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You're Simulated
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Or so concludes this philosophy article, "Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?" (via Matthew Yglesias).

Now I like discussing the philosophy of mind as well as the next person, but some of the stuff in here is just silly.

For example, it starts out with this:

Many works of science fiction as well as some forecasts by serious technologists and futurologists predict that enormous amounts of computing power will be available in the future.

Well, couldn't someone make the argument that we have "enormous" amounts of computing power right now? And it doesn't take a futurologist to predict that they're getting faster. Moore's Law isn't exactly a secret.

But anyway...

One thing that later generations might do with their super-powerful computers is run detailed simulations of their forebears or of people like their forebears. Because their computers would be so powerful, they could run a great many such simulations.

Okay...stop right there, Sparky. How does this follow:

Future generations will have the capacity to do X, and they might want to do X, so that means they will do X a lot.

We currently have the capacity to run all sorts of computer simulations, much simpler than emulating little universes populated with people, but still...just because we have the capacity to simulate something repeated, it doesn't follow that we necessarily will. They may have better things to do with all that computing make money, play games, and create 5th-generation porn.

Then it could be the case that the vast majority of minds like ours do not belong to the original race but rather to people simulated by the advanced descendants of an original race. It is then possible to argue that, if this were the case, we would be rational to think that we are likely among the simulated minds rather than among the original biological ones.

Well, sure. I'd grant that as a possibility. But this guy goes on to argue that it is more likely that we are simulated, rather than biological.

It's really hard to take him seriously because of some of the stuff he says. This, for instance:

At our current stage of technological development, we have neither sufficiently powerful hardware nor the requisite software to create conscious minds in computers.

Now how does he know that we don't have sufficiently powerful hardware to create conscious minds? That's like arguing against flying machines pre-Wright Bros. on the basis that we didn't have powerful enough fuel.

But he then goes on to talk about the theoretical computational power belonging to these supposed meta-humans, and the various mathetmatical estimates.

But here's the real idiocy of his argument: Whose to say that our simulation is anything like "reality"?

In computer simulations, the laws of physics are whatever the programmer wants them to be. If I create a simulated world with simulated agents, I can make the gravitational constant in that simulation whatever I want it to be. I can make water out of three hydrogen atoms and one oxygen. So an agent in my simulated world would not be able to draw any meaningful conclusions about my world, from the perspective of his closed system. Right?

And a large part of this guy's argument rests on the assumption that the "real" world obeys the same laws as our supposedly simulated one.

Anyway, such things are fun to ponder, but no real probabilistic conclusions can be drawn, because by definition you're speculating on things outside your context, beyond the scope of your observation or even your conception.

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