The Simulation Hypothesis
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The Simulation Hypothesis

An MIT Computer Scientist Shows Why AI, Quantum Physics and Eastern Mystics All Agree We Are In a Video Game

Rizwan Virk

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eBook - ePub

The Simulation Hypothesis

An MIT Computer Scientist Shows Why AI, Quantum Physics and Eastern Mystics All Agree We Are In a Video Game

Rizwan Virk

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Written by well-known Silicon Valley entrepreneur and MIT-educated computer scientist Rizwan Virk, The Simulation Hypothesis brings together disparate fields to explore one of the most daring and consequential theories of our time: The Simulation Hypothesis. Whether you are a computer scientist, a fan of science fiction like the Matrix movies, a video game enthusiast, or a spiritual seeker, The Simulation Hypothesis touches on all these areas. The Simulation Hypothesis is the idea that our physical reality, far from being a solid physical universe, is part of an increasingly sophisticated video game-like simulation, consisting of pixels with its own internal clock.In the Simulation Hypothesis, the mysteries of quantum science, the path of artificially intelligent consciousness, the evolution of VR and quantum computers, along with previously taboo subjects like consciousness and karma, are brought together into a cohesive, information-based computer science framework. Leading figures like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have advocated the Simulation Hypothesis. For the first time, the Simulation Hypothesis delves into all the angles that make this remarkable theory one of the most important of our time!

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Computer Science
Part IV

Putting It All Together

It is probably true quite generally that in the history of human thinking the most fruitful developments frequently take place at those points where two different lines of thought meet.
These lines may have their root in quite different parts of human culture, in different times or different cultural environments or different religious traditions; hence, if they actually meet … then one may hope that new and interesting developments will follow.
—Werner Heisenberg, Nobel Prize Winner in Physics
Chapter 11

Skeptics and Believers: Evidence of Computation

One of the questions that I get asked often is whether it’s possible to prove, or at least to detect, via physical experiments, whether the simulation hypothesis is, in fact, true.
There are some who believe that it is impossible to detect if we are in a simulation any more than an artificial video game character can figure out that it is a character in a video game.
If there is no way to detect that we are in a simulation, it shouldn’t make a difference to us one way or another, should it? So, why bother? We should just get on with playing the game.
Marcus Noack, of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, is one of those who believes that it is impossible to test the simulation hypothesis as a whole. He asserts that the best we may be able to do is to look for ways the simulation might work. He believes we can probably detect artifacts of a simulation, perhaps because the designers of the simulation were lazy and left clues for us to detect. 67
David Chalmers, professor of philosophy at New York University, opines that, even if he accepts Bostrom’s statistical argument that we are most likely simulated beings in a simulation, this is not a futile revelation, nor does it mean that the world around us isn’t real in some sense of the word. He says that even if we are in a simulation, everything around us is still real from the point of view of those inside the simulation.68
But when it comes to proving the hypothesis, it gets a little trickier. Bostrom himself says that, while he is eager to try, along with others, he does not think that there would be a clear and obvious experiment that would tell us the answer with 100 percent certainty. Still, even Bostrom admits that there might be ways to detect some evidence that we are more likely (or less likely) to be in a simulation.69
This chapter begins with some skeptics who don’t believe we are in a simulation and describes their arguments as to why it couldn’t possibly be true. We then move to some theoretical (and some actual) experiments that may show evidence of computation embedded in the physical world. This is potential evidence that we are in fact in a simulation.
These experiments are by no means conclusive, so in this chapter we are moving into speculative territory. No doubt in the decades ahead, as more of these types of experiments are derived, and as our own technology marches down the road to the simulation point, we will be able to get more definite answers.

The Categories of Arguments/Experiments

The arguments against the simulation hypothesis fall into several categories:
  • Evidence of Consciousness. There is a group of scientists and others that believe that consciousness is at the heart of the universe. This includes many physicists—ranging from Max Planck to Amit Goswami and others. Some folks in the camp use this basic idea about the universe as an argument against the simulation hypothesis by stating that Bostrom’s simulation argument cannot be true because it states that we are simulated beings only, as opposed to conscious beings. The objection here is not to the idea of simulation but to the concept of lifeless AI, rather than conscious beings.
  • Evidence of Negation. These are either experiments or arguments that purport to prove that we cannot be living in a computer-generated simulation, usually because of some physical properties or by calculating the resources that would be required to generate a simulation like our physical world. These experiments and arguments usually show how a simulation of the universe would require infinite resources—a seeming impossibility—or it would require at least as many atoms as there are in physical reality, so what would be the point?
On the flip side, arguments and experiments that have been proposed to find evidence for the simulation hypothesis usually fall into two categories:
  • Evidence of Conditional Rendering. In this class of experiments, physicists are looking for evidence that the physical universe operates like a computer video game. In a video game, only the items that are directly visible are rendered. This is an important optimization technique used in all 3D video games that saves computing power and resources. The experiments in this category tend to be variations of the delayed-choice double-slit experiment, which we explored in Chapter 6, Parallel Universes, Future Selves, and Video Games. Some of these arguments emphasize that there needs to be an observer. This seems to be implying that if we are in a video game, we need players.
  • Evidence of Pixels or Computation. As we explored in Chapter 7, Pixels, Quanta, and the Structure of Space-Time , if we live in a computer-generated reality, then the physical world should leave some clues that a computer is generating our reality. These clues could be in the form of pixels (more on these soon), blurring of pixels, or other “artifacts” of coding techniques that could be embedded into the physical structure of our seemingly physical universe.

A Quick Note about Metaphysical Experiments and Consciousness

While the assertions of mystics and religious traditions also tie into the simulation hypothesis, as we saw in Part III, for the purposes of this chapter, we’ll focus on the scientific model. Thus, we will focus on experiments proposed by physicists and evidence put forth by computer scientists—the two fields that bear directly on a simulation.
Though we are skipping the mystical interpretations in this chapter, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t experiments that can be done in that field. In fact, the Buddha told his followers not to accept what he said but to verify it themselves through their own experience with meditation and karma and reincarnation. Many believe that it is possible to verify for ourselves each of the phenomena that we went over in Part III, regarding guardian angels...