Culture, Technology — September 13, 2012 11:16 am

What if we were in a computer right now.

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The Matrix came out 1999 and as far as I am concerned that is an eternity ago. 13 years in how fast technology is moving is a lifetime. But, that movie introduced a concept to me that I had not considered before. The Matrix. The red pill and the blue pill, and a Keanu Reeves I liked. But mostly, a computer generated reality. Since then this movie has been dissected more times than I care to talk about. I actually have lost all interest in thinking and talking about this movie. Why am I doing it then? Well, I happened to stumble on this interview with NASA scientist Rich Terrile on VICE about the possibility of a computer generated reality.

Here is why this article is worth your time and disconcerting:

1. A NASA scientist is saying this. I mean, unless something is changed I don’t think they let just anyone be a NASA scientist.

2. It has to do with Science Fiction ideas and everyone loves sci-fi whether or not they want to admit it.

3. The question and answer below:

So there’s a possibility we’re living in a super advanced game in some bloodshot-eyed goober’s PlayStation right now?
Exactly. The supposition here is how do you know it’s not 30 years in the future now and you’re not one of these simulations? Let me go back a step here. As scientists, we put physical processes into mathematical frameworks, or into an equation. The universe behaves in a very peculiar way because it follows mathematics. Einstein said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it’s comprehensible.” The universe does not have to work that way. It does not have to be so easy to abbreviate that I can basically write down a few pages of equations that contain enough information to simulate it.

The other interesting thing is that the natural world behaves exactly the same way as the environment ofGrand Theft Auto IV. In the game, you can explore Liberty City seamlessly in phenomenal detail. I made a calculation of how big that city is, and it turns out it’s a million times larger than my PlayStation 3. You see exactly what you need to see of Liberty City when you need to see it, abbreviating the entire game universe into the console. The universe behaves in the exact same way. In quantum mechanics, particles do not have a definite state unless they’re being observed. Many theorists have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how you explain this. One explanation is that we’re living within a simulation, seeing what we need to see when we need to see it.

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1 Comment

  • “The supposition here is how do you know it’s not 30 years in the future now and you’re not one of these simulations?”

    This is an epistemological question. Bertrand Russell posed a similar question when he asked how we know whether or not the universe wasn’t created 5 minutes ago with the appearance of age. The answer is determined by a burden of proof issue. Who has the burden of proof if a skeptic proposes Russell’s scenario? Answer: the skeptic. The skeptic is affirming that the mere possibility of the universe’s recent creation is enough to shatter knowledge of the universe’s ancient creation. But this is a thesis that requires proof. Mere possibility isn’t an argument. The epistemology I espouse (along with Roderick Chisolm) is that we have knowledge of X if there are no good reasons to disbelieve X, and if there are good reasons to affirm X. Unfortunately, NASA experts aren’t philosophy experts, lol.

    “Einstein said, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it’s comprehensible.” The universe does not have to work that way. It does not have to be so easy to abbreviate that I can basically write down a few pages of equations that contain enough information to simulate it.”

    True, but the hitch is human free will. Barring the success of Godel’s Theorem, there is no equation for free will. And even if it succeeds (consider: “Any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete. In particular, for any consistent, effectively generated formal theory that proves certain basic arithmetic truths, there is an arithmetical statement that is true, but not provable in the theory (Kleene 1967, p. 250), then even if there was an equation that mathematically explained a physical process (and many philosophers/theologians would agree that free will might possibly not be a physical process), then the equation itself wouldn’t be able to be mathematically explained according to its own rules for building mathematical explanations.

    “The other interesting thing is that the natural world behaves exactly the same way as the environment ofGrand Theft Auto IV.”

    This begs all sorts of metaphysical questions, though. Is the world completely natural? Is free will natural? Is behaviorism true? If so, which kind? Godel’s Theorem applies here too: the formal equations mathematically explaining the ‘physical reality’ of Grand Theft Auto IV are not complete/consistent, because there is an equation (the apparent free will of the person in the game) that isn’t provable from within the mathematical construct of the game itself: you have to look outside the game to the ‘player’ with a controller to fully explain the behavior of the game.

    “You see exactly what you need to see of Liberty City when you need to see it, abbreviating the entire game universe into the console. The universe behaves in the exact same way. In quantum mechanics, particles do not have a definite state unless they’re being observed. Many theorists have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how you explain this. One explanation is that we’re living within a simulation, seeing what we need to see when we need to see it.”

    I’m not seeing his point. In GTAIV, if I’m in a strip club making a drug deal, just because I need to see the check point at that time, doesn’t mean ‘poof!’ I see the check point. Our universe, like the universe of GTAIV, is regulated by an environment common to all ‘players’ with fixed laws. And even if the interpretation of quantum physics (a minority one) that says that the quantum behavior of particles is dependent on observation is true, we still have the appearance, on the macro-level, of matter behaving in a way that doesn’t depend on our observation. The majority position in particle physics right now anyway is that the appearance of the behavior of particles being dependent on our observation is due to unknown laws that scientists are hopeful of soon discovering.

    Thanks for the post! As you can tell, love talking about this stuff . . . lol.

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