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Memories of the 28th Century

Is it All a Simulation?

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The concept of reality being a computer simulation has been popular for some time, and I understand that is the hook in The Matrix, which I have never seen. One of the earliest serious consideration of the concept was Bostrom’s paper in 2001 (link below).

Bostrom’s concept runs into trouble with Occam’s Razor; it introduces a complication that is unnecessary. I have never seen the point of creating a huge simulation, when it would be easier to simply go and take a look. Bostrom discussed an advanced civilization creating the simulation to see how their ancestors acted. For an advanced civilization, time travel will be easy and inexpensive, but Bostrom’s paper is worth reading, if one is interested in the simulation idea.

I enjoyed the article “15 Irrefutable reasons We Might be Living in a Simulation”, but it doesn’t have much useful information. The first alleged reason is the “Mandela Effect”, referring to some people having thought that Nelson Mandela died in the 1980’s. That doesn’t provide any information about a simulation, only that some people have false memories. I won’t refute each item, but none of them proves that we are in a simulation, and some show clearly that the author of the article doesn’t understand the matter that he mentioned.

The BBC piece also lists a number of reasons that might point toward the universe being a simulation. I think it’s a matter of what one wants to believe. If you want to believe that it is a simulation, then any number of things point in that direction, and if one has other beliefs, then there are other explanations. In the past when I was younger, I thought about the universe being a simulation in the mind of some being. The idea was interesting, but it fell down on the amount of detail that would have to be there at all times. The same problem exists with computers; the amount of memory would have to equal or exceed the amount of things in the simulation.

One argument for the simulation is that the pixel size is given as the Planck length. That might make sense, if the Planck length were the minimum size for anything, but it is the distance that Planck estimated as the minimum about which we could make conclusions, 1.616255×10⁻³⁵ m. Observations of that level of smallness have not yet been made, but a way to photograph something that small might be found. As far as we can tell, the universe is a continuum; there are no gaps. That is also a flaw in some attempts to prove that “God” exists. Someone came up with a decent logical proof that suggested that there could be “God” in a non-continuous universe. And there was another proof that appeared to work for limited regions, “God” of the Solar System, but it didn’t work for the complete universe.

A related concept is the mystical idea of the physical universe being the result of divine power being directed through a series of things that alter it in some way. I am thinking of the Tree of Life, which has a backside where things are unwoven and returned to the pure light, and interesting details are collected Akashic Records. In this concept the physical world is a projection of the divine light in the region that we are in. This concept makes events as things that are imposed on what appear to be living things, so there is no free will. But logic dictates that free will is an illusion, regardless of the nature of the universe.

Overall, it is possible that the universe is a simulation, but it would be extremely difficult to determine that, unless the simulation was very poor quality, and it doesn’t make any difference, because every thing and event is determined by the Law of Cause and Effect, if not by the computer simulation. I believe that it is not a simulation, because that makes things more complicated, and Occam’s Razor dictates that the simpler explanation is probably the correct one. This a subject that can be very interesting, and some people become obsessed with it.

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  1. AuntShecky's Avatar
    Ok, so right now I'm —as the kids used to say — "weirded out." Less than 24 hours ago I read a New Yorker article with references to this very topic. "All the President's Men" by Jill Lepore describes the first time computer technology was employed in a Presidential election, namely the 1960 race between Kennedy and Nixon. The article ended with chilling parallels to simulation and such exploits by Facebook, Cambridge Analytical, and so forth.

    "And" — as the infomercials are wont to shout — "that's not all!" About a week ago, yours fooly finished viewing the final season of "Westworld" in which a futuristic tech corporation not only gathers info about every individual in the world's population but actually uses the data to design every minute of each person's life. It goes the social engineering one step farther.

    In addition to "The Matrix" (which after seeing all three components I'm not sure I completely comprehend) I'm beginning to recall other cultural allusions to this concept, such as the Series Finale to "St Elsewhere" from way back in 1988. The highly-imaginative gimmick was less like the "It was all a dream" cliché than an early glimmer of the phenomenon of which you speak.

    It all makes me a little angsty. If I were a drinking woman, I'd make myself a martini right about now and do what the great realist James Thurber advised: "Leave your mind alone."
  2. PeterL's Avatar
    Don't worry, while your decisions are constrained by cause and effect, you are not a simulation of a human, regardless of your what you might wish. I think that Port and Madeira are better than martinis, so have a glass of wine. And remember William of Occam.