Anurag Jain's Blog
Friday, August 22, 2003

Are we a Simulation? - Part II

If you watched Matrix with keen interest, you couldn't have missed the way it vibes with Indian philosphy and spirituality. The similarity of the concepts is striking: Maya -simulation, Mithya -simulation, Krishna - Morpheus, Arjun - Neo, Trinity - Radha? (LoL), God -Simulation Architect. You can almost feel as if the story comes from Indian mythology. A detailed comparison between the two was written recently in The Times of India, Reloading the Matrix of Indian philosophy. And a relatively lighter look at Matrix Maya by the venerable Jug Suraiya, Matrix Maya: Play it 'As If' it Were Real. (Also by Jug Suraiya, a tangential look at Freedom via Matrix: Matrix Myth and the Price of Freedom)

Now, coming back to yesterday's discussion, whether we are a simulation or 'real' human beings, the more important question, rather, as Neo asks in the movie is "What is real?". Who defines what is real, anyway? You? Me? Someone called God? Or, maybe someone called the 'Chief Simulation Architect'? If you think about it, Its kind of similar to the problem of what came first: chicken or egg? We can debate endlessly about what is real and what is not but in the end, for instance, it may turn out to be just an higher level of thinking capabilities endowed to us by a simulation! How do we know for sure that our capablity to question the basis of our existence is not a 'real consciousness'? Well, the truth is that there's no way to tell. Because its all infinitely-inward-nesting arguments. Watch Animatrix to get confused further. It explains the innards of Matrix theme: How machines came to dominate mankind. And it also answers the question: if we are a simulation, what happens to us when we die? No guesses for the answer: We are a piece of computer software code, and hence at 'death', We return to the mainframe to be destroyed or stored (for further use etc. OOP, anyone?).

If you are feeling like your brains are oozing outta your ears by now, hang on. There's help at hand. Nick Bostrom in his brilliant thesis Are You Living In a Computer Simulation? (pdf) explains logically and step-by-step as to what would it take for us today to be a simulated 'beings' and then goes on to prove why the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation! He argues that at least one of the following propositions is 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. .

Now, thats what I call a useful paper on a very chaotic subject. Its an example of original-thinking and a must read if you are interested in the very question of 'Who am I'. Consider the facts such as these: The simulating post-humans won't have to simulate the entire world. They can do away with the micro(scopic) details. They only need to simulate what we see. Hence, for instance, till the time we don't go to the undiscovered source of Amazon river, they have no reason to simulate it (btw, Amazon's river source was discovered under National Geographic camera a couple of years back only). That way, rather than creating a too-complex simulation with all the petty details, they can create a simulation which will serve the purpose of making us feel being in the real world. They can optimize their computing resources that way. However, Nick Bostrom throws spanners in the works of the whole beautiful possibility of us being simulated beings (LoL!) by concluding that even though its totally possible that post-humans will have the capabilty to run the simulation(s) of the magnitude of our civilization (and even though Aubrey de Grey, a scholar at Cambridge University predicts that "Our life expectancy will be in the region of 5,000 years" in rich countries in the year 2100, "), its highly unlikely that humans would ever reach that stage.

Now what do you do if you know that you are actually a simulated piece of code only? Okay enuff of WTF?, Holy Cow!, No shitttin and all. So what if we are a simulation, can we get down to business please? LoL. Seriously, no need to panic. Help is at hand again: Follwing up on Nick Bostrom's paper is a paper by Robin Hanson on how to adjust to the fact that we are not real: How to Live in a Simulation (pdf) Interestingly, he comes out with the conclusion that our behaviour would be and should be very different from if we 'knew' we were real. He says that "If you might be living in a simulation then all else equal you should care less about others, live more for today, make your world look more likely to become rich, expect to and try more to participate in pivotal events, be more entertaining and praiseworthy, and keep the famous people around you happier and more interested in you." The point being that you want your survival for the longest period lest you should be destroyed (killed) by the uninterested simulator. Read on the paper for interesting arguments. And you can follow the whole stream of thoughts on the topic at simulation-argument.

I guess, irrespective of reality(?), it would be fun if we were in simulation. (Remember Truman Show?).

Until we discover we are in one, that is!


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