Tag Archives: virtual digitalism

A conversation about a virtual world and global extinction

Photograph of an octopusI 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.

Virtual digitalism

Decorative image of 10 micron spheres in nanoscopeSome months ago I wrote about the likelihood that we are in a simulation [see ‘Are we in a simulation?‘ on September 28th, 2022] and that we cannot be sure whether are or not.  For some people, this will raise the question that if we are in a simulation, then what is real?  In his book, Reality+, David J Chalmers provides a checklist of properties possessed by real things, namely: existence, causal powers, mind-independence, non-illusoriness and genuineness.  The possession of these properties could be established by answering the five questions in the box below and we would expect real objects to possess one or more of these properties.  Objects that are found in a virtual world generated by a simulation are real objects because they have at least one, and often many of these properties, such as causal powers and independence from our minds.  We can consider them to be digital objects, or structures of binary information or bits.  This leads to a form of the ‘It-from-bit’ hypothesis because it implies that molecules are made of atoms, atoms are made of quarks, and quarks are made of bits – unless of course we are not in a simulation but we will probably never know for certain.

Source: David J Chalmers, Reality+: virtual worlds and the problems of philosophy, Penguin, 2022.

Image shows a self-assembly of 10 micron spheres viewed out-of-focus in bright-light optical microscope.