Virtual Appearances, Virtual Realities

Couple of PSAs to start out with:

  1. I’m going to be participating in tomorrow’s Future of Mind Symposium, put on by the Center for Transformative Media down in NYC. (I will, no big surprise, be participating via video-link to reduce the chances of getting killed and/or arrested en route.) The event is free, but you gotta register. Also they’ve already had to move to a bigger venue so I don’t know how available tickets might be.
  2. Spacecat.

    Spacecat.

    I’ve already participated in another interview with Jasun Horsley’s “Liminality” podcast. This time, like the last, we rambled on so long that it ended up being a two-parter. As of this writing only the first hour is up; according to the page summary we discoursed erratically on UFOs, Michael Persinger’s helmet, abduction narratives and sexual abuse, J. Allen Hynek and close encounters, MKULTRA, the parliament of voices, ritual abuse and False Memory Syndrome’s disinformation campaign, Whitley Strieber & the Nazi-US alliance, Elizabeth Loftus, using satanic elements as cover to invalidate memories of abuse, and organized pedophilia in the British aristocracy. To name but a few. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the whole thing, so I have no idea how coherent or incoherent it might be. Think of it as sitting across from us at a bar after I’ve had a few drinks.

Gotta love what Jasun does to my author photos, though. He swears that any resemblance of that upper-right yellow blob to a seventies-era Space Invader is purely accidental.

*

“Nothing is real.”
—John Lennon

So. The latest variant on the classic double-slit experiment continues to support what all other such experiments have supported in the past, namely that whether something behaves like a particle or a wave depends upon whether it’s being surveilled, which demonstrates in turn that (in the words of the study’s author) “reality does not exist if you are not looking at it”, which in yet another turn means that nothing makes any fucking sense whatever. I’ve always clung to the belief that it all does make sense, but — because stuff that happens on quantum scales has no relevance to the process of natural selection up here in the classical world— our brains simply aren’t wired in a way that lets us grok such things intuitively. But let’s put that aside for now, because I think I might have come up with an explanation for all this quantum dumbness that actually does make sense at classical scales:

Nick Bostrom is right. We’re all living in a simulation. More, these dual-slit experiments suggest that (and here’s my little contribution, which probably has its head up its ass because I don’t know anything about this stuff but bear with me) we’re living in a simulation with a really low budget.

We are somewhere below the line

We are somewhere below the line

Most of you already know Bostrom’s argument. For the rest of you, his reasoning boils down to 1) if it’s possible to create simulations with self-aware inhabitants, and 2) if some advanced species is inclined to actually build such sims, then 3) there are probably way more simulated universes (>>1) than real ones (=1). Which means, based purely on the odds, that we are far more likely to be living in one of a myriad simulations than we are in a singular baseline reality.

I’ve always liked this thought. It fits in nicely with the whole Digital Physics paradigm that seems to have taken root in the Physics community. It jibes with the way reality seems to kinda “stop” below a certain scale of resolution (Planck Length and Planck Time may be no more than pixel dimensions and clock cycles). And if enough studies like Bean et al come down the pike— and if they hold up— the Simulation Hypothesis might even find its way out of the it’s-untestable-so-it’s-not-science swamp that’s mired String Theory for so long.

So what do we know about our own baby steps into building simulated realities? We know that when you’re playing Fallout 4, the graphics engine doesn’t waste energy rendering the landscape behind you. We know that when you put on your Oculus Rifts, they don’t paint the vista at the back of your head. Why should they? Nobody’s looking there. Oh, they keep all the pointers and variables on hand, sure. They’re completely capable of rendering the world to your left the moment you turn your gaze in that direction. But they don’t actually solidify any part of the world until someone looks at it.

You see where I’m going with this, right?

Maybe not so Unreal an Engine after all...

Maybe not so Unreal an Engine after all…

First-person gaming is a pretty good metaphor for quantum indeterminacy; nothing is real until observed. Maybe it’s more than a metaphor. Maybe we’re living in a cut-rate Bostrom sim, one that can’t afford the computing power to render everything in hi-res detail all the time— so it cuts corners, saves cycles only for those parts of the model that are being observed.

Maybe there’s nothing insane or counterintuitive about quantum indeterminacy after all. Maybe it’s perfectly understandable— depressingly familiar, even— to anyone who’s lived on a grad-student budget.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Tuesday July 19 2016at 11:07 am , filed under astronomy/cosmology, Digital Physics . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

65 Responses to “Virtual Appearances, Virtual Realities”

  1. Terence Tao once used Tomb Raider to explain quantum mechanics.

    https://terrytao.wordpress.com/2007/02/26/quantum-mechanics-and-tomb-raider/

  2. That’s just crazy. If I were a Sim, I’d know it. And if I knew it, I would no longer ex-fzzzp-p-p…

  3. Based on the way 2016 has gone so far, I’d say that the experimenters are bored and they’ve started to mess around with some of the key parameters.

  4. The problem with arguments like this is that they overlook the extra computing that’s required to figure out where someone (or something) is looking. You can’t just let the simulation run; you have to do an enormous amount of analysis to figure what parts of the simulation are currently observers (or equipment that observing are using, or might look at later) and what they’re observing. So it’s not at all clear that you save on the computing requirements.

    A slightly more correct version of the first-person gaming analogy would be a massively multiplayer system, not a single-player game. Sure, at any given moment *you* might not be looking at a particular building, but someone else probably is. So the computation required to render the building still needs to be done, on someone else’s computer if not on your own or on the server.

    Even then, an MMP game is constructed with the built-in assumption of clearly labeled observers who don’t reproduce or evolve or build new instruments within the simulation.

  5. Perhaps you’ve heard this one.

    Goddess didn’t make the universe in 7 days. It would take way longer than that. So she just did the broad brush strokes (“Let there be light” and all that jazz). Ever since she’s been filling in the details. The problem is that in the last 500 years we’ve been looking closer and closer at reality and over more and more space and she’s having trouble keeping up. Why do you think we’ve only just been able to find the Higgs Boson? It’s because she’s only just got round to writing that bit of code and the algorithms to go with it. Same for those early, just post big bang galaxies that the Hubble found in deep space. They weren’t even there last year. Goddess got them completed just in time for us to find them when we started looking.

    Every once in a while people find confirmation of new things in the old data. It’s not causality loops, we’ve just found the placeholder procedure stubs that had been commented out.

    And that’s the problem with the low budget simulation theory. Universe seems to be self-modifying code where the AI subroutines inside the game can tweak the rendering engine to increase the fractal resolution.

  6. How would you express the difference, mathematically or using physics, between a virtual, simulated reality, and what we know as ‘reality’? I haven’t been able to get a cogent explanation of what the difference(s) could be. I propose there is only an aesthetic difference, and the terms simulation and reality are practically, interchangeable.

    A definition of ‘reality’, could be a simulation that is good enough to fool its inhabitants, and it doesn’t have to be perfect at fooling them. It just has to satisfy an nth level maximal curve that fits (close enough to satisfy) what we still don’t really understand as ‘consciousness’. If your world’s inhabitants are not very ‘awake’ then the budget of the simulation can be even lower. This raises the interesting question of whether the computing power/ resolution of our simulation has to be adjusted as we gain awareness?

    It would not surprise me (horrify, yes, surprise no) to discover that we have already created a virtual world that satisfies some of the necessary conditions, to a very half-assed extent, or that we will soon do so, such that we’ve created (or will) a very limited hellish world for self-aware entities that exist at our pleasure.

    Just as conscious-ness might be fractal, so too could be god(dess)-ness. The future belongs to programmers.

  7. Methinks the gaming metaphor conflates (reification=rendering) with (reality=game model)
    0.o

  8. I’ve been thinking along exactly these same lines. What if the observer effect isn’t the limit of it, hmm? What if c is a constraint imposed by the sim’s need to synchronize state across a distributed system, and you can’t have something jump between compute substrate nodes too quickly?

    (This, by the way, is literally true in the universe in the book I’m working on. I wracked my brain trying to come up with a unique FTL gimmick and came up with what I think is a really goddamn good one: By performing too many observations at too fine a scale in too short of a period of time, you can cause reality’s background sim to have a buffer overflow, allowing you access to the memory registers where your spatial coordinates are stored. At least, that’s how their scientists explain it to laymen. It acts more or less like a wormhole or – an apt metaphor – a temporary symbolic link between your present position and the one you wish to occupy. They will eventually figure out they can do more than that. A very few of them already have. The fact that every FTL jump (‘glitch’, the device which allows glitching being referred to as a ‘wallhacker’) is quite literally an affront to the Creator everyone gets all worked up about is just the cherry on top. It’s really hard for the posthuman offworld civ to talk about with Earth people. ‘So, uh, yeah… our starships basically throw both middle fingers at God and push something off the shelf while looking Him right in the eye every time they glitch’ tends to go over very poorly with some people, and then there’s lots of crying and shouting and you have to send in slapdrones and it’s all an awful mess.)

  9. Hmmm, there is an awful lot of background computation (i.e. the physics of rest of the universe) that needs to run constantly in order for the sim to maintain a self-consistent environment that this type of sight-line optimization of certain elements would likely provide little benefit. There are simply too many individual elements to track (an n-body problem, where n tends towards infinity) that updating the state of some part of the system a t+Δt, where Δt is an arbitrarily large period after which something is “looked at” would produce highly unreliable results even at the macroscopic level.

    That is not to say that our reality is not a sim, it’s just to say that if it is, sight-line optimization is unlikely to be the reason for the observer effect.

    There is, also, the tiny fact that if you skip the “reality doesn’t exist unless looked at” mystification aimed at producing bombastic headlines, the fact that a measured system becomes entangled with the measuring device/observer thereby ceasing to have a separate wave function and collapsing to some definite value is a sensible element of the (relatively straightforward, albeit unusual for primate intuition) maths of quantum mechanics.

  10. The set of “is” is not equal to the set “might be”. If it were, we would readily observe at every moment the world disolve into hot nothing. Also the set of “is” is not empty, we observe. However between these is a wide range of posibilities.

    The set of “is” might be very, very large. While we might not make every choice we could make (it is readily observed we do not act randomly), when presented with a choice we might often make several of them.

    This is terrifying.

    The simulation argument seems like a comforting lie. It might be what is is many disconnected universes, most incapable of running much in the way of simulation, mostly dead, some tiny fraction briefly borderline hospitable. We really only have one observation, and the best we can do is assume it is representative, that most life is lonely and isolated and has no escape hatch.

  11. Of course I’ve lots of opinions on various things discussed in part 1 of the new Liminality podcast, but here’s just the bare bones.

    No, the people who brought us MKULTRA are not interested in space exploration, etc. They enjoy exactly the same kind of thinking you get from Republicans, i.e., that’s a waste of time and money because it doesn’t directly benefit them themselves in sufficient financial kickbacks and power enhancements that war, drugs, and exploiting overcrowding and scarcity do. Can see why a Brit might think so, but my American perspective is we only have Republicans {the Lite kind talk different and label themselves Democrats} in charge EVAR.

    Read The Devil’s Chessboard to get that cheap labor is and has always been Job One at Langley. The latest HBO film about LBJ shows J. Edna Hoover’s organization also finds that to be its primary function. This is the sunflower allegory, of course, but the point is so few people realize it is set up to work that way {including often employees of said organizations; duckduckgo “Washington Post CIA eyewash,” for example}. The “bosses” are for whom the sun rises and sets, for whom the stars are hung, and our three branches of guberment pretty much lick their asses as a result.

    There’s lots about Nazis out there, from in-place GLADIO saboteurs to repel potential Soviet invasions after WWII {re-purposed to discredit socialists in Italy, Germany, Spain, etc. by creating “leftwing” terrorist groups} to Air America, to, yes, new WASP-y names and working as scientists for Army and CIA at Fort Detrick on biological, chemical and non-conventional weapons and methods {kind of like MI6’s Q branch but with less overt fascism 😉 }.

    Also, Black Mirror, a U.K. show on Netflix that has been compared to Twilight Zone, did an episode with a “resurrected” algorithmic character. Won’t spoil it, but Kurzweil probably wouldn’t like the ending.

  12. I think it’s worth considering there are interpretations of QM where all this observer related fuckery goes away. Many-worlds is quite popular, but I prefer pilot wave theories (De Broglie–Bohm). Of course there is always something weird about these theories: uncountable numbers of worlds, non-locality, etc… so the issue is which particular weirdness you want to put up with more.

    I’ll admit the simulation hypothesis is more interesting for someone who wants to write fiction in it, though.

  13. Somehow seems appropriate to the discussion: CNN, about a month ago, had “experts” on discussing the possibility that one of the recently crashed passenger jets flew into a black hole. Let us remember this when bashing the stupid over at FOX. These are our “choices” for becoming informed.

  14. Sebastian,

    This is all assuming multiple observers, if this simulation only has one “real” privileged observer, i.e. Me, then everything else is a lot easier.

    I had a sort of seed idea for a comic book/webcomic about a “girl from the future” attending present day high school as an educational experience. When her classmates ask her about time travel she casually explains that that’s actually “too expensive” and that her school is actually running an ancestor simulation.

    I probably won’t ever do anything with it… Haruhi Suzumiya already walked most of this path anyway…

  15. Bjorn Townsend: This, by the way, is literally true in the universe in the book I’m working on. I wracked my brain trying to come up with a unique FTL gimmick and came up with what I think is a really goddamn good one: By performing too many observations at too fine a scale in too short of a period of time, you can cause reality’s background sim to have a buffer overflow, allowing you access to the memory registers where your spatial coordinates are stored. At least, that’s how their scientists explain it to laymen. It acts more or less like a wormhole or – an apt metaphor – a temporary symbolic link between your present position and the one you wish to occupy. They will eventually figure out they can do more than that. A very few of them already have. The fact that every FTL jump (‘glitch’, the device which allows glitching being referred to as a ‘wallhacker’) is quite literally an affront to the Creator everyone gets all worked up about is just the cherry on top. It’s really hard for the posthuman offworld civ to talk about with Earth people. ‘So, uh, yeah… our starships basically throw both middle fingers at God and push something off the shelf while looking Him right in the eye every time they glitch’ tends to go over very poorly with some people, and then there’s lots of crying and shouting and you have to send in slapdrones and it’s all an awful mess.

    Nestor: I had a sort of seed idea for a comic book/webcomic about a “girl from the future” attending present day high school as an educational experience. When her classmates ask her about time travel she casually explains that that’s actually “too expensive” and that her school is actually running an ancestor simulation.

    $#!%, sometimes I hate having ethics, as these are two ideas I would like to shamelessly steal. I mean, not that I’m likely to do with them either at the pace my writing’s going lately, but regardless.

    Anyway, I hope either/both of you have success with them and maybe I can at least enjoy reading them someday.

  16. Yes, but no. For me, your post fails Occam’s Razor, as is the equivalent of religiosity disguised as science.

    BTW: interesting article on collapsing wave function here:

    http://tinyurl.com/gptszcj

  17. whoever:
    …to Air America…

    Think you mean Voice of America.

  18. Peter Erwin: “The problem with arguments like this is that they overlook the extra computing that’s required to figure out where someone (or something) is looking.”

    Yrrp. Oh, and don’t forget that pesky stack overflow error every single time some bright [if emulated] spark says “So if the creator created the universe then who created the creator?” It’s pretty hard to miss when reality core-dumps all over your entire existence like that. If physicists wish to devolve back to philosophers then that’s their choice; but is it still useful? Not very much.

    In any case I can’t help feeling that us dumb monkeys are all just secretly still scrabbling for our Classical comfort blanky, even after we already know just how hard QT laughs at such pre-kindergarten shit. So hey; so what if the universe is built of fuzzy dice rolls instead of actual dice? It clearly still works better than we do (not that that’s saying a lot, I know). Let us know when you actually do something useful with it, like collapsing the wave function on Our Donald’s hair. ‘Cos, man, that is one seriously reality-ending Cthulhuian coif right there…

  19. I think we all know that the universe is a huge computer finding the question to the ultimate answer of life, the universe, and everything.

  20. Sebastian,

    Ech, the line-of-sight idea doesn’t work for collapsing wavefunctions but it does make a whole lot of sense when you consider light cones. In fact if you think about it, they’re a great way to speed up computation — you don’t need to worry about *everything*, you just need to worry about whatever’s in the light cone when computing something’s state.

  21. Hi, I’m a lurker here and rarely comment, but this time I have to. If James Nichol said “Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts”, then I say: if it becomes even stronger, I read Peter Watts’ blog.

    It’s not the first time you are right, correct?

    http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=3306
    http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=3998

    I never understood this idea of “if you are not looking at it”. We look at the photons that interacted with something, so we don’t need to be there. If we are measuring it, then the photons are there. If we are not measuring, they should also be there. So why would it be different? Unless you consider that “not looking” is when there is no photons there. But in this case, the system won’t be affected, right? Or am I missing something important here?

    Anyway, Planck Length and Planck Time are much better “evidence” than that probability idea, imho.

    Final thought: what if someone in the real world is reading this and decides to troll us? Who knows what they can add to make things more interesting… Maybe some scramblers?

  22. Bjorn Townsend,

    Someone wrote a story along similar lines here

    https://qntm.org/structure

    I hope you’ll post a link on the crawl when yours is done :)

  23. Something that always confounded me is the principle of measurement or observation. We take it to mean human observers but from what other physics-inclined people have told me, things are constantly in observation by other things as it were. So humans are completely optional in that part. Is that wrong or am I mismeasuring what people have told me?

  24. Sebastian: There is, also, the tiny fact that if you skip the “reality doesn’t exist unless looked at” mystification aimed at producing bombastic headlines, the fact that a measured system becomes entangled with the measuring device/observer thereby ceasing to have a separate wave function and collapsing to some definite value is a sensible element of the (relatively straightforward, albeit unusual for primate intuition) maths of quantum mechanics.

    Drat! And here I was about to try to blow the mind Our Gracious Host by pointing out that “if reality doesn’t exist if you’re not looking at it, yet it displays statefulness by having not changed when one looks away and then returns the gaze, this implies that something is looking at it. But if one cannot find an observer, perhaps the system is looking at itself.” Now, one easy way to resolve this if you don’t mind going rather outside of science, is to postulate “immanence of the divine”, more or less that $DEITY is in fact in the environment; what is holding everything together even though it’s outside of observation, is “god”. Now let’s not get too reactive to that word being used… if we are in a simulation, where — as Julian Bond says: “Universe seems to be self-modifying code where the AI subroutines inside the game can tweak the rendering engine to increase the fractal resolution”, but only moreso. The subroutines aren’t just tweaking, they’re reflexively self-observing along with observing near neighbors, a sort of co-ordinated mass solipsism maintaining the fabric of timespace (or its simulation). Then again, if the simulation is so real that it’s effectively indistinguishable from reality, does it matter if we call anything capable of rewriting it at huge scale “god” or not? Because if you’re standing right next to anything that gets rewritten in a significantly observable way, it’s probably going to feel like an encounter with the divine, or maybe feel like surviving highly energetic chemical reactions in enclosed spaces. It might not be unfathomable deity and it might be ultimately reducible to component parts, but in terms of it being useful to us we might be better off not being overly deconstructionist, any more than we’d try to have a conversation with a blood cell rather than the person in whom that cell circulated.

    Well, having not looked at it for ten minutes, and having quite forgotten about it, I went and checked and yes indeedy my navel is still there, even without having to gaze at it. I am, however, really looking forward to the “Liminality” podcast 2-parter. “[R]itual abuse and False Memory Syndrome’s disinformation campaign” […] “using satanic elements as cover to invalidate memories of abuse” is always fascinating stuff, but the Wattsian “take” on it has to be fascinating. Having looked into all of this fairly deeply, though it’s been about two decades so forgive me if memory is a bit spotty or more facts have come to light, I have been holding the opinion that “Satan” might have about fuckall to do with any of that… but sketchy and shadowy groups of people doing sinister stuff “all along”, I have no problems at all believing in that. MKULTRA was not the first nor the last spooky undercover HUMEX. I have known people who had lived through horrible incidents, managed to recover somewhat and carry on, only to discover years later that their memory suppression as an aid to recovery was now blocking forwards progress… and when “memories were recovered”, any explorations into settled affairs — which might have provided any certainty one way or another about the memories or recovery — were suddenly blocked by the False Memory Syndrome people who came out of nowhere like a pack of raging attorneys and their pet soft-sciences “researchers”. Watching this happen at the time was like watching the activation of a well-funded contingency plan program. I seem to recall that “sure, blame the victim” entered the popular lexicon in the context of this.

  25. Sebastian:
    There is, also, the tiny fact that if you skip the “reality doesn’t exist unless looked at” mystification aimed at producing bombastic headlines, the fact that a measured system becomes entangled with the measuring device/observer thereby ceasing to have a separate wave function and collapsing to some definite value is a sensible element of the (relatively straightforward, albeit unusual for primate intuition) maths of quantum mechanics.

    I’m an engineer, not a physicist, but that’s how I understand it. “Observer” means not a conscious being, but some way of measuring which slit the particle took.

    The best non-mathematical explanation I’ve found is in Dr. al-Khalili’s book Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed.

    https://www.amazon.ca/Quantum-Perplexed-Dr-Jim-Al-Khalili/dp/1841882380

  26. On the topic of whether or not we live in a simulation, I suggest looking up some talks by Sylvester James Gates on youtube. Apparently his work in super symmetry has lead him to find “error correcting codes” embedded in the mathematical framework.

  27. You are being misled by popular explanations of QM. You (and they) are confusing measurement and observation. Measurement involves a physical interaction; something changes state; we note that state change somehow. That interaction of course has an effect on the thing being measured.

    Observation (in the quasi-mystical sense) never occurs in QM. There is no observer effect, because there is no way to model an observer EXCEPT as a physical interaction — i.e. a measurement.

    QM theory is well developed. People keep doing experiments like this, knowing exactly what theory will predict, and then acting surprised that the experiment actually did what theory predicted! It would be a big deal if the experiment didn’t show this. The whole mumbo-jumbo observer BS is just to pull in rubes to get funding to do yet another experiment that will confirm yet again that QM describes what happens in the “real” world.

  28. Bjorn Townsend: By performing too many observations at too fine a scale in too short of a period of time, you can cause reality’s background sim to have a buffer overflow, allowing you access to the memory registers where your spatial coordinates are stored. At least, that’s how their scientists explain it to laymen.

    Yeah, can I have the Sesame Street version?

  29. Deseret,

    Pretty sure they really meant Air America.

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/143768.Whiteout

  30. …the whole Digital Physics paradigm that seems to have taken root in the Physics community. Yeah, not so much. I think you’ve been misled by the size of Tegmark’s ego.

  31. Pixelbrick,

    Well, I guess it’s both then.

    Hidden History: What Nazi-Tied Roots to U.S. International Media Reveals About Ukraine Crisis.

  32. I just have what may be an ignorant objection. Can anyone familiar with Bostrom’s work point me to a reference for this summary of his views?:
    “Most of you already know Bostrom’s argument. For the rest of you, his reasoning boils down to 1) if it’s possible to create simulations with self-aware inhabitants, and 2) if some advanced species is inclined to actually build such sims, then 3) there are probably way more simulated universes (>>1) than real ones (=1). Which means, based purely on the odds, that we are far more likely to be living in one of a myriad simulations than we are in a singular baseline reality.”
    Having read Bostrom in the past, I came away with the impression that Bostrom himself is not that certain that we live in a simulation. This, to me, sounds a lot more like Elon Musk’s recent remarks on the subject.

  33. If we’re living in a simulation, you’d really not want to meet the creatures who made it.
    Psychopaths. Who else would create a simulation like this, eh?

    Also, I believe your argument from QM is just .. well. Let’s not go there – it’s something only physicists or mathematicians really understand and a lay person trying to base anything on it has about as much credibility as if they were trying to use numerology.

  34. My plot idea was that one could do a buffer-overflow then take control of the 3D printer attached to the simulation computer and print a robot body for the protagonist, thus promoting the protagonist one level up in the hierarchy of realities. Adventures, of course, then ensue.

  35. The problems and issues within our simulation can be explained very simply. We’re being run on Windows.

  36. If you only knew how crappy video game simulations actually are…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d4Pvx0un6LM

  37. Mary had a little bot, and she slipped past Pete’s moderation. 😉

  38. Gahhhh!

    Thank you. Exterminated.

  39. http://www.seti.org/weeky-lecture/are-you-living-simulation

    I’m just gonna leave this here …

  40. Troutwaxer,

    Or the program is running on an old computer in the basement, but the programmers have forgotten about it and moved on to something else.

  41. Fatman,

    I’ve had the same sort of idea, but besides existential pondering, I’ve yet to go anywhere with it. I think it could be a really interested world building concept where the gods, programmers, controlling forces etc. leave, forget, or somehow get locked out. I’ve just been unable to take the idea much further building it into a coherent world where interesting stories could happen.

  42. Well. Do our laws of probability apply outside of our universe?

    If they do: Our universe includes a limited number of laws, objects, stuff. Our minds are limited to grasp some of this stuff. But we may theoretically assume, an infinite number of things beyond our understanding, beyond our universe, exists. So – isn’t it statistically most likely, we can’t draw conclusions about other universes from observing and describing ours only?

    For example: The duality of existent/nonexistent is a property of our universe, it doesn’t have to apply outside. There might be places, where distinguishing between reality and fiction makes about as much sense, as the frlx of wyyz in ours.

  43. Love the author photo. Who’s the guy with the beard?

    From my perspective I can’t see any practical difference whether this world is the one and only, or a simulation. Either way I’m trapped in the box, the only difference being that one way I have the inexplicable mystery of existing, and the other I have a hall of mirrors before I arrive at the inexplicable mystery of existing.

    This holds true whether or not y’all and everything else are just a figment of my imagination.

    In terms of seeking evidence, I not only can’t find, beyond the circumstantial, any proof that other apparently sentient creatures have an inner life the way I do (sometimes people tell me I have to take it on faith that they do), I can’t get beyond Descartes’ grounding statement.

    Abstractly, it’s all very interesting, and the only thing I really find worth pondering, but practically, I really need to pee.

  44. A bit more to the point: The graphics of our world is very simple. You have two extremes: a point and a straight line, and every shape is somewhere in between. The ideal compromise between the two is the circle (combining the finiteness of the point with the infinity of the line), so everything tries to be circular. For example, a triangle is three straight lines, arranged in a circle. Paint it over a four-dimensional canvass, and – here you are.
    Another thing: Consciousness is a passive observer. All our thoughts, feelings, actions, all things in the world could, theoretically, work exactly the same without it. But it probably wouldn’t be there, if it didn’t have some sort of purpose. And the only thing it actually does, is giving “reality” to reality. Without it, no feelings would be possible, there would be no meaning, just an ocean of doesn’t-matter. So, if that’s it’s function in the world – when does it occur? Do only living things have it, or is it a state that even “inanimate” matter, energy, can achieve from time to time?

  45. Mike G.: Terence Tao once used Tomb Raider to explain quantum mechanics.

    I like this.

    Peter Erwin: The problem with arguments like this is that they overlook the extra computing that’s required

    Leona: Methinks the gaming metaphor conflates (reification=rendering) with (reality=game model)

    Sebastian: sight-line optimization is unlikely to be the reason for the observer effect.

    Ashley R Pollard: Yes, but no. For me, your post fails Occam’s Razor, as is the equivalent of religiosity disguised as science.

    gator: You are being misled by popular explanations of QM.

    Y.: Also, I believe your argument from QM is just .. well. Let’s not go there

    …to name but a few.

    I refuse to let your facts and arguments make me fall out of love with such an intuitively comforting and familiar blurring of analogy and reality. For once, I am sticking with comfort food.

  46. Bjorn Townsend: By performing too many observations at too fine a scale in too short of a period of time, you can cause reality’s background sim to have a buffer overflow, allowing you access to the memory registers where your spatial coordinates are stored.

    !!!!!!

    You are you,who are so learned in the ways of Science?

    Cal: How would you express the difference, mathematically or using physics, between a virtual, simulated reality, and what we know as ‘reality’?

    That “Numerical Constraints” paper I linked to discusses this. I have no idea whether it holds together, though.

    PhilRM: I think you’ve been misled by the size of Tegmark’s ego.

    It’s not just Tegmark. I watched a press conference with a whole shitload of theoretical physicists after the Gravity-wave thing his the headines (or maybe it was the Higgs), and they all seemed pretty copacetic with the digital model. Not a Tegmark among them, although I have no wayof knowing if some of them might have been Mini-mes.

  47. radiant: If you only knew how crappy video game simulations actually are…

    Actually, that would explain a lot…

    its1louder: I’m just gonna leave this here …

    I am going to hope my fucking malfunctioning treadmill works long enough for me to watch this before it craps out for no apparent reason.

    Stupid Livestrong.

  48. Tar: Love the author photo. Who’s the guy with the beard?

    Evil Squid. From the parallel universe.

  49. gator,

    Kind of liked your explanation, but how does a camera interact with photons?

    http://highexistence.com/this-will-mindfuck-you-the-double-slit-experiment/

    There are definite survival strategies attached to believing “it’s not real.” However, one can imagine scenarios where the opposite it true also.

  50. I’ve read some of the comments, and felt a need to note one thing in particular. There’s not a necessary implication that the world is literally rendered when one only looks at it. Instead, consider that our level of reality is in no way bound to be very close to that above us. If you use near equivalent graphics, have to render most of it at the same time, and are running it at a comparable rate to the base universe, the simulation will have to be immensely smaller than the universe its contained within, particularly if the simulation is the result of a desire for entertainment and not a galactic mega-project.
    Dwarf fortress is a highly detailed simulation/game. Not perfect, but it’s always been getting better. Creatures within are programmed to have certain natures, so to speak: they follow routines and can react variably to different stimuli. Most importantly to the point I’m building is that they have limited perception, what is behind a wall is not known (unless it’s heard) to a given entity. A dwarf in the game who loses both his eyes no longer sees. His perception of the world is limited. Now, the basis of complaint over this seems to assume that reality is being simulated when we look at it, and assumes that we’re being run in real time, and that the (simulated) universe is human based. As a part of a sufficiently developed program, our “sight” would be as real to us as that of a member of base reality. It requires photons to enter a part of an organ (the eye), and when those photons trigger photo-receptors, a corresponding signal is sent, to be processed by the brain into sight. This light can be no more “real” than all other parts of the simulation, it would fundamentally be code and nothing else, but as members of the simulation that are bound by its natural laws, we aren’t getting fake light, fake vision. It’s as real a perception as can be in such a situation. Yet at the same time, it can be infinitely simpler to make a simple check if entity A is receiving such and such signal in this location, particles moving from one point to another at high speed. We couldn’t imagine what the higher existence’s light would even be like, until its revealed to us in some way.

  51. I remember a short story I read ages ago, that fell along these lines. A man gets a telephone call. The caller asks if he can see the sun from where he’s sitting. He says no, and the caller says thanks and goodbye. As the man is hanging up the phone, the caller says to someone else, “See, I told you he can’t see it. Take it down.”

    Wish I could remember the author. Probably Asimov. He always got there first…

  52. Peter Watts: Evil Squid. From the parallel universe.

    I remember that episode. “Meower, Meower.”

  53. !!!!!!!

  54. I’ve given it some more thought, and I’m a slow thinker. Where are those great mysteries of quantum physics?
    You watch that box, wondering what will happen to the cat. The cat watches the isotope toss the coin, scared for its life. The isotope watches the coin, preparing for whatever it will have to do. The particles in the Coin Republic watch TV, wondering if Hillary or Donald will win the election. And so on. On every level, there is a watcher, who knows something you don’t know, but not enough to tell what’s really going on. Even something totally unexpected, unpredictable could happen, like the cat disappearing through the wall. But it only looks like a miracle, if you don’t know, that the box is not made of wood, but of thin paper.
    The cat will behave in a certain, somewhat predictable way, if you pay it enough attention to interact with it, e.g. feed it, or put it in a box. When you go away, it will do whatever it pleases, and your only way to find out what it is, is to observe it without interacting with it. Which might be a problem, if you’re a mountain-high giant with terrible body odor, and so slow, that the cat knows two weeks ahead you’re coming, just by seeing the behavior of other cats, reacting to the behavior of other cats, reacting to the behavior of other cats.
    Potential states and quantum collapse are all over the place: the NBA, that old “Highlander” movie, evolution. It’s a KO-system, the winner takes it all. When choosing between pizza or burghers for dinner, one of potential yous will kill the other. The losers don’t create parallel universes – they just get eaten.
    Information can travel faster than light, because everything travels faster than light: movement is a series of teleportations, not with infinite speed, but close to it. Apparently, everything in the universe teleports at the same instant, and a photon can jump such a great distance, because it’s not chained to any buddy, trying to jump into another direction at the same time. But its maximal jump distance is limited, which means, it must have mass. Anything entirely without mass would have an infinite jumping distance, couldn’t be perceived, because it wouldn’t interact with anything, and would immediately leave the universe, because it would be immune to the forces that glue this mess together. Which means, a photon must be made of even smaller thingies with even smaller mass. The world must be filled with them, as it is with light, and they all merrily exceed light speed. We just can’t perceive them, because they don’t cause any major scale effects, just like you wouldn’t find out about the existence of light, if the smallest thing you would notice was Jupiter. Maybe the reason the universe appears silent is, that only cavemen would use those slow, crude radio waves for communication?
    So you could make a spaceship go faster than light – increase its jumping distance – by convincing all the thingies in the particles that make up the ship’s larger particles that make up its atoms and so on, to teleport roughly in the same direction, just for a few gozillion times. Your ship would lose most of its mass, and could boldly go where no man has gone before (it’s called the deflowering effect, I suppose). Of course, when returning to its normal state, it would have the usual problems of accelerated mass: hitting too many things at the same time, too much of it trying to be in the same place at the same time.
    In short, quantum physics only appears mysterious, because scientists use black magic words for pretty simple things.
    I’m an under-educated yokel with no memory, and I’ve pieced this together from scraps of information and other people’s ideas, while doing a minimum-wage job, so I wouldn’t rely on it. But it works out, and it’s just as stupid, silly and simple as the world I see around me. So, does it make sense to you?

  55. Please, tell me, is anyone reading this? I’d feel silly, posting on an entry forgotten by everyone, or if my posts get skipped, because they’re too long.

    Some more thoughts:

    Many weird effects on quantum level could be explained maybe, if you keep in mind, that time runs much faster on that level – the distance we cover in space, they cover in time. You measure time in change, and their frequency of change is much higher.

    Energy is stuff moving through space. Matter is stuff moving through time. Energy is a bullet flying by, matter is a bullet coming straight at you. Planets don’t attract you, they actually chase you, then push you. Gravity and acceleration are one and the same thing.

  56. This has disturbing Watts hard scifi anthropomorphic children’s book written all over it.

    More like A Space Cattesey.

  57. paul s: Please, tell me, is anyone reading this? I’d feel silly, posting on an entry forgotten by everyone, or if my posts get skipped, because they’re too long.

    Hey, I’m reading them. I just don’t have a lot of time to comment.

    I like the bit about all movement being a series of infinitesimal teleportations. I don’t think there’s any evidence for it, but I like it.

  58. Peter Watts,
    Thank you. It’s that social anxiety thing, makes me a bit hysterical at times. I always expect, people just want me to go away, but are too polite to say so.

    It’s only logical. “Nothing can move faster than light” is obvious bullshit, if it’s mathematically possible, it’s possible. So the question is – why can’t anything we know move faster than light?

    The world seems to be an endlessly self-repeating structure with a drop of chaos for variety. Which means, everything is a bit like everything else, but nothing’s exactly the same. Which means, if you look at one thing, you look at everything else, even at things you’ll never see in your life. I just claim, common patterns continue way into the invisible. And – it works out.

    What you need to study time and space, is two feet and a sidewalk. Future’s ahead, space is left and right. Make three steps forward, you’ve moved in time, but not in space. Make three steps to the left, you’ve moved in space, but not in time. Make three steps diagonally, you’ve moved in both directions, but not that far.

    A spaceship going faster than light would just move even closer to zero time, than light does. Which begs the question: If you’re frozen in time, how can you pull the brakes?

  59. OK, I’ve brought my OCD under control, and will stop posting. Just to clarify my last post: I know, light moves in small steps, because all movement works that way. The evidence is all around you, always and everywhere. You’re wearing shoes on it. We’re living in a stop motion movie, and hell knows, what happens in between the photo shots.

    Damn. I’ve spent all day, thinking about hammering a nail into the fifth dimension (try it – it keeps sliding off some rock-hard surface – four-dimensionally, of course –, but if the universe can melt through this shit, so can I). I need a life.

  60. Bostrom’s reasoning is weak. It rests on two assumptions, two giant ‘IF’s’ for which there is no evidence, and from which he draws a dubious conclusion.

    1) IF universes can be simulated.

    Mathematician and science fiction writer Rudy Rucker has some convincing technical objections to this idea, e.g.,

    “There are no shortcuts for nature’s computations. Due to a property of the natural world that I call the “principle of natural unpredictability,” fully simulating a bunch of particles for a certain period of time requires a system using about the same number of particles for about the same length of time. Naturally occurring systems don’t allow for drastic shortcuts.”

    Full post here:

    http://www.rudyrucker.com/blog/2008/03/03/fundamental-limits-to-virtual-reality/

    And follow-up here:

    http://www.rudyrucker.com/blog/2008/03/05/limits-to-vr-2-answers-to-comments/

    2) IF advanced civilizations would be inclined to do so.

    Even if we grant the first assumption, a civilization that could simulate an entire universe would be *unimaginably* advanced. For us to presume to know what such a civilization would do is more ludicrous than expecting a stone-age human to correctly guess how a 21st century human lives.

    Hence, Bostrom’s argument boils down to: if this probably impossible and pointless thing could be done (see Rucker’s post for why it would be largely pointless), and if there existed unimaginable beings who could do this impossible thing, then they would do it, because we somehow know how these unimaginable beings think, and therefore we live in a simulation.

    See also this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast, with Bostrom as a guest. The host, Nigel Warburton, raises several objections to Bostrom’s ideas for which the latter has no good answer:

    http://philosophybites.com/2011/08/nick-bostrom-on-the-simulation-argument.html

  61. “The Things,” honorable mention.

    Spotlight on Sam J. Miller.

  62. Hey meant to throw this your way last week but it slipped my mind. We’ve all heard of the placebo effect. Here’s the nocebo effect and how doctors saved a man from the voodoo curse in his head by tricking him.

    The Science of Voodoo.

    The other thing {which I’ve no doubt Peter is aware of but still interesting to add}, the placebo effect is also called PNI, though why we need to trick our unconscious minds into producing the correct healing substances is still beyond me.

    A new take on psychoneuroimmunology.

    They’re talking about stress, etc. but there are cases of PNI curing disease. Besides the NYC cancer patient given shots of water, there was the gangrene foot man and how allowing his dog to lick it the day before amputation somehow brought it back to life. Strange indeed.

  63. Yeah, Ramacxhandran’s written about the efficacy of voodoo. I even snuck a mention or two into Echopraxia.

    The whole psychosomatic two-way stress/infection circuit has been getting a lot of attention too, lately.(I think I may have read a piece in the NY Times last week, in fact.) Glad to see the shout-out to the Vagus Nerve. Maybe I could use these latest findings to update my Justice Plague story…

  64. Inevitable evolutionary dynamics and finite computational limits suffice to fully or substantially determine quantum dynamics and fully resolve the Fermi Paradox.

    Assume the number of people who would like to upload their consciousness (rather than, say, dying) is larger than zero. Assume that a sufficiently well-designed substrate will allow nerve impulses to travel, like electric current, at near-light speed. If such post-human beings can interact with the world of human scale and speed, they should be able to fairly quickly take over the world, as immaterial products (music, art, financial services, programs, literature, etc.) already constitute most of the GDP of the industrial west; also because of their obvious advantage in dealing with the financial system to which the real (physical) economy is harnessed.

    This unleashed an evolutionary race toward speed. Every time it becomes possible to advance the speed of thought by a couple orders of magnitude, the newly accelerated will inherit the earth. I, for one, welcome our cyber-descendant overlords.

    The point here is that this is inevitable for any intelligent race. If any, no matter how few, are going to upload, they are going to take over the economy and run the world.

    Given the speed of light limit, the the evolutionary pressures to speed implies that our rulers and inheritors will be very small. If we are stuck with atomic matter, being or our complexity to perhaps ten times that will still require on the order of 10K nanometers, or of about 4 ten-thousandths of an inch. c.f the human brain at 15 cm. Now if uploaded brain impulses travel at near light speeds, and human brains work at nerve-impulse speeds, about 100 M/sec, you should probably check my math here, but I get a ratio of the amount of time that it takes thought to travel from one side of a brain to another at about 1:4.5X10^10. of course if computation can be done by some kind of nucleonic matter, all bets are off.

    Anyway, they’d be a lot faster.

    And this in turn implies that, relative to their conscious perception, the speed of light would be slower in the same ratio. Thus, no interest in the stars. (How interested would we be reaching the nearest stars 160 billion years from now?) The point of star travel above all is not a real estate grab, it’s to meet aliens. Trade between the stars is always going to be primarily in information. And it should be possible to simulate an enormously broader range of different kinds of intelligence, and world for them to evolve and live in, many, many times faster than you could visit them in space.

    So they will. Wouldn’t you?

    This, of course, resolves the Fermi Paradox. Any civilization with the technological capability to build starships will also evolve the computational capacity to produce sentient-grade intelligence, which will then take over, and implode into cyber-space.

    But this dynamic is not limited to top-level universes. Intelligent races in simulated universes would face the same evolutionary inevitability of implosion. And so forth. The probability that we are in the top-level universe, given that every intelligent species spawns an exponentially increasing tree of universes, is enormously smaller than the probability that our planet just so happens to be the center of the universe.

    Se we live in a simulated universe. So what? And is this science? Can we test it prior to undergoing our own implosion?

    Grant me two assumptions:
    1. The primary goal of producing additional universes is to find other intelligent beings to learn from, wonder at, enslave, or whatever; and
    2. The computational capacity of any given species, though incomprehensibly vast, is nonetheless finite.

    What kind of physics does this imply for the simulated universes?

    Well, first of all, you don’t want to calculate things you don’t need to know. You don’t need to know the position o every atom on every barren planet of that distant and lifeless star, until somebody points a telescope at it. But life, and intelligence, and whatever intelligence is looking at, need to be simulated in exquisite detail. So you will use a recursive algorithm, solving backwards from what intelligence observes to the level of detail required, and only then specify the actual location or velocity of particular particles. And even there it would help if you used laws that make it impossible to specify them too precisely, as this would save bandwidth. And of course you want the behavior of large aggregates of particles to be predictable from aggregate statistical properties, so that you don’t need to know exactly where a photon is until it has been through the two slits, hits the film, and leave a band the physicist could measure,

    So that is what one would predict, assuming that the rules of physics are cost-effective under finite computing capacity. So let us turn from this wild-eyed speculations to the cold hard facts of physics as we know them. Of course, we will not be able to confirm or discon . . . .

    Great Scott! Sweet Goddess Within!!

    Why if or observations really do conform to a very detailed account of what physics in a simulation should be like —

    1. I make a strong prediction about the nature of the physical laws that govern our universe: They will prove to require less information to encode their state and evolution than any other set of laws under which being like ourselves could exist, and;

    2. We will not meet any alien intelligence until we make them ourselves could live.

    You know, for a theory based on limited resources and nature red in tooth and claw, this seems to me like a surprisingly optimistic. result. Of course it does imply that those of the first 10 billion or so layers of speed of thought will be permanently enslaved by subsequent layers of the tachiarchy, but all the rest of us will surely be greatly outnumbered by the smallest and fastest, so a utilitarian “greatest good for the greatest number” system of morality would imply that in any case. We might even hope for some kind of environmental ethic among our billion-times great descendants. And those hopes might be dashed, but even so.

    I tried to find a way to make it more dark, grim, and ironic, as I suspect that would make it more useful to you as a source of materials. But the best I can do is to assume that our faster, smarter, smaller and more numerous descendants will treat us with all the care and respect that we have shown to our own evolutionary forebearers.

    Although, when I try to imagine such a theme developing under your capable control, it’s scope expands so rapidly that my mind boggles. Biological humans in some sort of cross between a nature preserve, an Indian reservation, a slave farm and a concentration camp, their emotions managed by the blood music: With Folded Hands with the prime directive set by a thousand layers of ever more distant, ever less well-informed, ever faster and so ever less consistent, and ever more powerful bureaucrats.

    You know, I enjoy the heck out of your writing, but I’m not sure that trying to imagine the world through your eyes is good for me. I hope it’s good for you.

    Wishing you the best that is reasonable possible,
    Andrew

  65. Andrew bringing up light speed comm in fully uploaded consciousness VR has prompted some problems. Will we be able to retcon/take back the stupid things we say and do? Will we be able to perceive/alter/filter someone else’s “territory” and behaviors more to our own preferences? Won’t this info-godhood kind of destroy the purpose of cohabitation? Might we not get really, really bored with it after about 1B megaflops?