Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How Would You Prove That We ARE in a Simulation?

There's no Matrix you dummies! This guy is just a really clever Martian who can do good special effects. Is there a way to prove otherwise?

Most discussion of simulation arguments, from Descartes to Bostrom, has focused on trying to prove that we're NOT in a simulation, concerned that we don't see the world (enough) as it is. There is some profit in pointing out that "simulation" is ill-defined, and because of the way our senses filter and bind and create our experience, the distinction between a simulated world and the "real world" is somewhat arbitrary. Therefore, perhaps a more interesting question is what it would take for us to be convinced that we ARE in a simulation, if one of the simulation programmers appeared in our midst, and prove to us that this IS a simulation. What kinds of experiences or information would the revelations of the simulation programmers have to contain to make us think that we're in a simulation?

1) First trick would be for the simulators to demonstrate violations of physical laws at their will. Then again, an apparent violation of physical law could just be the result of advanced technology that you don't understand. "Look! Gravity reversed itself locally! Look, we changed it so you're surviving in vacuum just fine, and now I just ran time backwards and separate causes and effects, but only on your street! Obviously you must be in a simulation!" Right? Certainly such behavior of the world would be inconsistent with our current understanding of how things are supposed to work, but does that automatically mean it's a simulation? Maybe it's just aliens with Clarke's Third Law-level technology, and they're screwing with you. And for that matter, shouldn't we expect that there are limits on what even a simulator can do without the simulation no longer functioning? The source code of World of Warcraft is certainly not robust to any possible manipulation you could dream up.

2) They could show you (a la Thirteenth Floor) where the simulation breaks down at some boundary (scale, time, space, cognition). But would that prove it? We know already that there are such boundaries (uncertainty principle, the Big Bang, cognitive closure at least in the trivial sense of limited working memory), yet no one has seriously argued that this means we're in a simulation.

3) They could tell you what you're thinking, or tell you a 20 digit number you wrote on a piece of paper in your desk (and didn't tell anyone), if they really have access to the entire code of the simulation (and they could just stop it and do a CTRL-F). Then again, how do you know they're not aliens with awesome fMRIs or paper-reading X-ray machines?

4) They could do something fatal to you, and then have you re-awake. Again, maybe they have great technology! Even if they do something that would physically destroy your nervous tissue like drop you into a volcano and you wake up, maybe you're just waking up for the first time with memory implants (of a life up to and including falling into a volcano), or maybe there's a way to recover consciousness even after such total tissue destruction that we don't yet understand.

5) They could demonstrate continuity of experience; that is, one second you're walking around what you thought was 21st century Earth, the next you're being unplugged from the computer in your vat. How do you know the vat isn't the simulation? Even if there's no simulation technology being used here, a lot can be done to manipulate perception of time; and for that matter, maybe you're a clone with memory implants, and you're really waking up in that vat for the first time, with false memories.

So: are there tests that could even in principle separate simulators who create our universe, from mere clever aliens who co-inhabit it with us?

[Added later: Michael Shermer makes an interestingly analogous argument when he states, in a variant on Clarke's Third Law, that a sufficiently advanced alien would be indistinguishable from a supernatural being. In a predictably miffed answer, a counter-arguer misses some points, saying that the absence of recognizable modern telecommunications devices from the Bible shows that we can distinguish gods from aliens. Apparently the counterarguer insists that aliens use cell phones.]

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Subversa - Red Rock

Check out the song Red Rock at their Myspace page. Although I discovered them through Paynie's documentary on Youtube), mostly I think the embeddable live performances I could find aren't a good reflection of what's good about them in the studio.

Caveat: their chief influence is clearly Tool's Aenema-style and Perfect Circle (duh). But since I like Tool, and they're good at it, that's fine. They also throw in a healthy dose of epic Euro-metal key changes a la Iron Maiden and In Flames. Importantly, they do a good job pulling off those Maynard-eseque powerful, open vocal crescendoes.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

I Want a New Drug, Huey Lewis, 1983

If there is a dose of "80s" that is toxic, then this is past it by several orders of magnitude. But the sax solo is good:

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A New Spin on the Simulation Argument

I had a conversation with someone this morning about one way you could tell whether you're in a simulation. If you look close enough at an object, possibly you'll see the resolution break down at fine scales, revealing that you are in a simulation. I used the very low-tech method of looking closely at two other people's irises, as well as the edge of a safety seal on a food container. No doubt CGI artists would have told me to look at hair as well. Finding no resolution breakdown, I concluded that I was not in a simulation.

Right now you may be thinking that this is an incoherent way of investigating and arguing this point, but forgive me. The funny part about is that I was dreaming all this, so that I absolutely was in a simulation! When I woke up I started laughing out loud at the irony.

Point: Bostrom, and maybe Chuang Tzu.

[This turned into an interesting discussion on my Facebook page.]

Above: What your blogger looks like when he's awake.