is the foundation of science, critical thinking, and rationality, and as a counterbalance, I think it may be useful to exercise that principle here as well.
 

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If we assume that we're living in a simulated reality here's a couple of questions I need to ask:

1) How come we have the ability to even question reality? Shouldn't a machine so sophisticated have a fail-safe mechanism which will prevent any conscious agent of thinking about it? Doesn't this ability disturb the point of the program somehow? I.e.:

2) What is the reason why we are in this simulation anyway? Are we:

a) "Criminals" of some sort who are undergoing a reeducation? A fall from grace sort of parable.
b) Scholars or scientists from the future who want to experience the past of our species so as to understand the Universe and purpose of humanity better?
c) An infant God or superior being that grows through accumulating all forms of experience? http://bitsandpieces.us/2010/12/10/the-egg-a-story-about-you-god-and-your-death/

3) If we assume we are already in a simulated reality is the purpose of our stay here to:

a) embrace the simulation and enjoy it to the fullest - Carpe Diem, hedonism then reentering this reality again (reincarnation)
b) deny the world you are presented with and work towards surpassing it so as to go to the "truer reality" - renunciation then Nirvana, Heaven, Plotin's 'One', true existence

However, if we don't use the idea of simulated reality as a starting point isn't what we're getting the following:

1) A simulated reality is a possibility not an actuality. Basically, we are engaging in a self-fulfilling prophecy: we will make it happen cause that is what most of us want. Man simply doesn't like reality as it is.

2) The Matrix and similar movies, books are engraved in our unconscious mind and we are unknowingly entertaining that idea as plausible while in fact that idea has simply been encountered too often and is hardwired in our brains. We can shake it off, but it's very hard to do and no matter how hard you try to deconstruct it you always end up with: "It's so irrational, but what if it's true?!" One principle is true for almost each one of us: The more incredible the idea is, the more we are likely to believe it if it is beautiful.

3) Everyone is terrified by death and even more so disappearance of consciousness. It's impossible for us to imagine the demise of the subjective experience ("The act of observing which is constant no matter how much you change as a person"). Isn't this one of those neat ideas which relieves the fear of death?

Those are my thoughts on this issue.
 

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How do you computize consciousness? :crazy:

I was thinking to battle this theory with the fact we actually sense things. But it is not that, it is that we are CONSCIOUS to sense things. This consciousness makes us human and perhasp is explainable, but perhaps it isn't..?

So can you make 1's and 0's out of everything? Physics to numbers to physics. Should be possible, but the imagination of living in between the smallest particles, what about that?

In other words I don't think it's possible because I think size is infinite and not near infinite. *system breakdown*But yeah there could be a way to let human beings "experience the same", perhaps. Only problem is would you vanish at some point if there was a mistake made? :crazy:
 
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For some reason, this makes me think of a book I read recently. The Host (Stephanie Meyer). What if we are all just "souls" playing out a role we call "life" just to see what the outcome may be. Maybe this is our version of a "vacation" as in Total Recall. Perhaps our lives are nothing more than an invention such as that of Truman? There are so many explanations out there which could be possible if we are lead to believe them. How would we know? Personally, I believe anything we can imagine could be possible - the thought has to form from somewhere, right? Very interesting in any case.
 
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It's a very interesting idea, but I'll present my main challenges to it in brief.

First, as was anticipated, I take issue with premise 1. There are theoretical problems with the possibility of such computers, mainly a phenomenon in theoretical computer science called leaky abstractions The Law of Leaky Abstractions - Joel on Software.

My second issue is epistemic. If "everything is simulated," including the seeming problems with simulation (to "distract us from the simulation"), then how could we possibly know this one way or the other? It strikes me as similar to theistic reasoning. Unless we allow the premises to be open to scientific criticism (such as the leaky abstractions issue), then simulism

A) Is compatible with any given outcome, and thus really explains nothing

and, by extension

B) Fails the verificationist test of "could this be known even in principle?"

In short, its an interesting idea, but like most armchair theories of its sort, it reeks of religion-like reasoning.
 

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The reasoning is flawed, to say the least.

First, every single simulated world will need a huge amount of computing power. Because there is a finite amount of computing power, there is a finite amount of such simulated worlds. Whether such a simulated world is simulated in the original world or in a different simulated world does not matter. Therefore, assuming we have an equal chance to live in any of those simulated worlds, the chance would be more than 0% that we live in the non-simulated world.

Second, when something has a probability of 100% due to working with infinity, it doesn't have to be true. Probability is all about knowledge and the assumption that everything which is beyond your knowledge has an equal chance of happening. Suppose I ask a mathematician to guess my number between 0 and 10. He would have to conclude, without further knowledge, that there is a 0% chance of guessing correctly, because there are an infinite amount of possibilities and only 1 is correct. However, a slightly smarter person might notice that I am a human, and that I probably mean integers. Now the chance of guessing correct is 10%, without a real change to reality. Knowledge about psychology and my personality would further increase the chances.

In other words, it could simply be that we are missing a piece of information here that would change the probability of us living in a simulated world from almost 100% to 0%.
 

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As a result, you have billions of simulations, with a nearly infinite number of cascading sub-simulations, all of them perfectly real to their inhabitants. Yet there is only a single ultimate progenitor society. The math is actually pretty simple: the odds are nearly infinity to one that we are all living in a computer simulation.
As interesting as the idea is, the quoted portion is a fairly obvious logical fallacy.

Both the first simulation, and the level below it must be simulated by a single computer, because it simulates the computer that simulates the second level. Therefore, for such nesting to occur, the civilization "on top" would have to pour an infinite amount of computing power into the initial simulation to allow an infinite number of sub-simulations, no matter how small sub-simulations might be. An infinite amount of computing power is physically impossible, therefore, an infinite nesting of simulated realities is impossible.

More important is the issue of practicality. No corporation or group of taxpayers would foot the enormous bill for such a simulation for very long and then the budget would probably be mutilated millions of times. The simulation would almost certainly have some sort of application and end after a certain point.
 

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And if that's the case, then it changes things...how exactly?

Why are people so quick to claim they have everything figured out when they can't figure out how to cure cancer? "Seeing the truth" doesn't make you any different than David Koresh...the key is figuring out what you what it is that truly matters.

Logic can be used to build what you already now. But belief in logic will only take you so far.
 

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What if we are all just "souls" playing out a role we call "life" just to see what the outcome may be. Maybe this is our version of a "vacation" as in Total Recall. Perhaps our lives are nothing more than an invention such as that of Truman?
if this is just a vacation, I wish I had written a better one for myself. There are things in my life that have made things difficult and/or are pretty painful, and I would rather not have had to deal with them.

How do I get back to real life? :)

Still thinking about the rest. Lots to ponder, and I'm sitting in the middle of a computer class.

Why are people so quick to claim they have everything figured out when they can't figure out how to cure cancer? "Seeing the truth" doesn't make you any different than David Koresh...the key is figuring out what you what it is that truly matters.

Logic can be used to build what you already now. But belief in logic will only take you so far.
True. You still have to do the actual work... and you need to have a drive and motivation. Values are actually useful, since they direct what we do with our vision and knowledge.
 

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I'm rather Buddhist, philosophically, myself, but I don't think life is a computer simulation. Can't really know for sure, but I doubt it. The logic is sound enough, but one would have to take it on faith, without definite, empirical proof.
 

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I'm rather Buddhist, philosophically, myself, but I don't think life is a computer simulation. Can't really know for sure, but I doubt it. The logic is sound enough, but one would have to take it on faith, without definite, empirical proof.
Indeed, the paper hasn’t any “definite, empirical proof” – as practically any other paper relating to the informational / digital model of the Universe; all any aren’t nothing then next versions of Pythagore’s “all from numbers doctrine”.

Nonetheless the Universe indeed is a dynamical informational system that exists as a dynamical subset in the fundamental Set “Information”; and this enunciation indeed is proven, see arXiv paper "the Information as Absolute" (throgh Google, for example)

Cheers
 

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Hmm very interesting.

To me.. We are the computers. DNA is the source code and software.
The frontal Lobe, the upgraded hardware that allowed the program to run successfully where previous versions failed.

Evolution? Previous versions that did not work out. Modern humanity is Humankind V.09.

When your experiment is not working you go back to the drawing board.

My questions now are.. Are we working out or is newer more updated version coming soon?
Are we being observed? Did the program writers lose interest?

Just a thought or two on the subject.
 
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