As ever, David Hambling offers us food for thought. This time asking if we might all be living in a simulated world, such as the one portrayed in The Matrix.
[Ft353:14]. We can start with Wittgenstein’s example: the real and the false apple. He suggests that if there is no way of telling which is the real and the false apple, then the concept of real and false has no meaning, there being no way of determining which concept applies. However, Hambling goes further by quoting Marvin Minsky’s suggestion that we might be alert for “errors and flaws in a simulation” that do not follow the “laws of physics”. But if we are living in a simulation that frames our experience and theories, then there wouldn’t be any errors and flaws, for these would be the laws that we understood as determining our world. Minsky’s observation assumes that we are absolutely certain of these ‘laws’, even though they have changed somewhat over the years. So whose laws hold true – Newton’s, Einstein’s, Bohr’s, or those of a young physicist who, as I write may be completing a worldshaking PhD?
In the Matrix example, the real world is one in which humans are fed illusions via machines, which of course can be seen as a metaphor for all sorts of belief systems, science included. Thus these illusions emerge from the real world, in which the production of a simulation for ulterior motives is an aspect. There was no ‘other’ world; there was only the world of the Matrix. Some might step outside the simulations but still be in the real world, of which the simulation was a part.
We are similarly stuck with the problem Hambling poses, for there is no objective place from which to observe what is real or simulated for the definitions that we might use to demarcate these concepts are rooted in the language that we are born with and which frame all our perceptions. Indeed nothing makes this clearer than the frequent claim that science is ‘objective’, as such claims always return to definitions of ‘objectivity’ that are themselves not objective but are part and parcel of a pre-existing worldview. Somehow this reminds me of Wittgenstein’s comment about the man who buys a second copy of the same newspaper to check if the first one is accurate. I am referring here to the real Wittgenstein, not his simulation. Mike Harding London I read ‘Prisoners of the Matrix’ with interest as it is a subject I have considered happily. One point raised made me think that there is a flaw in one of the general predicates of the argument for fake universes. The idea that we live in a fake universe is implied by mathematics, which of course must come from this same fake universe. What then if the real universe was modelled on different laws? What of our fake universe then? We cannot make assumptions based on evidence that by definition is fake. It is a circular argument. If the universe we are in is fake then the mathematics is arguably fake too. Maybe the ‘real’ universe is five-dimensional or even partly based on structures that our ‘fake universe’ does not entertain? No model can reflect these difficulties. Simon van Someren London I found the statistical argument that we are most likely living in a computer simulation interesting, but I don’t think this theory is carried far enough. Consider the evil scientist whose computer we’re inhabiting (Evil 1). His universe is subject to the same statistical argument as ours, so he’s almost certain to be in a computer belonging to Evil 2. In turn, Evil 2 is in Evil 3’s computer who is in Evil 4’s computer and so on. This infinite chain of nested simulations becomes slowly less likely as it extends into the billions.
One way to avoid this problem is to pick an arbitrary evil scientist (say Evil N) whose universe is a simulation in the computer of a previously unsuspected Evil Zero. The key is that Evil Zero is living (to use the term loosely) in our simulated universe! This makes the infinite simulation chain neatly into a finite circle and also has the added benefit of removing the need for that pesky original universe which was always very unlikely (billions to one) anyway. Of course it’s possible this simulation ring is itself in a computer that is being simulated in another computer, and so on. This could lead to a very tangled multiverse. Sadly, given the number of computers involved, it’s unavoidable that at least one of them is going to crash any time now… but would we notice? Rahn Kollander Minneapolis, Minnesota
Eric was destined never to learn his dazzling guitar solo had opened up a window to another dimension.