If you were a software simulation, how would you know?

If you think your sensation of consciousness proves you are real, that's magical thinking. Consciousness is little more than imagining what happens next and comparing your experience to your expectations. Add some memory and some sensors for the environment and you have the entire package. Software can do that. And if programmed to report all of that as a "feeling" it could.

If we are software, it seems likely that we have a lot in common with our creators. It seems more likely that humans would create simulations of other humans as opposed to random creatures. It's the same reason our movies and entertainment are generally about people or creatures who act like people. People who think like us are likely to love themselves as much as we love ourselves.

So let's assume our creators think the way we do, in some general way. That's a starting point.

Let's also assume the programmers have limited resources. They can't program every possible development in our reality, so instead they use shortcuts and tricks. If we see evidence of those shortcuts and tricks in our alleged reality, it raises some questions.

For starters, some humans might be fully programmed and others would be background extras. The extras would be easy to identify because they never have anything interesting to say. You know those people. Check.

Our programmers might also create our history on the fly, and then only for compatibility with whatever is happening at the moment. Your sidewalk doesn't have a history of a crack until someone sees it. And your cat is neither alive nor dead until you see evidence for one or the other. If you want to be more controversial, it would mean finding a fossil creates a past with a dinosaur and not the other way around.

Next, you'd expect a lot of code reuse. And that means the world would be full of repeating patterns. For example, why does it seem that whenever something unique and bizarre happens to me in the afternoon it is also the plot of the only sitcom I watch that very evening? That happens to me about once a week. If I spill Gatorade on the cat, it's the plot of Modern Family that very night.

Yes, yes, yes. I know. Coincidences are just coincidences. It's nothing but statistics acting out. But here's the fun part: We don't understand why statistics work. We know things revert to the mean, for example, but why? The rules of physics seem like programmed rules as opposed to simple logical truths.

Our hypothetical programmers would need to build knowledge barriers beyond which our search for truth cannot extend. For example, we can't travel faster than the speed of light and therefore we can't see the edges of our universe. And when we drill into the quantum world we quickly reach absurdity instead of understanding. It has the smell of something a clever engineer programmed just to keep us from learning our true nature. And can light really be a particle and a wave at the same time? What about quantum entanglement?

Realistically, does it make sense to you that all matter and energy are comprised of different and smaller things no matter how far you peer into the world of the super-small? If a particle is made of X, what is X made of? Can that chain of inquiry go on to infinity? It's absurd. Just the way a clever programmer would build it. If we saw an actual physical brick wall around our solar system we'd know we were programmed. But if every time we extend our knowledge we find new riddles, we live in a prison of limited knowledge without feeling it.

What other clues might we find of our programmed existence?

  For ideas that are less crazy than this blog post, see my book: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

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Feb 12, 2014
Here's another clue -- if it were a simulation, there would be a beta period where bugs were ironed out and the simulation was nudged into the desired testing direction. You would see gross manipulations of the simulated reality, avatars of the simulation engineers manipulating the reality to test functions, etc, all culminating in a final approval, a v1.0 designation, and then a largely hands-off attitude from the engineers.
Feb 9, 2014
Scott, did you watch "The 13th Floor" yet? I know I've mentioned it in comments before. Awesome movie, plus there is a scene in there you'll have to love, and you'd probably start advertising for everyone to watch it just so you can use that scene as illustration.

I think it's a given at this point that The Simulation Argument is correct (probability approaches 1); I do find it interesting to speculate how it might impact our universe, although as others have pointed out it doesn't make much difference to our lives; I assume Scott's post is more just to placidly spread the idea and possibly make some people more rational in the process.

While reading this it occurred to me that what if all the psychopaths in history who collect power, money, wage war, and al the other inexplicable [crazy] things are just players who jumped in the game to try and get some sort of high score?

Perhaps something worth trying to figure out is how to tell and when the Sims/Warcraft/Second Life characters gain consciousness approximate to our own (or animals? is it gradual or sudden?).
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 9, 2014
You are actually listing arguments for intelligent design.
Feb 9, 2014
I might be helping you get crazier, but I think there is one more clue in your theory about really wishing and thinking about something in order to make it happen.

Imagine you're the programmer that created the world, wouldn't you try to maximize happiness?
But you can't make everyone happy because there wishes are conflicting (some people want heat, some want cold weather; everyone wants to be #1; some people wish other people dead but the hated ones want to live). That being said, how do you maximize happiness? One logical way of doing it would be to grant the most desired wishes only and filling the rest with randomness.

Imagine every person have 100 "wish points" and they get distributed among the person's wishes.
So when you really focus on one thing and keep thinking, writing, wishing or working for it to happen,
it means that thing is going to get, lets say, 90 "wish points".

The normal person has dozens of wishes at any time and lets say each one gets an average of 4 "wish points".

The world then can do one more thing and they pick your wish, since making you really really happy increases the net happiness more than picking something that makes someone else a little happier.
Feb 7, 2014
What tests could I use to decide if Scott Adams is real? How do I know he's not just set of stimuli used to prod me in various ways?
A: "Let's tell him to develop new skills & see what he does."
B: "Even better, let's see if a new argument gets him exercising."
A: "Yeah, then we can blow out his knee and see how he handles the cognitive dissonance."
C: "You guys are still using a text interface? Come over here and check out my bar interface."
B: "Yeah, the bar is cool, especially when he make the bartender pretty. I might use this for a few days. He'll accept it if the blog interface only prods him every 2-3 days."
Feb 6, 2014
This line of reasoning always makes me sort of depressed, because it reminds me that we are essentially powerless to know the truth of our existence or to do anything about it even if we did know.
My favorite little philosotainment nugget is the question: If some supernatural being (ghost, alien, God, whatever) materialized in front of you right now and said, "Hey. I exist, and you can't prove it, and nothing you believe is true." what would you do about it? Nobody would believe you, and it wouldn't matter if they did. Nothing would change.
So what if we are computer simulations? Or unwitting servants to magic, invisible overlords? Or the spawn of some ancient alien race? It doesn't matter, as long as we are stuck with the reality that we perceive.
If an omnipotent fire-breathing alien ghost squirrel beamed down right now and slapped me in the nodes, it wouldn't change anything about my actual existence. Except for the crotch pain. And I wouldn't tell anyone because they would call me crazy. And I would know that they may be right.
Feb 6, 2014
The world is overdue by about 2,000 years for a software update.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 6, 2014
"And when we drill into the quantum world we quickly reach absurdity instead of understanding. It has the smell of something a clever engineer programmed just to keep us from learning our true nature. And can light really be a particle and a wave at the same time? What about quantum entanglement?" -- Scott

I think this argues against simulation and design. It seems to me that the universe is more complicated and bizarre that necessary. Engineering is largely the art of approximation. If I were coding a universe I think I would stop at Newtonian physics with subatomic particles acting like little billiard balls. Who--or what--rational entity would purposefully incorporate all this quantum weirdness in their model.
Feb 6, 2014
Are you asking this from an epistemological or an ontological standpoint. That is, are you asking what our basis for knowledge is, or our definition of 'real'.
The grounding point of epistemology is Descartes assertion of 'I think therefore I am' in that one's own consciousness is the only thing one can be certain exists without possibility of refutation in any form.
The nature of existence has no such grounding point. Whether you call it a simulation or a 'brain in a jar' (they amount to exactly the same thing), it is conceivable that everything we perceive, beyond the existence of our own consciousness, is an illusion, and that the nature of our consciousness (but not the existence of it) is also an illusion.
But this is Descartes conclusion; that it doesn't matter whether we are a simulation, because we could not exist outside that simulation. It would be impossible to discern the difference between 'reality' and simulation, because we have no context for reality outside our own perceptions.
Feb 6, 2014
Ants are the secret overlords of the universe. They have magical powers and are omnipotent, but no matter how we burn them with magnifying glasses or step on them, they will never reveal their secrets or allow their magic to be known to our meager attempts at science.

Even if this were true, it would not change how you went about life, because we're hard-wired to try to continue be alive, and as such, deny/ignore things that go against that directive.

What, exactly, would the difference be if we were provably software? I don't know if Xeno's Dichotomy paradox is mathematically true, but if it were, it still would not change the reality that you cannot eternally take divide 1 step in half- growing closer and closer towards a wall- without effectively running into it.
Feb 6, 2014
I don't know, your "clever engineer" in the particle physics example could just be, well, God. A human engineer programming a virtual universe probably wouldn't be able to come up with things as obtuse as quantum physics, at least not without modeling off of his own reality.

After watching characters like the Star Trek Voyager holographic Doctor, I've often remarked that a simulation of life that is so realistic that you can't tell the difference essentially is life itself.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 6, 2014
Re- "Are you Real or Software"

0 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 6, 2014

Tying together; My Skeptical Journey, Nerds Are Taking Your Lunch Money, Common Sense Isn't a Real Thing, Are you Real or Software?

Growing up Fear Gullibility Lack of Scientific Education Creation Myths = The Decline of the American Empire.

Watch it happen live on TV - The CNN debate of Bill Nye and Ken Ham!

@ Me neither.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 6, 2014

Creationist Debate - Bill Nye on CNN Part 2

I thought Bill's arguments a bit weak. But:

- Fossil records / Age of the Earth
Snow Ice rods, 680,000 yearly cycles laid down, support an old earth, not one 6,000 years old.
Trees with yearly cycle records of 9550 years, support no flood 4,000 years ago.
Millions of layers of grand canyon sediment support an old earth, not one 6,000 years old.
Finding skulls older than humans support old earth
About 13.7 billion years old. Elements are created when stars explode.
The relationship of Rb and Sr show age. Old Age.

-Noah's Ark
Where and how fast did the come from and where did it go? Why aren't there grand canyons everywhere as evidence of a global flood.
Why isn't the kangaroo found elsewhere if every animal came from the ark's location 4,000 years ago.
No evidence of a global land bridge
If the earth is so young, and if there are 16 million species now, we should expect to be finding 11 new species created per day.
The biggest provable wooden ship ever built in the 1900's, built by experienced shipwrights, was 300' (compared to Noah's 500') and twisted, leaked, and sank.
Compare modern zoos to the animal space available on the ark, the ark would not be healthy.

- Big Bang Theory
Hubble noticed stars are all moving away from each other. "Like there was a big explosion"
Billions of stars have been travelling longer than 6,000 years. They are far away.

"We must have scientifically literate students"

- Sex
Sex is better for survival. Sex is good. I'll be on that side, thanks.

Feb 6, 2014
Personally, I believe that quantum randomness / unpredictability is some sort of horizon, and may well turn out to not be as random as we think at he moment.

Just because we've relatively recently discovered computers, and can make simulations with them - it doesn't mean the universe runs in any similar way whatsoever. And it certainly doesn't mean that we are capable of predicting the motivations / techniques of any such super smart programmers.

Of course it's possible that this is exactly how things are - but why should that be any more likely (or testable) than any of the traditional religion's creation stories?
Feb 6, 2014


Seriously. I havent been able to make much sense out of your last two comments.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 6, 2014
Creationist Debate - Ken Ham on CNN Part 1

- Which Creation Myth?
There are hundreds. "It's turtles all the way down." The creation myth is a viable historical model? Cheonjiwang Bonpuli is a viable historical scientific origin history? The christian king james literal biblical creation myth does not follow the evidence of what we observe. One has to suspend physical and natural laws to make the evidence fit the hypothesis.

- Separation of Experimental/Observational Science and Historical Science
This false separation does not allow you pretend the scientific method doesn't apply to both areas of study.
We observe the results of non-observed events and try to figure out what happened. CSI is a fictional story of the scientific method trying to answer the question "what happened" from the evidence left behind.
Using known natural laws, and observable repeatable tests, we can
Observe now project past

We cannot change physical laws to then draw different conclusions of what happened. You cannot suspend Newtonian gravity as part of your world model, to explain the evidence.

"Because you weren't there, you did not observe the events of the past." So I invent historical science and can then prove the bible.
We use the scientific method to observe the results/evidence of past events and test that theory against other

I think Bill Nye's CSI analogy was a good thought. CSI is a way to teach an idea, using language and story that you might understand. It helps relate something known to something unknown for education purposes.
Using stories to teach, works, but you cannot take the story as literal truth.

"You did not observe the age of the earth, therefore it's not subject to experimental/observational science."
Cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater.

- Literal biblical history
"We see same evidence but interpret the evidence differently. My creation story is just as good as yours."
There are just too many crazy events in the bible to take it literally.

Predictions of bible? Compare with predictions of technology science?
Science predicts how electrons behave, science predicts the rules how we can kill a Taliban from a mile away, and land on the moon.
The bible predicts me going to hell.
I'll trust science.

Global flood | young universe
There is just not enough time in the young earth hypothesis, to account for all the species and variations, all the erosion, all the things that the evidence we see. Regional flooding and a longer universe age explains the evidence better.

Genetic orchard or the creationist orchard. It's half the thought, with god stuck on.

- Blah, blah, therefore god
Abortion is wrong therefore god
Morality must be dictated by god, therefore god.
If not god, then man is authority, and we can't have that. Therefore god
Darwin was a bigot, so everything he wrote is wrong, therefore god

"Creationists are teaching the right way to think"
Jesus Wept
Feb 6, 2014

[So, you don't believe in the possibility of God, but you do think we could live in a world created by higher beings who made us in their image?

The hoops atheists will jump through...]

Perhaps the problem isnt so much beleiving in God but with the kind of God they are asked to beleive in. I beleive in God but have trouble with the notion that he would sentence us to eternal hellfire for being a Muslim instead of a Christian, accepting the notion that the world is more than 6000 years old or using a condom.
Feb 6, 2014
So, you don't believe in the possibility of God, but you do think we could live in a world created by higher beings who made us in their image?

The hoops atheists will jump through...
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 6, 2014
An important clue for the virtuality of reality is the existence of war and genocide. Real humans would never let those happen.
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