REALITY A SIMULATION??
PHILOSOPHERS SURE POSE fundamental questions. In particular, metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines reality. How do we exist? What about the things around us?
Preston Greene is an assistant professor of philosophy at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and he asks a profound question in The New York Times, August 10, 2019: “Are We Living in a Computer Simulation? Let’s Not Find Out.”
As an avid flight simulator enthusiast (“It’s not a game, it’s a simulation”), I take an interest in this and offer tidbits on Professor Greene’s article.
Metaphysical Origins. As cited in Wikipedia, metaphysicians of yore include Plato, Buddha, Confucius, Averroes, Kant, and Nietzsche.
Top, Plato, Immaneul Kant, and Friedrich Nietzsche; below, Buddha, Confucius, and Averroes. Image by Javierfv1212.
These others may be familiar; Averroes is new to me. Ibn Rushd, latinized to Averroes, was a 12th-century Islamic Andalusian philosopher. This was during the 700-year period, 711–1492, when Christians and Muslims contested control of southwestern Europe. Early on, Muslim influence reached as far north as central France. The Battle of Tours, 732, was a significant Christian victory.
Statue of Averroes in Córdoba, Spain. Photo by Saleemzohaib.
Each of these metaphysicians asked, in one way or another, “What is there?” and “How do we experience it?”
A Sci-Fi Heritage. Reality being merely a lab experiment performed by advanced beings has appeared in sci-fi literature. I forget its name, but one tale in pre-computer times posited that we’re all just living in a petri dish as part of a higher being’s evolutionary study. The world of computer simulations has enhanced this idea, with artificial intelligence being an important element.
A petri dish with bacterial colonies in an agar-based growth medium. Are we something similar??
Powerful Simulations. Professor Greene asks about simulations becoming so sophisticated that the simulated “people” in the computer code believe they’re real.
“And what if this has already happened?” he asks.
“The theory that we are living in a computer simulation may sound bizarre,” he says, “but it has found adherents. The technology entrepreneur Elon Musk has said that the odds we are not simulated are ‘one in billions.’ ”
Just Pull the Plug? Greene offers an argument that we don’t want to know for sure. His analogy concerns medical trials of new drugs: “… it is vitally important that the patients not know whether they’re receiving the drug or a placebo. If the patients manage to learn who is receiving what, the trial is pointless and has to be canceled.”
And so it would be with an advanced civilization running this vast computer simulation we call reality. Greene says, “… it is crucial to researchers that we don’t find out that we’re in a simulation. If we were to prove that we live inside a simulation, this could cause our creators to terminate the simulation—to destroy our world.”
Gee, and I thought Nietzsche gave me the jitters. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019
Known as the idea of Nested Simulations : the existence of simulated reality is seen to be unprovable in any concrete sense as there is an infinite regress problem with the argument: any evidence that is directly observed could be another simulation itself.