Tuesday, August 21, 2007

It's Frank's World, We Just Live in It?

So my wife's button long lost once summed it up, purchased at the one-time, pioneering, before Silver Lake became uber-hip Amok, scary store that as she said you would not want your credit card information given over to, this in the pre-Net days; they did have a creepy netherworldish mail-order catalogue, the upended Whole Earth gnawed, the underside of the Northern Cal bliss. Well, whether Sinatra or God or Some Guy on the Couch is running us, it's still a Sims game, no?

John Tierney's NY Times August 14, 2007 article raises the supposition that The Game of (Our So-Called or in my case So-Cal) Life is happening to us as a computer simulation. I immediately thought of Anselm. (I read an assertion in Mark Jordan's book perhaps that he-- not Jordan although he is too once he got tenure at Notre Dame's Medieval Institute where I had once dreamed of going, and imagine my job prospects now-- was gay as was Aelfric and another medieval Mr. A. See my review blogged earlier this month of Toni Bentley's "The Surrender" for more tie-ins if not tie-me-ups or downs) As he theorized in his ontological proof, "God is a being greater than which cannot be conceived." The a priori reasoning of this has been attacked for a thousand years; remember his response to Gaunilo, who goes down in history as "the Fool"?

Yet, how is Anselm's Unmoved Mover any different, fundamentally, than Dr. Bostrom's model? I recall Frank Tipler's "Physics of Immortality" idea that some future beings can reconstruct all bodies that ever existed. Recently atheists ponder non-theistic afterlifes; they suggest that information once created never dies. Tipler earlier pondered a related model of the cosmological anthropic principle, that we evolved suited in such a way to understand the universe that created us-- this makes my head spin back to Anselm, or worse yet the Fool.

Blame or credit all this to my lunch at Caltech's splendid Athanaeum today. There I like to pretend I am a tweedy laureate in splendidly realized arches and shadowed corridors amidst Olde Spanish Revival California. Not to mention the hundred-degree smoggy heat of Olde San Gabriel Valley that plagued half my life and corroded half my lungs.

Here is the conclusion of Tierney, with a link to the whole article "Our Lives, Controlled from Some Guy's Couch." http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/14/science/14tier.html?ex=1344830400&en=2300cf446929c707&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

It’s unsettling to think of the world being run by a futuristic computer geek, although we might at last dispose of that of classic theological question: How could God allow so much evil in the world? For the same reason there are plagues and earthquakes and battles in games like World of Warcraft. Peace is boring, Dude.

A more practical question is how to behave in a computer simulation. Your first impulse might be to say nothing matters anymore because nothing’s real. But just because your neural circuits are made of silicon (or whatever posthumans would use in their computers) instead of carbon doesn’t mean your feelings are any less real.

David J. Chalmers, a philosopher at the Australian National University, says Dr. Bostrom’s simulation hypothesis isn’t a cause for skepticism, but simply a different metaphysical explanation of our world. Whatever you’re touching now — a sheet of paper, a keyboard, a coffee mug — is real to you even if it’s created on a computer circuit rather than fashioned out of wood, plastic or clay.

You still have the desire to live as long as you can in this virtual world — and in any simulated afterlife that the designer of this world might bestow on you. Maybe that means following traditional moral principles, if you think the posthuman designer shares those morals and would reward you for being a good person.

Or maybe, as suggested by Robin Hanson, an economist at George Mason University, you should try to be as interesting as possible, on the theory that the designer is more likely to keep you around for the next simulation. (For more on survival strategies in a computer simulation, go to www.nytimes.com/tierneylab.)

Of course, it’s tough to guess what the designer would be like. He or she might have a body made of flesh or plastic, but the designer might also be a virtual being living inside the computer of a still more advanced form of intelligence. There could be layer upon layer of simulations until you finally reached the architect of the first simulation — the Prime Designer, let’s call him or her (or it).

Then again, maybe the Prime Designer wouldn’t allow any of his or her creations to start simulating their own worlds. Once they got smart enough to do so, they’d presumably realize, by Dr. Bostrom’s logic, that they themselves were probably simulations. Would that ruin the fun for the Prime Designer?

If simulations stop once the simulated inhabitants understand what’s going on, then I really shouldn’t be spreading Dr. Bostrom’s ideas. But if you’re still around to read this, I guess the Prime Designer is reasonably tolerant, or maybe curious to see how we react once we start figuring out the situation.

It’s also possible that there would be logistical problems in creating layer upon layer of simulations. There might not be enough computing power to continue the simulation if billions of inhabitants of a virtual world started creating their own virtual worlds with billions of inhabitants apiece.

If that’s true, it’s bad news for the futurists who think we’ll have a computer this century with the power to simulate all the inhabitants on earth. We’d start our simulation, expecting to observe a new virtual world, but instead our own world might end — not with a bang, not with a whimper, but with a message on the Prime Designer’s computer.

It might be something clunky like “Insufficient Memory to Continue Simulation.” But I like to think it would be simple and familiar: “Game Over.”

{Blog credit: French 13c. God as the Universe's architect, geometer at hand. More elegant than a Simpsons' Comic Book Guy type of Creator with one ring to rule or encompass us all, at least.}

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