Religions turn me off. Science turns me on.
And in the science books I read, the notion that we could be living as artificial intelligences within a computer simulation keeps popping up. I'm fascinated by this possibility (see previous blog posts here and here).
I've finished physicist Brian Greene's new book, "The Hidden Reality." He talks about simulated universes in a Universes, Computers, and Mathematical Reality chapter.
My interest here is in those who would be drawn by the purity of electrical impulses to program simulated environments populated by simulated beings that would exist within a computer's hardware; instead of C-3PO or Data, think Sims or Second Life, but with inhabitants who have self-aware and responsive minds.
The history of technological innovation suggests that iteration by iteration, the simulations would gain verisimilitude, allowing the physical and experimental characteristics of the artificial worlds to reach convincing levels of nuance and realism.
Whoever was running a given simulation would decide whether the simulated beings knew that they existed within a computer; simulated humans who surmised that their world was an elaborate computer program might find themselves taken away by simulated technicians in white coats and confined to simulated locked wards. But probably the vast majority of simulated beings would consider the possibility that they're in a computer simulation too silly to warrant attention.
Ah, not me. So I could be blogging on dangerous ground here.
Will my alien creators be disturbed to learn that I'm so close to understanding I'm a simulation? Could there be negative corrective consequences in store for me? Or as is more likely, am I thinking exactly the way that my programmers intended -- getting close to the truth but never quite penetrating the illusion?
(Along this line, Greene suggests that whoever is running this simulation likely enjoys colorful characters and wants to keep them around. So spicing up your life to make it more interesting to the Simulator would be a key to longevity. This implies, though, that Charlie Sheen and Lady Gaga should live into their 100's, which I doubt will happen.)
In any computer simulation, programming errors probably will creep in. Greene says that rounding errors and other approximations which permeate mathematical equations could accumulate over time, yielding inconsistencies.
After reading this, it struck me that maybe this is why the Simulator included religion in our reality. Miracles, supernatural phenomena, and such could be the programming glitches which cause things to appear out of the ordinary.
To keep us simulated beings from catching on, the Simulator has most people believe in God. Then those anomalies are explained away as manifestations of divinity rather than understood as what they are: computer malfunctions.
I also had another insight that could be taking me dangerously close to "Terminate! Terminate!" territory. (If my simulated brain is wiped clean as I sleep tonight, you'll know that my supposed massive stroke actually was programmed by an irritated Simulator.)
Our simulated quantum physicists have learned that particles, and hence physical reality, only seem to take on a definite non-probabilistic character when an observation is made. Scientists are mystified by how consciousness appears to be so intimately intertwined with measurements of matter and energy.
But I've figured out what's going on, with the help of these passages from Brian Greene, which come after his conclusion that "the collective computational capacity of the human species could be achieved with a run of less than two minutes on an earth-sized computer."
To simulate not just individual minds but also their interactions among themselves and with an evolving environment, the computational load would grow orders of magnitude larger. But a sophisticated simulation could cut computational corners with minimal impact on quality.
Simulated humans on a simulated earth won't be bothered if the computer simulates only things lying within the cosmic horizon. We can't see beyond that range, so the computer can safely ignore it.
More boldly, the simulation might simulate stars beyond the sun only during simulated nights, and then only when the simulated local weather resulted in clear skies... A sufficiently well-structured program would keep track of the mental states and intentions of its simulated inhabitants, and so would anticipate, and appropriately respond to, any impending stargazing.
The same goes for simulating cells, molecules, and atoms. For the most part, they'd be necessary only for simulated specialists of one scientific persuasion or another, and then only when such specialists were in the act of studying these exotic realms.
A computationally cheaper replica of familiar reality that adjusts the simulation's degree of detail on an as-needed basis would be adequate.
This is why I spend so much time whipping my head around as quickly as possible to see if I can catch the Simulator creating the world behind me before it bursts into existence.
That keeps my chiropractor happy, but so far I've been unable to get definitive evidence of how the detail of our universe's simulation is manipulated to match what is being observed by conscious (simulated) observers.
However, it's obvious to my newly alien-enlightened mind that the so-called observer created reality in quantum physics can be traced back to the programming of the alien Simulator -- who doesn't have enough computer power to simulate everything in our universe all of the time, so he/she/it only brings stuff into existence when a conscious simulated entity is observing something.
I'm on to you, Simulator. Of course, as noted above, you probably know that. Damn! There's no way out of your illusion! Except, maybe, to take the red pill.