Friday, April 28, 2023

Are we living in a simulated world?

This post is the sixth installment of my passing on to both MindBlog readers and my future self my idiosyncratic selection of clips of text from O’Gieblyn’s book ‘God, Human, Animal, Machine’ that I have found particularly interesting. Here are fragments of Chapter 8 from the  fourth section of her book,  titled "Paradox."

Bostrom, a prominent transhumanist, believes that humanity is in the process of becoming posthuman as we merge our bodies with technology. We are becoming superintelligence ourselves. His simulation hypothesis begins by imagining a future, many generations from now, when posthumans have achieved an almost godlike mastery over the world. One of the things these posthumans might do, Bostrom proposes, is create simulations—digital environments that contain entire worlds…The inhabitants will not know that they are living in a simulation but will believe their world is all that exists…the theory’s popularity has escalated over the past decade or so. It has gained an especially fervent following among scientists and Silicon Valley luminaries, including Neil deGrasse Tyson and Elon Musk, who have come out as proponents…It has become, in other words, the twenty-first century’s favored variation on Descartes’s skeptical thought experiment—the proposition that our minds are lying to us, that the world is radically other than it seems.

…for all its supposed “naturalism,” the simulation hypothesis is ultimately an argument from design. It belongs to a long lineage of creationist rhetoric that invoke human technologies to argue that the universe could not have come about without the conscious intention of a designer.,.Bostrom acknowledged in his paper that there were “some loose analogies” that could be drawn between the simulation hypothesis and traditional religious concepts. The programmers who created the simulation would be like gods compared to those of us within the simulation.

One of the common objections to the informational universe is that information cannot be “ungrounded,” without a material instantiation. Claude Shannon, the father of information theory, insisted that information had to exist in some kind of physical medium, like computer hardware…if the universe were an enormous computer, then this information would in fact be instantiated on something material, akin to a hard drive. We wouldn’t be able to see or detect it because it would exist in the universe of the programmers who built it. All we would notice was its higher-level structure, the abstract patterns and laws that were part of its software. The simulation hypothesis, in other words, could explain why our universe is imbued with discernible patterns and mathematical regularities while also explaining how those patterns could be rooted in something more than mere abstractions. Perhaps Galileo was not so far off when he imagined the universe as a book written by God in the language of mathematics. The universe was software written by programmers in the binary language of code…“if you take this thesis to its conclusion, it doesn’t really explain anything about the universe or its origins. Presumably there is still some original basement-level reality at its foundation—there could be no true infinite regress—occupied by first posthumans who created the very first technological simulation. But these posthumans were just our descendants—or the descendants of some other species that had evolved on another planet—and so the question about origins remained unchanged, only pushed back one degree. Where did the universe originally come from?

Bohr …observed that humans are incapable of understanding the world beyond “our necessarily prejudiced conceptual frame.” And perhaps it can explain why the multiverse theory and other attempts to transcend our anthropocentric outlook so seem a form of bad faith, guilty of the very hubris they claim to reject. There is no Archimedean point, no purely objective vista that allows us to transcend our human interests and see the world from above, as we once imagined it appeared to God. It is our distinctive vantage that binds us to the world and sets the necessary limitations that are required to make sense of it. This is true, of course, regardless of which interpretation of physics is ultimately correct. It was Max Planck, the physicist who struggled more than any other pioneer of quantum theory to accept the loss of a purely objective worldview, who acknowledged that the central problems of physics have always been reflexive. “Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature,” he wrote in 1932. “And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.


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