I Thought He Came With You is Robert Ellison’s blog about software, marketing, politics, photography and time lapse.

Can I move to a Better Simulation Please?

Updated on Wednesday, August 14, 2019

A risk free simulation

In the New York Times last weekend Preston Greene has an op-ed piece on the simulation hypothesis where he argues that we shouldn't check, because:

"If we were to prove that we live inside a simulation, this could cause our creators to terminate the simulation — to destroy our world."

But let's back up. To start with he trots out Bostrom:

"In 2003, the philosopher Nick Bostrom made an ingenious argument that we might be living in a computer simulation created by a more advanced civilization."

Am I living in a simulated universe where I am the only person to have ever consumed any science fiction, or spent late nights discussing the nature of the universe in a bad simulation of a kitchen? For some reason Nick Bostrom is now almost universally credited with the simulation hypothesis. Every article on the topic seems to starts with this revelation. In 2003! Like right after he finished watching The Matrix Revolutions. Have no newspaper editors ever read any Philip K. Dick? Descartes? This is not a new idea, and Bostrom's ancestor simulations are a rather tortured special case of a much wider set of possibilities.

And then:

"Professor Smoot estimates that the ratio of simulated to real people might be as high as 1012 to 1."

Sounds specific. It could be 1016 though. Or 7. Not really subject to numerical analysis at our current level of knowledge (which Greene would not increase).

And given that we don't know this invalidates the whole point of the article:

"In much the same way, as I argue in a forthcoming paper in the journal Erkenntnis, if our universe has been created by an advanced civilization for research purposes, then it is reasonable to assume that it is crucial to the researchers that we don’t find out that we’re in a simulation."

That's one possibility, sure. Reasonable to assume? No. Equally possible is that the researchers are trying to find universes that figure out that they are simulated. They keep the ones that manage it within 13.773 billion years or so and discard the others.

I think it's even more likely that simulated universes are a commodity and the number running as screen savers vastly outnumbers those used for serious research projects. Our fate depends on whether the entity that installed us is having a three martini lunch or heading back after two.

(Read the full simulation hypothesis series: Part 1: Can I move to a Better Simulation Please?, Part 2: Have we Already Proved that the Simulation Hypothesis is False?, Part 3: Life, Non-locality and the Simulation Hypothesis.)

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