Friday, 18 March 2011

Deep thought Friday

A step down from last week, I've been brushing up on utility fog for the less-than-secret project, using this seminal article. I recommend reading it, from the first image to the second at least.

How can we know we're not already in that world?

If you don't want to read it, here's the alternative:

How can we know that what we - collectively or singly - perceive to be reality is not a simluation?


ArmChairGeneral said...

The sleeper would eventually awaken. I could also go down the political joke route but I will keep that thought pattern to myself with the exception of mentioning it as a viable option.

Scientifically it would have been a very long experiment. Taking that in considering though I suppose we could be living in a Matrix-like world right now as food for some other creature.

At the end of the day when science fails all we have left is faith.

So I suppose there's really no way to say with absolute certainty that we are not living in a simulation unless one goes on the basis of faith.

This one does have me thinking though from an outside scientific standpoint.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

Just had to reference Kurzweil :P If you want a good book about nanobots, read "Prey". It's fiction but good.

To answer the pondering, "I'd say that in theory, it's possible, depending on the quality of the alleged simulation."

If all this *gestures from one side to the other* were a _high quality_ simulation, it'd be impossible to tell that we were a part of it.

If the simulation was poor quality, then yes, it would be possible. Glitches, incongruities, physics that don't make sense.
There's a lot of REALLY smart people out there who completely disagree with eachother on how the universe works because supposedly if one theory is true, it disproves another, and vice-versa. Then, there's quantum physics, which is still very theoretical. What if these are already instances where the simulation is failing us as we develop technology that can detect it's bugs.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

Final thoughts:

We spoke about the definition of life before, and I suggested anything could be considered life, no matter it's source. With that in mind, does it actually matter if we are a simulation? (Be it AI or an advanced IF structure?)

Secondly, shelf our egos for a moment. Maybe we're not even the subject of the simulation. Perhaps we're a variable in a simulation of a universe.

When I delete a file from a computer, it's gone. (ok, technically gone after it's overwritten) When I close a program, it's off.. there may be data stored, but that program is no longer functioning in any form. Is that program death? No afterlife?

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

"At the end of the day when science fails all we have left is faith."

Not really..

Faith is based off of things decided 1000's of years ago, when the world was flat and the stars revolved around us... buuut, rather than turn this into a theological debate, I'll defend science against it's own failings:

We're constantly getting smarter as a race. (OK, maybe the correct way to word that is "Our generations are learning more and more than the previous ones." because people en mass aren't exactly getting smarter)

Point is, what we know now greatly surpasses what we knew FOR A FACT 50 years ago. When science fails us? ... Wait a decade.

Paul´s Bods said...

Isn´t this the thing that Chaung Zu came up with,
"Last night I dreamt that I was a beautiful butterfly fluttering through the fields. Now I awaken. My question is this; how do I know if I am Chuang Tzu, who dreamt himself a butterfly, or if I am a butterfly now dreaming itself Chuang Zu?"
Unprovable is the, back to the do you really know when you have woken up or it´s all a figment of someone elses concept. Or, are we inventing the concept??
Quantify infinity...impossible.
NO two people think exactly the same...I mean...if quality or quantity are the measurements of a logical world and our existance..then weigh love, time hate, take the temperature of desire etc. All differ from person to person and are untranslatable in words or touch...feeling cannot be transmitted as a measurable thing...only expressed physically and the interpretation of the recipient is dependant on X-times factors of experience..all unprovable and immeasurable.
Measure time...the past and the present...sorry..I´m repeating myself from an old post ;-D

James said...

I'm noticing a theme here Porky, all your Deep questions seem to be epistemological ones!

I for one don't think we can know, because I'm not convinced there is any such thing as an objective reality outside our perception.

I do think there are other people, however, mainly because of Wittgenstein's private language argument. In order to have language, there must be another mind (or at least there must have been another mind at some point) for us to communicate with. If there were and never had been other persons then language would not exist and we wouldn't even be able to think in words, because words are a system of compromise between two private thought languages.

And if there are other minds, there is probably a reality that they refer to. But I'm not certain of that :)

If we are in a simulation though I don't think it's important. Like Dave implied, so what? If there's only the simulation, it's not really a simulation.

Another way of looking at this: Our sensory perceptions are unique to each of us, so assuming there is an objective reality that we are all perceiving, what we actually perceive as individual consciousnesses does not match it. Our bodies live in reality, our minds or "selves" live in a simulation of reality created by our perceptive faculties. So according to psychology and neuroscience we are in a simulation I guess.

Porky said...

@ ArmChairGeneral - I'm glad you avoided the joke, although I'm not entirely certain it is one.

@ ArmChairGeneral & Dave G _ Nplusplus - "At the end of the day when science fails all we have left is faith." I read this here more as faith in our senses, or faith that something approximating our own value system exists behind it all otherwise.

@ Dave G _ Nplusplus - The glitches idea is very compelling. Think how much could be put down to that if accepted, not only at a deep structural level, but in everyday life and interpretation. In that light, would you believe me if I said the Kurzweil reference was pure coincidence?

As for whether or not it matters we could be simulated, I'd guess that would depend on the scope of the simulation, how far we could become aware of it, or existence beyond it. The idea we might not even be the subject, just a variable, is a fun one.

@ Paul's Bods - That's a good grounded take on the thing. Here's the latest post from a blog in the rolls; it has an interesting view on that idea of separateness. You might like last week's too. It followed up "I think therefore I am".

Repeating yourself, eh? How would those glitches manifest themselves again? One of us could be... no!

@ James - Epistemological, but hopefully mostly in the very broadest understanding of 'knowledge'.

I'm not convinced by Wittgenstein's argument here. If reality is a simulation, the instigating force is surely potent enough to incorporate language with no difficulty. It doesn't really even cover the idea of an individual hallucinating others, in the sense that a mind based on a thought language might reasonably construct other points - 'minds' - within itself; if so, it wouldn't be a surprise that such points would be knowable via the thought language, but with restrictions perhaps placed on communication to support the belief in them as independent beings. All that said, I wouldn't claim certainty either..!

The last idea is a very reasonable one, maybe the state of current mainstream understanding.

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...


What if death is what happens when you stop dreaming?

James S said...

Yeah, I guess all philosophical questions based in scientific speculation can be reduced to broadly epistemological ones. It's not really my area but still really, really interesting.

Fair point about Witt., I doubt he was trying to argue against the possibility of a simulation, just solipsism. The use of his argument to deny the likelihood of a simulation is all me, so I take the blame ;)

Your counter-argument is sound, though it doesn't tip the scales for me. You suggest that language comes after the (false) belief that another being exists, but I can't see how a mind could have a frame of reference to even construct false identities unless it had communicated somehow with another being in the past. Doing so without that precondition would be tantamount to spontaneously creating life in a vacuum, in my opinion. In other words I don't think a completely self-created simulation of other beings by a lone mind seems possible, and a simulation that is not self-created proves that the mind is not alone. The possibility that we are in a group simulation is still open though.

At any rate I hope your argument isn't true, as it means not only are we fooled by a simulation, but there is only one of us and that guy has a serious case of multiple personality disorder! Possible I admit, but not a pleasant thought :D

Porky said...

@ James - I hope the argument is false too. You're right it's not especially comforting..!

To expand on it, I think I still have in mind the theme from last week, the idea of thought existing in its own closed loop. This is the reason for implying the lack of a frame of reference: the possibility that any such false identities are just one element of an entire false world, if 'false' is a fair way of putting it. If a whole world could be created in this imagined space, with unexplained phenomena to boot, other minds could surely be created too, given the content of the minds need not be known, only that content communicated in some form.

Another uncomfortable idea is that what we perceive to be highly complex or fundamental, like the mind and language, might actually be incredibly primitive in the scheme of things. This ties in with Dave's idea that we could be talking here about minor or infinitesimal variables.

As you say, the group simulation remains an option, and the idea of a group generating a shared simulation is intriguing. It makes me think of the gestalt, collective consciousness and swarm intelligence, and more prosaically those episodes of Voyager, "Unimatrix Zero", which showed the Borg dream space. The possibility the simulation is initiated from outside is always there too.

Good conversation, as ever here. You guys add so much.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

I can't buy into Witt's theories either, for a few reasons..

First off, to suggest language can't exist without two minds, if I'm interpreting this, he's suggestion aliens or other entities. There would have always been two minds in humanity... humans need 2 to procreate, therefor it's moot.

If he's suggesting that if there was only ever one person, that language wouldn't exist, I'd also say nay. I doubt it would be advanced, but I still see someone wanting to express the thoughts in their mind. Before being aware of anything, a baby cries to express itself. This is a form of language. A baby would also be able to laugh ... born into an outside, wind tickling it, sun's warmth, etc.

If he IS suggesting there needs to be some sort of other alien/entity for us to learn a language, I don't buy that either. We have brains, with thoughts, and need ways to express them to eachother. The animal kingdom has language without anyone else's involvement.

Dave G _ Nplusplus said...

Also, as far as the importance of whether or not we're in a simulation.. I think it'd be kind of interesting to communicate with those outside.

If the simulation wasn't an impartial one, then maybe they'd be willing to communicate. Perhaps they could make things better (or worse) for us. Maybe we could do things they want us to test.

Maybe a future society doesn't have the ability to peer backwards in time, but can create a simulation out of historical data to watch what their ancestors were like.

Then there's other concerns - if we become aware of the simulation, does that destroy the reason for the simulation to exist? Perhaps we shouldn't be worrying about CERN creating another black hole and destroying ourselves this way, but be more concerned about understanding our universe too well.

I think that's a more intriguing thought path as far as the consequences of being in a simulation are.

This is also a problem with theoretical anything.. We can throw ideas out as long as we want, but in the end, we're just making shit up. (Although the sharing of ideas and bullshitting is fun... all we're missing is a pub and some pints)

James S said...

@Dave, I'll try to answer your objections as best I can on behalf of Wittgenstein!

First off, I think W's suggestion that language can't exist without two minds is supported rather than refuted by the fact that there have always been at least two humans.

Secondly, what you describe as language among animals and infants is thought of in W's schema as being proto-language. The private language argument suggests that we all have a private proto-language but that in order for it to be organized into symbols (words) we need another person with another private language to symbolize at.

Animals certainly experience things and express responses, but they don't symbolize what they are experiencing with language. A cat may roll in the dirt and purr when it feels the sun on it's back, but that rolling and purring is not cat language for "I can feel the sun." Likewise, a baby crying for food is not language for "give me food", it is a response to the sensation of hunger. That's not the same thing. Witt. is saying that in order to move away from these proto-linguistic responses and into the realm of language we need another mind. He suggests that if there had never been another mind, we would have had no need to develop language and we'd be purring like cats and crying like babies forever.

Of course, it's just a suggestion conditional on what we find out, like everything in philosophy (and indeed science). I happen to find it convincing, but many other philosopher's don't.

James S said...

Also Dave, you said:
This is also a problem with theoretical anything.. We can throw ideas out as long as we want, but in the end, we're just making shit up. (Although the sharing of ideas and bullshitting is fun... all we're missing is a pub and some pints)

Personally I think theory is a little more important than that! Theory sets the parameters for practical experimentation. I would argue that philosophy is theoretical science, and as such comes before science, as it's groundwork. Philosophy is where we work out what the question is, science is where we try to find out the answer. Neither by it's nature can do the work of the other, and anyone who says otherwise is very mistaken. They are symbiotic.

That said, pub theorizing IS fun, and I wish we were all within pub radius of each other :)