Wednesday, October 5, 2011

It is all an illusion

Last week  we considered the repercussions of simulated reality, and we saw that if we live in one of them, we would have no way to figure it out (unless the 'person' who is running the simulation decides to leave hints). I left you saying it gets much worse than that. Well, it gets worse, or more interesting than that, depending on how you view it. Here's the bomb - if you are okay to make certain assumptions, chances are that you are indeed living in a simulated reality.

The argument goes this way. Because of the advances in technology and computer science, humans will eventually gain the ability to simulate full nervous system including the brain in a computer. It could happen within 500 years as some predict, or it could take 5 million years - but if it happens, the astounding conclusion will remain same. Once humans gain the ability to carry out these simulations, they will do so for fun or for research. They will end up running a lot many simulations of their ancestors, to study the past. The number of simulated brains thereby will vastly dwarf the number of real brains in our Universe. Hence chances are if we pick a random brain (or consciousness), it is more likely to be a simulated one than 'real'. You, I, all that you know could be nothing but simulated nervous systems, programmed as a hobby of an advanced being.

Before you start to loose track, let me make one thing clear - even if it is the case, it still means (in a sense) that you are real. What you smell, feel, touch and see, are real - atleast to you. Your thoughts, desires, feelings are still real - just as the brain we discussed was real enough to itself or other brains being simulated with it.

The question that I would pose next is how important is it for the simulation to be actually carried out, versus to just set it up and keep it 'paused', to make it 'real'? Little reflection will show us that nothing should change the reality based on whether it is being run or not.

If we think about the brain being simulated on pen and paper - if the entire configuration of the brain's neurons is known, and written down on a paper, how important is really the act of writing the equations and carrying out the operations on paper to make it real? What difference does it make? Once you specify the initial configuration, the remaining is just result of some mathematics which whether you choose to do now, or later, will lead to the same end result. Just like if you know a stone was thrown up, whether or not you do the calculations (know how to do the calculations) doesn't matter, in a sense that stone is destined to come back because mathematics predicts it. If the initial configuration is known, the stone's fate is fixed and is not going to change. Similarly writing the equations down or not does not change the nature of the reality of the brain - actually animating the reality in the computer or not does not change the reality of the world to the virtual characters in the computer. If you simulate, whatever results will be their reality - and that remains a truth irrespective of if you bother to calculate the results or not.

So in a sense, if you specify the initial configurations of a brain (or universe), the resulting world becomes real. Going one step further, you don't even need to provide the initial configuration in meticulous detail - if you describe an initial condition, which is not too weird and can be possible to detail out following laws of physics - someone (or a powerful computer) can fill out the painful details of the configuration of each and every molecule in one of many ways that fits your description. Then it can start simulating it. For example if you say "an universe where a cup is revolving the sun", the computer can fill in all the molecules in the cup, every particles in the sun, and give them the initial velocities so that the cup is in an orbit around the sun - and then simulate that universe and show you the result. Granted the world is not specified uniquely anymore, but what matters is that it can be done in atleast one way. In a sense, just your describing the world makes it real - in the same way as we discussed how describing an initial configuration (in detail) make it real, even though you may not bother to actually simulate it.

Why is it even necessary for you to think or describe the initial configuration at all? Indeed it is not necessary - if a possible initial configuration exists (i.e. it is does not violate any physical laws), it can be in theory simulated - and again irrespective of whether you choose to do it actually doesn't matter - it doesn't change the 'truth' of events that are bound to happen in the universe - and in a sense it's all real

Let's conclude by revisiting what we have seen.
1. The brain when being simulated on pen and paper through mathematical equations, 'feels' it is real
2. Chances are staggeringly high that we are in fact simulations run by some advanced being (even probably advanced 'real' humans) as their toy universe hobby
3. It can even be possible that we are just someone's imaginations, or worse yet nobody even imagined us, but we 'exist' because the initial configuration for our universe exists in a mathematical sense!

Someone once said, "it is all an illusion". Seems there is some truth there after all.

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