Am I the Only Person Who Thinks…

this article sounds like a college sophomore thinking deep thoughts with some friends after watching “The Matrix” and getting high?  Duuuuude!  What if everything is just, like, a computer program within a computer program?

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  • ivan_the_mad

    Move over Big Bang, you’ve been replaced by the Big Shebang.

  • astorian

    Okay. That means that our whole solar system could be, like one tiny atom in the fingernail of some other giant being.

    This is too much!

    Wait… that means one tiny atom in my fingernail could be one little tiny universe!

  • This article makes no sense, but it did provide a side-link to a cute video so all is well in the world.

  • alan

    soooo Douglas Adams was right.

    • Ted Seeber

      Or whoever the author of “Searching for the Celestial Master” was back in that 1980s Analog story. The holes in the memory of the web always astound me.

  • Tim Jones

    Let’s hope the universe isn’t running Windows.

    • Irenist

      It’s running iOS. That’s why it’s so easy to get lost!
      If the universe were running Windows, we’d have command line access through DOS and magic spells would work. Since it’s iOS, we’re locked out, and just have to look at the pretty objects.

  • Marthe Lépine

    Well, I had a good laugh just reading the title!

  • I could not help myself. I started making fun of this only to realize that this “discovery” actually seems to make sense in the context of monotheism, at least, more sense than it does in the explanation that the scientists provide.

    • Irenist

      Great blog entry.!
      My only quibble: a cosmic programmer running us a simulation would just be a more powerful being, i.e. a “god” in the pagan sense. The God of classical theism (a.k.a., “I Am”) in the Thomistic tradition isn’t just a more powerful being than us. He is Being itself. So even if the simulation argument weren’t silly, I’d be unhappy to adopt it for the same reason I dislike Intelligent Design arguments: they posit a powerful being, not Omnipotent Being; they get you to deism or paganism, not classical theism. Such arguments are open to quibbling about who better satisfies Ockham’s Razor: the proponent of a god as the final “brute fact” at the end of an explanatory chain (like the overrated Orthodox theologian Richard Swinburne), of the universe as the final “brute fact” at the end of an explantory chain (like Adolf Grünbaum), of a multiverse, of a Simulator, or of a Designer. The Five Ways don’t have this problem; they demonstrate that existence is impossible without a Being Who is Pure Being. So it’s not an Ockham’s Razor issue then: it’s an issue of there being any explanation at all, or none. Better terrain for the theistic apologist. And also true.

      • Yes, well, I certainly don’t want to argue that God is literally a programmer running a simulation but I think that there may be some allegorical truth to the “simulation” theory in that it posits that our known physical reality is not all that there is but that there is a greater, transcendent reality.

        As for theories like multiverse theory that’s just another intermediary step that doesn’t explain anything. Whether there is one universe or multiple does not answer the questions “who or what created them?” “Where did they come from?” The theistic Being Who is Pure Being argument does explain the origins of the universe while simulation or multiverse theories only make assumptions that serve to add more intermediary steps without ever answering the question of existence, hence the Occam’s razor reference.

        • Irenist

          As I suspected, sounds like we’re in complete agreement. Pardon the quibble.

  • Irenist

    The simulation argument is a favorite of transhumanist Nick Bostrom at Oxford (yes, the former home of the Tractarians has descended to housing such pap). It’s a surprisingly respectable argument in Anglo-American philosophy right now, which goes to show how far astray Cartesianism dualism and mechanistic matrialism have led us, as it can be trivially refuted on Thomist principles (although I won’t trouble for the proper Thomistic format an t-Ó Floinn Mór would’ve used):
    1. A sentient animal must have the form of a sentient animal, i.e., its soul must be the form of a sentient body.
    2. You, reader, experience sensations as qualia, e.g., red things look red to you.
    3. Thus, your mind must be a sentient soul, the form of a body that has a sensation-processing brain.
    4. Thus, you have a body with a brain, and are not a software simulation.
    If we instead assume the contrary:
    1. You are a simulation.
    2. Thus, you must be software running on hardware.
    3. But transistors and quantum computers and any other conceivable computers don’t have organically whole bodies; they are mere aggregates of parts.
    4. Since you are a mere aggregate of parts, you do not have the form (“soul”) of a sensate body.
    5. Thus, you must not experience phenomenal sensations (“qualia.”)
    But you do (I presume!) experience sensations, so this leads to a contradiction. So you are not a simulation.
    All of the above assumes the hylemorphic dualism of St. Thomas, for a defense of which I direct the reader to Edward Feser, whose blog and books can be found by googling. Or, for more detail, to David Odenberg. However, since hylemorphic dualism is actually true, an argument’s dependence upon it is no vice.

    • Irenist

      Incidentally, the argument above is also why, e.g., some future Lt. Cmdr. Data would pass a Turing Test, but there wouldn’t be anybody home in there. (Sorry, fellow Thomist Trekkers.)

  • I must be missing something here.

    OK, so they are discovering evidence that certain quantities in physics – perhaps even all of them – are discrete, quantized values rather than continuous variables.

    How is this fundamentally different from the quantum physics that has been common knowledge for the last, oh, century or so?

    And supposing that the universe is a simulation, why exactly is it that we should beg the question of it running on a digital computer rather than an analog computer, or some other sort of computer about which we have no knowledge?

    • Irenist

      Planck length is nonzero, and so is some other quantity we just studied, not that that matters beyond grant-writing (ahem) purposes since we could’ve made our argument with Planck length and it would’ve been logically equivalent -> physical reality is granular -> ???? -> “Deja vu is just the Matrix recalibrating itself.”
      Or, after “South Park”:
      Steal underwear -> ???? -> Profit.
      How can you not follow such sound logic, Zippy? You must be one of those Christians who hates SCIENCE!

  • God is thus the unsimulated simulator.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Can only say: ROFL!

  • Richard Bell

    The philosophical problem is that it runs counter to a number of materialist prejudices:
    The Earth must be special; unless, there are lots of worlds modeled to the same detail as this one. Humans must be special, as we are modeled in much more detail than other animals. I must be special, as it seems to matter if, when, and how often I bite my nails. If I am special, given that the universe often opposes my goals, why is this simulation meant to keep me on the thin edge between hope and despair?

    The technological problem is that if I am not special, humans are not special, and the Earth is not special, then the computer must have enough bits in memory for billions of creatures on billions of worlds to perceive the universe in the same level of detail that I do, and that computer must be encapsulated in a physical universe. The universe is finite, but it is still very, very large. Such a computer could only be built and programmed by an entity at least as powerful as the Star Maker, from the Olaf Stapledon novel of the same name.

    Having our universe be a computer simulation is to declare that there is a creator being that exists outside of the universe with the ability to create, monitor, and control everything. Why not just come out and say that there is a god?

    • ivan_the_mad

      “Why not just come out and say that there is a god?” Because everyone knows that it’s turtles all the way down.

    • Irenist

      “Why not just come out and say that there is a god?”
      Because computer simulators don’t care if you’re a sexual libertine. God might. Best to stick with hack sci-fi.

      • Hah, exactly.

        “I want to sleep with my girlfriend. The Big Simulation says I can sleep with my girlfriend. Therefore, God is a Big Simulation.”

        The Pelvological Argument.

        • Irenist

          The Pelvological Argument, applied:
          “I don’t go to Church, but I do believe in God. I’m spiritual but not religious.”
          Translation: “I like the idea of going to Heaven, but I also like all this extra-marital sex I’m having.”

      • Richard Bell

        Actually, the entity behind the simulation must care about whether or not you are a sexual libertine. The first rule of coding simulations is that only state variables that have observable effects on the outputs get coded. Modelling web traffic normally ignores the content, as the network does not differentiate between images of cats and bank transfers, so the possibility of sexual license is an important parameter. The unanswerable question is whether you being a sexual libertine is more important than how many bugs get splattered on my windscreen.

        • Irenist

          “The unanswerable question” as far as the sophomoric simulation argument, that is. If it’s unanswerable at all within the confines of a certain worldview, that worldview is woefully impoverished.