Monday, August 21, 2023

Why I have some sympathy for the Simulation Theory (We are all characters in a video game.)

There are some people who believe that we are all characters in a video game written by Abisola (this is sometimes called The Simulation Hypothesis). I first dismissed this as nonsense. Then I read about it in the great  book But What if We're Wrong by Chuck Klosterman. He had  some reasons why The Simulation Hypothesis  is plausible. I thought about some more examples of his reasons. I still DO NOT believe it, but the reasons TO believe it do raise some questions.

There is one word that describes all of the reasons: Glitches!  That is Abisola, who wrote the code, made some mistakes that sometimes show through. Actually some might not be mistakes, perhaps Abisola, planned it. She has the bug/feature issue as do we. 

Here are some of those glitches: 

1) Real people who, from an accident, gained an ability that they did not have before.

a) Jason Padget: After being attacked and getting a concussion, woke up and was a math genius. 

b) Derek Amato: After a head injury became a brilliant composer.

c) McMahon: After a head injury woke up speaking fluent mandarin. I could not find a Wikipedia Entry for him.

d) Tony Cicero: After being struck my lightening was an excellent musician. I read this on a Quora entry but could not find it anywhere else. If you have more evidence on this one, please leave a comment and I will add it here later.

2) While I dismiss most accounts of ghosts, ESP, miracles, etc, there are so many of them that perhaps some are real and caused by glitches. Or features. 

3) This happens a lot to me and I am sure others (or analogs of it): I have a LaTeX bug. I delete a line.  The  bug goes away.   I put the line back. Now the bug is gone. 

4) What color is the dress?

5) Neil Degrasse Tyson and Elon Musk are fans of the Simulation Hypothesis.Not sure if this is any kind of justification for the Simulation Hypothesis or if Abisola coded them up to be that way.

6) All of a sudden the spell-check mechanism this blogger uses stops working AND when I leave a comment it does not automatically put my name on it, nor does it automatically bypass moderation (which is how it used to work).  Lance and I try to fix it, to no avail. The staff here tries to fix it, to no avail. a week later it works again. And YES the first thing I did was turn everything off and on again and that didn't work. (Update: this problem seems to come and go.) 

7) A watched pot never boils. Lost socks in the laundry. Etc.

8) On a more positive side, The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences and The unreasonable effectiveness of Physics in the Mathematical Sciences. You can google to find more unreasonable effectiveness's. Thanks Abisola, though I wish you made Physics and Math easier. 

9) I emailed a HIGH-TECH colleague. My system says that YES I send that mail. He remembers READING that email when it came. Later on he can't find it- not in is normal files, not in trash, not in spam. gmail search can't find it anywhere. (My spell check thinks gmail is not a word. Nor Gmail. Really?)

10) The speed by which humans went from PONG to DWARF FORTRESS is not plausible. Maybe Abisola  found a way to speed up her program.  (This observation has been made by others.)

11) A relative got Eye Surgery recently. (a) The technology for the surgery was fantastic- outpatient, able to drive in 3 days, drive at night in 7 days, totally painless. (b) Still waiting for the paperwork that will allow him to drive without glasses. Gee- eye surgery should be hard, and paperwork should be easy. I think Abisola  found switching the two to be amusing. 

12) Aaronson's law of dark irony, see here.

13) The possibility of  Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg having an actual physical fight (see here), makes no sense. Whatever they disagree on (e.g., how a social network should be run, who is wealthier, who has the biggest....) will NOT be settled by a fight. If M wins then we know that M can beat Z in a fight. That is all that will be established. If Z wins then we know that Z can beat M in a fight. That is all that will be established. In both cases a fight will not settle whatever they disagree on. So why might they fight? Ask Abisloa if it is a bug or a feature. 

14) I am sure you can add your own reasons. 


  1. I wonder why glitches are evidence for the hypothesis. Are glitches really more likely on the hypothesis than on the alternatives?

  2. (This is bill gasarch.) AH- its more like glitches are AN explanation for the stuff listed above. So the reasoning is that there is stuff that we see that does not make sense (the post stated 13 of them, though you may disagree with some of them of course) and I SPECULATE that the reason for these things is the Sim Hyp, and those things are bugs or features in the code.

  3. If you read the literature on idiot savants, you find that these folks are more idiot than savant: what they're missing (or have lost) is usually way more important than what they've gained. Really. It's not nice. They can perform impressive vaudville acts (day-of-week calculations, multi-digit multiplications) but can't dress themselves. So I don't buy the "were able to do things they weren't before" trope.

    (By the way, some of the claims are silly, e.g. the speaks perfect Mandarin bit. A convenient claim in that it's probably not going to get checked very carefully.)

    But there's a serious underlying problem, namely that we lack a good understanding of what intelligence really is. Being able to walk down the street and ignore irrelevant detail is way more usefull than remembering every single detail and missing important stuff.

    This is my standard rant: the Singularity idea is dead-on right. Except for the minor detail that it has already happenned and it is us. (I.e. human intelligence is humongously amazing; sure, we're lazy and mess up a lot. But we're pretty cool when we try: we invented BeBop*, Lie Algebras, and the standard model.)

    *: Go check out Sonny Stitt's Blowing the Blues and The Hard Swing albums. Seriously amazing stuff.

  4. The "Simulation Hypothesis" is just as silly as the "God Hypothesis", it is like the Virtus dormitiva purported to explain the effect of opium in Molière's Le Malade imaginaire.

    It is not "explaining" anything, where does Abisola or God come from and how do they operate?

    If you want some true "mystery" look for consciousness and qualia.

    1. That article costs money to read. I've never seen an explanation of what qualia is that makes sense. It isn't needed for consciousness.

    2. I know what consciousness is (although I can't tell you in detail how to build one). It is "qualia" that I don't know what it is. Is it just another word for conscious experience? I looked at the article you linked to: It uses the word "qualia", but I didn't see an explanation of what it means by the word.

    3. For a discussion of the nonexistence of qualia, see the book "Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking" by Daniel C. Dennett; look for "qualia" in the index. (This is a good book, except his comments on Quantum Mechanics are wrong.)

    4. I know what consciousness is"
      Good for you.
      There is absolutely NO consensus about what "consciousness is".

    5. Besides knowing what consciousness is, I also know that there is no consensus. There are other things I know for which there is also no consensus.

    6. That Quanta Magazine article is about various theories of how consciousness works. That isn't what I was discussing. I was discussing that qualia don't exist and that philosophers who say there is a "hard problem" about consciousness are mistaken. I don't claim to know in detail how consciousness works.

    7. Whatever...
      There are about 5 310 000 papers about consciousness on Google scholar, which ones do you endorse?
      There are also 111 000 about qualia, which ones support your denying of qualia?

    8. Are you asking whether the percentage that are wrong is more than we would expect from Sturgeon's Law? It is probably more. There have been a lot of wrong things written about consciousness, e.g., Searle's Chinese room, Nagel's "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?", Chalmers's hard problem. Daniel Dennett compares qualia to élan vital. Besides Dennett's writings, I recommend the book "The Illusion of Conscious Will" by Daniel M. Wegner.

    9. @gasarch
      Too bad you didn't publish my first reply to DM.
      As you can see it turns out exactly as I expected. :-)

  5. Off hand, I'd think that readers of this blog might be more interested in human attempts at simulating the universe than in the universe's attempts at simulating humans. Towards that end, allow me to point out that the 21 July 2023 issue of Science has a rather positive review of "The Universe in a Box: Simulations and the Quest to Code the Cosmos" by Andrew Pontzen.

    The review makes it sound like a fun read for a computer nerd.

  6. David Marcus: this claim by Dennett that qualia do not exist ranks #1 in the list of the most absurd theories ever proposed (way ahead of flat Earth theory). In fact, here's a proof that simulation theory is wrong: the characters in a video game do not suffer when you shoot them. If you disagree with this, then please launch a campaign to ban shoot 'em up games on ethical grounds.

    1. Are you saying the following? People have qualia, but simulations don't. Therefore we are not living in a simulation.

      Here is a recent article by Dennett:

      Dennett, Daniel, “The User-Illusion of Consciousness”, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 28, No. 11-12, 2021, pp. 166-77.

      When listing wrong things said about consciousness, I forgot to list the book "The Emperor's New Mind" by Roger Penrose.

    2. "When listing wrong things ..."

      So what about listing one right thing or two?

    3. I thought I already had. I mentioned Daniel Dennett and Daniel M. Wegner. Douglas Hofstadter is another. The replies by many people to Searle's Chinese room. The replies by multiple logicians trying to explain to Penrose that he made a mathematical mistake as to what Gödel's Theorem says.

    4. Hmmm...

      Dennet book Consciousness Explained dates back to 1991

      Daniel M. Wegner book is from 2002 and seems more about free will than about consciousness proper.

      The most recent Dennett The User-Illusion of Consciousness gather a grand total of 3 citations on Google scholar and is not even directly referenced (only via a citation in

      May be you should warn the authors of the 5 310 000 publications on consciousness that the matter is settled and that they are wasting their time and precious research budgets.

      BTW, there are philosophers/scientists and scientists/philosophers but Dennett is philosopher only.

    5. "The User-Illusion of Consciousness" is a book review of the book "The Hidden Spring". I don't think you can tell if something is correct by the number of citations it has; regardless I wouldn't expect a recent book review to have many citations (right or wrong).

      Yes, some of the books/articles on this topic were written many years ago. So it is curious that some people still don't understand.

      Of course, I never said that the "matter is settled" (if you mean we have a detailed understanding of how the brain implements consciousness).

    6. David Marcus said: "Are you saying the following? People have qualia, but simulations don't. Therefore we are not living in a simulation."
      Yes, exactly. Dennett got it all wrong in my opinion. One philosopher who got these things right (or less wrong, anyway) is David Chalmers.

    7. How do you know simulations can't have qualia?

    8. I cannot prove that they don't, the same way I can't prove that animals (or even my fellow humans) have them. For some reason, lots of people fight for animal rights but literally no one (as far as I know) fights for the rights of characters in video games. Perhaps everybody has it wrong, and we should focus instead on the rights of characters in video games.

    9. I wasn't asking for proof. I was asking for reasons. I don't understand your reference to video games. What do video games have to do with the topic we are discussing?

  7. Well, the simulation hypothesis basically posits that we are the characters of an elaborate video game, right?

    1. That doesn't imply that all video games contain conscious characters.

  8. The maximum speed of light seems to be a limitation of a simulation: there’s not enough computational resources to handle speeds above a certain threshold.

    1. This is not a decisive argument, the simulation may run in entirely different multidimensional space, i.e. OUR time space coordinates may be simulated, therefore known limitations may not apply (they are simulated too).

  9. Anyone who finds the statement that we are living in a simulation as plausible hasn't written any serious software program.

    The reality is too bug-free to be a simulation.