Suresh Menon is a writer based in In­dia. In his youth he set out to change the world but later de­cided to leave it as it is

Friday - - Humour -

It was ei­ther Chuang Tzu or another philoso­pher by the same name who talked about his but­ter­fly dream. He once dreamt he was a but­ter­fly, jol­ly­ing along, do­ing what but­ter­flies do, spread­ing good cheer and pollen dust, and then he woke up. ‘Now I don’t know,’ he wrote, ‘whether I am a philoso­pher who once dreamt he was a but­ter­fly or a but­ter­fly now dreaming he is a philoso­pher.’ How can you tell? A more re­cent philoso­pher – but with a few mil­lion dol­lars more in the bank – Elon Musk has made a sim­i­lar ob­ser­va­tion. We might be, he said, com­puter-gen­er­ated en­ti­ties liv­ing inside a more ad­vanced civil­i­sa­tion’s video game. How can you tell? This is like an an­gry bird or one of those com­puter-gen­er­ated en­ti­ties sud­denly wak­ing up and ask­ing the same ques­tion. So why is it any dif­fer­ent for us sim­ply be­cause we cre­ated the an­gry bird. Per­haps we were pro­grammed to.

If I don’t be­lieve I am com­put­er­gen­er­ated, there are some good rea­sons for it. For one, I have no superpowers. I can’t walk through walls – or at least I don’t think I can walk through walls. Granted, there is the pos­si­bil­ity that I can ac­tu­ally walk through walls, but merely be­lieve I can’t. Part of the pro­gram­ming.

For another, I have no burn­ing de­sire to save the planet, like Iron­man or a more re­cent hero of mine, Ana­gra­man (who speaks only in ana­grams, and says ‘Ill topor, toss’ or even ‘Still, or stoop’ when he means ‘Stop, or I’ll shoot’).

And for a third – and this is a clincher – I too once dreamt I was a but­ter­fly, a gift given only to philoso­phers.

In 10,000 years, says Musk, our games will be­come in­dis­tin­guish­able from re­al­ity. So we are safe for the mo­ment. Our gen­er­a­tion can still tell games from re­al­ity, al­though while watch­ing some de­bates on tele­vi­sion, it is be­com­ing dif­fi­cult to do so.

But the fact is, the in­abil­ity of fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to dis­tin­guish be­tween games and re­al­ity might ac­tu­ally be good

Elon MUSK has made an ob­ser­va­tion. We might be, he said, com­put­er­gen­er­ated en­ti­ties liv­ing inside a more ad­vanced civil­i­sa­tion’s VIDEO GAME. So, maybe we were pro­grammed to cre­ate the AN­GRY BIRD?

news. It will mean that our civil­i­sa­tion has made progress. So far we have mea­sured progress by the num­ber of peo­ple we have been able to de­stroy in wars, and that’s not a good mea­sure. Of course, it also re­duces the free will ver­sus de­ter­min­ism de­bate to noth­ing.

Some­times progress hits us faster than we think. My ad­vice, if you dis­cover one day that you can walk through walls or have the abil­ity to catch fly­ing bul­lets with your teeth (with­out it re­ar­rang­ing your dentures): drop in a note to Mr Elon Musk. Ev­ery­body has a right to know when he is right. Of course, you have a right to ‘no’ too.

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