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Simulated Universe by Brent Silby

Simulated Universe by Brent Silby

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Published by Brent Silby
Response to Nick Bostrom's Simulated Universe argument
Response to Nick Bostrom's Simulated Universe argument

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Published by: Brent Silby on May 19, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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04/16/2013

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THE SIMULATED UNIVERSE
By BRENT SILBY
Learning Advisor in PhilosophyUPT SchoolChristchurch, New Zealand
What is a Simulated Universe?
The Simulated Universe argument suggests that the universe we inhabit is anelaborate emulation of the real universe. Everything we see, including people,animals, plants, and bacteria are part of the simulation. This also extendsbeyond Earth. The argument suggests that all the planets, asteroids, comets,stars, galaxies, black holes, and nebula are also part of the simulation.According to the argument, the
entire Universe
is a simulation running insidean extremely advanced computer system designed by a super intelligentspecies that live in a parent universe.In this article, I will provide an exposition of the Simulated Universe argumentand explain why some philosophers believe there is a high probability that weexist in a simulation. I will then discuss the type of evidence that we wouldneed to determine whether or not we exist in a simulation. Finally, I willdescribe two objections to the argument before concluding that although it isinteresting, we should reject the Simulated Universe argument.
The Possibility
The possibility that we exist in a simulated universe is derived from the ideathat it is possible for a computer to simulate anything that behaves like a
The Simulated Universe
Brent Silby 1
 
computer. A computer can run a simulation of any mechanistic system thatfollows a pre-defined series of rules. Now, because the Universe is a rulefollowing system that operates according to a finite set of physical laws, itfollows that it can be simulated by a computer.The proponents of the Simulated Universe argument suggest that if it is
 possible
for us to simulate a universe, then it is
likely 
that we actually existinside a simulated universe. Why do they have this belief? Well, supporters of the Simulated Universe argument suppose that if it is
 possible
for us to buildsuch a simulation, then we will
 probably 
do so at some time in the future,assuming that our human desires and sensibilities remain much the same asthey are now (Bostrom 2001:pg 9). They then reason that any species thatevolves within the simulation will probably build their own Simulated Universe.We know that it is possible for them to do so because they, themselves, existinside a simulated universe. It is possible to continue this nesting of universesindefinitely, each universe spawning intelligent species that build their ownsimulations. Now, given the near infinite number of child universes, it is morelikely that we exist in one of the billions of simulations rather than the oneparent universe. This becomes especially apparent when we consider thepossibility that within these universes there may be many worlds withintelligent life, all creating their own simulations.So how does this all work? Well, when you look at a computer running asimulated universe it is not the case that you can switch on a video screen orcomputer monitor to peak inside the universe. The computer does not containvirtual reality creations of people living out their lives in their world. It is notlike playing a videogame such as "The Sims" or "Second Life". There are nographics involved. From the outside looking in, all you see are numbers. That'sall it is; a complicated manipulation of numbers. As with all software, thesenumbers are instantiated through the computer hardware. They are stored onpermanent storage devices such as Hard-drives, and they are moved into RAMto be operated upon by the Central Processing Units (CPUs). The numbers in a
The Simulated Universe
Brent Silby 2
 
simulated universe program
represent 
the laws of physics in the universe.They also
represent 
matter and energy in the universe. As the program runs,the numbers are manipulated by the program rules—the algorithmsrepresenting the laws of physics. This manipulation yields different numbers,which continue to be operated upon by the program rules. Large datastructures of numbers are moved around within the computer's memory asthey interact with other data structures. As the simulated universe grows,these structures become increasingly complex but the laws that govern theirbehavior remain constant and unchanged.So, from the designer's point of view the simulated universe contains nothingother than complicated data structures. But for the creatures that exist insidethe simulated universe it is all real. They look out of their windows and marvelat beautiful sunsets. They walk around outside and enjoy the smell of freshlycut grass. They may study the stars in their sky and dream about one dayvisiting other worlds. For the inhabitants of the simulated universe everythingis solid and tangible, but just like the real universe, it is all reducible tonumbers and rules.It is important to note that the computer is not simulating every subatomicparticle in the universe. In his 2001 article, Nick Bostrom points out that itwould be infeasible to run a simulation down to that level of detail. Hesuggests that the simulation need only simulate local phenomena to a highlevel of detail. Distant objects such as galaxies can have compressedrepresentations because we do not see them in enough detail to distinguishindividual atoms (Bostrom 2001:pg 4).This is a point that we can take further. Perhaps the entire universe, includinglocal phenomena, is compressed in some way. The simulation could be"interpreted" by its inhabitants as being made from individual atoms andsubatomic particles, while in reality it is completely different. If we look atmodern physics, we see that this is a reasonable possibility. Consider the
The Simulated Universe
Brent Silby 3

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