Saturday, March 15, 2008

A first riff on "The Physical World As Virtual Reality"

I Twittered reading "The Physical World As Virtual Reality" by Brian Whitworth yesterday. As he describes it: "This paper explores the idea that the universe is a virtual reality created by information processing, and relates this strange idea to the findings of modern physics about the physical world."

He asks, "Suppose ... some Sims within the simulation began to “think”. Could they deduce that their world was a virtual world...?"

It got me thinking...

In Second LIfe, it is impossible to escape the idea that one's experienced world is simulated. The beings I interact with live in "real life" and talk about it quite a bit. If I don't believe such farfetched ideas, I can see a video feed or read a website that is beamed in directly from meatspace.

Now I think his question assumes no exposure to direct information about RL and no blabbing humans running around. If that's the case, the Sims would need at least the relevant conceptual knowledge base that reason would operate upon. (If someone gave you milk and you knew nothing of lactating animals, could you ever deduce a cow?) If the smart Sims have no conception of a computer, how can they make the jump to understanding their world as a simulation?

This begs the question of whether deduction is the only path to awareness. For instance, some Buddhist teachings are consistent with the idea that the world is a simulation. Their conclusions are not based upon logic or sensory experience, but upon awareness brought back from meditative states.

Finally, I think it is useful to differentiate between "thinking" and "self-awareness." Whitworth asks if the data available to thinking Sims would be sufficient to suggest a virtual world. I want to know what would make them independently ask the question in the first place. Is awareness something created by complexity, or does awareness project itself into a universe when there is sufficient complexity to house it?

Beats me. Where's the party tonight?


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A beautiful thought experiment personified through the imagined perspective of a self-aware avatar. My creator's site can is at