our god is a middle-aged man in his parent’s basement

It’s occurred to all of us at one time or another that we’re not really here, hasn’t it? I know I’ve thought about it a great deal. I never took the thought seriously though. Well, if Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom is right, maybe it’s not such a ridiculous idea after all. He thinks there’s a good chance we all exist in someone else’s computer simulation. Here’s a clip from the “New York Times”:

…Dr. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or “posthumans,” could run “ancestor simulations” of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems.

Some computer experts have projected, based on trends in processing power, that we will have such a computer by the middle of this century, but it doesn’t matter for Dr. Bostrom’s argument whether it takes 50 years or 5 million years. If civilization survived long enough to reach that stage, and if the posthumans were to run lots of simulations for research purposes or entertainment, then the number of virtual ancestors they created would be vastly greater than the number of real ancestors….

There would be no way for any of these ancestors to know for sure whether they were virtual or real, because the sights and feelings they’d experience would be indistinguishable. But since there would be so many more virtual ancestors, any individual could figure that the odds made it nearly certain that he or she was living in a virtual world….

This kind of puts a bit of a different spin on the story I posted here a few days ago about the man who, much to his wife’s displeasure, took a virtual wife in Second Life, doesn’t it? (Or, would that be Third Life?) It certainly makes life more interesting. I like the thought that the guys, for instance, who conceived of The Matrix, are actually themselves part of the matrix. Same goes for Philip K. Dick, I guess…. I’m sure there’s lost of clever stuff to be said, but my head is throbbing.

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  1. Robert
    Posted August 15, 2007 at 1:08 am | Permalink

    So I may be someone’s avatar? Their life must be shitty to a degree unimaginable to the human mind.

  2. dm
    Posted August 15, 2007 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I’m reminded of an old Warner Borthers cartoon where the character throws a ball so hard it hits him in the back of the head. Not sure why…

    The “life is a simulation” argument appears to require an “intelligent designer” if I am understanding it right. That seems to start with the premise that the chicken not only came first, but that there was no egg. I still prefer the idea of Emergence and the development of complexity from simple rules and simple parts. Simulations would then be viewed as compositions with the potential for the Emergent property of “Life”. This idea seems richer, simpler, and more comprehensive. It narrows down the Beginning to the question ” What are the Simple rules and what do they act on”.

    Alfred North Whitehead believed that the Simple units of reality were “occassions of experience” that were built up into composite groupings to make objects and mind. I think that his Process Philosophy was “monist”, favoring mind over body. His philosophy is the first one I know of that tried to deal with the current understanding that quantum physics had of reality.

    The idea of life as a simulation implies an imitation of something else, and the idea that the Simple parts of ultimate reality are electrons flowing across a circuit board seems insufficient to me. The patterns formed seem to be a better choice for investigation….

    It all comes back to Metaphysical questions and we end up leaving the safety of discrete and contiguous paved sidewalk blocks to find ourselves stuck in the mud or quicksand continuum…

    Anything to contribut to this Flick?

  3. Karen
    Posted August 15, 2007 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Mark. Simulating As and Cs and Gs and Ts was starting to seem futile, but it was only because I hadn’t considered the full potential of these efforts. This has definitely given me a renewed interest in my work.

    I feel like a kid who has just sent away for Sea Monkeys…

  4. Tyrell O'Jimatony
    Posted August 15, 2007 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    I just got online to check my email one last time before killing myself, and I decided to drop by here. Well, I’m not going to kill myself. This post changed my life. I am going to sew my eyelids closed instead.

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