Day 093 - Nested realities and the afterlife

Submitted by Sam on 22 August, 2011 - 00:07

What are the chances that we're not in a simulation? We would have to assume that no civilization in the history of the universe – no individual or group from any civilization at any time – would ever have the resources or the inclination to run a simulation of our own universe. As it breaks no fundamental laws of physics to grant that a civilization with a steady rate of technological progress will one day attain the computational power necessary to run such a simulation (in fact, barring a mass-extinction and given sufficient time, it seems something of an inevitability), we would have to assume that either no civilization in the history the universe ever attains this level of computational resource, or no civilization ever achieves the ability to programme such a simulation, or that all sufficiently endowed civilizations choose not to.

Speculation about what a civilization trillions of times more advanced than ours would want to do is unavoidably moot, but at a minimum we can safely say that it would once more break no physical laws for a simulation to be programmed; it is perfectly feasible in theory that given astronomical intelligence and a sufficient amount of time a perfect simulation of our perception of our universe could be programmed and run. And so we are left in the position that either no civilizations run human-simulations because they can't, or because they have all converged to reliably prevent their computational resources from being used to do so. Perhaps all advanced civilizations throughout the universe all happen to enforce laws or codes of ethics or other prohibitions which successfully forbid the running of human-universe simulations. Or perhaps they all lose interest in doing so, having moved on to loftier goals with more scientific or aesthetic value.

If these conditions don't hold, then it is likely that we're in a simulated universe, and thus it is likely that we will develop the technology to simulate a universe ourselves. Perhaps before we succeed our simulation will be terminated, in which case long-term planning is futile. But perhaps we will be permitted to run our own nested-simulation, much as a virtual computer can run inside a real computer today (and then a virtual computer inside that...). If this possibility became a reality we would have to conclude that the probability that we were living within a simulation was high, and furthermore we would be encouraged to suspect that our simulator's universe was itself a simulation as well, and so on.

The theological overtones of the simulation argument have not escaped notice. Each simulator would in many ways occupy a Godlike relationship to their simulated humans; they would be omnipotent in that they could pause, modify and re-run the simulation; they would be omniscient in that they could monitor everything in the simulation; and they are necessarily sole creator and destroyer of the whole universe.

In fact, in a world of nested simulators, the simulants can reasonably infer there is the possibility of an afterlife, and that their simulators have the power (but perhaps not the inclination) to judge, reward and punish actions by some ethical standard. Perhaps each person's life is recorded by the computer running the universe, and can be restored as a whole into a new simulation at will after death. Further, simulators could theoretically upload your consciousness into an artificial body to allow you to interact in their own universe (whether simulated or otherwise). In order to increase the chance of being resurrected by simulators, a reasonable strategy would be to strive to increase the likelihood of being preserved by being interesting with the aim of catching the eye of the simulators. Recurrently catching the eye of ever higher hierarchies of simulators could perhaps result in being born into the “basement-level”, the real universe.

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