Simulated Reality

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AuthorTopic: Simulated Reality
Shock Trooper
Member # 6754
Profile #0
Do we exist in simulated reality?
... if so, does it matter?
... can we ever find out?
... what kind is it?
... can we ever produce our own?

I'm also tempted to ask about cosmology -- "Are we alone?" But that might broaden the discussion a little too much.

Nick Bostrom appears to be the foremost philosopher regarding simulated reality. Here's his general resource. By no means do I wish to limit you to his articles and views; I hereby explicitly encourage further research and speculation.

Wikipedia has a fairly complete article on it as well. Odds are, the idea isn't really new to you (read: odds are you've seen The Matrix).

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"Write a wise saying and your name will live forever." - Anonymous
Posts: 284 | Registered: Tuesday, January 31 2006 08:00
Infiltrator
Member # 7488
Profile #1
quote:
Originally written by Nick Ringer:

Do we exist in simulated reality?
... if so, does it matter?
... can we ever find out?
... what kind is it?
... can we ever produce our own?

Methinks you watched The Matrix at least one too many times.

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Posts: 558 | Registered: Friday, September 15 2006 07:00
Shock Trooper
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If you deny that reality in front of you isn't reality, then I guess I say I'm a purple-faced sgnork-bag from Zantar-98, no way to prove otherwise because this is a simulation.

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Posts: 301 | Registered: Tuesday, August 21 2007 07:00
Agent
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quote:
Do we exist in simulated reality?
None may leave the clutches of Spiderweb Software. Those in existence are all Imban. That Imban can simulate himself is an unanswered question that cannot be debated.

Honestly, I think that question is a little bit silly. There's no way to reach a conclusion to that question, or at least that I know of.

[ Tuesday, February 26, 2008 16:43: Message edited by: Excalibur ]

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Posts: 1384 | Registered: Tuesday, February 6 2007 08:00
Guardian
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First two questions: Meh. I've always thought of simulated reality as multiplayer solipsism. Unfalsifiable, and in need of a good shave from that Ockham fellow.

Second two questions: If we are simulated, I see two possibilities for the environment that simulates us.

It could be a universe just like ours, with similar or identical laws of physics. If so, there will be limits on what can be computed/simulated. An increase in the amount of information in the simulation will correspond with an increase in the physical size of the simulator, no matter how efficient the space is used (not my area of speciality, but even quantum computers will not be able to store an infinite amount of information with a finite number of qubits). The speed of light also puts a hard limit on how fast communication within the simulator can take place, though it doesn't pose a significant problem for the simulation (however, in my opinion it shows Omega Point to be a load of bunk).

I don't think the simulator could exist in a universe like ours, because then we could theoretically make one ourselves, and cause the infinite recursion problem described on the linked Wikipedia page. The alternative is that the simulator exists in a universe unlike our own, not governed by our laws of physics. Of course, believing in such a transcendent reality fits more under some religions. Who knows? Maybe the End Times will be heralded with "STACK OVERFLOW" appearing in the skies. The Day of Reckoning is here - time to dump core. :P

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Posts: 1509 | Registered: Tuesday, January 10 2006 08:00
? Man, ? Amazing
Member # 5755
Profile #5
I thought they had fixed that line of code. Perhaps it is a congenital defect in the mechanism that creates these random pockets of existentialism. One would have thought that evolution would have taken care of it, except it hasn't. Odd. Back to the lab, as it were.

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Synergy, et al - "I don't get it."

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Posts: 4114 | Registered: Monday, April 25 2005 07:00
Law Bringer
Member # 335
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The odds say that we're virtual people.

—Alorael, who thinks quantum mechanics are just a way to reduce processor requirements. The downside, however, is that the universe isn't intelligently designed. It's bureaucratically designed by the convergence of the needs of researchers, entertainers, and crotchety politicians.
Posts: 14579 | Registered: Saturday, December 1 2001 08:00
Agent
Member # 4574
Profile #7
The Two Universal Truths:

"All I know is that I know nothing." -Socrates

"I think, therefore I am." -Rene Descartes

Nothing exists, save myself. You may believe that you exist, but you have no ways of proving it. Everything you know is a lie, provided by stimulations in the brain. But you don't know that for sure. You know nothing. You don't exist.

For the purposes of sanity, I find it is best to conform to the flow. But keep the Truthes in your mind at all times. Even though your mind doesn't exist.

[/topic]

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"I'm happy I'm the mentally disturbed person I am." -Nioca
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Posts: 1186 | Registered: Friday, June 18 2004 07:00
BANNED
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Dear Misters Mystic and Xel'Raga: Until you are familiar with the issues, for which Nick Ranger generously provides us background information, then do not burden us with your juvenile, verbal diarrhea. Many thanks. :)

Kinggolden, I believe you may want to familiarize yourself with the Meditations on First Philosophy to learn why your mind exists. It is odd that you would deny the existence of your mind, considering that you quoted Descartes. Perhaps you ought to reread your Descartes before dropping his most clichéd line. :o

My general take on Cartesian skepticism is that, while we may be subject to simulation of some sort, all we can defer to is our experience. When we dream, we may be convinced that the dream is reality, but we do not doubt that reality is reality. (The only time we do that is in the philosophy classroom. :) ) When we wake up, we have very good reasons to doubt that our dreams were real, and we have very good reasons to believe that what we experience is real.

Of course, that's simply saying that we do what is most practical, but you did ask whether or not it matters, and the answer is clearly no: Even if it's theoretically possible to "beat the system," we can prove that our time would be better spent aiming for ends we can reach.

Whether or not we can simulate such experiences ourselves seems to be what Bostrom is unsure of. I don't think we can answer that until we make better technology.

(And I cannot begin to fathom "what kind" of simulated reality we exist in--the nature of the problem prevents us from knowing this, since if we knew what kind of simulation we were in, we would presumably not be deceived by it anymore.)

Ultimately, to answer your first (and most interesting) question: Take a course on the material, or simply look up who has written on the subject. While not many philosophers adopt a skeptical position (except for perhaps Richard Rorty), there is great debate as to precisely why skepticism is wrong. I do not have the background to adopt a stance on this issue.
Posts: 134 | Registered: Sunday, February 3 2008 08:00
Shaper
Member # 7420
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To claim to know anything more than what your own senses can tell you is pretentious nonsense. Next question, please.

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You lose.
Posts: 2156 | Registered: Thursday, August 24 2006 07:00
Apprentice
Member # 12597
Profile #10
Reality is an illusion created by the lack of alcohol and/or drugs, preferably the first option.
Posts: 4 | Registered: Sunday, December 16 2007 08:00
Electric Sheep One
Member # 3431
Profile #11
This question is great if you've never thought much about it before, but boring if you have, because it doesn't actually take all that long to reach dead ends in all directions. The process of reaching all those dead ends is very instructive, though. So perhaps people who are bored with the question could just leave this thread alone, and not spoil the fun for people who aren't bored yet.

For people who may be only a bit bored, I find a more down-to-earth exercise holds my interest better. Pick any random simple object, like an apple or a pencil or your fingernail or whatever. Stare at it for a while, and try to determine what you really know about it, and how you know whatever you know.

What is the object, is it real, what was it in the past, what will it be in the future, what is it made of, what is it part of? Consider whatever questions you think you can answer. You can play around, too, with what standard of confidence you demand for something to count as an answer. Is there anything about which you can be utterly certain? How much are uncertain answers worth?

To me, the issues that come up in this kind of exercise are the only issues that are really interesting in big-picture cosmological debates. But you have the added advantage of everything being focused on an everyday object that is really there. Probably.

Maybe it's just me, but I generally don't find myself thinking much about atomic structure or the neurobiology of vision, but about where all the little nicks and scratches on my pen came from, how its pieces fit together, how it was manufactured. That sort of thing. But I think the very fact that I can get distracted (if that's what it is) in this way is a huge and vital feature of reality, which is usually given far less than its due in the big, broad brush discussions about Reality with a capital R.

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Posts: 3335 | Registered: Thursday, September 4 2003 07:00
BANNED
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Mr. Trinity, if I may take such liberty:

quote:
It is helpful to doubt everything once,

But it is more interesting to consider everyday objects.

With such objects, you can consider important philosophic questions without losing scope; questions like... (the ones you listed).

You will question the same important things you would if you doubted everything, but you won't have to doubt the thing you're considering.

It is useful to consider what's relevant to life because it is easier to concentrate on it.
I would say more, but I'm getting distracted, sorry. :(

[ Tuesday, February 26, 2008 23:54: Message edited by: Diprosopus ]
Posts: 134 | Registered: Sunday, February 3 2008 08:00
Warrior
Member # 5483
Profile #13
quote:
don't think the simulator could exist in a universe like ours, because then we could theoretically make one ourselves, and cause the infinite recursion problem described on the linked Wikipedia page.
Ever see the movie The Thirteenth Floor? A simulation created a simulation of its own so after observing it for a little while they shut it down and killed everyone who knew enough to reproduce it.

Anyway for those who claim we would be able to tell if our reality is a simulation, consider this: let's go back to the early days of 3D rendering. Most stuff was quite blocky and the rendering of it wasn't very smooth. Now let's suppose you were born in a simulated reality very similar to this. You wouldn't know any different and have no idea that things should be smoother, etc. Therefore by extension you could use the analogy of the aforementioned simulated reality to this reality as this reality (if simulated) to the actual reality. As you can see the inhabitants of a simulated reality are unaware of anything outside the limitations of the program and therefore they wouldn't be able to tell the difference whereas in our dreams things differ from our experience in reality and we return to reality later and because of these we can tell the difference in our dreams and therefore dreams and a simulated reality can not be used in a good analogy.

[ Wednesday, February 27, 2008 07:51: Message edited by: The_Other_Guy ]

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Ignorance Is bliss -Cypher (Matrix)
Don't think you can; know you can -Morpheus (Matrix)

sanity is overrated :)
Posts: 130 | Registered: Monday, February 7 2005 08:00
Infiltrator
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"Have you ever wondered why life is such a sad business? Well, it's because God is an artist, and all true art is angsty.What, it still doesn't make sense to you? Don't worry, true art is incomprehensible as well!"

- Me. Other people might have said something similar in the past, but I'm not yet aware of them.

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Posts: 617 | Registered: Tuesday, April 13 2004 07:00
By Committee
Member # 4233
Profile #15
Hmm. Well, to the extent that we are able to comprehend or change things, simulation or no, our reality is "effectively real" for our purposes. I suspect there's much more going on beyond our ability to perceive (and not necessarily in any religiously-associated way), but I'm uncertain if we'll ever be able to plumb the depths further. I fully expect we'll definitely give it a good solid go, though.

Hooray for the Matrix! If only I could know kung fu too. :)
Posts: 2242 | Registered: Saturday, April 10 2004 07:00
Law Bringer
Member # 335
Profile Homepage #16
quote:
Originally written by Diprosopus:

Kinggolden, I believe you may want to familiarize yourself with the Meditations on First Philosophy to learn why your mind exists. It is odd that you would deny the existence of your mind, considering that you quoted Descartes. Perhaps you ought to reread your Descartes before dropping his most clichéd line. :o
Diprosopus, you may want to read that post again. He doesn't doubt his own mind. He doubts your mind and my mind. We are, to him, unverifiable, and therefore he has jumped to solipsism.

I also think SoT's exercise is fundamentally different from going about doubting everything that is not certain. We claim knowledge about all kinds of things that aren't knowable in a Cartesian sense, but what do we mean by knowing? That's an important and different, though related, problem.

How about another epistemological question to go with SoT's exercise? Suppose you have a favorite pen with a distinctive appearance. You walk into a room and see your pen lying on the table. You pick it up. Yep, it's your pen all right. Only it's not: someone has taken your pen and secretly taped it under the table where you can't see it, then placed a copy on the table. Do you know that your pen is in the room or not? What does that say about the difference between knowledge and belief?

—Alorael, who returns briefly to the original simulated reality questions to add that we've already simulated reality. Not very complicated reality containing any intelligence or much size, obviously, but what else is a first-person shooter running with only AI-controlled characters? Or, for that matter, what else is Conway's Game of Life?
Posts: 14579 | Registered: Saturday, December 1 2001 08:00
Agent
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What's the point in worrying whether or not reality is real? The planet is doomed either way.

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Posts: 1104 | Registered: Monday, March 10 2003 08:00
Shock Trooper
Member # 6754
Profile #18
quote:
Originally written by Dintiradan:

It could be a universe just like ours, with similar or identical laws of physics. If so, there will be limits on what can be computed/simulated.
. . .
I don't think the simulator could exist in a universe like ours, because then we could theoretically make one ourselves, and cause the infinite recursion problem described on the linked Wikipedia page.

That'd be a nice way out, but I'm afraid we rely on instruments to tell us about the universe. Should a computer control our universe, it could fool into thinking something is a certain way, with simple, easy-on-the-processor representation of it. For instance, stars could just be lit-up spheres - the processor running our universe wouldn't have to worry about each Hydrogen atom to convince us that the star is there, and indeed, we believe it's made up of atoms like everything else. It can't be disproved ... And of course, none of this matters because, as you said, the universe could simply be more complex than the one it controls. The_Other_Guy probably explained this point better - oh well.

The direction I was hoping to push this thread was downward into the next recursion, if possible. Many of the forumers here have programming experience. So I'll whack out some more specific questions:

Let's suppose we wanted to simulate reality. Not like Alorael said - reality with conscious inhabitants, with some degree of free will, advanced enough to mistake for reality. How much computing power would we need to make a simulation - say, a planet? Is it possible to acquire? If so, how long until humanity gets it?

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"Write a wise saying and your name will live forever." - Anonymous
Posts: 284 | Registered: Tuesday, January 31 2006 08:00
Lifecrafter
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For something as complex as what we perceive as "reality", it would take a lot of computing power. Plus it would take a complete understanding of virtually every law of science. That is, it wouldn't just be your average BoA scenario building on the weekend. You'd need not only a lot of manpower, but also all-encompassing expertise. In short the whole programming team would need to know everything about the universe they live in before designing one of their own.

Regarding the original discussion… can you imagine the shock if you found out that you were just a component of someone's computer game? That'd be like coming to the realization that you're actually just a figment of someone's imagination, in their dream. Then as soon as they wake up, you're just gone.

Do you feel insignificant yet? :P

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Posts: 743 | Registered: Friday, September 29 2006 07:00
Electric Sheep One
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Profile #20
There are so many gruesome murder mystery series out now, that today it occurred to me that someone should write a mystery in which some kind of maniac is killing off all the mystery writers. He takes out author after author, in hideous ways inspired by their own books. But the police finally begin to track him down, and it all builds up towards a climactic capture scene at the Library of Congress. Then you turn over the last page, and it just says, 'Ha! Got another one!'

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Posts: 3335 | Registered: Thursday, September 4 2003 07:00
Agent
Member # 4574
Profile #21
quote:
Originally written by Student of Trinity:

There are so many gruesome murder mystery series out now, that today it occurred to me that someone should write a mystery in which some kind of maniac is killing off all the mystery writers. He takes out author after author, in hideous ways inspired by their own books. But the police finally begin to track him down, and it all builds up towards a climactic capture scene at the Library of Congress. Then you turn over the last page, and it just says, 'Ha! Got another one!'
Yes. I endorse this project entirely, and I feel that such a book would sell well on the mystery circuit. Get busy writing.

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"I'm happy I'm the mentally disturbed person I am." -Nioca
"Yes, Iffy is a demon." -Iffy
Posts: 1186 | Registered: Friday, June 18 2004 07:00
? Man, ? Amazing
Member # 5755
Profile #22
Kinsey Millhone will need something to do after she runs out of letters.

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Synergy, et al - "I don't get it."

Argon - "I'm at a loss for words..."
Posts: 4114 | Registered: Monday, April 25 2005 07:00
Electric Sheep One
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Profile #23
Kinsey could get into Unix and solve some cybercrimes: .is_for_hidden, ?is_for_wild, *is_for_completion, that sort of thing.

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Listen carefully because some of your options may have changed.
Posts: 3335 | Registered: Thursday, September 4 2003 07:00
Warrior
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Profile #24
Do we exist in simulated reality?

First, you would have to define what "We" or "I" is.

I think by "we", you probably mean your conscious mind. In that case I would say yes, we live in a simulated reality. Your conscious mind is processing inputs received from your sensory organs and creating your perception of reality.

Are you asking whether the inputs representations of real things? No way to know.

... if so, does it matter? What does it mean for something to matter? That is a value judgment. In my mind, it matters as far as it helps me understand my present reality. Since the answer to the next question is no, the answer to this question is that it is not of prime importance.
... can we ever find out? No.
... what kind is it? Either actual physical phenomena are generating energy detected by sensor organs and transmitting electrical signals to our organic, physical brains, or something else is transmitting signals to our organic physical brains, our everything, including our brains is a simulation.
... can we ever produce our own? Yes, to an ever increasing degree of complexity. That complexity can never exceed (or approach) the complexity of the present world we perceive.

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Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.
Posts: 93 | Registered: Tuesday, June 29 2004 07:00

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