Implications of living within a Simulation

post by Tater · 2019-03-18T06:22:57.731Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW · 7 comments


It is important to already understand the simulation argument given by Nick Bostrom. This post assumes that we are in an ancestor simulation, so if you do not know what that is, definitely read this first.

Reader discretion advised, as this rabbit hole is pretty deep...

Implications of living within a simulation

If we assume that we are in an ancestor simulation, then it might be worth while to consider what we know about our sim. There are a few things that we can immediately agree on, such as the physical rules of our universe that are not naturally breakable like the speed of light. Also we can agree that this simulation is vast if what we call "the universe" is our simulation.

Despite us knowing these thing, there is far more that we do not know such as the nature of the beings who created the sim. Is is us, or a different life form? For what purpose are we being simulated?

The question of the simulations purpose intrigues me the most. More specifically, what is our role in the simulation's purpose.

Surely it must have a purpose. Perhaps they are trying to discover things about the base universe that are only reasonably possible through simulation. If it is us, then they might be observing humans directly, and looking for answers they have lost to time. Point being, I could speculate all day on the purpose and achieve nothing concrete.

Okay so we don't know the purpose, but something disturbing occurred to me after this question consumed me for months. Any possible reason for the simulation has one of two facts attached to it. Either the simulation is one specifically of humans, or it has nothing to do with us whatsoever. In other words, we are either the subjects of it, or an anomaly in a simulation of infinite possibility created for an unknown purpose.

So if we are not the subject, then do we even want the simulators to know that we exist?

It is troubling not knowing the purpose because we could be interfering with it. For instance, if they want to observe large scale universal events (planets colliding, supernovas, etc.), then life has the potential to directly interfere with that goal. They could send an asteroid at us if they felt we interfered with their goals. Perhaps we stress the simulation by smashing particles together and creating extremely small black holes for a few nano-seconds. Frankly we could just be increasing the energy level required by the sim to simulate us, and that could draw unwanted attention. In fact this could explain the Fermi Paradox. Any life that develops technology strong enough to influence, interfere with, or otherwise stress the simulation could be removed from it by the simulators.

Honestly this is just one of many ways that the simulation hypothesis could explain the Fermi Paradox, however that isn't the point of this post.


If you assume that we are living within a simulation, then it is very possible that observing us is not the purpose of it. That assumption leads to the worrying question of whether or not we should draw attention to ourselves. Although we do not know the sim's purpose, we might not need to in order to know that we might want to remain anonymous within it.


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comment by Dagon · 2019-03-18T20:35:31.225Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do you directly care about the goals of the simulator(s)? In the absence of a creator, how do you answer about evolution (a goal-less optimization process)? Are your goals dependent on a creator, or independent?

You might not share any goals, but still care because you fear interference or termination if the simulation no longer furthers the creator's goals. I argue that this fear is unfounded. Whether you're a side-effect or a primary reason for the simulation, you're still part of the environment being simulated. If the creators are bothering to simulate this level of detail, then they think this level of detail is important to their goals.

Any detectable change the creators make in the simulation (like creating or altering the path of an asteroid, tweaking human behavior, communicating with some or all subjects, etc.) reduces the simulation value of the simulation.

It's possible they _WANT_ to simulate a universe with no intelligent interstellar life. If so, they'd build the filters into the simulation, rather than noticing a problem and changing the code. They might notice a problem, change the code, and terminate/restart the simulation, but I can't imagine any way to guess the things that will accelerate or prevent this from happening. obDouglasAdams: "There is another theory which states that this has already happened."

comment by Tater · 2019-03-19T02:58:56.288Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It goes without saying that this whole conversation is speculation. Furthermore this post is a speculation about a speculation but at the very least it is entertaining to think about. As far as evolution goes I would say that evolution could be the very thing that they are simulating. Perhaps the dinosaurs were a dead end evolutionary, just as all other life before their respective extinction events. Perhaps we

super speculative I know. too many Perhaps'

I like your point about level of detail. I can't refute that at all and haven't thought of detail level that way. My only concern would be that if they are such higher beings that merely simulating our 3 spacial dimensions and one temporal direction benefits them, then life would be a sort of defect in dead chemistry. "A cool thing that dirt does". There might be code built in to catch life before it can start to mess with whatever there sim is trying to accomplish.

Furthermore it also depends if it is a sim, or a game. If it's a game then there is probably nothing to fear (except the losing condition i.e. extinction presumably.) If it's a simulation of something, then there might not even be a goal for US, only a goal for THEM.

Finally, I'm sure there are things that CAN stress the sim, and I could rattle off some interesting ideas I have on that but it really doesn't get us anywhere. I guess the point of the post was to address a few main questions that are worth asking and trying to reconcile with what we can know about our sim. Are they simulating us, or observing us? If it has nothing to do with us, then are noticeable? Can we affect the simulation from an outside perspective?

comment by avturchin · 2019-03-18T10:15:34.527Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There is probably a power law of simulation distribution: the more computationally complex the simulation, the more rare it is between all simulation. Example: there is more computer games now running than whole atmospheric meteorological simulations.

If we find our self in simpler simulation, it is more likely concentrated around humans, may be even not all humans, but just a few people, while other are NPC.

comment by Dagon · 2019-03-18T21:15:50.302Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In terms of informational simplicity, there's a measurement bound at the limits of your memory of perceptions. You can't distinguish between a simulation of quantum or atomic (or even simple mechanical) rules, from a tiny simulation of point-in-time set of memories and experience. You literally cannot know the difference (and there may be no difference - see the philosophical zombies debate) between an NPC and a "real person".

If it turns out that this is your personal Basilisk punishment, and you're being tortured for not bringing forth the creator in another universe, there is no theoretical or practical way to know that.

comment by Tater · 2019-03-19T03:00:07.290Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Can you elaborate on that last sentence that seems like I'm going to like what you can say about it.

comment by Dagon · 2019-03-19T19:39:02.407Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

(Are trigger warnings still a thing? it occurs to me that this topic may interact badly with suicidal thoughts. Please take it only as the silly exploration of imagination-space that it is).

I don't give a lot of weight to the basilisk possibility - that was something of a throwaway comment.

What I meant is that if the truth is that the simulation controller is specifically interested in you as an experience-haver within the simulation, then there is no possibility to intentionally influence the simulation. Your perceptions and your cognition will be manipulated to make you believe whatever the simulator things furthers their goals. Your universe of perception and possible actions simply won't contain things that counter their goals.

And one amusing (perhaps only to me) possibility of motivation for such a personal simulation is that my current life is the worst that the attacker can imagine within the constraints that I must believe it's real. Maybe I'm being tortured, as punishment for some outside-universe crime. I find it amusing, as I assign positive value to this moment of experience (which is the only thing I can be sure of), so the basilisk is being thwarted in it's mission of punishing me. And also because it seems ludicrously unlikely.

comment by PeterMcCluskey · 2019-03-19T22:07:08.364Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Robin Hanson has, of course, written about how the simulation hypothesis should affect our behavior.