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Old 12-28-2016, 02:06 AM   #1
tame_deuces
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Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

Simulation theory, very shortly explained, is the idea that our reality is a simulation. It is not a new thing, the resemblance to Descartes' "evil demon" or "brain in vat" is definitely there. Perhaps the biggest difference is that this new form has attracted new types of intellectual support over the last decade with a lot of credentialed supporters in the form of scientists, philosophers, authors and other thinkers. It's not a generally accepted thing by any means, but it has definitely gained intellectual traction.

Why is that? Well, the backbone of the idea is that the universe is information and a lot of things seems to fit this idea. The universe in a lot of cases seem to behave a lot like information, and it fits formal languages and formalized theories very well.

Personally, I have some issues with information theory.

Information systems tend make things play by their own rules. If you look at a ball with maths and physics, it will behave with maths and physics (F=m*a). If you look at it with words, it will behave with words ("the ball bounces"), if you look at it with paint, it will behave with paint.

Spoiler:


"Ceci n'est pas une pipe" as Magritte famously wrote on his painting, "this is not a pipe", in the aptly named "The Treason of Images". Or as one might say in an 101 introductory science class: The study model is not the study object. And sure, this is criticism we could also make of less positivistic ideals like instrumentalism, but the key difference is that such ideals do not hinge on claims of knowledge of the study object, merely that the models seemingly work.

In this we find somewhat of a philosophical paradox, the closest relative to simulation theory might very well be scientific realism. Both views hinge on the ability to objectively model an assumed underlying framework of the universe. And just like scientific realists will ultimately struggle to show that we model a reality, simulation theory supporters will ultimately struggle to show that we model a program.

And sure, we can wind up in an argument of precision and prediction and end up at the point where we will have to concede that maths and physics make for better predictions than words and oil paintings, but even the former operate with boundaries of error. Perhaps those boundaries grow smaller as our theories grow more solid, but they're still there.

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Old 12-28-2016, 10:32 AM   #2
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

I recall Original Position once mentioning he believed there is a non negligible chance that we are living in a simulated universe and that initially surprised me but on reflection made more sense.

The argument I found when I was looking around this went something like, if humans develop the technology to create fully realised simulated universes then the potential we are living in a fully realised simulated universe is closer to 1 than 0. This is because there is one actual universe and potentially many simulated universes. It's kinda interesting but I think the problem is one of epistemic accessibility, the same problem that renders theories from multiverse to deist blind watchmaker concepts philosophical rather than scientific in nature. This lack of epistemic accessibility is manifest in us not only not knowing whether these theories are true but in not being able to distinguish the difference between them being true and being false.
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Old 12-28-2016, 11:34 PM   #3
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

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I recall Original Position once mentioning he believed there is a non negligible chance that we are living in a simulated universe and that initially surprised me but on reflection made more sense.

The argument I found when I was looking around this went something like, if humans develop the technology to create fully realised simulated universes then the potential we are living in a fully realised simulated universe is closer to 1 than 0. This is because there is one actual universe and potentially many simulated universes. It's kinda interesting but I think the problem is one of epistemic accessibility, the same problem that renders theories from multiverse to deist blind watchmaker concepts philosophical rather than scientific in nature. This lack of epistemic accessibility is manifest in us not only not knowing whether these theories are true but in not being able to distinguish the difference between them being true and being false.
I agree with your latter assesment, and it also why I think simulation theory is really more a variant of scientific realism than anything else. The core tenet is the same, that your formal systems for handling information is somehow revealing the true nature of some underlying "something"... which scientific realism refers to as reality and simulation theory as simulation.
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Old 12-29-2016, 11:22 AM   #4
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

I'm only passingly familiar with the Simulation Argument (which seems like a pretty reasonable argument to me, with the caveat that we are talking about the validity of the classic trilemma, and not a specific claim that we actually ARE living in a simulation) so take this more as a request for more information than a counter-argument.

That said, I'm not sure that the connection with scientific realism is very clear to me, nor why it would be of importance. I'm also not sure that scientific realism needs a 'new frock' given that endorsement of scientific realism is one of the things contemporary academic philosophers are in strongest agreement on (and I say that as someone who leans towards pragmatic anti-realism).
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Old 12-29-2016, 04:52 PM   #5
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

Did you ever make it though Ladyman and Ross's Everything must go? Got to admit it's still unread round here, I'd say unfinished but that may imply I've made it through more of it than I have.
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Old 12-30-2016, 07:08 PM   #6
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

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Did you ever make it though Ladyman and Ross's Everything must go? Got to admit it's still unread round here, I'd say unfinished but that may imply I've made it through more of it than I have.
I did. It's an interesting read, but I'm not convinced of their position.
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Old 01-02-2017, 04:33 AM   #7
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

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I'm only passingly familiar with the Simulation Argument (which seems like a pretty reasonable argument to me, with the caveat that we are talking about the validity of the classic trilemma, and not a specific claim that we actually ARE living in a simulation) so take this more as a request for more information than a counter-argument.

That said, I'm not sure that the connection with scientific realism is very clear to me, nor why it would be of importance. I'm also not sure that scientific realism needs a 'new frock' given that endorsement of scientific realism is one of the things contemporary academic philosophers are in strongest agreement on (and I say that as someone who leans towards pragmatic anti-realism).
Yes, I know that survey and it also surprised me. In my anecdotal experience scientific realism is not held in high regard among scientists, so I found it surprising that the survey showed such a strong support for it among philosophers.

Then again scientists contend with competing theories pretty much every day, and most are even accustomed to simultaneously using theories that contradict each-other on minor points, which probably gravitates them towards favoring empirical adequacy rather than claims of mapping reality. Sure, empirical science often takes on traits of positivism (especially since epistemology isn't really that important to most scientists, so often the method speaks harder than some philosophical convinction) , but that's still a far cry from scientific realism.

I don't have hard data for these claims, but I have some years in academia under the belt and I don't think I have even met a scientific realist so far.

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Old 01-02-2017, 08:02 PM   #8
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

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Originally Posted by tame_deuces View Post
Yes, I know that survey and it also surprised me. In my anecdotal experience scientific realism is not held in high regard among scientists, so I found it surprising that the survey showed such a strong support for it among philosophers.

Then again scientists contend with competing theories pretty much every day, and most are even accustomed to simultaneously using theories that contradict each-other on minor points, which probably gravitates them towards favoring empirical adequacy rather than claims of mapping reality. Sure, empirical science often takes on traits of positivism (especially since epistemology isn't really that important to most scientists, so often the method speaks harder than some philosophical convinction) , but that's still a far cry from scientific realism.

I don't have hard data for these claims, but I have some years in academia under the belt and I don't think I have even met a scientific realist so far.
According to SEP, scientific realism is committed to three main claims:

1) Metaphysical. That the world investigated by science is mind-independent.
2) Semantic. That scientific claims should be understood literally and are either true or false.
3) Epistemic. That scientific theories about the world are known to be true or approximately true.

You've never met an academic that accepts these three claims?
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Old 01-02-2017, 09:20 PM   #9
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

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According to SEP, scientific realism is committed to three main claims:

1) Metaphysical. That the world investigated by science is mind-independent.
2) Semantic. That scientific claims should be understood literally and are either true or false.
3) Epistemic. That scientific theories about the world are known to be true or approximately true.

You've never met an academic that accepts these three claims?
Well, I haven't met many philosophers.

Illusory correlations aside, as I said most scientists I have met and worked with are not overly interested in, or hold much knowledge about, epistemology. The philosophy of science seem to be of more interest to philosophers than scientists, perhaps because science is often at heart a fairly practical profession. That's what I mean when I say that the method often speaks louder than epistemology.

So my anecdotal impression is extrapolated rather than something they have expressed.

Most scientists I have met hold views that are a combination of empiricism and instrumentalism. That is to say that the power to predict is what is held in the highest regard, and such predictions must be based on the senses. But no, I haven't met one which assumes scientific models can be true descriptions (or very close approximations) of some "underlying reality".

The fable of the blind men and the elephant seems apt to explain what I mean. It is indeed a very popular thing to include in method 101 courses in my neck of the wood.
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Old 01-03-2017, 07:49 PM   #10
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

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Well, I haven't met many philosophers.

Illusory correlations aside, as I said most scientists I have met and worked with are not overly interested in, or hold much knowledge about, epistemology. The philosophy of science seem to be of more interest to philosophers than scientists, perhaps because science is often at heart a fairly practical profession. That's what I mean when I say that the method often speaks louder than epistemology.

So my anecdotal impression is extrapolated rather than something they have expressed.
I don't generally think of philosophy of science being directly concerned with scientific methodology (similarly, epistemology is not directly concerned with practical methods of rational belief formation). Instead, it seems to me more concerned with questions about the nature of science (which is why the demarcation between science and non-science has been such a central issue).

Quote:
Most scientists I have met hold views that are a combination of empiricism and instrumentalism. That is to say that the power to predict is what is held in the highest regard, and such predictions must be based on the senses. But no, I haven't met one which assumes scientific models can be true descriptions (or very close approximations) of some "underlying reality".

The fable of the blind men and the elephant seems apt to explain what I mean. It is indeed a very popular thing to include in method 101 courses in my neck of the wood.
I think most philosophers associate instrumentalism with logical positivism, which has largely been rejected for other reasons, or pragmatism, which seems to just avoid the question. Oddly, I think they would use the blind men and elephant metaphor to explain their acceptance of scientific realism. They'll say that the elephant is the underlying reality being studied by scientists. Conflicting models are simply people studying different parts of reality, but since it is ultimately the same thing being studied, these models are in some maybe so far unknown sense either false or consistent with each other.

The reason I'm surprised by your experience is because I think of scientific realism as being popular among those who are opposed to a view of science as relativistic and socially constructed - which most scientists seem to oppose. The view of science as purely instrumental does seem vulnerable to that kind of relativism.
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Old 01-03-2017, 07:56 PM   #11
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

I'm in favor of scientific realism (as defined by SEP above) and the idea that science as a human endeavour is socially constructed, and that this has at least some implications for the body of scientific knowledge. I don't think this is contradictory...
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Old 01-03-2017, 08:24 PM   #12
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

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I'm in favor of scientific realism (as defined by SEP above) and the idea that science as a human endeavour is socially constructed, and that this has at least some implications for the body of scientific knowledge. I don't think this is contradictory...
They aren't in my view either (eg John Searle), although believing that science is both relativistic and socially constructed probably is. Here I mean to refer to postmodernists who believe science is only socially constructed and that it is best understood as a form of power and control over others rather than knowledge-seeking.
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Old 01-03-2017, 08:48 PM   #13
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

Gotcha. That's taking a reasonable point too far imo
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Old 01-03-2017, 11:17 PM   #14
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

Complete layman here.

From time to time I come to the conclusion that there is no difference between a universe and a simulated universe. Any properties that define the latter can be applied to the former. The only possible differentiator is intention, meaning the simulations were purposely created but the real one somehow wasn't. However that also implies both free will and lack of god, which are two other unsolved (unsolvable?) topics up for debate.

I also realize that we cannot know if this is a simulation, because we can only look inward and not outward. Meaning: we can only look into universes we simulate. We can't turn around and look outside of our universe to see the "real" or "outer layer" universe. Pacman can't jump out of the maze into our world, even if the programmers wanted him to. He can't break the 4th wall and look back at us. Unless we find the holy grail "glitch in the matrix" to prove this theory (and are able to comprehend it), we're doomed never to know. (or are we?)

Because of these two thoughts, I often believe that the simulation theory is both true and false. We can't observe it, so it's in both states, alla Schrodinger's cat. Plus if it's simulated, and we're simulated, then from our perspective as the observers, neither is simulated. Furthermore, there's potentially no difference between a "real universe" and a "simulated universe," obviating the distinction.

Finally, because anything that is possible is true given enough time/turns/chances, the mere fact that this is possible is an argument that it's true, given we don't know a boundary for how many timelines or universes there can be.

The idea that it's unlikely that we're living in the real universe vs a simulation is both satisfying and frustrating to me, because it also implies that there is an actual real universe, as in a starting point, which returns us right back to all of the initial existential questions we've struggled with since the dawn of self-awareness.

Epilogue:
Given our experience that processing power and artificial intelligence are evolving quickly, especially when we're on the cusp of quantum computing, it's easy to see we can potentially simulate universes more complex than our own (an evolution?). Therefore, tracing back, the creators of our universe could be more "primitive" than we are (from a universe less complicated than our own). They could be from a 2-dimensional universe and this (simulated?) 3-dimensional universe we live in is a product of their evolved computing power. When we simulate a truly 4-dimensional universe, the beings contained within would have to be much more complicated than we can ever be. (thus more evolved) Therefore, we may be observing--through philosophy--a glimpse of evolution on a universal scale. The evolution of universes. Our creator, our prime, would then have to be a single 1-dimensional dot, if we interpolate backwards.

Sometimes I wish I weren't too afraid to do drugs.
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Old 01-04-2017, 12:58 AM   #15
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

That Elon Musk video hooked me on the topic and surely has done wonders for it since I hear about it much more often.

Only thing that sucks is the topic usually ends up going in circles (evidence can be simulated etc).
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Old 01-04-2017, 06:10 AM   #16
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

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I don't generally think of philosophy of science being directly concerned with scientific methodology (similarly, epistemology is not directly concerned with practical methods of rational belief formation). Instead, it seems to me more concerned with questions about the nature of science (which is why the demarcation between science and non-science has been such a central issue).



I think most philosophers associate instrumentalism with logical positivism, which has largely been rejected for other reasons, or pragmatism, which seems to just avoid the question. Oddly, I think they would use the blind men and elephant metaphor to explain their acceptance of scientific realism. They'll say that the elephant is the underlying reality being studied by scientists. Conflicting models are simply people studying different parts of reality, but since it is ultimately the same thing being studied, these models are in some maybe so far unknown sense either false or consistent with each other.

The reason I'm surprised by your experience is because I think of scientific realism as being popular among those who are opposed to a view of science as relativistic and socially constructed - which most scientists seem to oppose. The view of science as purely instrumental does seem vulnerable to that kind of relativism.
I think we see the fable differently then. In my eyes it says we can't see underlying reality, thus our models can't describe it. Therefore we should favor empiricism, not realism: We have to base knowledge about what we experience, but our experience has limits. "We" being analogous to the blind man, not the reader of the fable.

I don't think a comparison between instrumentalism and post-modernism is very useful or even fair. Instrumentalism is a dagger targeting scientific models and primarily ones based on logic or math, post-modernism is carpet bombing going after the entirety of human experience.

And like I said initially, the typical view I have seen is one that goes for "empirical adequacy". Models should be valid, and falsifiable... they're based on sense, but they don't necessarily describe some underlying reality and can be prone to bias. Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn in some unholy union.

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Old 01-04-2017, 06:56 AM   #17
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

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I think we see the fable differently then. In my eyes it says we can't see underlying reality, thus our models can't describe it. Therefore we should favor empiricism, not realism: We have to base knowledge about what we experience, but our experience has limits. "We" being analogous to the blind man, not the reader of the fable.

I don't think a comparison between instrumentalism and post-modernism is very useful or even fair. Instrumentalism is a dagger targeting scientific models and primarily ones based on logic or math, post-modernism is carpet bombing going after the entirety of human experience.

And like I said initially, the typical view I have seen is one that goes for "empirical adequacy". Models should be valid, and falsifiable... they're based on sense, but they don't necessarily describe some underlying reality and can be prone to bias. Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn in some unholy union.
I agree with all this, but I think that where you and I differ from Original Position is in characterising the motivation of the realism debate. I.e. (from SEP):

Quote:
Another way to think about scientific realism is in terms of the epistemic aims of scientific inquiry (van Fraassen 1980, p. 8, Lyons 2005). That is, some think of the position in terms of what science aims to do: the scientific realist holds that science aims to produce true descriptions of things in the world (or approximately true descriptions, or ones whose central terms successfully refer, and so on).
(Emphasis mine)

So while I largely agree with the three assumptions OrP posted, I don't consider myself a scientific realist because I think science aims for something like empirical adequacy, rather than revealing mind-independent truths. The latter is just a nice bonus when/if it happens.
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Old 01-04-2017, 09:16 AM   #18
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

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I agree with all this, but I think that where you and I differ from Original Position is in characterising the motivation of the realism debate. I.e. (from SEP):

(Emphasis mine)

So while I largely agree with the three assumptions OrP posted, I don't consider myself a scientific realist because I think science aims for something like empirical adequacy, rather than revealing mind-independent truths. The latter is just a nice bonus when/if it happens.
Well, my knowledge of realism is probably simplistic and this makes my statements stand on shaky ground.

But I will say that scientists think a lot about the limitations of science, maybe more so than its strengths, when they plan research or write papers (but perhaps not when they actually do research). That's what scientific method is at its core; acceptance and admittance of where your data does not go.

Semi-relevant TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/harry_clif...end_of_physics

Excuse the sensationalist title, it's an interesting listen.
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Old 01-04-2017, 10:22 PM   #19
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

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Complete layman here.

From time to time I come to the conclusion that there is no difference between a universe and a simulated universe. Any properties that define the latter can be applied to the former. The only possible differentiator is intention, meaning the simulations were purposely created but the real one somehow wasn't. However that also implies both free will and lack of god, which are two other unsolved (unsolvable?) topics up for debate.

I also realize that we cannot know if this is a simulation, because we can only look inward and not outward. Meaning: we can only look into universes we simulate. We can't turn around and look outside of our universe to see the "real" or "outer layer" universe. Pacman can't jump out of the maze into our world, even if the programmers wanted him to. He can't break the 4th wall and look back at us. Unless we find the holy grail "glitch in the matrix" to prove this theory (and are able to comprehend it), we're doomed never to know. (or are we?)

Because of these two thoughts, I often believe that the simulation theory is both true and false. We can't observe it, so it's in both states, alla Schrodinger's cat. Plus if it's simulated, and we're simulated, then from our perspective as the observers, neither is simulated. Furthermore, there's potentially no difference between a "real universe" and a "simulated universe," obviating the distinction.

Finally, because anything that is possible is true given enough time/turns/chances, the mere fact that this is possible is an argument that it's true, given we don't know a boundary for how many timelines or universes there can be.

The idea that it's unlikely that we're living in the real universe vs a simulation is both satisfying and frustrating to me, because it also implies that there is an actual real universe, as in a starting point, which returns us right back to all of the initial existential questions we've struggled with since the dawn of self-awareness.

Epilogue:
Given our experience that processing power and artificial intelligence are evolving quickly, especially when we're on the cusp of quantum computing, it's easy to see we can potentially simulate universes more complex than our own (an evolution?). Therefore, tracing back, the creators of our universe could be more "primitive" than we are (from a universe less complicated than our own). They could be from a 2-dimensional universe and this (simulated?) 3-dimensional universe we live in is a product of their evolved computing power. When we simulate a truly 4-dimensional universe, the beings contained within would have to be much more complicated than we can ever be. (thus more evolved) Therefore, we may be observing--through philosophy--a glimpse of evolution on a universal scale. The evolution of universes. Our creator, our prime, would then have to be a single 1-dimensional dot, if we interpolate backwards.

Sometimes I wish I weren't too afraid to do drugs.

You make some good points and definitely raise some interesting philosophical questions. However I think it's unlikely in a simulation environment that a "glitch in the matrix" so to speak would really exist.
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Old 01-05-2017, 01:59 PM   #20
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

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You make some good points and definitely raise some interesting philosophical questions. However I think it's unlikely in a simulation environment that a "glitch in the matrix" so to speak would really exist.
Thank you. What I meant by "glitch in the matrix" was: I've read a few articles that have suggested the concept that if a conscious being were to create a simulation, there would possibly be "cut corners" to save on processing power or other resources. This is true of our own simulations of things. If we were somehow able to observe one of these, it'd be a great hint for us. Perhaps the double slit experiment (and the concepts that are demonstrated by it) is that hint/glitch, and perhaps it is not.
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Old 01-05-2017, 02:11 PM   #21
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

Some physicists think it can be tested:

Testing the Simulation Theory

"Professor Martin Savage at the University of Washington says while our own computer simulations can only model a universe on the scale of an atom’s nucleus, there are already “signatures of resource constraints” which could tell us if larger models are possible.

This is where it gets complex.

Essentially, Savage said that computers used to build simulations perform “lattice quantum chromodynamics calculations” - dividing space into a four-dimensional grid. Doing so allows researchers to examine the force which binds subatomic particles together into neutrons and protons - but it also allows things to happen in the simulation, including the development of complex physical “signatures”, that researchers don’t program directly into the computer. In looking for these signatures, such as limitations on the energy held by cosmic rays, they hope to find similarities within our own universe. "
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Old 01-05-2017, 08:02 PM   #22
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

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Some physicists think it can be tested:

Testing the Simulation Theory

"Professor Martin Savage at the University of Washington says while our own computer simulations can only model a universe on the scale of an atom’s nucleus, there are already “signatures of resource constraints” which could tell us if larger models are possible.

This is where it gets complex.

Essentially, Savage said that computers used to build simulations perform “lattice quantum chromodynamics calculations” - dividing space into a four-dimensional grid. Doing so allows researchers to examine the force which binds subatomic particles together into neutrons and protons - but it also allows things to happen in the simulation, including the development of complex physical “signatures”, that researchers don’t program directly into the computer. In looking for these signatures, such as limitations on the energy held by cosmic rays, they hope to find similarities within our own universe. "
The problem is two-fold with any approach:

1. Even if you could show that the universe acts as a simulation, you would not know if you have shown that the universe is a simulation or if you have "merely" shown that it can be simulated.

2. Observing anything with an information system tends to show you the answers in that information system. A digital computer "looking" at the world will yield a set of digital data. That doesn't mean the world is 1s and 0s.
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Old 01-05-2017, 09:03 PM   #23
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

Is there not some form of an anthropic principle going on here? That if simulations are to function they must also resemble something which also functions. Can simulations occur in such a way that they don't resemble the scientific principles which describe the universe? In that regard, pointing to something in the universe and saying "that's how a simulation might work" is not really saying anything useful.
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Old 01-07-2017, 07:31 PM   #24
Hired Goons2
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

There is a good cartoon show called "Rick and Morty" that had an episode on this topic.

The Ricks Must Be Crazy
Plot
When Rick's car breaks down, he and Morty attempt to fix it by journeying into the battery. Morty discovers that it contains within it a miniature universe, one which contains a planet inhabited by intelligent life; Rick has created it for the sole purpose of generating power for his car. The task of restoring the battery to functionality is complicated by the planet's discovery of alternate energy sources that bypass the mechanism that provides Rick with energy: they have created their own miniature universe-in-a-box. Meanwhile Rick's ship is protecting Summer in ways she isn't comfortable with.

http://rickandmorty.wikia.com/wiki/T..._Must_Be_Crazy
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Old 01-09-2017, 10:29 AM   #25
Bladesman87
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Re: Simulation theory, scientific realism in a new frock?

Good is an understatement.
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