Another day, another post. Today the topic is simulation – a more philosophical discussion, this one is left pretty open ended so feel free to post comments, questions or ideas.
A Simulated Universe
There is a theory that the universe as we know it is just a computer simulation inside another universe. This of course leads to the question, is the universe our simulation is in also a simulation? And so on ever upwards. You have probably come across this idea before, possibly from this xkcd comic. However the idea seems a little senseless at first – why does it matter if the universe is a simulation? We have no proof to suggest it is and furthermore it is partially a moot question. It still doesn’t answer the overall questions like why is their a universe at all. However I think there is some important merit in the idea which we should not take for granted.
A Simulating Machine
One thing we should think about is exactly what simulation requires. How can we build a simulating machine? Well for a start we know computers can make simulations, somehow the binary language of ones and zeros can become a world; a simulated existence. This is a pretty amazing concept when you think about it, all you need to create a world is a whole lot of ones and zeros occasionally switching from one state to the other in a way which the softwear behind such simulation finds meaningful.
I can think of one other notable simulation machine though – the human brain. We live our lives constantly simulating things. Whenever you are imagining something, perhaps the words from a book, or imagining what you’d rather be doing when sitting in a boring class or meeting; whenever you are doing things like these you are simulating. Another notable example is a dream, where your brain goes about simulating things without your explicit conscious input.
So both human brains and computers can simulate things, what about the neural systems of other animals? Well its a difficult thing to test and science suggests that only a few other species may be imbued with such cognitive powers. After all it is the imagination of humans which is meant to be one of our more defining features. And without the ability to simulate imagination is surely an impossible concept, they are innately linked.
So we’ve seen that there is a theory that our universe is a simulated existence. And we’ve seen that various things within our universe have the ability to simulate. So maybe it is more important for us to look not whether we are simulated, but rather at what the effects and capabilities of our own simulation are. Our world feels real to us, maybe it is not “as” real as it could be, but most of us would be fairly content with our existence, content enough to be upset should the entire universe suddenly stop for example. So perhaps the simulations we ourselves are making everyday, in our minds and on our computers, perhaps these simulations are to an extent real. Perhaps the dream is just as real as the life. This would make our simulation machines a lot more important than we currently give them credit for, they are quite literally the custodians of worlds.
Besides the obvious importances of this concept, we can draw further conclusions from these. For one this asks us to consider what exactly is the nature of existence? Is a person who exists in simulation any less real than one which exists in “our reality”? Is the man in your dream alive as long as you keep dreaming? And does that man’s life end when you stop? In a computer simulation has discrete time, you can divide time down to its lowest “frame rate”. During the spaces between those “frames” there is no world, and if someone in one of those frames were to move in space during the time in-between frames (essentially teleporting), should we consider him dead, alive or both?
Interesting questions and I’m sure I’ll come back to this topic again, but what do you think?