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8/28/2018 8:20 pm  #1

Simulation Hypothesis

Hello, my name is Cosmyk, and this is my first post.

One thing that I find very disturbing is the Simulation Hypothesis (SH). The SH is basically the idea that I am either a brain in a vat, or a simulated person (a "sim") who is being fed sensory data from some kind of artificially-generated simulation. In my opinion, the two best arguments for the SH are Nick Bostrom's Simulation argument and the argument from Digital Physics, made by Edward Fredkin, Brian Whitworth, and others. To find Bostrom's argument, Google "are you living in a computer simulation" and click on the first result. To find Whitworth's argument, Google "the physical world as virtual reality" and click on the first result. To find Fredkin's website, Google "Edward Fredkin" and click on the second result.

I don't believe that the arguments from Digital Physics hold much force. Digital Physics is a minority position. Current scientific evidence does not give any reason to favor it among other theories, since DP is only one interpretation among many superior ones.

Bostrom's argument, by itself, can be avoided if once accepts dualism. Humans have an immaterial nature, while sims are purely material, so no human is a sim. But I believe his argument can be reformulated to include "neural simulations", which are "brain-in-vat" scenarios, like in the movie The Matrix. Given the rise in popularity of video games, it is not unreasonable to think that in the future, many "matrices" will be created. If 50% of humans are plugged into such matrices, and we cannot tell whether or not we are in one,  the probability of us being in such a matrix is 50%. 

Digital Physics also supports the argument. Let's say one accepts that brains-in-vats (BIVs) outnumber humans, but for whatever reason still believes that one is real. In that case, one is believing an unlikelihood, namely that one was "born out of the matrix". If 50% of people are BIVs, then, if one accepts a realist theory, one should multiply one's credence in that theory by .5 (because one should lower one's credence in theories that posit unlikely events). However, if one accepts DP and believes that we are all BIVs or sims, then no such multiplier is applied.

My main questions about all of this are: 1. Are these arguments sound, or flawed? If they are flawed, how so? 2. Do you think Christianity or theism in general can still be defended even if it turns out we live in a simulation? For example, do the Five Ways still work?




8/29/2018 2:50 am  #2

Re: Simulation Hypothesis

2. That's an interesting question which I also ask myself. I think theism in general still can be defended. But which theism? That's an issue for a very big discussion and we should examine each version of theism, for example, classical theism, neo-theism (personal theism), or even other concepts such as pantheism or panentheism.
But... if we agreed that we live in a simulation we have to agree that there is something which provides this simulation. Or at least we must agree that there is a different reality. Now if we agreed there is a different reality we can discuss the nature of this reality. I mean, the only reasonable move is to agree that there has to be 'real' reality on some level which is a basis for our simulation or for a few simulations. So we get back to realistic philosophy... 

The second issue is if the arguments for the existence of God would still work. Five Ways should not work in my opinion. A priori arguments 


8/29/2018 5:56 am  #3

Re: Simulation Hypothesis

If one still accepts Thomist metaphysics then the First, Second, Fourth and perhaps Fifth Way would still function. More fundamentally the PSR argument would be still in place in order for the world in which the simulation would be implemented. For cosmological arguments all one requires is the existence of a single contingent being which is the case the self (this was Descartes observation with the cosmological argument).

Another point is that many theistic arguments that purport to establish the existence of a necessary being require only the possibility of their premises not the actuality. This was one of Scotus' great observations.

Last edited by DanielCC (8/29/2018 5:56 am)


8/29/2018 9:27 am  #4

Re: Simulation Hypothesis

Thanks for the great replies. But can one make any objections to these arguments, though? Do the arguments work and should I believe that I am in a simulation?

Last edited by Cosmyk (8/29/2018 9:43 am)

     Thread Starter

8/29/2018 10:10 am  #5

Re: Simulation Hypothesis

I don't know how good this objection to this argument is but isn't the view according to which such hypothesis is true less parsimonious than otherwise? 

Last edited by Calhoun (8/29/2018 10:11 am)


9/02/2018 7:06 pm  #6

Re: Simulation Hypothesis

I'm inclined to look for a Moorean reply. (What is more plausible, that the human species isn't likely to go extinct before reaching a posthuman stage, or that you have a head on your shoulders?) There may be an identitarian way out, but I don't think that those who want to claim that there is a fleshy base world and a virtual world, can take it.

It has been a while since I've looked at any of Bostrom's papers.


9/29/2018 8:15 pm  #7

Re: Simulation Hypothesis

John West, whether or not there is a fleshy base, couldn't "hands" be analyzed as accidental forms adhering on computer information and code? Like how medieval people knew "I have hands" but not that "hands are made of atoms." Also, if SH is true, how could we know if the base reality is "fleshy"?

     Thread Starter

9/29/2018 8:48 pm  #8

Re: Simulation Hypothesis

Cosmyk wrote:

John West, whether or not there is a fleshy base, couldn't "hands" be analyzed as accidental forms adhering on computer information and code? Like how medieval people knew "I have hands" but not that "hands are made of atoms."

I was making an implicit argument from the indiscernibility of identicals. If hands are identical to fleshy body parts and fleshy body parts have properties digital data lack, then hands can't also be identified with digital data. If hands aren't identical to fleshy body parts (or something other than digital data in the base world), then you can try identifying them with digital data the way some idealists identify them with sense impressions (e.g. Berkeley) to escape the Moorean argument.

Also, if SH is true, how could we know if the base reality is "fleshy"?

Well, I was working with scenarios you gave, which presume that there are base worlds with brains in vats and scientists feeding sensory data into them and stuff like that (and I assume that when you talk about stuff like digital simulations you're not talking about anything radically different from what we normally consider digital simulations, e.g. where the base world is composed solely of spirits or something).


10/13/2018 3:42 pm  #9

Re: Simulation Hypothesis

The trouble here, I suppose, is whether we can know if hands have properties different from virtual objects. However, if one cannot know if hands have a digital nature, then I see no way one could know if they are not mere sense impressions, or are made of spirit, like the idealists claim. Perhaps a simulist could say that physics could be a way to know whether or not our hands are digital?

     Thread Starter

10/13/2018 10:56 pm  #10

Re: Simulation Hypothesis

Did you read the paper I linked ("Moore Against the New Skeptics")? You don't sound like a man who read the paper I linked.

Cosmyk wrote:

The trouble here, I suppose, is whether we can know if hands have properties different from virtual objects.

The way you put the simulation argument presupposes a distinction between the fleshy base world, which contains brains in vats and scientists stimulating them, and digital worlds in its meaning. I'm just drawing that out. (I'm more than happy to be Humpty Dumptyist here and let the words mean whatever you want them to mean, but if they mean something radically different from what they usually mean you need to give me some definitions or I literally don't know what you're saying.)


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