Are we living in a simulation?

Sunday, 18 August 2013
I was reading the other day about the Simulation Argument here. I found it very interesting.

 The question raised is: are we living in a simulation?

The concept was popularised by the film The Matrix. Are we living in a virtual world? The Simulation Argument states: One of these are true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.

The argument is very simple: if there is any stage when humanity can simulate the human mind, and a lot of people are dedicated to simulate human beings, it is very probable that we are a simulation.

There are many subtleties about this postulate. The first question would be: can we simulate a human mind? If we assume that our minds are only the result of our physical substrate, then, in theory, we could do that. I say in theory because the technological problems of simulating all our neurons and their interactions would be very difficult.

But, for the sake of the argument, let´s say that we can simulate a human brain. Then, what about the universe in which it is immersed? We should simulate it too in order for that mind not to realise it is not a human being. That seems a little bit difficult. In the first place we should know everything about our universe. Could we create a different universe that looks like ours without knowing our own?

Well, the question of the universe is important if we want to create a human mind that is free in its own universe. We could just create a life sequence where the individual thinks he or she is free, but that in fact is deterministic.

It that sense, there are different kind of simulations: the life of this person is completely simulated, or only their psychology is simulated, and they are actually free; you can simulate a population, instead of only one person, both with freedom or without it. In a free simulation with a population their minds would interact and could “discover” their world as we do, that is, creating an objective reality that is made of all the common things they experience. They could develop a science in their world.

But, would they realise they are simulations? Let´s go back to the simulation of the universe. Could we simulate our universe? There are different positions: some people like Wolfram believe that we are just an algorithm, a Cellular Automata, which rules we do not know yet. But, knowing those rules and the initial conditions, we would be able to simulate our universe. However, other people think that it is not possible (see my post “What does the Universe know?”). Would we reach a point where we find the “flaws” of The Matrix?

This also creates a problem for those who think about the simulation of specific lives, such as Einstein´s life, or Napoleon´s life, etc. The Simulation Argument would give the opportunity of having a holyday by living the life of some important person in History. For that we should know, as we said, the rules and initial conditions of the universe.

If the rules were known, the initial conditions could be calculated by an optimization method, by knowing the state of the universe at one point. That is not so “difficult”: we could use the holographic principle and measure the state of the universe in its boundary only.

And that is only if the universe is deterministic. What if it is not so? Could we simulate our History? Perhaps we would be able to create Histories that look alike, but with different details (like in The Foundation series, by Asimov). Or perhaps not.

The Simulation Argument raises a lot of questions, that I think are very important. The main one is: can a human mind be simulated? Well, since I believe that we are only a bunch of atoms (or quarks, or whatever), I think that “in theory” that could be possible. Only we do not have the technology necessary to do so. Then, would it be ethic? That is another question.

More questions come to my mind, but I think I will leave it there. I hope you found it interesting too.

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