Are We Living in a Simulation?

Sunday, September 17, 2023

What Is It

With rapid advances in Virtual Reality technology and the like, it’s now possible for us to become absorbed in completely made-up worlds. We might wonder how soon it will be till we reach a point where VR is so good, we can’t tell it apart from the real world. But what if we’ve already reached that point? How would we know if we were currently living in a simulated reality, or are there always telltale signs? And if we were in a simulation, what difference would it make—pragmatically or morally—in how we live our lives and treat other people? Josh and Ray don't fake it with David Chalmers from NYU, author of Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy.

Transcript

Comments (6)


Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, August 22, 2023 -- 1:28 PM

I have read and seen various

I have read and seen various portrayals of this over many years. I don't know how all that began, but think maybe H.G. Wells' time machine story had something to do with the original notion. If you know the tale, you also know the time traveller never left the same geographical spot---he, and his machine travelled through or better, with time, to 'get to' a future no one could have imagined. You may have also had the idea that time does not *do* anything. People and things come and go. They blow up, break down, fall apart, or wear out. The idea of a simulation is pretty silly, unless one is into the speculative nature of philosophy and argument and debate. If we were in a simulation, anything in the way of nihilism would be pointless because it would simply be a fact that nothing mattered.
It is the ultimate thought experiment---it has no solution, right, wrong, good or bad.

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Mortonc3

Thursday, September 7, 2023 -- 3:39 PM

I don't think nihilism

I don't think nihilism necessarily follows from the conclusion that we live in a simulation. The simulation wouldn't be the "real" experience and assuming that the scenario implies we are not informed of our condition one could not deduce values concerning the "real" experience from the simulated experience with any certainty. Any attempt to deduce values would be unverifiable and almost identical to theological arguments and any related kettle arguments. If at any point we became aware that we were in a simulation and also had the ability to perceive the "real" experience we could then make our value judgements about the things which may matter in either experience.

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Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, August 24, 2023 -- 10:13 AM

Heard the news today: kudos

Heard the news today: kudos to AI research in California!

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Daniel's picture

Daniel

Friday, September 8, 2023 -- 3:49 PM

It should be uncontroversial

It should be uncontroversial that no ontological difference obtains regarding diverse causes of perception. Insofar as they are distinct from the productive imagination, they are to be found in objects of some or another sort. What generates controversy on the other hand is the notion that some objects can be "simulated", or produced artificially, which generate identical or very similar conditions for generic perceptual capacities. Kant's famous example of consternation in the discovery of the hoaxed song of a nightingale illustrates with some clarity one of its salient characteristics. Part of the pleasure associated with the perception is the contemplation of its natural cause.

With regards to generic simulation of perception-stimuli however a logical contradiction can be seen to arise: If the perceived world can be understood as a simulation (i.e. of one which is presumed not to be a simulation), then how is it possible for any simulation to exist? What I mean is, --if one simulates a simulation, it must necessarily not be a simulation, on account of the fact only something un-simulated can be simulated. It seems therefore that the concept of generic simulation is internally inconsistent, and that in consequence the possibility of producing artificial objects, or simulations, is strictly limited to particular cases.

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Daniel's picture

Daniel

Monday, September 11, 2023 -- 4:24 PM

The question of

The question of responsibility to others under conditions generated by optional manufacture rather than found objects applies to the entire range of production, and includes architectural products as well as holographic environments. Only where independent agency is attributable to such products or environments do questions of social responsibility require a special category of consideration apart from People in the traditional sense, deriving from the fact that behavioral dispositions apply to both human and non-human objects. A glass for drinking, for example, is disposed to break if dropped, even if this never occurs. Its break-ability has no relationship to its frequency. A violinist on the other hand must continually repeat the exercise of a capacity to play in order to be so disposed to exhibit that skill. A skilled disposition, requiring effort, is therefore the property of an agent. The possibility is conceivable however that the replica of a product of skill could be generated in the same way as break-ability in the glass on the occasion of its breaking, so that a phenomenon normally associated with agency is revealed to be an object-based behavior that doesn't need practice. One would need a second level of behavioral disposition which not only responds to specified conditions through a great amount of probabilities of task-completion which restrict a likewise great amount of trial and error performances, but also generates representations of the reasons for why one probability-scenario begins one series of trials rather than another. For in that way, the same operation of autonomous regulation is applicable to the representations themselves, and thus, theoretically, coming up with continually better ones, resulting in responsibility-attribution characteristic of independent agency.

Being responsible however is in this case not moral or ethical culpability for an action, because the experience-voucher deriving from the assumption of shared capacities for perception is missing. This makes the question of social responsibility in holographic environments one which can not be answered by distinguishing between independent agency and exercise-independent behavioral disposition, but points in the direction rather of machine-morality. This is principally because any generalized artificial system of object-generation and maintenance must be automated at a level which substantially exceeds the range of regulatory options which could constrain task-solution output. If self-regulation according to continual revision of the representation of the reasons for the creation of the system can not be insured, then the likelihood to incur liability for its misuse or defectiveness is increased. One such defect might concern the medium of representation-transmission in the context of which shared responsibility is perceived: Upon what grounds is the environment understood as shared? To what degree must responsibility for optional manufacture of ostensibly shared environments expand beyond deferment to the phenomenon of agency alone? Could such an expansion in the case of a generalized holographic product derive from shared ethical/moral interests of its participants? Or contrariwise could its self-regulated generation draw upon a better source for the moral appropriateness of its represented grounds?

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tomassone396

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