The concept of digital twins is gaining acceptance and our ability to generate them is advancing [see ‘Digital twins that thrive in the real-world’ on June 9th, 2021]. It is conceivable that we will be able to simulate many real-world systems in the not-too-distant future. Perhaps not in my life-time but possibly in this century we will be able to connect these simulations together to create a computer-generated world. This raises the possibility that other forms of life might have already reached this stage of technology development and that we are living in one of their simulations. We cannot know for certain that we are not in a simulation but equally we cannot know for certain that we are in a simulation. If some other life form had reached the stage of being able to simulate the universe then there is a possibility that they would do it for entertainment, so we might exist inside the equivalent of a teenager’s smart phone, or for scientific exploration in which case we might be inside one of thousands of simulations being performed simultaneously in a lab computer to gather statistical evidence on the development of universes. It seems probable that there would be many more simulations performed for scientific research than for entertainment, so if we are in a simulation then it is more likely that the creator of the simulation is a scientist who is uninterested in this particular one in which we exist. Of course, an alternative scenario is that humans become extinct before reaching the stage of being able to simulate the world or the universe. If extinction occurs as a result of our inability to manage the technological advances, which would allow us to simulate the world, then it seems less likely that other life forms would have avoided this fate and so the probability that we are in a simulation should be reduced. You could also question whether other life forms would have the same motivations or desires to create computer simulations of evolutionary history. There are lots of reasons for doubting that we are in a computer simulation but it does not seem possible to be certain about it.
David J Chalmers explains the probability that we are in a simulation much more elegantly and comprehensively than me in his book Reality+; virtual worlds and the problems of philosophy, published by Penguin in 2022.
I have written before about the process of writing, both in general and in this blog in particular. While I do not claim to write literature; nevertheless I felt some empathy with a couple of statements in Michel Houllebecq‘s novel ‘Submission‘. The first was ‘…only literature can put you in touch with another human spirit, as a whole, with all its weaknesses and grandeurs, its limitations, its pettinesses, its obsessions, its beliefs; with whatever it finds moving, exciting or repugnant.’ And the second was ‘Even in our deepest most lasting friendships, we never speak as openly as when we face a blank page and address a reader we do not know.’ I know a few people who read this blog but they are a tiny minority of the readers so essentially I am addressing a reader I do not know when I write a post. However, my posts sometimes lead to a conversation that is more open than would have happened without the post. Inevitably, these conversations occur with the small number of readers with whom I am in direct contact. However, I suspect that I reveal my limitations and obsessions to all of my readers, I hope I avoid my pettinesses while enthusing you with what I find moving or exciting, such as Michel Houellebecq’s novel this week or Olga Tokarczuk’s last week.
Source: Michel Houellebecq, Submission, Vintage, 2016.
Image: Barbara Hepworth sculpture in the garden of Hepworth Museum, St Ives
I am on vacation and off-grid so just a picture this week. It is a night time view from the cottage we stayed at in 2017 on the Lizard in Cornwall. If you have withdrawal symptoms from this blog then follow the links to find out why you need a vacation too!
posted on April 19th, 2017.
Digital detox with a deep vacation
posted on August 10th, 2016.
posted on July 29th, 2015.
Here is the second in a series of reprints while I am on vacation. This one is from five years ago. It was published on August 9th 2017 under the title ‘Blinded by the light‘.
It has become a habit during our summer vacation to read the novels short-listed for Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. Unusually this year, we were not only unanimous in our choice of the best novel but we also agreed with the judges and selected the ‘The Power‘ by Naomi Alderman. In another of the books, Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, a Chinese composer called Sparrow thinks ‘about the quality of sunshine, that is, how daylight wipes away the stars and planets, making them invisible to human eyes, might daylight be a form of blindness? Could it be that sound was also be a form of deafness? If so, what was silence?’. I felt some resonance between these thoughts and John Hull’s writings on blindness and my earlier blog posting on ‘Listening with your eyes shut‘ [on May 31st, 2017]. In our everyday life, we are bombarded with sounds from people living around us, from traffic and from devices in our homes and places of work. We rarely experience silence; however, when we do, perhaps on holiday staying in a remote rural location, then a whole new set of sounds becomes apparent: waves breaking on the shore in the distance, the field mouse rooting around under the floorboards, or the noises of cattle enjoying the lush grass in the field next door. Okay, so you have to be in the right place to hear these sounds of nature but you also need silence otherwise you are deaf to them, as Sparrow suggests.
The same is true for knowledge and understanding because our minds have finite capacity [see my post entitled ‘Silence is golden‘ on January 14th, 2014]. When you are bombarded with information and data it is easy to become overwhelmed and unable to structure the information in a way that makes it useful or meaningful. In our connected society, information has become like white noise, or daylight obscuring the stars and planets. Information is blinding us to knowledge and understanding. We need to aggressively filter the information flow in order to gain insight and knowledge. We should switch off the digital devices, which bombard us with information constantly, to leave our minds free for conceptual and creative thinking because that’s one of the few tasks in which we can outperform the smartest machine [see my post entitled ‘Smart machines‘ on February 26th, 2014].
In a similar vein see: ‘Ideas from a balanced mind‘ on August 24th, 2016 and ‘Thinking out-of-the-skull‘ on March 18th, 2015.