[extropy-chat] Be[ing] or Not Be[ing]

Bryan Moss bryan.moss at dsl.pipex.com
Sun Apr 18 03:20:24 UTC 2004

Hal Finney wrote:

> Regarding the "simulation argument", as expressed for example at Nick
> Bostrom's site www.simulation-argument.com:
> The simulation argument is not scientific.  It is not meant to be.
> It is not falsifiable.  But that doesn't make it pointless.
> The simulation argument is, as its name suggests, an argument.  That term
> has a specific meaning.  It is not a theory or a hypothesis or a model.
> It is not a term from science; it is a term from logic.  An argument is
> a matter of logic, not science.
> [...]

The simulation argument is basically an argument for scepticism from
observation-based premises, which makes it incoherent.  Let's say we're
arguing about the simulation argument; the argument makes a claim about
physical reality - that it can be simulated - that claim is testable; I
argue by coming up with ways to test the argument, you argue by shooting
them down with ever more elaborate scenarios where the simulation counters
my attempts to prove or disprove that I'm in a simulation; eventually we're
lead to the conclusion that I cannot trust any of my senses because the
demon...  sorry, the *simulation* can always find a way to fool me.  At this
point, however, we also have to throw out all your simulation stuff
(computers, posthumans, etc) because that was based on observation too.  It
could be God fooling us, demons, whatever; we can't privilege one above the
other because we can no longer trust what we observe.

Let's call that the Strong Simulation Argument - where you tell me I can't
know if I'm in a simulation - and we reject that because it undermines its
own premises.  That leaves us with a Weak Simulation Argument, where we have
to find some cut off point for how hard you can argue it.  I.e., you can
tell me these simulations are complete simulations of the laws of physics,
maybe with some parameters (if there are parameters) adjusted, and no
intervention and I can argue, say, that the laws of physics are such that we
can't simulate the Universe within the Universe, so you're wrong.  Now, if
you want, we can (very carefully) expand this argument.  We could say, for
example, that the simulation is classical and when we do quantum experiments
some sort of quantum computer is used to get the results.  I think, at the
very least, to avoid falling into incoherence the fidelity of the simulation
you argue for would have to be such that the arguments for it being a
simulation hold *within* the simulation.  So, for example, you can't argue
for a simulation where memories of performing some experiment are implanted
in me because that also undermines the premises of your argument (that
simulations are possible, etc).  I'm fairly confident all this keeps us
within the realm of verification by experiment (and, personally, I'm
doubtful there's a Weak Simulation Argument scenario worth discussing).


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