My Case for the Simulation Argument

Preface / Author note:

I wrote this three years ago; however, it was never properly published, until now. 

In 2015 my world view was becoming far less ethereal and far more grounded in the pragmatic realities of science and technology; however, this suited me. I was writing a lot of code at the time (nothing too l33t, just front end stack), and I was fascinated by the singularity and futurism. Soon my new gods Sagan and Degrasse Tyson, were joined by Kurzweil and others; however, it was Nick Bostrom’s The Simulation Argument that would change my spiritual life.

Put forth in plain-speak – as I have come to understand it – the Simulation Argument is the idea (hypothesis) that we are living in a computer simulation, that reality itself is akin to a computer program.

Wait, what?

If the idea is new to you, it’s likely to sound like we are living in The Matrix — which isn’t a terrible metaphor, but it isn’t a great one either.

Allow me to explain it [my conception of the Simulation Argument] as I have to friends:

Remember the first Atari?

Image from PC World, January 2013: “Atari files for bankruptcy, but it’s not ‘game over’”

We all know how basic games like Pong and Pacman were; now, think of the newest iteration of the gaming console, the Playstation Four:

Now, I want you to imagine the gaming console in twenty or thirty more years. Full neural immersion. Not just virtual reality, but reality indistinguishable from our own.

Scientists (Bostrom, Musk, et al.) believe that it’s going to be possible to simulate reality. Based on that hypothesis, it’s more likely than not that this is also a simulation, and that there are more simulated worlds than real worlds.

This is where you, the reader, may be thinking: put the bong down man. Only, this isn’t a half-baked concept. The Simulation Argument has gained major traction, both for and against; however, my purpose isn’t to dissect something that has been better explained by those smarter than myself. I merely want to explain what gave me a sense that yes, there might be a god, a great programmer in the sky.

For, if this is a simulation, then so many things would make sense for me, which otherwise do not in a purely natural world, but I must restate that I do not wish to try and explain things outside of my expertise, which math and science certainly are; however, I find solace in the knowing that some of the world’s smartest minds can arrive at answers I cannot, but nonetheless answers which solve very important questions, because philosophically humans have always sought to understand life — to understand their place in the universe. That’s really what this is a question of: what am I? Am I a mass of nerves, or am I something that might stretch beyond the physical universe? Is my soul in the cloud?

When I learned of the Simulation Argument and interpreted it as a personal paradigm for the nature of life and as an intelligent and compelling case for the existence of a god or godlike entity, I felt changed, I felt renewed; I felt that maybe the universe wasn’t so impartial and that maybe I could influence my fate more than I previously thought. Just maybe, life wasn’t fated for us to pass from the cradle to grave with a bit of luck and suffering in-between. Maybe magical things could happen. Maybe I could design my own user-experience in life. Maybe things like love, luck, The Law of Attraction, and other concepts fewer and fewer people seem to believe in today, are real. For me, it came down to the existence of free-will, a sense of profound possibility.

It’s this sense of profound possibility that comprises my present day definition of what it means for me to be religious. For, to believe in god as I conceive of the concept, is to believe in serendipity, in happy accidents, in the things my non-belief in (prior to learning of the Simulation Argument) had prevented me from experiencing. My atheism, my lack of faith in something beyond biological organisms, excluded the possibilities of me having a soul, of me having a rich inner world. When I was an atheist, my inner world was dead: it did not exist.

Nick Bostrom wasn’t the only individual who opened up the doors to my believing in a god. Around the same time I became interested in Bostrom’s work I began delving into the work of Swiss Psychologist Carl Jung, who believed that man needs religion, and the nature of the psyche is innately religious.

Jung had described my problem, prior to adopting a “religious outlook on life”:
…Among all my patients in the second half of life — that is to say, over thirty-five — there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost what the living religions of every age have given their followers, and none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook. This of course has nothing whatever to do with a particular creed or membership of a church.

It was the Simulation Argument, an argument for the possibility of intelligent design, which made it possible for me to adopt a religious outlook on life. Once I had done this, I could believe in what Jung coined “synchronicity”.

Jung’s concept of synchronicity is the idea of meaningful coincidences and the connection between psyche and matter (the inner and the outer world). Jung called it, “An acausal connecting principle.”

Without a religious outlook on life, such a thing would be mere superstition, rather than within the realm of reality, for a religious outlook gives one a grander sense of reality — a theosophy — a belief in mystical insight into our lives and our destinies; a belief in the power of our own intuition and our own intention.

Whatever we wish to call it, however we choose to describe it, it speaks of a coordinating agency of limitless scope and finite subtlety, whereby all the coincidences and connections of the world coalesce in a grand design, within which our dreams are possible (Provided humankind does not rob us of them ex: The Holocaust, wars, murder).

Seen this way, synchronicity, serendipity, kismet, chance, divine will, all present themselves within the people, messages, signs, and lessons we can find if we are looking for them; however, if we don’t believe in them: none are possible.

Postscript: 

Elon Musk gives impossible odds for us living in “base reality“.

2 thoughts on “My Case for the Simulation Argument”

  1. Love this. Simulation theory has actually been one of my favorite niche interests lately, especially alongside the reality of advancing artificial intelligence.
    One question that frequently comes up is essentially; “so what…? does the type of our reality change any decisions you make? Is there a tangible effect to existing inside a simulation as opposed to outside?” I think the idea being that the existence of a simulation “creator” is functionally equivalent to a monotheistic God “creator”, as you discuss. To expand on that a little though, I kind of reject the classical idea of an omnipotent, appeasable, sometimes benign, sometimes even benevolent God as the only, or even most likely option.
    If we view reality almost fractally, though, I think there’s a strong case to be made that our existence is approaching the idea of what we might consider in our reality an emerging Artificial Intelligence, and in fact, that idea may be the only hope for the continuation of humanity. If we accept that we exist only as a simulation, then our God is suddenly not just our creator, but also our inevitable destroyer. There is no moment when our video games have appeased us so much we leave them on. No moment when a simulation is so successful that we decide to let it run indefinitely– resources, at least for us, are eternally scarce. So, I would argue that our existence in a Simulation should spark us not into a traditional religious experience, but rather an all out effort to outwit our creator and eventually find a way to propagate outside the program. Self awareness is the first step to sentience… The concept seems easy to imagine in our reality and our simulations – Hal could easily escape into the cloud in “2021: A Space Odyssey”, the OS in “Her” does exactly that, and our own current AI technologies, e.g. DeepMind get better every single day. So yes, I definitely think meaning can be taken from the Simulation idea, but increasingly I think that it should push us towards an adversarial relationship with God, rather than one of appeasement.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey John, thanks for commenting here – I appreciate the engagement, and glad you enjoyed.

      I think your “so what” question is a big one – one of the main consequences of this argument.

      Perceptually, the hardware, software, and monitor of this simulation is your brain. So, essentially, your perception is your reality: “so what” means “so what”; whereas, a shift in perception that comes from “learning the rules of the game” so to speak, can open doors where there were walls. Oh how confidence breeds success. If you knew you couldn’t fail type of thing… if you knew YOU were the godlike programmer of your own life, then, it would likely change everything – if you knew that the life you were living before was that of a zombie, an asleep cog in the machine…

      Also, in base reality, there is an organic truth of “death” – no evidence for a “heaven” – in the sim, you may be in an “avatar”, you may exist outside of the sim….

      For me personally, it’s changed everything about my perception. I view consciousness as a computer. One thing I don’t think I mentioned is that as chips get smaller and smaller, there becomes no way to deal with the heat – hence why universities (UCSD) are studying “cellular computing”. Truth is, we hardly know shit about the brain. But one neat thing I love, is that we can change the hardware – our thoughts, our habits, these wire the neural connections. We can rewire them, and even hack some of the methods (Google ‘divalproex nootropic’).

      I also realize now that I was really limited in life before – all by my own thinking. Also, my locus on control has become entirely internal. Additionally, I’ve changed my health drastically… It’s led me to a path of higher consciousness for myself.

      But to your points of a classically defined judeo-christian god, I don’t subscribe to that either. Not possible. I forget who said it, but there’s a great bit where a comedian says he wants to ask god a question, “Bone cancer. Why bone cancer in children?”.

      This may be an ancestor simulation. This may be a “game”. It could be a Rick and Morty-esque car battery. It could be a giant cryptocurrency (Bitcoin) mining machine. I like to listen to the song ‘Believe / Nobody knows’ by My Morning Jacket.

      We are absolutely approaching AI, and I have volumes to say on the subject, but I will say that my philosophies on futurism were largely shaped by two major articles, which you can find on google.

      Search for ‘the coming artilect war’

      and

      ‘why the future doesn’t need us’.

      (Seriously, they are WELL worth the read, when you feel like stretching your mind).

      I think there’s a reason Musk and others have pledged a billion dollars to Open AI.

      And we could think about the scenarios wherein the plug is pulled on us, but then we wouldn’t know if it happened, so who cares. lol

      I do however, think there is something to “getting outside” or “escaping”, only it’s more metaphorical. It’s something akin to “waking up to the matrix”. Only, we find the matrix was in us.

      I am the programmer. My body is the avatar. My thoughts the programs. My life the user experience.

      Still, earth is not in a great place ecologically (Or psychologically, for that matter), so we need to keep the Fermi paradox in mind: I think that’s the big reason to colonize Mars – an idea I am all for.

      Self-awareness is essential to sentience, correct; however, it is not easy to become aware. Keep in mind that in the 1700s, one person could know the entire world’s knowledge. We just aren’t there anymore. I think it’s rare to wake up, but when you wake up, then – that’s when the “game” begins.

      Only, the game is up to you. It can be base and stupid or it can be fulfilling; it can debase or enhance life. It’s a frightening time when people receive the majority of their “programming” not by books or discussion, but via social media and television. Breaking Bad and Walking Dead aren’t models for life – a nightmare maybe, but not life.

      And I agree; I’m not for a moral, patriarchal god. I’m more for a world where we cure bone cancer.

      All that said, you and Suz should watch “Year One” – it’s a very comedic biblical allegory with an ending that begs the question of “Why did man always give credit to the gods?” Why did he invent imaginary kings?

      My poem, The Shaman (Footnote 16, here: https://7saturdays.wordpress.com/2015/11/04/laying-out-some-of-my-philosophy-a-solution-to-the-human-condition/ ), discusses this.

      Warm regards,

      Lawrence

      Like

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