what if life is just some hard equation, on a chalkboard in a science class for ghosts?

I recently read about how Spore is going to change the face of gaming, nay the world. Brought to us by the creator of The Sims, the game ‘draws on the theory of natural selection. It seeks to replicate algorithmically the conditions by which evolution works, and render the process as a game.’

The article brought to mind Nick Bostrom‘s simulation argument. Here’s the abstract:

This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.

I’m not sure of the necessity of posthumanity to the result (or even what posthumanity is; Bostrom gives a definition here). That aside, it looks like the ancestor-simulations are on the way, though not perhaps imminent.

One thing about the simulation argument strikes me: if we are (almost certainly) living in someone’s simulation, the same or similar logic could be applied to the author of the simulation: they are (almost certainly) living in someone else’s simulation. I just checked, and Bostrom acknowledges this in the original paper (p9). As for whether it is ‘necessary for the hierarchy to bottom out at some stage’, ‘the metaphysical status of this claim is somewhat obscure’. Could it all go around in a circle? Are we living in a simulation created by someone living in a simulation created by someone who will eventually live in a simulation we create? Is existence just a multiple equilibrium story? Jeez, this is more fun than economics.

[Aside: Bostrom too has had the mixed grill.]

P.S. This is the first in an occasional series of posts with titles by the Silver Jews.


One thought on “what if life is just some hard equation, on a chalkboard in a science class for ghosts?

  1. Andrew Thomas

    I think the Simulation Argument is interesting as it is impossible to disprove – if we really were “in the matrix” there would never be any way to tell. Hence, we can never be completely certain of ANYTHING our scientific experiments tell us (via our senses).

    I cover the Simulation Argument in more depth on a page in my blog The Big Brother Universe. As to your other point about whether we are in an “infinite regression” of endless simulations, see my section on “The Tower of Turtles” on my page It’s a Small World.


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