Blog: What if you’re simulated
Nothing really. You probably should live exactly as you were living before.
The idea of “living in an unreal world” is a pretty scary yet popular one. Even Descartes was kinda obsessed with an evil genius who might be faking his perceptions and we all know where did he end up: I think, therefore I am. Nowadays, thanks to Hollywood, we have seen many movies about so-called “simulation theory”. From Matrix with a pretty direct line to Vanilla Sky with a less direct path and even Trueman show with an indirect way they’re all asking the same question: “what if you’re living a lie?” In this post, I’ll first bring up some arguments for “you’re living a lie” and then I’ll think out loud about the “what if” part.
Is it possible?
So I remember about three years ago I read a paper by Nick Bostrom that uses some statistics and probabilities to argue we are likely to be simulated. After a while, a pretty interesting video by Kursgusagt was published and extended the main paper by adding two more arguments to the original three ones so go check the video out if you don’t want to read the paper. Just to have a common ground tho, let me ruin the main arguments by trying to summarizing them into a line or two:
“If the advancement of technology continues at the same pace and we won’t fuck up humanity, sooner or later there will be a time that we can practically simulate another generation of humanity to answer tons of our fundamental questions. Well then what if we ourselves are one of these simulations?”
If you think about it, we are going there pretty fast. I don’t want to give you examples of weird stuff done by an A.I or how computing performance is increasing on a daily basis. We know these, we are experiencing them ourselves so there’s no need for it just ask your phone a weird question and you’ll be delighted by the answer. But now think about it, the first iPhone came out when I was going to high school. I clearly remember my classmate said, “ there’s a game that you should navigate a ball to the hole by just tilting your phone” and we went nuts over it. Now the same device has more power than my previous desktop computer and doing stuff by tilting it is the least interesting aspect of it.
Another example, I was downloading Harry Potter posters with my dial-up connection at a maximum 10KBs praying for all the Gods I knew not to lose the connection, now I’ll rage the hell out and start sending hate-mails to Vodafone if my download speed goes under 10MBs. All in fewer than two decades. Extrapolate, not two but what I’ll go crazy about in 50 years (probably my dentures are not connected to the internet so I can’t tweet what I chewed) or even our offsprings in 2200, they’ll experience technologies beyond our imagination.
So, if we don’t fuck up our civilization, we probably are able to simulate “something” that will raise some ethical questions. I know there are limitations to Moor’s law due to how small we can go physically but also there are alternatives like quantum computing or biological computing. Also, well, even if we hit the rock bottom there, we’ll be having no ceiling. In principle, you can end up having a computer that fills up a whole city or even bigger.
How probable is it tho?
Anyway, what that simulated thing can be? Let’s think, that computer can simulate the “thing” in different scales. At largest, the thing might be the whole universe, with all of its physical properties and dynamics by a 3rd level civilization in the Kardashev scale.
I wouldn’t if I had the power tho, I’m interested in minds and brains so for me the interesting scale starts from simulating planets and their ecosystem, like, if and how life emerges and how far it goes. If I am the researcher in a 3rd level civilization, I’d probably simulate thousands of single planets instead of a whole universe BUT WAIT, isn’t it the same? Interestingly, it might be actually. That famous Drake equation spits out some chilling numbers of “communicative civilisations” just in the Milky Way, between 1,000 and 100,000,000. Again, just in the Milky Way.
Let’s say we’re not that advanced. Scale it down then. Simulate just a city, just a group, just one person 100,000,000 times. You don’t even need to simulate everything just render whatever that person can perceive and the rest is nothing. Let me make it scarier, just put a brain into a vat and feed fake sensory input to it. I know we’re not even close to this but comparing to simulating the whole universe this is a joke.
Ok now I’m gonna jump again, sorry for that but I’ll wrap everything together at the end, I promise. So far, I said: “A decent computer can simulate a whole universe and shittier ones can reduce the scale to just one person.” Oh well, you might ask why should anyone want to do it anyway? I shall give you the laziest answer here. Curiosity. I, personally, would do it and if there’s only one person like me with the power of simulation then it’s probably happening. Imagine how many questions you can answer by simulating just one person. You can change a single parameter (hair colour) and run the simulation and see how does hair colour changes stuff for that person. This is already happening actually. Computational neuroscientists are simulating small creatures living in a virtual world doing some stuff. They actually have a lifetime, they eat, they fight, they reproduce, and they die. Then the next generation will do it and the so-called agent with the highest fitness will reproduce again and the same happens for many generations. Then they change some parameters and see how it affects the output. What could possibly stop us from doing the same on a larger scale?
Why are we doing it? simulations help us to gain more knowledge about our own behaviour and the way that a biological nervous system performs different tasks. It then feeds back to better Artificial Neural Networks that we use to simulate more realistic and better A.Is and the cycle repeats. So the motivation is clear but even if I’m just a sick psychopath wanna drown my sim in a pool to see how the family reacts to his death, it’s kinda enough to assume it’s happening. The question next will be that if we are living in the scientific simulation or the psychotic one?
Here’s the last part. Let me deliver my promise:
“The motivation behind the simulation is totally irrelevant for the simulated agents and the chance of us being in one simulation is considerable. Based on a simple extrapolation of our own technological advancement, if we don’t wipe out ourselves from the existence, there will be a time that we can simulate at least one person and there will be us simulating the whole universe.”
Now what? For me the question of “are we living in a simulation?” is not that critical but what comes after is. “What should I do?” I see people go towards the religion and stuff here saying “well then the almighty god is the simulator so we gotta pray.” the answer for me was “nothing.” I mean, if I’m the only person who is alive and the rest is just made up by a supercomputer, it still means there should be tons of different “Me”s that are exploring the effect of changing my parameters. In this case, I’ll be negligible in this sense that I will be a guinea pig or something. Do scientists actually change the experiment in favour of the guinea pig? This question already assumes that we have a direct communication line with the one who’s in charge. I can’t remember anybody around me, running a simulation and look at each trial individually and even if they do, they never intervened. I mean what kind of science would that be? We’ll get lonelier if the point of simulation is not one person or so, but planets or evolution of life under different ecological conditions. Probably all of us will be a small dot on a chart that is showing how many planets reached what level of whatever the simulators are interested in.
Back to the question, now what? I thought, in any case, the fact that we are simulated shouldn’t bother. I mean, what is the point if the simulation is our reality? why should we even care if the whole universe is “real” or simulated when it actually is real for us. Reality makes sense if we have a chance to compare. Like moving outta simulation and say “oh wow so it really wasn’t real.” Till that event occurs, it is our reality so do whatever you were doing before reading this and enjoy or suffer like it’s real.