by George Dvorsky
July 15, 2014

from io9 Website

Spanish version






“Like the appearance of silver in mother of pearl,

the world seems real

until the Self, the underlying reality,

is realized.” 

Adi Shankarcarya



“What Albert Einstein termed optical delusion,
The Indians termed Maya or Illusion.” 

Mohit K. Misra





There Is Some Hope That We Aren't Living Inside a Computer Simulation


Philosopher Nick Bostrom's famous Simulation Argument suggests it's highly probable that we live inside a supercomputer. But one philosopher takes this hypothesis to task, arguing in a new paper that there are other post-human scenarios that need to be taken into account.

Before we get started, it's important to note that this discussion is limited to the philosophical arguments in support of the simulation hypothesis. But the day is coming when physicists may be able to prove or disprove it more scientifically.

Back in 2003, Oxford professor Nick Bostrom suggested that we may be living in a computer

According to Bostrom's Simulation Argument, only one of the following three propositions can be true given the potential for a technologically mature "post-human" civilization to come into the possession of enormous computing power:

  • The human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a post-human stage

  • Any post-human civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history

  • We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation

If the first proposition is true, it's likely that we'll go extinct before reaching post-humanity (in which case there will be no so-called "ancestor simulations").


If the second is true,

"then there must be a strong convergence among... advanced civilizations so that virtually none contains any relatively wealthy individuals who desire to run ancestor-simulations."

This seems unlikely.

But if the third proposition is true, then we almost certainly live in a computer simulation. One way of looking as it is through the lens of probability; if there's one "real" world, and a million simulated worlds, it more probable by several orders of magnitude that we're in a simulation.

But as Bostrom himself notes:

"In the dark forest of our current ignorance, it seems sensible to apportion one's credence roughly evenly between [these three propositions]."

And it's here where philosopher Paul Franceschi from the University of Corsica in France takes issue with the argument.




A 'Reference Class' Problem

Franceschi says that Bostrom didn't get the reference class right.

"It consists of human simulations," he told io9.


"The original argument refers to a reference class which is that of computer simulations of human beings, of a very high quality, and by nature indiscernible from the genuine ones."

But there's more to simulations than just this, he argues - Bostrom failed to account for a much broader class of post-human simulations.

A certain ambiguity exists in the mere notion of simulations, he says, and a question subsequently arises about the applicability of the Simulation Argument to other possible types of human simulations or immersive virtual reality experiences.


To that end, Franceschi describes three other kinds of simulations:

  1. Aware-simulations: A type of simulation that's in every respect identical to those described in Bostrom's original argument, i.e. simulations that are almost indiscernible from genuine humans, the only difference being that they're aware of their own nature in the simulation.

  2. Rough-simulations: Some virtual simulations at a slightly lower quality, with regard to the perfect ones hinted at in the original argument.

  3. Cyborg-type simulations: Simulations indiscernible from human cyborgs with, say, neural implants (possibly with full or partial uploads); think of The Matrix.

Franceschi breaks down the assumption that we likely live in a simulation into three points:

  1. the notion that simulations greatly outnumber genuine humans (disproportion)

  2. the fact that we are probably simulants (self-applicability)

  3. the fact that we're totally unaware that we're being simulated (unawareness)

But by virtue of his new post-human references classes, Franceschi argues that new conclusions can be produced:

  • The original argument: As noted, it entails disproportion, self-applicability and unawareness. This conclusion is worrying because it suggests we're simulants blind to our true nature as living things.

  • Aware-simulations: The argument only entails disproportion (and not self-applicability or unawareness). It's a reassuring conclusion because it suggests simulants are (mostly) aware of their existential situation.

  • Rough-simulations: Like the previous item, it only entails disproportion. This conclusion is also reassuring.

  • Cyborg-type simulations: This also entails disproportion and self-applicability (and not unawareness). This conclusion is reassuring, too - it suggests that many simulants have a "real world" aspect to them.

By having alternate choices of different reference classes, and at a greater level of extension, different conclusions can be drawn from the premises - conclusions that produce reassuring conclusions.


Put another way, it can't possibly be correct that every post-human simulant is unaware of their true nature, or that other types of simulations don't exist.

"Now given that there does not exist in the Simulation Argument an objective criterion allowing to choose the reference class non-arbitrarily, we can choose it at different levels of restriction or of extension."

In this context, he claims that the disturbing conclusion which is associated with the original argument turns out to be an arbitrary conclusion.


At the same time, there are several other reference classes which have an equal degree of relevance to the argument itself - reference classes which suggest a reassuring conclusion.

Read the entire study: "The Simulation Argument and the Reference Class Problem - The Dialectical Contextualist's Standpoint".













Physicists Say there May Be a Way to Prove that...

We Live in a Computer Simulation
by George Dvorsky
10 October 2012

from io9 Website

Spanish version









Back in 2003, Oxford professor Nick Bostrom suggested that we may be living in a computer simulation (see "Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?").


In his paper, Bostrom offered very little science to support his hypothesis - though he did calculate the computational requirements needed to pull off such a feat. And indeed, a philosophical claim is one thing, actually proving it is quite another.


But now, a team of physicists say proof might be possible, and that it's a matter of finding a cosmological signature that would serve as the proverbial Red Pill from the Matrix. And they think they know what it is.


According to Silas Beane and his team at the University of Bonn in Germany, a simulation of the universe should still have constraints, no matter how powerful.


These limitations, they argue, would be observed by the people within the simulation as a kind of constraint on physical processes.





So, how could we ever hope to identify these constraints?


Easy: We just need build our own simulation of the universe and find out. And in fact, this is fairly close to what the physicists are actually trying to do. To that end, they've created an ultra-small version of the universe that's down to the femto-scale (which is even smaller than the nano-scale).


And to help isolate the sought-after signature, the physicists are simulating quantum chromodynamics (QCD), which is the fundamental force in nature that gives rise to the strong nuclear force among protons and neutrons, and to nuclei and their interactions.


To replace the space-time continuum, they are computing tiny, tightly spaced cubic "lattices." They call this "lattice gauge theory" and it is subsequently providing new insights into the nature of matter itself.


Interestingly, the researchers consider their simulation to be a forerunner to more powerful versions in which molecules, cells, and even humans themselves might someday be generated. But for now, they're interested in creating accurate models of cosmological processes - and finding out which ones might represent hard limits for simulations.


To that end, they have investigated the Greisen-Zatsepin-Kuzmin limit (or GZK cut-off) as a candidate - a cut-off in the spectrum of high energy particles. The GZK cut-off is particularly promising because it behaves quite interestingly within the QCD model.


According to the Physics arXiv blog, this cut-off is well known and comes about when high energy particles interact with the cosmic microwave background, thus losing energy as they travel long distances.


The researchers have calculated that the lattice spacing imposes some additional features on the spectrum, namely that the angular distribution of the highest energy components should exhibit cubic symmetry in the rest of the lattice (causing it to deviate significantly from isotropy).

"In other words," write the arXiv bloggers, "the cosmic rays would travel preferentially along the axes of the lattice, so we wouldn't see them equally in all directions."

And that would be the kind of reveal the physicists are looking for - an indication that there is indeed a man hiding behind the curtain.


And what's particularly fascinating about this is that we can make this measurement now with our current level of technology. As the researchers point out, finding this effect would be the same as 'seeing' the orientation of the lattice on which our own universe is simulated.


That said, the researchers caution that future computer models may utilize completely different paradigms, ones that are outside of our comprehension. Moreover, this will only work if the lattice cut-off remains consistent with what we see in nature.


At any rate, it's a remarkable suggestion - one that could serve as an important forerunner to further research and insights into this fascinating possibility.


The entire study (Constraints on the Universe as a Numerical Simulation) can be found at Physics arXiv.