Archive for August, 2007

h1

posthuman and hardwired

August 18, 2007

or “is God a gamer?”

i read an interesting article the other day that suggested we live in a “computer simulation” – that our version of reality is nothing more than a constructed world akin to that seen in the Matrix movies or a Will Wright game.  earlier this evening, i mentioned it to my other half, zero, and we got into a rather heated discussion about the idea on the way to the supermarket (and in the supermarket… and on the way back home… and then for a while at home…).  it was only heated because i can be pretty stubborn when defending an idea – while i don’t necessarily believe we do live inside a computer simulation, i definitely believe it is a possibility.  after all, our universe is so elegant, so mathematically precise, that it’s impossible not to draw comparisons with a computer program.

outside the matrix

the basic idea behind the theory is that if we assume that posthuman civilisations achieve the potential to create “realistic” simulations, perhaps based on their human ancestors, and a great many number of these simulations is created, then logic and probability suggests that our reality could be one of those “virtual” ones.

i think the whole idea upset zero a little, and he kept asking questions like, “if that’s true, then what’s the point of living?”  which is actually a valid question.  if mankind were to discover that life was nothing more than a complex simulation and we are merely “intelligent” Sims, what would that mean for us?  sure, it might answer some of the questions that have been plaguing us for centuries (“why are we here?” “is there a god?”) but it’s unlikely these answers would be the ones we wanted to hear.

i personally see no real distinction between a world that was created as a computer simulation by posthumans, one that was constructed meticulously by God, or one that was brewed in a laboratory by an advanced alien race (apart from the obvious differences, of course).  in all of these cases, the world is merely a stage and we are the actors with no tangible connection to the director.  hell, we don’t even know if there is a director, or if we’re just running around blindly trying to figure out our next line and the meaning of that last pivotal plot point.  and would knowing which of these possibilities was the actual reality drastically alter the way we live our lives?

a reader of the Sentient Development blog commented that “we’ve now entered the realm of an untestable hypothesis.  any and everything could be ‘explained’ with this theory”.  both parts of his statement are true – it is kinda pointless debating something that can probably never be proven (by us, anyway), but i think it’s the latter part of his comment that appeals to so many people – it does appear to explain everything in our universe quite neatly.  (why are our laws of physics so? – because they were programmed that way, etc).  it removes the difficulty of actually having to explain everything.  of course, this argument is really no different from “because God made it so”, but as i said, it really makes no difference who our god is; posthuman, alien or otherwise.

so do we live in a computer simulation?  maybe.  does it matter?  probably not, although there are some implications we should consider.  if we do live in a simulation, it probably means that the human race evolved at some point to a stage where it was technologically advanced enough to create a computer simulation realistic and complex enough to fool its inhabitants.  that’s gotta be a good thing, right?  but if we don’t live in a simulation, then the opposite is probably true – that humans will never evolve to a posthuman stage.  or maybe we did/will evolve, but posthumans had/will have no desire to create simulations.  which would also be a good thing for us, ’cause it implies that our reality is probably… uh… “real”.

i doubt that we will ever know for sure whether or not we exist in a computer simulation, and, like zero, i secretly hope that we don’t.  while it might be nice to suppose that George W. Bush is just the god-gamer’s sick idea of a joke, the idea that humankind might be destroyed (or destroy itself) before it could evolve scares the shit out of me – but not as much as the idea that our thoughts and emotions are somehow…  synthetic.

update:  Keith Olbermann discussed this theory on Countdown the other night.  watch the video on YouTube here, or download a .mov version below.