Re: Simulation argument in the NY Times

From: Peter Butler (
Date: Sat Aug 18 2007 - 02:39:08 MDT

> Not to every assignment of probability, just to the ones where we have
> incomplete information - for example, I know that the dice is fair, I
> know Newtonian physics, so I can be reasonably certain that the
> chances
> of rolling a particular number are about 1 in 6.
> I can imagine only three things that would limit what we can imagine.
> First, and most obvious, things which are simply too complicated. In
> this case we should still be able to imagine them in rough outline.
> Second, things which are impossible in the fundamental logic of our
> universe, like 2 + 2 = 5. We can certainly imagine the representation
> of this, but we can't imagine it actually being true, because it's
> incoherent.
> Third, perhaps we have a specific mental block that prevents us from
> thinking about certain things, which is so sophisticated that it
> defeats all attempts to circumnavigate it, and includes its own
> existence in the set of things it prevents us from seeing. This is
> certainly physically possible, but would seem to require the tampering
> of some very powerful entity.

Sorry, perhaps I need to clarify. I'm not talking about the capacity of
the human brain to imagine the characteristics of a containing universe,
I'm talking about the paucity of information available about a
containing universe. If we are being simulated, it should be possible
(difficult, but possible) to design an experiment to test this. Once
tested and if found to be true, we may be able to derive information
about the containing universe. The fact that this information turns out
to contradict our logic, or to be too complex for us to understand (or
that there is an attempt by some malevolent entity to "hide" it from us)
is a separate issue entirely.

> My point is, this problem DOES apply to everything, even the rolling
> of dice, because your logic could always be tampered with, and your
> perception of the likelihood that your logic was tampered with could
> always be tampered with as well. The unthinkable is a crack in
> rationality which has an unknown size. It might be a hairline, it
> might be a chasm.

That's true, a simulated universe means that we can't make any
assumptions about the relevance of our logic to the containing universe.
However I don't see any reason for supposing that our logic has been
tampered with in order to hide the fact of simulation. To me this
assumes that there is an entity performing the simulation, which I don't
think is a valid assumption.

> To me, the incompleteness of the information available about our own
> universe is the crux of the problem: we simply don't know enough
> to say
> for certain whether we are living in a simulation, much less to
> make any
> guesses about the nature of the universe which may or may not be
> simulating us. Needless to say it would be very interesting to
> find out.
> The only thing that makes me think we're in a simulation is the
> philosophical problem of "why". Simulation doesn't solve this, but it
> is a probable step in any infinite chain of cause and effect. From all
> appearances, our intelligence was born of evolution, and earthly life
> was born of emergent structures, and a universe with only
> emergent-level order certainly does not require a designer.

I absolutely agree. However, this does not preclude the possibility
that we are being modelled by random processes. The lack of information
either way remains the biggest difficulty, and needs to be discovered
empirically if we are to have any hope of resolving this question.


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