The news is out. We live in a simulation. Elon Musk must be pleased. Of course, Nick Bostrom will be ecstatic. After all, in the Philosophical Quarterly, he offered up the idea that the universe and its contents are actually a simulation.
So much speculation about this notion has followed this publication, and the debate goes on. What is reality? It’s a big question. All kinds of public figures have entered the fray6, like Elon Musk, the Tesla genius. Everyone wants to know the odds of a simulation. Some give it a 50-50 chance!
Intellections are busy writing papers to extend the original hypothesis, with even more intriguing conclusions. The kind of evidence offered varies and lends some credence to the theory. Luminaries like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Director of Hayden Planetarium, are in the mix, popularizing this pseudo-science.
But not everyone agrees with these top pundits. Skeptics abound like Frank Wilczek, a physicist, who denies simulation. Instead, the universe is too complex, he maintains, to be one. It takes energy and time to create such complexity, not likely possible for some intelligent designer. Such resources would be wasted on a simulation project. It wouldn’t have to be that complex to be a fun undertaking, but it isn’t our complicated universe for sure.
So the issue of simulation remains hypothetical. In this regard, physicist and science communicator Sabine Hossenfelder has something to say. She doesn’t even think the “problem” is scientific at all. We can’t prove or disprove it in any case, making it unworthy of serious investigation.
Something might be missing in all this speculation and denial of the simulation hypothesis. Many studies and discussions exist, but a key element is lacking in the form of empirical data and evaluation. Are there facts to examine? Maybe not, but if so, they bear scrutiny. We already know about computers today that run simulations of all kinds, but for lower level algorithms or so-called intelligences.
We may visualize or conceive of these intelligences as characters or avatars in a video game we are playing. We can run a thought experiment through any computer algorithm to determine if the “intelligent” needs to have consciousness. It need not be complex. It becomes plausible “evidence” experienced by all computer programming at any speed or degree of complexity.
In the “experiment” we look at computing hardware and how it could run a simulation. What kind of processor speed would be required and how much memory? It takes considerable imagination to postulate the possibility of an artifact or machine running our universe through mere computing power.
The machine or computer would not have to replicate the laws of physics that dictate what we think is reality. The game at hand be it a Sim or Grand Theft Auto has its own laws derived from the software of the simulation. However, these laws are subject to and constrained by processor speed. It would intervene and negatively impact the executing algorithm at a fundamental level. We can’t possibly test that “what if”, even if it occurs at a lower level (addition and subtraction) as it would affect the algorithm in play. It would dictate a physical reality detached from the operation. It seems that the operation is getting pretty complicated!
It would take a math whiz to figure it all out. Let’s say a 64-bit process was responsible for subtractions to the tune of 7,862,345 less 6,347,111. How long would it take to perform, any more than subtracting 1 from 2? Seven million is a rather large number, even for a simulated world and 1 is small by comparison, indicating a vast difference in scale. It does not matter for the physical world of the processor, however, that there is a difference in scale. Both subtractions function as one operation and take the same amount of time. We can conclude that there is a difference between an abstract world of programmed mathematics – a simulation – and the physical world (the “real” one) of microprocessor operations. In short, microprocessor operations are not the same in an altered world.
Let’s consider it. You can observe the processing speed of operations in the abstract realm of mathematics programmed into a simulation. You can feel and experience it as a computer artifact. It will be an additional component of an unaffected operation in the simulation. These added components would require time to perform their operations on limited variables depending upon their memory container. This is their value. As a result, the number would be 256 for an 8-bit machine.
Any additional component would have the same value for all numbers up to the maximum limit. You would not even have to enhance the hardware in the simulation except when it is found to be the maximum container size. What does the observer detect in the simulation now? There is no frame of reference for quantifying the processor speed, except when presented at the upper end of its limited range.
To clarify this complexity, a simulated universe would then house this remarkable artifact. It would have certain properties that in turn would facilitate detecting it. One could be that the artifact be a further component of all operations unaffected by the vast variables, yet it would be of no issue within a simulation unless one observes the maximum size of the variables.
This entails some fancy logic for sure once we abandon the underlying mechanistic laws of a simulation. Furthermore, in this simulated world, the effect of artifact or anomaly would manifest absolutely. You just have to go on an assumption or “given” regarding the simulation’s operating laws.
Such is a possible definition of the elusive artifact, and we postulate that it appears in our world as the speed of light. There is a parallel between space to the universe and numbers to a simulation in a computer. If matter is moving through space, operations are happening on the variable space. Use this example: at 1,000 miles per second, the resulting 1,000 miles worth of space would be transformed by a function; it would happen in the operation every single second.
So now we consider the kind of hardware that would run “space” as a simulation, containing the energy and matter we know through physics. Assuming a maximum limit on the size of space’s container for an operation to occur, we conclude that there is a limit on speed in the universe, also known as the speed of light.
Of course, this is all speculation and very theoretical, if not pure philosophy. We can’t know the properties of the simulation of the universe at all nor the hardware at the helm. We do know, or think we know, something about the memory size. It would be estimated at 300,000 kilometers. From a mathematical perspective, it would be true if the processor performed one operation per second.
The nature of space is fascinating to contemplate. We can make several observations here. If we live or exist in a simulation, would space not be an abstract property that comes from writing code and not real after all? It is just like the example of seven million in the subtraction problem. It would be part of the hardware’s memory. Any figures in terms of movement or miles would be symbolic.
You could say that anything moving through space at a given speed would change the space and any operations being performed within it. The speed implies the nature of the causal impact of the operation on the variable space, yet it cannot exceed a certain measurement, say beyond 300,000 km, assuming that the master computer performs one operation per second.
Moving on, metaphorically, we can say that all the hardware’s criteria are met, at least according to our “observations”. The speed of light doesn’t depend upon the simulated observer’s speed at all! It is observed at the maximum limit without recourse to the laws of physics. In short, it is an absolute, or a mere hardware artifact that demonstrates a simulated world.
Is this enough to prove we live in a simulation? That would be amazing and boundary breaking literally and figuratively. It is probably an indication and not more. What else can we use as evidence? It might be something obvious or hidden. We could turn to video game playing once again and the functioning of characters within it. We would see algorithms for these characters and those for the environment within which they dwell and react. Of course, they interact even though they appear to be separate.Visual projection does not matter to the character in any case for his/her interaction with the environment.
There are variables to consider for both the environment and the characters as part of the algorithms. The behavior of both will change as a consequence. It all plays out on a screen as a visual projection. Subjectivity rules here when looking at possible variables in the “program”. We are experiencing the game as sentient humans. Think of the audiovisual projection of a video game as an “integrated subjective interface” with some controlling it for the benefit of humans. Its purpose is purely to serve mankind.
It is the same with movies whose characters have individual perspectives. The screen shows different levels of reality and experience, as the case may be, as an integrated subjective interface. The actors or characters are mere pawns in the director’s hands. The purpose is entertainment. But it does beg the question of the necessity for consciousness and its purpose in the long run.
We can extrapolate this purpose from a multitude of data or evidence for a simulation. That is if you believe it one. If so, consciousness becomes the interface, with all five senses implied, between the universe and the human self. There has to be an experience if something is said to exist. Why else? Plus, must everything in a simulation necessity have some kind of evolutionary purpose or other utility?
Everything adds up, one after the other, ending in a combined experience with the primary function of being one. But an experience would be energy-expensive and too information restrictive for its evolutionary advantage to work. There has to be a better explanation. An experience or qualia exists just because it is an experience as its raison d’etre.
We can look to science, math, and philosophy for a better answer. We can seek theories and contemplate physical laws to assess the nature of something experienced as consciousness. Are there natural laws behind existence with evolutionary advantages? There are two possible explanations: evolutionary forces are indeed at work, but they are yet to be theorized.
In addition, we can project consciousness as an emerging experience. Next, we can look at experience as a function or created product generated by us humans. The question is why we create experience and is it from the output of qualia generating a multitude of algorithms?
We do know that experience is real and that we create it. Now we need an overarching theory to explain it. Why and how do we create consciousness and what is its real use? We have to be logical in the pursuit of an answer as to what purpose it serves and to whom.
At this point, some will criticize the process and line of thinking. They could say that unlike video game characters, humans experience qualia, whatever the source or reason. But video characters also “experience” their own reality within the game, however different it must be for them compared to us. Then what of the outside player? Somehow the character and the controlling player/observer merge into a new kind of consciousness.
We know that players of video games have emotional ups and downs. They face as much disappointment as joy. Certain emotions are embedded in the game characters. One depends upon the other. In other words, the player’s behavior dictates what happens to a character. There is a strong connection here built into the gaming process as when the character and the player are riding the same rollercoaster and feeling a sense of gravity. It is in the nature of virtual reality, where boundaries always blur.
How can gravity be sensed in a simulation? It must reside somewhere in limbo or a middle earth. In effect, the player occupies the “mind” of the character. This in-between space may well be widened in the future as technology advances and anything becomes possible. We will then experience the world and generate qualia. Maybe we just experience a tiny part of it and an information-rich version is at the same time projected for some other being who will have the benefit of experiencing “consciousness” in its first incarnation.
There is a lot here to contemplate and speculate about. It is an endless puzzle, but an intriguing one. It comes down to finding the simplest explanation, like Occam’s razor, for consciousness as a kind of experience. It is a created consciousness for someone out there and not us. We are the qualia generators who exist just for the fun of creating integrated audiovisual games like Grand theft Auto. What is the final result or product? Whatever it is, it is intended to benefit something or someone purportedly in the process of observing or experiencing human life.
It is a monumental proposition to be sure and a mind-boggling one at heart. Many are worried about it and are busy making comments and participating in debates worldwide like the famous Elon Musk. Again and again, he turns up with starting comments.
Everyone seems to want to know if the simulation hypothesis holds water and can be proven. Or is it the ultimate conspiracy theory? Who knows? It is an interesting series of questions for any contemplative soul with a philosophical bent.
Such a conspiracy theory would be the mother of them all. It would be the final one for sure with enormous implications. We beg to know the difference between what is real and what is fake. We don’t want to live our lives as fools. We believe in the evidence provided by stimuli to our senses, but we can be wrong.
But something is controlling us to be characters at play. It is among our worst fears, if not the worst of them all. Imagine such powerful forces beyond our sphere of knowledge or action. It would be the worst nightmare scenario finally coming true. We would have no escape clause in our contract with it. We just sit back and worry about reality and simulations and try to make sense of it all.