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INTRODUCTION:

 

As humans, we often have the propensity to take a lot of things for granted. Especially when it comes to the status quo of what constitutes consensus reality. When assuming the perceptual experience we encounter on a day-to-day basis as the absolute or true nature of reality with little question or forethought to the possibility of alternate cosmic permutations the true essence of reality. I am not an evolutionary biologist or evolutionary psychologist, however, I can certainly see the evolutionary advantage in passive acceptance of the state of reality in the linear sense in which we directly perceive it. As far as conventional wisdom goes, for basic it survival it may be the most efficient tool.  However, as the overall quality of life has increased in the western world we have been allotted the luxury of exploring alternate possibilities to the favored heuristic of conventional wisdom. Even with advances in the quality of life most people in the western world find any premises challenging the construct of proper consensus reality to be quite jarring. Hence why in western society, there does tend to be a greater abundance of Persisting Perception Disorder engendered by hallucinogenic substances [1].  With no context for such a drastic departure from the status quo reality, it could potentially trigger psychological pathology in that prone to such categories of disorders.

 

Needless to say, it may be a bit challenging for the average modern American to contemplate the notion of alternate dimensions, realities, etc. Maybe the engrossing and immersing nature of hallucinogenic compounds is slightly too intense and abstract of a method exploring such potentials. However, we do see the potential for alternatives to consensus reality in our entertainment specifically through the media and literary genre of Science fiction.  One such salient example would be the proliferation of the concept of reality being a simulation.  While the apogee of such a notion in our fiction-based entertainment was probably the mid to late 1990s and particularly prevalent in the Cyber-Punk sub-genre of Science fiction. Films ranging from the 1980’s cult film Tron and 1999 film  The Matrix, both explore this possibility.  The potential that everything we take for granted as being objectively true passed on our interpretation of sensory input could the result of code generated by a programmer. Over the past couple of years, theorists have referred to this as a simulation theory.

 

As real as the nature of our consensus reality may seem to be and as outlandish as the notion of simulation theory seem, there could be some validity to it. It runs into the Godel/Liar’s paradox, where we have the potential of a true statement, however, no means of validating it [2]. While we could analyze the litany of philosophers and theorists that attempt to develop an operational solidification of the concept of reality, however, each theory has its proponents and detractors.  If we do not have an objective and proven understanding of the reality we, half-witted, saunter right into the buzz saw.  Most people proudly do so and reject with incredulity the alternate theories as novel concepts, but not a sober grounding for defining reality. However, isn’t it hasty and board line intellectual sloth to apply Occam’s Razor, when we have not completely unraveled the ball of yarn? I believe that we should more thoroughly exhaust the alternate theories of reality before we reject them with patronizing derision. Without solid evidence disproving simulation theory, it should still be fair game for speculation. After exploring some of the more biological aspects of human perception and understanding how much we adaptive ignore, simulation theory looks significantly less faulty.

 

REALITY AS  SIMULATION AS A PHILOSOPHICAL THEORY:

 

While the premise was originally manifested as a contrived novelty for fiction nearly twenty years to it being brought to light in academia. It was not until the University of Oxford Philosopher Nick Bostrum postulated this outlandish possibility in 2003 [3]. Bostrum’s hypothesis encompasses the notion that an exorbitantly more advanced civilization was simply running computer-generated simulations of the lives lived by their primitive ancestors [3]. The hypothesis claims that this simulated stated of reality is so pervasive that the majority of perceptions of reality are that of the projected simulations of the reality experienced by the ancestors [3]. While the theory itself may seem to be outrageously far-fetched there are a plethora of sober-minded intellectuals open to this possibility.  World renown astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson asserts that there is a fifty percent chance that this hypothesis presents the true nature of reality [3].  While Dr. Tyson is certainly a compelling figure in the arena of science, he is far from the only mainstream figure open to simulation theory. Massachusetts Institute of Technology  Cosmologist, Max Tegmark, due to the rigidity of the mathematical laws of our Universe would parallel coding that is reflected in Video Games and other computer-generated media. Tegmark stated :

“If I were a character in a computer game, I would also discover eventually that the rules seemed completely rigid and mathematical,”

“That just reflects the computer code in which it was written.” [3]

 

Tegmark’s perception of this hypothesis has been substantiated by the University of Maryland’s theoretical physicist James Gates. Gates states :

“I was driven to error-correcting codes—they’re what make browsers work. So why were they in the equations I was studying about quarks and electrons and supersymmetry? This brought me to the stark realization that I could no longer say people like Max are crazy.”   [3].

While apprehension towards blindly accepting simulation theory as being a valid perception for the true reality of the world is understandable, we cannot discount this possibility. As what is demonstrated by Tegmark and Gates is that some of the idiosyncratic aspects of our natural world hint towards this possibility. If you accept the fact that there are specific mathematical theorems and equations that seem to be prevalent in the natural world (as most physicists do believe), it does seem at least on the superficial level seem as if it could be the byproduct of programming coding.  If you consider how humans have an affinity for symmetry. It is well documented that humans subconsciously seek facial and physical symmetry in copulative partners. People also seek symmetry in regards to institutional and social situations, a means to push for equality of outcome. Right or wrong from a moral or logical standpoint, the lower and middle class of the successes of the affluent upper-class mirrors this natural drive for symmetry.

It would appear that in the reality that we all accept as the consensus reality we all passively accept, there is an ingrained drive for symmetry. Whether in the physical manifestation of appearance or in more abstract applications. This honed focus, on congruence, is analogous to what we expect from a computer application or a mechanized machine.  When faced with encoded programming there is always the rigid attempt to balance out deficits. Hence why when our computer is infected with a virus, it still attempts to function as it would normally. Considering the physical laws of nature always reverting back to cathartic homeostasis.   For example, gravity, what is physically in the air must come back to origin due to the magnetic pull of gravity with few exceptions. Which as the uncanny and unwavering bias towards symmetry and rigidity possessed by computer programming.

 

ARGUMENTS AGAINST SIMULATION THEORY:

Speculation is all well and good, however, there is not any hard data or any real way to test the veracity of the claims asserted by simulation theory. The genuinely hard-nosed empiricists would still view such claims with an oppressive amount of derision without adequate means of proving this premise through experimental results. Anyone who has had any exposure to the scientific method, even at the undergraduate level, you are generally aware of the fact the ability to replicate results is crucial.

While on a broad and theoretically level, on paper so to speak, simulation theory does seem to fit a specific logical stream of logical. However, we need to test the veracity of these natural observations in applicable experimental conditions. In the world of science, if you are unable to test a hypothesis, you must accept it as being untrue. Essentially, we out of the necessity of the pillar of the scientific method accept the null hypothesis, which asserts that simulation theory is not the correct nature of reality.  Even if we were to apply Occam’s razor with no further analysis, we would have to reject this notion. Just on the principle, that simulation theory is too implausibly convoluted and therefore most likely a faulty hypothesis. While Occam’s Razor was originally devised to keep fact and opinion starkly segregated, it is at times obtusely blind to the full range of possibilities [4]. Sometimes the true explanation is a little more complex than the simple and clean explanation scientists crave and revere.

However, regardless of the correct and incorrect aspects of the assumptions imprinted by the scientific method, it is imperative we explore the counter-arguments of simulation theory. As with any scientific hypothesis or manifesto in aesthetic art, there tend to be detractors. However, within science, unless there is unanimous acceptance of a tested hypothesis, it can transition from a theory to a scientific law.  Considering there is a descent we need to explore the counterclaims against simulation theory.

The NPR article Why We Are Not In A Video Game- And Why It Matters from March of 2017 certainly reflects such sentiments. The article suggests that there are three main assumptions that need to hold true for simulation theory to remain true: 1.) Humans will likely never survive to reach the evolutionary “Post-human” stage, 2.) Any of the advanced “programmer” civilizations are unlikely to reflect their own evolutionary history in the simulations and 3.) There is a 99.9 percent chance we are absolutely living in a computer simulation [5]. In defense of the skeptics, some of these claims are radical c to accept at face value.  However, given the assumptions listed above, this would mean that the previous manifestation of the human race has died out with the subsequent species succeeding would be controlling us like video game characters. This one entails for one that free will would be a complete illusion with no degree of autonomy. [5] Also, the issue becomes if our realities are simulated how do we ascertain that the realities of our “programmers” are not simulations [5]. what happens from there is that the whole theory devolves into an infinite subdivision of simulated realities, however, what advanced civilization of beings are the master architects of this litany of simulated Universes?

While the precise point of genesis for the infinite spawn of simulated Universes is certainly a valid bone of contention, there are other valid arguments against this hypothesis.  For example, what precisely would be the motive of simulating the contrived realities of their long-lost evolutionary ancestors? Wouldn’t they have had other means of extracting information about their past ancestors from other means? [5] However, I suppose that they could take an interest in ancient history, in a similar capacity that the perceived humans do in this simulated reality. Potentially they are history aficionados.  As much passion as there is for history in our current consensus reality, few are calling for digital replications of the daily lives of the hominids (an evolutionary ancestor to humans). We also encounter the moral-philosophical argument of if we are truly computer-generated simulations, why should we avoid a descent into nihilistic self-destruction [5]. This is typically a moralistic consideration that has a significant amount of covalence and a direct relationship to the free will question. However, the question becomes whether or not this is a true perception of the nature of reality, is it a responsible idea to proliferate to the general public?

 

PER SCIENCE HOW OUR PERCEPTION OF REALITY COULD SUPPORT THIS HYPOTHESIS:

If you found the premise of reality being a simulation to be perplexing and paradigm-shattering, then this next one will really be mind-bending for you. What if I told you that our reality is merely a hallucination and that there is ample scientific evidence to substantiate the hypothesis. Maybe the last part was slightly hyperbolic, however, is it more outlandish than simulation theory?  It can be said that the University of Sussex professor of Neuroscience Anil Seth sees this hypothesis as being a possibility. Professor Seth believes that the nature of reality and perception is that reality is generated within the brain through the interpretation of sensory input [6]. Due to the fact that the majority of human beings agree with regards to the specific interpretation of sensory input that is how we derive consensus reality [6].

The common reality that is perceived by those free of perceptual disorders and psychological pathology. The reason for our brains taking such liberties with sensory input is to bring order from the dizzying array of sensory information that we perceive at any given moment [6].  Back when I was in college I took a biopsychology course, what was emphasized was that our brains are wired through evolutionary advances to take short-cuts to more efficiently function.  If it was adaptive from an evolutionary standpoint our bodies would adapt to it. My professor utilized the example of having a photographic memory, the vast majority of people do not have such a robust memory. Why?  As the testing as revealed, those with photographic memories tend to suffer from issues of comprehension of information. Mainly due to the fact that our brain only has so much capacity and bandwidth to function, overloading it with detail will only hinder cognition.

However, getting back to Seth’s hypothesis, he essentially asserts that what we perceive to be reality is merely a byproduct of our brain’s interpretation of the sensory information [6]. The byproduct may or may not be necessarily the true nature either from a visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory, or other quality of the object, place, being, entity, etc we are interacting with. Like I was stating earlier about our evolutionary propensity for perceptual short-cuts. We are very susceptible to optical illusions and the best example I can think of is the Impressionist style of painting that was the premier emerging aesthetic of the 19th century.  The works of Claude Monet are merely broad, loose brush strokes, blotches if you will. It becomes very salient to anyone the closer you get to the painting, you really see how most of the objects in the painting are not well defined by hard edges. But rather dissolve abstractly into the background with little fine detail. However, the further you move away from the painting the more the forms and objects resemble those that we are perceptually familiar with. Soon the abstract blobs transform into a ship at sea fighting the bludgeoning wrath of aggressive waves and breakers. This transformation would not be a possibility if we were not predisposed to attempt to derive order from chaos if our brain were not wired for continuity. Our susceptibility to optical illusions has profound advantages and disadvantages.

 

Many of you are probably contemplating how this all pertains to the validity of simulation theory. That is certainly an understandable inquiry. How it relates is that if our present, baseline, consensus reality is being projected upon on us by what is generated by our brain, we in a sense do not perceive the true essence of an unfiltered account of the attributes of the world. What we see, touch, hear, smell, and taste are all projected upon us internally versus externally.  Essentially our brain is attempting to grapple with external stimuli in the most efficient manner possible.  Considering the perception that is being projected on to the world is internal, how can we truly pinpoint the true origin. Sure we have imaging technology and other means of tracking what centers in the brain are triggered by specific stimuli and input, how can we clearly delineate that is coming from the brain versus a highly functioning illusion. If the locus of origin is internal, the byproduct can be in theory from the result of a computer-generated program. If our whole world is a cohesive hallucination, how do we know for sure that continuity is not merely a built-in feature of the computer program? When the counter-arguments are equally as enigmatic and lacking as the arguments for simulation theory we run into the same issues we do with the whole believe in a higher power issue. You really cannot prove or disprove the existence of God, nor can you simulation theory.

 

PHILOSOPHICAL APPLICABILITY OF SUCH A HYPOTHESIS:

As it seems quite evident at this point to make any definite claims about the truth of simulation theory is short-sighted and a colossal leap of faith. You can no less prove the truth or the inaccuracy of this claim in a manner analogous to the existence of God. In the face of science, I would state that we should not automatically condemn claims we cannot test. However, they need to reside in a purgatorial gap between what we define as true and what is assigned as being false. However, as you probably can piece together reality is heavily influenced by what appears from a perceptual standpoint to be the nature of reality. So figured we should probably explore some of these claims in relation to reality made by legendary philosophers. For instance, renown Political Philosopher John Locke made a distinction between the primary (sensory attributes) qualities and second qualities (the metaphysical aspects of an existing entity). That we need to determine the difference between the true nature of reality and what the superficial appearance is (Page 269) [7].  So from a Lockean sense, the idea of a simulated reality would demonstrate the logical struggle of superficial appearance and reality.

While there is a myriad of other philosophers that have their hypothesis in regards to perceived appearance and reality, I will provide one more example. This is due to the fact that if I were to continue I would have enough material to write a book versus a blog entry. Also, I will provide a hint on who it will not be from, John Sartre. I have attempted to be neutral throughout the majority of this blog post, however, my frustration with Post-modernism is well-founded. Post-Modernism is great in the sense that it does promote the dissolving of boundaries, which gives us wonderful hybrids such as Asian Fusion restaurants ( or other forms of cuisine which fuses recipes from multiple cultures).  So  Post-modernism has certainly disinhibited our previously contrived creative limitations. However, in my opinion, the over-application of satire and aims to disrupt societal hierarchy through insincerity is sophomoric. It is akin to a pestilent teenager in their parent’s basement making smug and snarky commentary about a world they barely understand, with no solutions.  The Dadaism movement in art is a fine example of postmodernism, it is merely a self-indulgent exercise mocking society rather than attempting to correct it.

I digress, folks, sorry about that absent-minded rant. We are going to go from the 1600’s Scottish Enlightenment all the way to Pre-Socratic Greece. Parmenides who was well known for his direct critique of the  Heraclitus and Milesian school of philosophers [7]. He rejected their notion that whatever has come into existence is derived from an existing entity [7]. He rejected the premise of change, whatever IS or is currently in existence cannot be taken out of existence or it never did [7]. He reasoned that change is not possible as we cannot alter the status of something that does exist to no longer or never has existed and vice versa [7]. He asserts that the nature of reality is that it cannot be altered and that it cannot be destroyed as it cannot be “uncreated”[7] As this may appear to be a faulty game of semantics by a hard-nosed contrarian, this was the forerunner for the concept in physics the Conservation of Energy theory. Our inability to destroy or create energy [8]. How does this relate to Simulation theory, it does in the sense that if Parmenides was to be a proponent of this premise it would be only under the grounds that the programs had a set code that could not be altered once devised.

 

 

14 thoughts on “REALITY AS A SIMULATION?

    1. Robert , thank you for the comment. I suppose maybe I was slightly over simplistic when I made my reference to Dadaism. I know it is an artistic movement with a lot of subtleties. Where I take issue with it philosophically is that it isn’t really constructive.

      I was told that it was initially a countermovent protesting conventional society. Particularly due to the social ills and carnage of World War I. While a noble endeavor , it’s going to take more than irony and sarcasm to correct the deficits of society. Through attempting to contrive a solution. Even if faulty it shows more sincere concern, than using the sharp razor of satire to convey your point. Remember not everyone is so receptive to such methods. Hence, why you risk merely obscuring the message. In the case of Mr. Duchamp bogging down the potency of his visceral criticism through dense satire.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. If one accepts the idea of a quantum multi-verse in which all things are happening simultaneously, there may be a universe with a post human species running an ancestor simulation. Perhaps they use it as a means to study history or as a game in which they take on flesh and blood avatars. It’s just a thought. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

        1. Quite possibly. The irony is if we are a simulation with the capacity for somewhat antonmous action ( provided with in the limitations permitted by the programmer) fear AI running amok. Looks like our programmers ( if simulation theory is true) have a keen sense of humor.

          Like

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