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IEET > Security > Rights > Personhood > Life > Vision > Futurism > Virtuality > Contributors > Rick Searle

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The Ethics of a Simulated Universe

Rick Searle
By Rick Searle
Utopia or Dystopia

Posted: Mar 17, 2013

This year one of the more thought provoking thought experiments to appear in recent memory has its tenth anniversary.  Nick Bostrom’s paper in the Philosophical Quarterly “Are You Living in a Simulation?”” might have sounded like the types of conversations we all had after leaving the theater having seen The Matrix, but Bostrom’s attempt was serious. (There is a great recent video of Bostrom discussing his argument at the IEET). What he did in his paper was create a formal argument around the seemingly fanciful question of whether or not we were living in a simulated world. Here is how he stated it…

Zhuangzi-Butterfly-DreamThis paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation.

To state his case in everyday language: any technological civilization whose progress did not stop at some point would gain the capacity to realistically simulate whole worlds, including the individual minds that inhabit them, that is, they could run realistic ancestor simulations. Technologically advanced civilizations either die out before gaining the capacity to produce realistic ancestor simulations,  there is  something stopping such technologically mature civilizations from running such simulations in large numbers or, we ourselves are most likely living in such a simulation because there are a great many more such simulated worlds than real ones.

There is a lot in that argument to digest and a number of underlying assumptions that might be explored or challenged, but I want to look at just one of them, #2. That is, I will make the case that there may be very good reasons why technological civilizations both prohibit and are largely uninterested in creating realistic ancestor simulations. Reasons that are both ethical and scientific. Bostrom himself discusses the possibility that ethical constraints might prevent  technologically mature civilizations from creating realistic ancestor simulations. He writes:

One can speculate that advanced civilizations all develop along a trajectory that leads to the recognition of an ethical prohibition against running ancestor-simulations because of the suffering that is inflicted on the inhabitants of the simulation. However, from our present point of view, it is not clear that creating a human race is immoral. On the contrary, we tend to view the existence of our race as constituting a great ethical value. Moreover, convergence on an ethical view of the immorality of running ancestor-simulations is not enough: it must be combined with convergence on a civilization-wide social structure that enables activities considered immoral to be effectively banned.

I think the issue of “suffering that is inflicted on the inhabitants of a simulation” may be more serious than Bostrom appears to believe. Any civilization that has reached the stage where it can create realistic worlds that contain fully conscious human beings will have almost definitely escaped the two conditions that haunt the human condition in its current form- namely pain and death. The creation of realistic ancestor simulations will have brought back into existence these two horrors and thus might likely be considered not merely unethical but perhaps even evil. Were our world actually such a simulation it would confront us with questions that once went by the name of theodicy, namely, the attempt to reconcile the assumed goodness of the creator (for our case the simulator)  with the existence of evil: natural, moral, and metaphysical that exists in the world.

Questions as to why there is, or the morality of there being, such a wide disjunction between the conditions of any imaginable creator/simulator and those of the created/simulated is a road we’ve been down before as the philosopher Susan Neiman so brilliantly showed us in her Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy.  There, Neiman points out that the question of theodicy is a nearly invisible current that swept through the modern age. As a serious topic of thought in this period it began as an underlying assumption behind the scientific revolution with thinkers such as Leibniz arguing in his Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil that “ours is the best of all possible worlds”. Leibniz having invented calculus and been the first to envision what we would understand as a modern computer was no dope, so one might wonder how such a genius could ever believe in anything so seemingly contradictory to actual human experience?

What one needs to remember in order to understand this is that the early giants of the scientific revolution, Newton, Descartes, Leibniz, Bacon weren’t out to replace God but to understand what was thought of as his natural order. Given how stunning and quick what seemed at the time a complete understanding of the natural world had been formulated using the new methods it perhaps made sense to think that a similar human understanding of the moral order was close at hand. Given the intricate and harmonious picture of how nature was “designed” it was easy to think that this natural order did not somehow run in violation of the moral order. That underneath every seemingly senseless and death-bringing natural event- an earthquake or plague- there was some deeper and more necessary process for the good of humanity going on.   

The quest for theodicy continued when Rousseau gave us the idea that for harmony to be restored to the human world we needed to return to the balance found in nature, something we had lost when we developed civilization.  Nature, and therefore the intelligence that was thought to have designed it were good. Human beings got themselves into trouble when they failed to heed this nature- built their cities on fault lines, or even, for Rousseau, lived in cities at all.

Anyone who has ever taken a serious look at history (or even paid real attention to the news) would agree with Hegel that: “History… is, indeed, little more than the register of the ‘crimes, follies, and misfortunes’ of mankind”. There isn’t any room for an ethical creator there, but Hegel himself tried to find some larger meaning in the long term trajectory of history. With him, and Marx who followed on his heels we have not so much a creator, but a natural and historical process that leads to a fulfillment an intelligence or perfect society at its end. There may be a lot of blood and gore, a huge amount of seemingly unnecessary human suffering between the beginning of history and its end, but the price is worth paying.

Lest anyone think that these views are irrelevant in our current context, one can see a great deal of Rousseau in the positions of contemporary environmentalists and bio-conservatives who take the position that it is us, that is human beings and the artificial technological society we have created that is the problem. Likewise, the views of both singularitarians and some transhumanists who think we are on the verge of reaching some breakout stage where we complete or transcend the human condition, have deep echoes of both Hegel and Marx.

But perhaps the best analog for the kinds of rules a technologically advanced civilization might create around the issue of realistic ancestor simulations might lie not in these religiously based philosophical ideas but  in our regulations regarding more practical areas such as animal experimentation. Scientific researchers have long recognized that the pursuit of truth needs humane constraints and that such constraints apply not just to human research subjects, but to animal subjects as well. In the United States, standards regarding research that use live animals is subject to self-regulation and oversight based on those established by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). Those criteria are as follows:

The basic criteria for IACUC approval are that the research (a) has the potential to allow us to learn new information, (b) will teach skills or concepts that cannot be obtained using an alternative, (c) will generate knowledge that is scientifically and socially important, and (d) is designed such that animals are treated humanely.

The underlying idea behind these regulations is that researchers should never unnecessarily burden animals in research. Therefore, it is the job of researchers to design and carry out research in a way that does not subject animals to unnecessary burdens. Doing research that does not promise to generate important knowledge, subjecting animals to unnecessary pain, doing experiments on animals when the objectives can be reached without doing so are all ways of unnecessarily burdening animals.

Would realistic ancestor simulations meet these criteria? I think realistic ancestor simulations would probably fulfill criteria (a), but I have serious doubts that it meets any of the others. In terms of simulations offering us “skills or concepts that cannot be obtained using an alternative” (b), in what sense would a realistic simulations teach skills or concepts that could not be achieved using something short of such simulations where those within them actually suffer and die? Are there not many types of simulations that would fall short of the full range of subjective human experiences of suffering that would nevertheless grant us a good deal of knowledge regarding such types of worlds and societies?  There is probably an even greater ethical hurdle for realistic ancestor simulations to cross in (c), for it is difficult to see exactly what lessons or essential knowledge running such simulations would bring. Societies that are advanced enough to run such simulations are unlikely to gain vital information about how to run their own societies.

The knowledge they are seeking is bound to be historical in nature, that is, what was it like to live in such and such a period or what might have happened if some historical contingency were reversed? I find it extremely difficult to believe that we do not have the majority of information today to create realistic models of what it was like to live in a particular historical period, a recreation that does not have to entail real suffering on the part of innocent participants to be of worth.

Let’s take a specific rather than a general historical example dear to my heart because I am a Pennsylvanian- the Battle of Gettysburg. Imagine that you live hundreds or even thousands of years into the future when we are capable of creating realistic ancestor simulations. Imagine that you are absolutely fascinated by the American Civil War and would like to “live” in that period to see it for yourself. Certainly you might want to bring your own capacity for suffering and pain or to replicate this capacity in a “human” you, but why do the simulated beings in this world with you have to actually feel the lash of a whip, or the pain of a saw hacking off an injured limb? Again, if completely accurate simulations of limited historical events are ethically suspect, why would this suspicion not hold for the simulation of entire worlds?

One might raise the objection that any realistic ancestor simulation would need to possess sentient beings with free will such as ourselves that possess not merely the the ability to suffer, but to inflict evil upon others. This, of course, is exactly the argument Christian theodicy makes. It is also an argument that was undermined by sceptics of early modern theodicy- such as that put forth by Leibniz.    

Arguments that the sentient beings we are now (whether simulated or real) require free will that puts us at risk of self-harm were dealt with brilliantly by the 17th century philosopher, Pierre Bayle, who compared whatever creator might exist behind a world where sentient beings are in constant danger due to their exercise of free will to a negligent parent. Every parent knows that giving their children freedom is necessary for moral growth, but what parent would give this freedom such reign when it was not only likely but known that it would lead to the severe harm or even death of their child?

Applying this directly to the simulation argument any creator of such simulations knows that we will kill millions of our fellow human beings in war and torture, deliberately starve and enslave countless others. At least these are problems we have brought on ourselves,but the world also contains numerous so-called natural evils such as earthquakes and pandemics which have devastated us numerous times. Above all, it contains death itself which will kill all of us in the end.    

It was quite obvious to another sceptic, David Hume, that the reality we lived in had no concern for us. If it was “engineered” what did it say that the engineer did not provide obvious “tweaks” to the system that would make human life infinitely better? Why, are we driven by pain such as hunger and not correspondingly greater pleasure alone?

Arguments that human and animal suffering is somehow not “real” because it is simulated seem to me to be particularly tone deaf. In a lighter mood I might kick a stone like Samuel Johnson and squeak “I refute it thus!” In a darker mood I might ask those who hold the idea whether they would willingly exchange places with a burn victim. I think not! 

If it is the case that we live in a realistic ancestor simulation then the simulator cares nothing for our suffering on a granular level. This leads us to the question of what type of knowledge could truly be gained from running such realistic ancestor simulations. It might be the case that the more granular a simulation is the less knowledge can actually be gained from it. If one needs to create entire worlds with individuals and everything in them in order to truly understand what is going on, then the results of the process you are studying is either contingent or you are really not in possession of full knowledge regarding how such worlds work. It might be interesting to run natural selection over again from the beginning of life on earth to see what alternatives evolution might have come up with, but would we really be gaining any knowledge about evolution itself rather than a view of how it might have looked had such and such initial conditions been changed? And why do we need to replicate an entire world including the pain suffered by the simulated creatures within before we can grasp what alternatives to the path evolution or even history followed might have looked like. Full understanding of the process by which evolution works, which we do not have but a civilization able to create realistic ancestor simulations doubtless would, should allow us to envision alternatives without having to run the process from scratch a countless number of times.

Yet, it is in the last criteria (d) that experiments are  “designed such that animals are treated humanely” that the ethical nature of any realistic ancestor simulation really hits a wall. If we are indeed living in an ancestor simulation it seems pretty clear that the simulator(s) should be declared inhumane. How otherwise would the simulator create a world of pandemics and genocides, torture, war, and murder, and above all, universal death?

One might claim that any simulator is so far above us that it takes little concern of our suffering. Yet, we have granted this kind of concern to animals and thus might consider ourselves morally superior to an ethically blind simulator. Without any concern or interest in our collective well-being, why simulate us in the first place?

Indeed, any simulator who created a world such as our own would be the ultimate anti-transhumanist. Having escaped pain and death “he” would bring them back into the world on account of what would likely be socially useless curiosity. Here then we might have an answer to the second half of Bostrom’s quote above:

Moreover, convergence on an ethical view of the immorality of running ancestor-simulations is not enough: it must be combined with convergence on a civilization-wide social structure that enables activities considered immoral to be effectively banned.

A society that was technologically capable of creating realistic ancestor simulations and actually runs them would appear to have on of two features (1) it finds such simulations ethically permissible, (2) it is unable to prevent such simulations from being created. Perhaps any society that remains open to creating such a degree of suffering found in realistic ancestor simulations  for anything but the reason of existential survival would be likely to destroy itself for other reasons relating to such lack of ethical boundaries.

However, it is (2) that I find the most illuminating. For perhaps the condition that decides if a civilization will continue to exist is its ability to adequately regulate the use of technology within it. Any society that is unable to prevent rogue members from creating realistic ancestor simulations despite deep ethical prohibitions is incapable of preventing the use of destructive technologies or in managing its own technological development in a way that promotes survival. A situation we can perhaps see glimpses of in our own situation related to nuclear and biological weapons, or the dangers of the Anthropocene.

This link between ethics, successful control of technology and long term survival is perhaps is the real lesson we should glean from Bostrom’s provocative simulation argument.

Rick Searle, an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET, is a writer and educator living the very non-technological Amish country of central Pennsylvania along with his two young daughters. He is an adjunct professor of political science and history for Delaware Valley College and works for the PA Distance Learning Project.
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Interestingly, this has me thinking of David Pearce’s Abolition philosophy; were we to embrace this as we evolve, then certainly ancestor simulations involving pain and death would be unethical to create and commit against sentient simulated inhabitants.

Yes, despite Bostrom’s close association with Pearce it appears that they have not connected the fact that any “future” civilization that ran realistic ancestor simulations can not hold a trans-humanist or
Abolitionist system of ethics.

If you are going to make the case for #2, then you should account for the ethics of a 13 year old post human brat. That certainly would explain how god made such a mess of things.

Perhaps the simulators have a higher-priority goal that justifies simulating ethically imperfect worlds. For example, maybe they are stuck in a Fermi paradox of their own and are seeing what are the statistical odds of intelligence emerging from simulating the laws of their own physical universe, as best they can approximate them. Maybe the physical laws of their universe vary across space and they run all possible configurations to see which areas are likelier to find life. Maybe their own civilization has something analogous to our own free speech laws, where some sectors of their society find certain expressions deeply unethical but falling within legally allowed parameters, in this case simulating suffering sapience.


Perhaps there are many reasons an advanced technological civilization would run realistic ancestor simulations, but I don’t think any of those you listed actually get over the bar of their ethical cost i.e. none of them appear to be responses to existential risks to the civilization itself and would impose an enormous amount of suffering.

I think these experiments are of such ethical enormity that any civilization unable or unwilling to prohibit them would likely be destroyed by other factors. Perhaps something akin to WMD assaults by rouge entities or totalitarian regimes that act without ethical constraints.

@Rick: I think that to categorically declare that the listed reasons, along with any and all conceivable reasons, fail to reach ethical muster and are thus disqualified is the most extreme case of presentism I’ve ever seen. Also noteworthy is that even if they fail to reach ethical muster, that doesn’t mean they won’t happen - maybe the civilization isn’t indefinitely stable and we (or anyone above us in the simulation stack) exist in that window of time, however long it may be.


I think you are finding my argument more extreme than I intend. In Bostrom’s original article he held that there appear to be no solid ethical grounds against the creation of realistic ancestor simulations. What I am trying to point out is that indeed such grounds exists and that they are transhumanist ones. If the primary goal of the movement is to create a world where the death of sentient creatures and to see it that such creatures do not experience pain then it is unethical on their own terms to create a world where both occur on a massive scale.

Our current ethical terms are the only ones we have, so sadly, yes I am stuck in the present, but so is everyone else. Otherwise you could argue ANYTHING done by a future civilization was ethical with the explanation that we just don’t know the reasons why they, say, destroyed whole worlds or created their own supermassive black hole to test out a “theory”.

Might simulations still occur even with these ethical concerns? Sure,
but what that signals to me is that the society that creates them is unable to make technology subject to ethics- or at least transhumanist ethics- something that perhaps explains the FERMI Paradox as much as anything else.

@Rick: This radical epistemic uncertainty is why I think the ethical dimension is a moot issue. The logical structure of the simulation argument stands regardless of it.


If you are unwilling to accept epistemic uncertainty it seems to me you can’t accept the simulation argument at all.

@Rick: Of course I accept epistemic uncertainty, as I do the simulation argument. What I mean is that the kind of uncertainty at play in imbuing our current understanding of ethics into the minds of advanced cosmogenic civilizations is so broad and open-ended as to render it a useless basis for speculation, a moot issue. The amount of predictive power to be gained from its use is far lower than the plain, relatively uncontroversial facts that comprise the logical structure of the simulation argument.


It was Bostrom himself who brought up the question. As in he proposed 2 issues. 1) There was no strong ethical argument against the simulation hypothesis/argument. This I think is false as in their is a strong TRANSHUMANIST argument against it. And 2) He proposed that any such ethical objection needed to show why it would be universally enforced. I have answered that by saying that perhaps the very inability of any civilization prevent such simulations from being run reveals an overall inability to limit other unethical uses of technology which would put a civilization at risk.

Look, both Bostrom’s argument and my own ideas regarding it are HIGHLY speculative and I admit that. They BOTH contain a whole lot of untestable assumptions and therefore are mere thought experiments nothing more nothing less and no certainties can be established from them.

I think your inflexibility in thinking about realistic ancestor simulations might reveal that you are treating it on the order of a belief rather than an idea. I’ve seen a number of quite secular people now respond to suggestion there might be questions of ethics and technological control that suggested we might not be living in a simulation with something akin to horror.

They appear to me to be using the simulation argument as a backdoor to religious ends i.e. immortality which was not Bostrom’s intention at all, and he himself thinks there is less than a 50/50 chance that we are such simulations and that even if we were it would mean nothing to us.

@Rick: I never knew Bostrom had such a dim assessment of his own argument; I find that rather interesting. Was it for the aforementioned reasons of ethics?


No, those are just the odds he gives it. I have no idea where he came up with those odds or whether they are just his intuition. But it should be remembered that his argument consists of 3 tranches none of which can currently be shown to be more likely than the other and only 1 of which can be true:

1) Advanced technological societies never reach the stage where they can create realistic ancestor simulations.

2) Societies that are advanced to the point of being able to create realistic ancestor simulations are uninterested in doing so or prohibit them. (Here ethical considerations apply)

3) We are living in an ancestor simulation.

Perhaps he just splits the difference- in 2 out of 3 probable scenarios we are NOT living in an ancestor simulation which gives us a 33% chance that we are living in one.

Here’s what I understand the logical argument used by Bostrom. If neither of the tranches 1 and 2 hold, then there are going to be vastly more ancestor simulations resembling our current experience than non-simulate originals. So the probability that we are living in an ancestor simulation is close to 1.

What I always wonder with the anthropic principle, though, is how probability theory is supposed to be working here, and why we should assume it applies. If you are presented with a trillion lottery tickets, told to pick one at random, and told that only one will win, then it is obviously meaningful to say that the probability of winning is one in a trillion. Repeat the experiment enough times, and the statistics will (thanks to the law of large numbers) eventually bear this out.

But what is the analogue in this case? We have not been presented with a trillion universes, told to pick one, and told that all but one of them are ancestor simulations. What we have is a model of reality, which we call the physical universe, and an argument that suggests that if neither 1 nor 2 holds then there will also be trillions of ancestor simulations. Is that the same thing? I’m not at all sure that it is. Obviously the argument can lead one to suspect that one is actually unknowingly (and unfalsifiably) experiencing a simulation, but where is the repeatable experiment here that would justify this use of probability theory.

I have come across a similar argument to suggest that we are on the verge of a Malthusian collapse. Here, we are asked to imagine that out of all the people who have ever or will ever lived, we “could have” been anyone, the fact that we are actually us, living in 2013, is somehow “random”, and therefore in order not to be a highly improbable outlier we must be living during some kind of modal population peak. Hence population levels are about to go down. But here again, why is it correct to set the problem up in this way?

Ultimately, probability theory (on which all this based) relies on repeatability and statistics. Often the repeatability is approximate rather than precise, but the basic principle holds. We can sensibly talk of the probability of it being sunny at a particular location on a particular day because we have records on which we can perform statistical analysis. When we toss a coin, we can legitimately describe the result as “random” because we have set it up in such a way that statistics will (thanks to the law of large numbers) reveal that there is indeed a series of statistically independent event, each with a probability of 1/2, essentially because of the multitude of ways the coin can rise and fall, half of them lead it to fall heads up and half don’t. I just don’t see how, in either of the cases addressed above, a similar situation arises. There seems to be highly dubious process of inductive reasoning going on.

Good point regarding probabilities, what do they really tell us about speculative scenarios? Although if there were a trillion Universes, then in one of these someplace.. and therefore, why not ours?

Derren Brown (mentalist), predicted on his show tossing 8 heads in succession, and then did precisely that! How did he do it? Have a think, tell ya at the end..

Placing probabilities aside for a moment, perhaps we can apply some logic?

2. Transhuman/Posthumans are uninterested/prohibited - this speculates that it is possible, and I therefore find it difficult to believe that no parties at all would be interested in creating a simulation, are driven by curiosity? Similarly, prohibition would also be difficult in this context as constant vigilance by authority would be required?

Combined with scenario 3, this would then give more than 50% chance that some simulation has/is real?

I personally favour scenario 1, we are not because it’s not possible. Yet this is just personal bias?


Yet the more I attempt to justify the impossibility of simulation, the less I can be sure? For example, a VR simulation for “me” alone, (Solipsism), need not be Universally massive in scale? Really our “subjective” experience and realities are very small, we only “know” that the whole world is “really out there” because we are told that it is? I have never been to China nor the moon, I believe these to be real because I am “told” they are real, all of which can be easily contained within the sufficiently small simulated space required for my mind?

And why not “everyone” existing and residing now in their own simulation? Why not overlap and conjoining of personal simulations?

Current speculation for VR and mind uploading would not imply the impossible?

Derren Brown filmed himself tossing 8 heads in succession, took him approx 36 hours. - key word “tenacity”!


I agree with you that the probability side of the simulation argument may not be as solid as it appears at first glance.

What evidence could we possibly have that an advanced civilization running ancestor simulations would run “trillions” of them rather than just a handful? Maybe running a single simulation uses up vast amounts of computer power and isn’t something you can easily do multiple times.

I also wonder how the simulation argument stacks up against strong versions of the multiverse. In a multiverse you can have trillions of almost identical universes. In such a scenario you could have just as many real universes as simulated ones so there would seem to be no reason to assume we are an ancestor simulation rather than an actual universe in a multiverse.

It’s not even that I was disputing the maths - maybe it really IS a trillion stimulated universes to one non-simulated one. But as CygnusX1 put it: what do probabilities (or more correctly: what does probability theory) really tell us about speculative scenarios.

Note: I am by no means sayingit is impossible that we are living in a simulation. Only that I’m not sure that Bostrom’s argument is a correct application of probability theory. (I’m not sure that it isn’t either.) Sadly, a Malthusian collapse is not impossible either, and I care much more about that…


Oh, I see your point now. Building off of Cyngus. If there were a trillion “winning” tickets and one “loosing” ticket that does not mean I should be certain I am a “winner”.

I share your belief that the Malthusian scenario is much more relevant to our immediate future.

@ Rick

“Oh, I see your point now. Building off of Cyngus. If there were a trillion “winning” tickets and one “loosing” ticket that does not mean I should be certain I am a “winner”.”

Depends if you see this simulation you are possibly living in as a “losing” ticket, since fundamentally any existence rather than non-existence is still a winner? Assuming you possess some free will and power over your destiny in this simulation?

And concerning the ethical implications and motivations for any simulation hypothesis, any realistic simulation would most likely attempt to portray some anthropological accuracy, (if curiosity and education is the motivation), and you must then obviously agree that joy, love, elation and confidence cannot be experienced and witnessed without sadness, suffering, fear and even despair?

or.. from an Apologist/Deism position, any simulation may perhaps have been created to run “free” without any further observation or input by it’s creators?

Thus, as you have pointed out regularly in other articles, all of this hypothesis and speculation and search for ontological meaning and truth is perhaps just another flavour of theism, replacing Abrahamic and Greek Gods with the Posthuman?

In any case as Bostrom indicates, and despite the speculation, it matters not whether this “reality” is a simulation or not, as we need to just get on with making, shaping and bending it to our will, aspiring to the lofty notions of the ideal, with a “healthy” dose of methodological scepticism - and maybe just as our Posthuman creators have previously done so?

Also, you seem to have totally overlooked the Cartesian argument I proposed above, which if you reason, may have more validity than any typical simulation hypothesis? Everyone assumes that hypothetical Posthumans may have created a simulation Universe in it’s entirety, an enormous enterprise almost beyond imagination and belief?

Yet even today, Humans are speculating with the possibilities and practicalities of mind-uploading - is it not feasible that the simulation you may be experiencing is simply this? As I indicated above, the whole Universe need not be simulated, just the environment for your own personal simulation, based upon “real and valid and material” truths of the Universe we presently reside within?

Rick - you may even be a figment of my imagination, or counter-wise I may be a figment of yours? Or perhaps we may both even connect somehow, such as symbolic with this present ethereal internet-connectivity and form of thoughtful contemplation and communication without material form? Perhaps we are even the same ego/entity transposed and witnessed as outside of any causal experience of space-time, parallel representations of the same entity reflecting upon it-self as in an endless hall of mirrors?

Ps. As a final note, why do you insist on misspelling my nick? You are obviously not dyslexic and yet continue to persist, even though I have pointed this out frequently and subtlety? You must therefore take some enjoyment from this, but don’t you think it is a little juvenile and immature? It is also getting rather boring and tiresome don’t you think?


To begin: My apologies, yes I am slightly dyslexic, and am also careless when it comes to giving my comments the editorial once over. I will try not to make the mistake regarding your moniker again, but can’t make any promises. 

“Depends if you see this simulation you are possibly living in as a “losing” ticket, since fundamentally any existence rather than non-existence is still a winner? Assuming you possess some free will and power over your destiny in this simulation?”

I just meant “winning ticket” “loosing ticket” here as typical probability talk, you know expected outcomes/possible outcomes no judgement implied.

“and you must then obviously agree that joy, love, elation and confidence cannot be experienced and witnessed without sadness, suffering, fear and even despair?”

Not so much. There is of course the whole teenage heartache thing that makes life interesting and the struggles that come from anything worth doing. But the death of a child, no! The millions of people killed in human wars or by mindless diseases- no! The Holocaust, no! All these things don’t make life “interesting” they make those who live them a horror show.

“Also, you seem to have totally overlooked the Cartesian argument I proposed above, which if you reason, may have more validity than any typical simulation hypothesis? “

Excuse the pun, but a find this highly “doubtful”. The problem with this kind of solipsism is that there is no good place to stop. The logic eats its own tail. If merely my life is a simulation, why not everything but my life 5 seconds ago? You literally get stuck in the smallest unit of time you can perceive. At least the simulation argument when applied to the universe as a whole allows you to make some larger inferences. Applying it to a much smaller scale leads to intellectual quick sand. Aptly enough, Descartes’ “evil genius”.

Let’s admit both of us are real and call it a day.

Rick.. thanks for your reply

“To begin: My apologies, yes I am slightly dyslexic, and am also careless when it comes to giving my comments the editorial once over. I will try not to make the mistake regarding your moniker again, but can’t make any promises.”

Sorry to hear this, so I was correct with the first assumption? A suggestion: you could just copy and paste names and nicks to make it easier for you?

“Let’s admit both of us are real and call it a day.”

Well.. you and I both still know that it is not this easy yes?

Morpheus: “What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”

Yes.. a matrix quote, (but you started this?)

And then moreover, there is this false notion of “Self” bearing on the ontological debate and fundamental question, “who am I?”, the very question that serves to vex us all and impels us to seek truth and understanding beyond ourselves, speculating on hypothesis and with Gods and creators, all of this to once again aid and help define and describe our very selves? We cannot define ourselves without the other, the subject cannot real-ize it-self without the object?

Thus we are perpetually locked into this duality of mind and material body - even “uploaders” cannot overcome the mind/body duality by their own reductionism, because it defeats the very substantiation of Self and motive for uploading and longevity in the first?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t subscribe to the simulation hypothesis, and do not believe THIS is a simulation, yet as I commented above, if I subscribe to the possibility of VR longevity and mind-uploading then I can’t really dismiss the possibility without being a hypocrite, can I?

Sure, there are great gaping wholes in my suggestion - the first obvious one is that any VR longevity/uploading scenario would be voluntary, I would know that I was in the simulation? Yet still, this may depend upon my initial choices for the simulation, for example and primarily, perhaps the need for eradicating any memory of my own death that serves to destroy and corrupt the usefulness or success for the simulation?

Eradicating some past life memories may also be critical to the function and acceptance for any uploading scenario, Human minds may perhaps involuntarily reject the simulation in some cases, such like the body sometimes rejects donor organs?

Also another flaw, MY simulation would most likely be imagined, (as in my own dreams), as peaceful, secure and sedate and not filled with the fearful Humans or their sufferings and violence you describe above - my simulation would be representative of MY values and reflections upon the external world and how I view this should be, so yes, I would think that the suffering you describe would be eradicated in any such “personal” simulation.

This also poses the speculation that this “idealistic” simulation and situation would now be preferable to this reality I see around me, and so then prompt me to aspire to the ideals afforded by imagination and creativity and actually aim to pursue and make “real” these ideals? - such as with the mechanism of “will to action” and by the grace of “free will”, (albeit limited, still manifest none-the-less?) The seeds for the motivation for simulation residing within the simulation, (idealist)?

If I was even now residing in a bath of gook, bathed in my very own simulation and dreaming of aspiring to the lofty ideals of God and Love and “sharing” in the face of adversity, suffering, fear and violence, could I therefore not also be a part and party to some greater simulation orchestrated by “others” or a collective?

Could I not also be cause and party to my own suffering and persistence of this, (despite my wishes to be free from it)? Can I really define myself without my own sufferings and striving?

There is no overcoming Descartes’ rational scepticism, and we should not dismiss this merely as “old school” and defunct - the argument will “always” be pertinent?

If I remember correctly, Descartes concluded that it was by the grace of God’s, (implied), consciousness that we are party to the witness of any thing or any idea? And more importantly, that any entity with such omnipotence could so easily trick and delude us, yet he then asked for what purpose and for what gain?

The reward for the trickster is in the final revelation that they have been deceiving us, else we would be forever ignorant and not know? Here this would imply that any creator be spiteful in their intent, yet this then would not explain “our” own aspirations towards God, goodness, and the ideals as described above?

This then leaves us leaning toward the apologist position to explain Human suffering, fear, violence and ignorance? And this is a position I personally am sympathetic with, although I remain “strictly” agnostic regarding the existence of any God or creator, and thus ultimately any simulation hypothesis.

The argument that any simulation is real to support an anthropological experiment that validates suffering seems flawed, I agree, (as I would not wish this upon myself or others, and me a mere mortal). Yet the simulation argument still does support the apologist position and on the importance of “choices”, and the application of “free will” to ultimately overcome suffering, fear, violence and even death?

Here’s some articles you may find interesting also.. if you have not yet read these?

The Matrix, Wiliam James, and the Will to Believe

Is consciousness a quantum mystery?


No need for sympathy with the dyslexia. It’s really very minor. Sometimes swap letter and mix up b’s a d’s nothing more.

In any case these are interesting flights of fancy, but I think if we want to stay grounded we need to remember Ockham’s Razor.

Ockham’s Razor when applied to this question appears to have an ethical dimension it does not exhibit elsewhere. If something appears to a person to exist then then need to treat that thing as it exists. If something appears to have subjective consciousness then unless it can be definitively shown that it does not have subjective consciousness it needs to be treated as if it possessed
subjective consciousness- a kind of ethical version of the Turing Test. It would be wonderfully strange if rights for creatures made out of silicon emerged from us grappling with the idea that we might all just be bits floating around in the mind of a computer.

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