Amitabh Bachchan in ‘The Great Gambler’
Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom’s idea that we all live in a computer simulation has been fucking up my happiness this morning.
The overriding question for me is whether I stand separate from that grand simulation or I too am a simulation. And if I am indeed a simulation, would I know that I am? Also, is Nick Bostrom a simulation who has made us all aware that we are all simulations or is he from a realm outside that simulation sent to remind us that we are all simulations? And if we are all simulations, can we really be aware and process that information? Like I told you, this has fucked up my happiness.
At some level the idea of simulation is like Maya, as in the whole universe is an illusory spectacle. Today, like many other days in my life, began with the memory of a Hindi movie song. This time it is from the 1979 movie ‘The Great Gambler’. The song composed by Rahul Dev Burman has Neetu Singh asking Amitabh Bachchan whether he remembers the first flush of their love. Bachchan, of course, says that he remembers. She then says she remembers everything about him but is troubled that he seems to have forgotten a lot of it. The song goes on in that fashion. It is a lovely composition. Both Bachchan and Singh feign a charming forgetfulness about who they are within the fact that they are fictional characters in a movie.
Of course, all this has to do with my main topic of simulation in so much as it means that I, a likely simulation, remembered something, namely this song which is also a simulation, and played it instantly on YouTube, a simulated reality. There are already layers of simulation piling up here. Like I said, this has fucked up my happiness this morning.
While searching for simulation I came upon several links, one of which was astory by John Tierney in The New York Times on August 14, 2007 about this very subject with Bostrom as the center of his attention. “Until I talked to Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University, it never occurred to me that our universe might be somebody else’s hobby. I hadn’t imagined that the omniscient, omnipotent creator of the heavens and earth could be an advanced version of a guy who spends his weekends building model railroads or overseeing video-game worlds like the Sims,” Tierney wrote.
That was seven years ago. So essentially, I traveled from 2014 to 1979 to hear that song then traveled back to 2007 to read Tierney’s piece and came right back to what, I suppose, is my current reality when I am writing this post. Just to make sure that I was not getting lost in all these layers I clicked the Times’ home link and was transported to the paper’s front page reporting this morning’s debacle for President Barack Obama with the Republicans capturing both houses of Congress in yesterday’s elections. There could not be a more compelling argument in favor of the Bostrom’s idea that we all live inside a computer simulation. How else would you explain that Joni Ernst of Iowa has been elected a US senator for her Republican Party by, among other things, talking about her hog castration skills?
I am not entirely sure if I get the entire drift of Bostrom’s idea about simulation. Take these two , for instance, from the FAQs about the simulation argument.
“What is the simulation argument?
The simulation argument was set forth in a paper published in 2003. A draft of that paper had previously been circulated for a couple of years.
The argument shows 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. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.
2. Do you really believe that we are in a computer simulation?
No. I believe that the simulation argument is basically sound. The argument shows only that at least one of three possibilities obtains, but it does not tell us which one(s). One can thus accept the simulation argument and reject the simulation hypothesis (i.e. that we are in a simulation).
Personally, I assign less than 50% probability to the simulation hypothesis – rather something like in 20%-region, perhaps, maybe. However, this estimate is a subjective personal opinion and is not part of the simulation argument. My reason is that I believe that we lack strong evidence for or against any of the three disjuncts (1)-(3), so it makes sense to assign each of them a significant probability.
I note that people who hear about the simulation argument often react by saying, “Yes, I accept the argument, and it is obvious that it is possibility #n that obtains.” But different people pick a different n. Some think it obvious that (1) is true, others that (2) is true, yet others that (3) is true. The truth seems to be that we just don’t know which of the disjuncts is true.”
Like I told you, this does fuck up one’s happiness. You are better off playing that song and move on with your life even if it is simulated.