I went for a haircut a week or so ago and my barber asked me about the books I had been reading recently. He always has a book on the shelf next to him and sometimes I find him reading when I arrive and the shop is quiet. So it is not unusual for us to talk about our current books. I told him about ‘Reality+: virtual worlds and the problems of philosophy’ by David Chalmers which led into a conversation about the possibility that we are in a simulation. My posts on this topic [see ‘Are we in a simulation’ on September 28th 2022 and ‘Virtual digitalism’ on December 7th, 2022] have provoked a number of negative reactions. People either think I have written nonsense or would rather not consider the prospect of us being part of a giant simulation. Fortunately, my barber was happy to accept the possibility that we were part of a simulation which led to a discussion about whether our creator was the equivalent of a teenager playing on a computer in their bedroom or a scientist interested in the evolution of society; and, in either case, why they would have decided to give us hair on our heads that grows steadily throughout our life – perhaps as a personal indication of the passage of time or, simply to provide a living for barbers. The development of human society and the use of probability to reason that a more advanced society might have created a virtual world in which we are living also led us to talk about the probability that a more advanced society finding us on Earth would annihilate us without pausing to learn about us in the same way that we are destroying all other forms of intelligent life on the planet. For example, populations of vertebrates living in freshwater ecosystems have declined by 83% on average since 1970 [see World Wide Fund for Nature Living Planet Report 2022]. Maybe it would be preferable for someone to switch off the simulation rather than to suffer the type of invasion mounted by the Martians in the War of the Worlds by HG Wells.
Regular readers with good memories might recall a post entitled ‘Conversations about engineering over dinner and a haircut’ on February 16th, 2022 which featured the same barber who I visit more frequently than these two posts might imply.
The image shows Ollie the Octopus at the Ocean Lab, (Ceridwen CC BY-SA 2.0) for more on the intelligence of an octopus see ‘Intelligent aliens?‘ on January 16th, 2019.