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:: Monday, June 02, 2003 ::

Simulated Incarnation: Is the Matrix Real?

"[T]here is a significant probability that you are living in a computer simulation. I mean this literally: if the simulation hypothesis is true, you exist in a virtual reality simulated in a computer built by some advanced civilization. Your brain, too, is merely a part of that simulation."

Thus writes Nick Bostrum, postdoctoral fellow in the philosophy faculty at Oxford University. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say he writes, not from Oxford, but from within the Matrix.

In this article, he states one of following three sentences must be true:
1) The chances that a species at our current level of development can avoid going extinct before becoming technologically mature is negligibly small.
(2) Almost no technologically mature civilizations are interested in running computer simulations of minds like ours.
(3) You are almost certainly in a simulation.

Bostrum's "digital self-image" bets on hypothesis number three. Like a well-trained Cartesian, Bostrum goes on to wax eloquent about the nature of knowledge and reality. He writes, "If you are such a simulated mind, there might be no direct observational way for you to tell; the virtual reality that you would be living in would look and feel perfectly real. But all that this shows, so far, is that you could never be completely sure that you are not living in a simulation." Where have we heard this before? (Are you a man dreaming of being a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming of being a man?)

But the money quote (as Andrew Sullivan would say), is this interesting tidbit where Bostrum explains away faith in the supernatural:

"To the extent that you think that you understand the motives of the simulators, you can use that understanding to predict what will happen in the simulated world they created. If you think that there is a chance that the simulator of this world happens to be, say, a true-to-faith descendant of some contemporary Christian fundamentalist, you might conjecture that he or she has set up the simulation in such a way that the simulated beings will be rewarded or punished according to Christian moral criteria. An afterlife would, of course, be a real possibility for a simulated creature (who could either be continued in a different simulation after her death or even be �uploaded� into the simulator�s universe and perhaps be provided with an artificial body there). Your fate in that afterlife could be made to depend on how you behaved in your present simulated incarnation."

You can read more about the computational requirements of the Matrix here.

The logic of Bostrum and the tone of this whole discussion reminded me of this quote from G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy":

"Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation, by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought. It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, "Why should anything go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?" The young sceptic says, "I have a right to think for myself." But the old sceptic, the complete sceptic, says, "I have no right to think for myself. I have no right to think at all."

:: Karl :: 9:41:00 AM [Link] ::

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