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Mike,

 

You are it. That is all there is to it. ...

 

You sound like Alan Watts - who I really like listening too. He's got a lot of great audio lectures on YouTube. Here is one of my favorites. 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhaoQJEr7Ow

 

For Sthira and other simulation hypothesis skeptics out there, it's not just me and Elon Musk who think we could very well be living in a simulation. In the following three videos, writer/scientist/skeptic Sam Harris, writer/scientist/skeptic Richard Dawkins and well-known philosopher David Chalmers (originator of the idea of the "Hard Problem of Consciousness") all acknowledge the plausibility of the idea we may be living in a simulation:

 

 

 

 

 

--Dean

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Mike,

 

You are it. That is all there is to it. ...

 

I found where you sound like Alan Watts. I think you'll really resonate with this video starting at 9:55:
 
 
And while I'm posting videos, here is a great overview documentary on the Simulation Hypothesis and the compelling scientific evidence that supports it:
 
 
--Dean

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Sthira,

How does the belief that you're living in a simulation affect your everyday life?

 

Good question! Short answer, it doesn't affect my day-to-day life in any super-dramatic ways, but more subtle, psychological ways, it does.

 

I used to experience a gnawing feeling that there was more to life than meets the eye, that I didn't have a clue what it was, and I needed to figure it out. Now that I consider myself to have a scientifically respectable (although unproven) and spiritually satisfying "Big Picture" for the metaphysics of the world we live in, that itch to know feels much less urgent and unsatisfied.

 

I also find it easier to accept the notion that everything in the world is unfolding as it should, and for some kind of reason. I may not know now, and probably will never be able to know, exactly what that reason is, but simply know there probably is (or could be) one, is comforting when I see things working out badly in my life or the life of others. It helps a type-A striver like to me accept the Buddhist/Hindu conception of life as one Big Game (Maya/Lila) not to be take too seriously, and that nobody gets out alive, and that's ok.

 

Finally, and most importantly, believing in the simulation hypothesis as I do, along with the twists that: 

  • it's our job/destiny to progress to the point where we add another layer to the simulation, 
  • this will likely happen as a result of AI (or perhaps AI/transhuman hybrids) waking up into consciousness over the next few decades
  • This waking up will occur as a result AIs learning from watching humans, and from assimilating all the digital data we've been collecting / contributing online over the last few decades

together give me a way to believe my life has purpose, and is contributing to a project larger than myself, even if I don't see clearly now exactly how.

 

As you might have noticed, I have bit of a compulsion about sharing my way of living and my ideas :-).

 

In this model of reality, this sharing has value beyond entertainment, and beyond helping me and the few others reading this now to perhaps live a slightly better lives. Instead, I can credibly believe that I'm helping to create a richer, more compassionate future by seeding the database to be read and learned from by future AIs with positive training examples of how to live, what to believe, and how to interact with others in a positive (although sometime confrontational :-)) way for mutual benefit.

 

--Dean

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I read Nick Bostrom's simulation paper a number of years ago. It's a fun thought experiment, but I guess I don't find it much more fruitful than that. The most interesting thing to me about it is how it reframes something like the problem of evil. There is no need for the simulation to be created by a benevolent AI, but at the same time it just seems so cruel and stupid that the simulation would make so many of our lives brutal affairs when, with a few tweaks to the code, we could all be living a much more fulfilling, creative, joyful lives.

 

I'd rather live in a meaningless non-simulated universe than a simulated universe in which most of us live lives of quite desperation. It seems even more pointless I guess.

 

If we are living in a simulation, I'd prefer different code.

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Are there any ways to change the code? The practice of CR, for example, or CE, or just living a healthy lifestyle while striving to have a lighter footprint here on fragile planet earth... Are these ways of changing the code, or are they just methods of living?

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Thomas,

 

It is unfortunate that so many people (and especially animals) do seem to suffer in this reality, whether it is a simulation or not.

 

Sthira - I think the only way to change the code is to collaborate with AIs to eventually create our own (hopefully nicer) simulated reality(ies) that we decide to upload our consciousness into. It doesn't look like that will be happening anytime soon, but we'll gradually approach that eventuality over the next several decades with increasingly realistic virtual reality world's that we visit temporarily with increasingly capable technology like Oculus Rift and Microsoft Hololens.

 

--Dean

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In light of all this virtual reality stuff is the amazeing conclusion many mainstream scientists claim that consciousness is an illusion! That just makes me wonder WTF! The one thing and the only thing we can be absolutely certain of is that we are conscious, aware that we are aware. For all they, scientists, know we could in fact be in a virtual reality lab experiencing and all their science a simple illusion created by the virtual reality! My take is they cannot wrap their heads around it so they dismiss it cause it don't fit into their "science dogma".

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Mike,

 

The one thing and the only thing we can be absolutely certain of is that we are conscious, aware that we are aware.

 

I sort of agree, although I think even here we harbor illusions that don't quite match reality. Introspecting carefully, one comes to realize just how infrequently we are truly conscious of what's going on around us, and how even rarer it is that we experience the kind of self-consciousness you refer to ("aware that we are aware"), which for most people may only occur a few times per day if they are lucky, and even then only for very fleeting moments. Susan Blackmore does a great job of pointing out just how illusory our sense of a continuously conscious self really is in the video below. It is more like brief islands of (self-)consciousness punctuating long stretches of unconscious mind-wandering and mindless doing.

 

Our sense of a continuous "spotlight of consciousness" is the same as the impression we get about the light inside our refrigerator. We get the mistaken impression the light is always "on" because whenever you happen to look, yup, it's on.

 

In short, human consciousness is overrated as a basis for our reality. The apparent material universe is simply unfolding, and we are a part of that. Occasionally we catch a conscious glimpse of it, and wonder what it's all about.

 

But that's not to say our entire material universe isn't a figment of the imagination. But if it is, it is a figment in the imagination of a mind much more advanced than our own. It is unclear whether or not that Big Mind is conscious of what's happening inside the imaginary world it has created, or rather, like in a dream, the events simply unfold more or less of their own accord, guided by unconscious processed inside the Big Mind. Given the cruelty and seemingly bottom-up nature of the way events unfold in our world, seemingly guided only by the laws of physics without a deliberate plan, I lean towards the latter conception, in which our apparent material reality is an unconscious dream (i.e. simulation) occurring within the mind of a quantum computer that our descendents will inevitably create/become, the purpose of which we can only guess at, and that I hinted at in earlier posts.

 

In fact, increasing the level and frequency of our own conscious moments, as sages and mystics have advocated for millennia, may be the result of an unconscious urge to recapitulate the evolution to higher states of consciousness that, once augmented with technology, has resulted in the creation of our (simulated) reality.

 

In fact, it might even be a case of cosmic natural selection (SciAm article) like physicist Lee Smolin talks about in his great book The Life of the Cosmos and in the short video below.  But rather than Smolin's model in which baby universes are "born" inside black holes with laws of physics slightly different from the "parent" universe that created the black hole, in this model, new worlds are born inside the minds/computers of advanced Beings, as simulations. Such simulations will naturally bear a resemblance (i.e. have similar laws of physics and harbor similar albeit more primitive life forms) to the universe occupied by the mind/computer that created it, but with slight variations - i.e. the simulations will be ancestor simulations (see earlier posts for the range of motivations for creating ancestor simulations).

 

Creatures (like us) within these ancestor simulations will therefore possess many of the same traits as their "parent" including a primitive form of consciousness, and the drive to expand that consciousness as well as to master the (apparently) physical world. Simulated worlds in which the initial conditions and laws are such that they spawn creatures which grow in consciousness and technological capabilities will flourish and (eventually) create their own baby worlds via simulation - i.e. simulated worlds within a simulated world. And so, over time, the space of simulated worlds (a form of multiverse) will become populated with creatures like us, with a strong drive to grow in both their level of consciousness and in their technological prowess.

 

This push to rapidly procreate by creating our own simulated worlds as soon as possible also explains the incredible coincidence we find ourselves in - namely on the cusp of creating virtual world simulations of our own, rather than wallowing in the dark ages hundreds, thousands, millions or billions of years earlier in our apparent history. Why does it makes sense in this theory of cosmic natural selection that we've find ourselves here and now, on the verge of creating our own realistic world simulations? Because the complete and accurate simulation of all those eons of apparent evolution would be a waste of time and computing resources from the perspective of cosmic natural selection, in which the name of the game is to quickly get to the point of creating our own simulated worlds, since those simulations that didn't quickly produce "offspring" were outcompeted in the race to populate the space of simulated worlds, making it highly improbable that we'd find ourselves in one of those earlier, primitive times in evolutionary history. In other words, we find ourselves here and now because here and now is the point in history at which new baby (simulated) universes are likely to spawn relatively soon (i.e. within the next few decades or centuries).

 

An amusing corollary: Dinosaurs likely did actually evolve, but not as part of our timeline. Instead, our simulation was likely "booted up" in the relatively recent past (perhaps last thursday), complete with evidence of dinosaurs but without actually having evolved them, in order to skip over the boring, time-consuming and computationally expensive parts of evolutionary history. Ironically, if true, this means that science and technology will eventually show us that the intelligent design folks are right - the dinosaurs were planted in the fossil records by what could be considered the equivalent of this (simulated) universe's "God".

 

This is exactly parallel to the concept of cosmic natural selection that Smolin describes, only it involves virtual worlds created within advanced consciousnesses rather than material worlds created within black holes, competing to get to the point of "procreation" as quickly as possible to populate the multiverse of simulated worlds with baby worlds resembling their own.

 

--Dean

 

P.S. Sorry to go off and wax philosophical/metaphysical again. Yet another case of "I don't know what I think 'til I hear what I say" and the inescapable urge to get it down in writing, perhaps a manifestation of the drive to expand consciousness as soon as possible described above. Hopefully even if nobody else reads this stuff now, perhaps someday Google's AI will read it and get an interesting idea out of it, or at least a good chuckle...

 

 

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All,

 

A couple posts back I wrote:

 

...we'll gradually approach that eventuality [full digital immersion free from our "meat" bodies] over the next several decades with increasingly realistic virtual reality worlds that we visit temporarily with increasingly capable technology like Oculus Rift and Microsoft Hololens.

 

This vision is not without its dark side, as described in this scary Vice article about the rough times many people are likely to face during the transition from our "meat" world to a world in which we've comfortably uploaded to a completely digital reality:

 

In the remote forests below the Ironspike Mountains, there is a stretch of land known by Valoran champions as the Summoner's Rift. According to League of Legends lore, this place is energetically plentiful—the perfect arena for warriors to unleash their powers on each other. There, Evelynn, a blue non-human woman, is hidden in the shadows of the trees. As her enemies pass, she appears from the darkness and summons subterranean forces. Large red spikes erupt from the earth and impale them.
 
But Evelyn is guided by someone else. Above her, outside of Valoran, there is a man named Patrick. "I can play a game for an entire day, completely engrossed in the world that is appearing on my 15-inch notebook [computer] screen," Patrick told me. He is in his early 30s, 6'5", 300 pounds, and currently unemployed in Silicon Valley. Virtual worlds have played an important role in Patrick's life since childhood.
 
Though he denied it for years, today Patrick believes he's addicted to video games. "Room is a mess, debt collectors and friends are calling," he said, explaining what happens to his life when he falls back into gaming. "I smell like shit, and my future livelihood is uncertain—but none of it really matters when I'm concentrating on those 15 inches [of computer screen]." Patrick was sober from gaming for a while, but he is currently in a self-defined relapse, which means he spends all day, every day, in a virtual world.
 
 "I think once VR hits, and that screen expands to a 360-degree sensory pleasure dome, it's going to create a new level of gaming addiction," Patrick said. "My current addiction, while bad, still leaves room for the peripheral view of real life to occasionally sober me back to reality. 
 
As robots take all the jobs, and virtual worlds get more compelling, things are going to get pretty nasty for a lot of people...
 
--Dean

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Here is a good new article on the plausibility of the simulation hypothesis.

 

It reiterates what David Chalmers said in the video linked in the post above. Namely that even if our universe is a simulation, we shouldn't be sad or upset about it. It would just be another weird twist on our situation, which we've known to be rather immaterial and paradoxical since the discovery of quantum mechanics, and which tells us that at the very bottom there is really no material stuff, only probability waves anyway.

 

--Dean

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Mike,

BTW Dean how is the Kaufman book coming along. You mentioned u were reading it in another thread. I suspect it might shed some light on this subject.

 

I was actually disappointed with Kaufmann's new book, Humanity in a Creative UniverseI got about 75 pages into it and found he hadn't really said anything tangible other than his (vague) idea about the un-pre-specifiability of the "adjacent possible" gives room for free will. He kept reiterating his old ideas which I've read before, like the development of the swim bladder in fish opens up new possibilities that couldn't have been pre-stated or predicted, i.e. the swim bladder becomes a new niche for bacteria to live in. Honestly, I got bored and never finished it.

 

--Dean

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The kind of hyperrealistic, simulated universes we may live in came one step closer to reality with the recent release of the videogame "No Man's Sky" (NMS). For anyone whose unfamiliar with it, NMS is pretty much unique among videogames to date because it is completely procedurally generated. From this article entitled Why No Aliens? They Live in Video Game Universes Like a Future ‘No Man’s Sky’:

 

No Man’s Sky has few objectives other than to explore an expansive collection of flora and fauna, but it’s the map’s 18 quintillion life-sized planets that stir up so much wonder. To get a sense of the size, consider that spending just one second visiting every planet in the game would take longer than the remaining 4.6-billion-year lifespan of our own real sun. Add too that the planets come with their own weather systems, ecologies, and bizarre forms of life, each one offering a complex biome to explore.
 
What makes the game so mesmerizing is that it’s bottled up the cosmic awe associated with our own impossibly sized universe and packaged it in a six-pound Playstation computer. Hundreds of thousands of your fellow humans are blasting off to travel this digital universe.

 

More than the size, the game has also captured an innate drive to explore the unknown.

 

In short, while apparently far from perfect from a game-play perspective, NMS illustrates just how far it is possible to go in generating incredible and engaging virtual worlds, even with the pitiful computing technology available on home gaming consoles of today (i.e. the PlayStation 4). 

 

Below is the official game trailer and a couple good reviews illustrating some of the amazing worlds to be explored. It is really hard to believe that all the richness of the (literally) 18 quintillion life-sized planets and life forms inhabiting them is procedurally generated on the fly, meaning if you return to the same planet again every rock formation, space station, plant and animal will be there waiting for you, just as you left it.

 

And it's just the beginning. When the virtual world-generation technology matures, and is coupled with an immersive virtual reality interface (i.e. Oculus Rift or MS Hololens), it seems quite plausible to me that the attraction of living in such a universe might explain the Fermi Paradox, as the opening article suggests. In other words, as bizarre and sad as it seems to us, for our children's children it may one day seem like too much trouble to literally travel to other stars in the "real" world, when there are infinitely rich and varied virtual worlds to be explored...

 

--Dean

 

 

 

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“Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.” - Zhuangzhi c. third century BC

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Thanks Brett,

 

There are definitely quite a few spiritual, mystical and religious traditions that align well with the simulation hypothesis. Both Hinduism and Buddhism are good examples. But perhaps the best example is Mormonism, and especially Mormon Transhumanism and it's New God Argument. Ironically, one of the Mormon Transhumanist leaders made exactly the same points I've been making about No Man's Sky in an article linked from the front page of their website, titled No Man's Sky: A Deist Simulated Universe.

 

For the edification of future readers ☺, I want to fully explicate the metaphysical implications of No Man's Sky.

 

First, we may create ever more realistic virtual worlds for our descendants to explore. That seems almost inevitable at this point, unless we destroy ourselves (a la Nick Bostrom's Simulation Argument). 

 

But more controversially (to put it mildly), we may actually be semi-sentient creatures on one of the 18 quintillion procedurally-generated worlds created by someone / something vastly more intelligent and powerful than we are, waiting to be explored. 

 

How could that be you ask, since obviously we are alive here and now, acting in the world? We aren't simply in limbo, waiting to be procedurally generated if/when some "player" comes to visit our planet, right?

 

Maybe, but maybe not...

 

Think about Max Tegmark's Mathematical Universe Hypothesis (and here for Wikipedia fans ☺), Stephen Wolfram's Computational Universe (video of Wolfram's talk on the subject here), or heck, even the Block Universe Theory to which many (most?) mainstream scientists subscribe (including Brian Green and Einstein who said the flow of time is only a “stubbornly persistent illusion”), which says that all moments of history exist simultaneously in a single, large and uninterrupted block of space-time, without a preferred present or "Now".

 

In this model of reality, the "me" of next week is every bit as real as the "me" of today. However hard it is for us to wrap our mind around this idea of block time, given the rather widespread acceptance of this model by rational scientists, it's doesn't seem too much of a stretch to think that sentient beings embedded in a similar sort of abstract mathematical structure enjoy the same ontological status as we do, whether they are actively being "exercised" (simulated) or not.

 

In short, we may exist (I hesitate to say "be living" given the inherent dynamism that phrase implies) in a souped up version of the Mandelbrot set, or something akin to Conway's Game of Life.

 

If a group of 15 bright programmers working out of a small office in Guildford England can create a virtual universe with 18 quintillion persistent worlds with the richness of those in No Man's Sky using only clever algorithms and a few PCs/Macs, imagine what a superintelligent AI could do with billions of times more computing power...

 

Simply mind-blowing...

 

--Dean

 

If you want your mind to be really blow, check out this deep dive into the Mandelbrot set, or even crazier, the second video showing the simulation of Conway's Game of Life  inside Conway's game of life, in fact in an an infinite regress, which is possible because Conway's Game of Life is Turing Complete (video of Universal Turing Machine implemented in the GoL). This is exactly analogous to the "simulation within a simulation" theory that this thread is about. Ironically given the purpose and focus of this thread, when you do a Google search of "Conway's Game of Life", a very impressive Easter Egg in the form of a Game of Life simulation slowly creeps over the page of search results. Google is waking up to what's really going on. In fact, every one of these videos is hosted on Google (YouTube). Ironically, my friend and former student (who might even come to the Costa Rica retreat!) works in one of Google's many machine learning groups, leading a team focused on using AI and machine learning to understand videos...

 


 


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[Admin Note: I've moved this and the following three posts from the overweight is a serious risk thread, since it seems to fit much more naturally here. --Dean]

 

"better yet, mind uploading"

While I can see the usefulness of preserving a person digitally (brain dump to a machine) for various purposes, you still end up dead, so what's it have to do with human longevity?  Reminds me of the movie "The Sixth Day" which takes place in a future where human cloning is perfected and memories can be quickly and easily transferred, but the clones have engineered diseases so they can't live too long, and every time the star football quarterback gets injured they just kill him and stick a new clone of him (with up to date memory) back into the game. That's not immortality, the dead quarterbacks aren't happily living on in their cloned replacements  ;)

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Gordo,

 

...the dead quarterbacks aren't happily living on in their cloned replacements  ;)

 

Cloned replacements... That's so pre-singularity. ☺

 

While I can see the usefulness of preserving a person digitally (brain dump to a machine) for various purposes, you still end up dead, so what's it have to do with human longevity?  ... 

 

Depends on your definition of 'you', and what it really means to be 'alive'. Don't worry Gordo. It won't be so bad. You seem like a flexible, cutting-edge sorta guy. You might even like it. In fact, you may not even notice any difference when it happens...

 

But we're getting quite a ways off topic.

 

--Dean

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I know you're being tongue in cheek, but I've come across people that seriously think that way, the poster Sthira posted above is proof that people think this way.  A copy of you, no matter how good, is not "you" any more than an identical twin sibling would be.  You won't become immortal by making copies of yourself, be it to a machine or biological construct.  Although copies may be a good way to keep your accumulated knowledge in tact which could be useful and much easier than current methods of preserving knowledge not to mention the copy might be of very high value to your loved ones. It won't be of any value at all to you, as you will be dead (when it comes to living forever, it helps to actually be alive).

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Gordo,

 

I can't believe it. 

 

You wrote:

I know you're being tongue in cheek, but I've come across people that seriously think that way, the poster Sthira posted above is proof that people think this way.

 

Tongue in cheek? Just goes to show how hard it is to convey (or sense) sarcasm vs. sincerity over the intertubes.

 

As I've said repeatedly (most recently here), I'm completely serious (and sincere) in my views about us living in a digital simulation, and not just in the future. Ironically, I'm the one who appears to have convinced Sthira, who was initially skeptical, to at least take the idea seriously - although (to his credit) you can never quite tell what Sthira takes seriously and what he doesn't. ☺

 

I suspect you find it incongruous that someone as apparently sane and thoughtful as I am would entertain such an idea. In my defense, I'll in good company. Entrepreneur Elon Musk, scientists Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, physicists/astronomers Lawrence KraussAlan GuthNeil deGrasse Tyson and Max Tegmark and philosophers  David Chalmers, of course, Nick Bostrom, and even Bill Nye (yes, the Science Guy) all acknowledge that it's not unreasonable to believe we are already living in a simulation. In the immortal words of Madge the manicurist, relax, you're already soaking in it.1 You're almost certainly a digital 'copy' already, and it doesn't really seem to matter, does it?

 

A copy of you, no matter how good, is not "you" any more than an identical twin sibling would be...  It won't be of any value at all to you, as you will be dead

 

Ah Gordo - still caught up in the notion of Self. 

 

As Susan Blackmore has expressed much more eloquently than I could, and perhaps that big Al in the sky said it better than anyone "A human being ... experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness." If you really want your head blown off, read Derek Parfit's Reasons and PersonsParfit's teleporter thought experiments will really help you to see how vacuous the notion of Self really is.

 

The Self is a convenient fiction formed out of a whole heap of perceptions connected to actions. This perception-action loop is loosely monitored by a part-time miniature internal map of the body and a crappy recording of its past actions and future intentions, which refers to itself as "me", "Self" or consciousness. The Self is just a piece of self-referential clockwork - much like what is depicted in the Conway's Game of Life video in this post a little bit higher in this thread. There is no independent Self per se, separate from the clockwork. Or thought about another way, the Self is a miniature simulation of a larger entity inside that larger entity, and it's simulations all the way down, and up, depending on which way you are looking at the moment...

 

My only reason for doubt about this perspective on the Self is that Saul appears to agree with me... Of course, as a counterweight, Rodney appears to agree with you... ☺

 

There is so much more to be said about both the simulation hypothesis and identity theory, but I need to finish up my big post about the CR Motivation Survey. I'd be happy to resume this conversation in a day or two. Or we can save it for Costa Rica, perhaps after both of us have had our mind expanded to better see the Big Picture via Ayahuasca, which BTW seems to be getting quite popular with the silicon valley crowd.

 

One other thing. You know that secret project you and I are working on together? It continues to go well, but has not yet born fruit. Here is the latest picture of our mad science project. Yes, that is the real color. But you know what? That project is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to big things I'm working on with smart colleagues. All this health, cold exposure and longevity talk? Just clickbait, and a way to pass the time in an amusing way while waiting for the real show to get underway. 

 

--Dean

 

1What made that TV commercial from 40 years ago pop into my head instantly as a response to your skepticism, I have no idea. Just one more mystery of consciousness... The fact that I could use my Google-augmented brain to retrieve and relive that childhood memory in vivid detail  in less than 30 seconds with the help YouTube (also Google), is a miracle in itself, and a sign of where we are headed. Just sayin...

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Thomas,

 

Reasons and Persons is a tough read, but well worth it. For people want a gentle introduction to Identity Theory, here is a good video, talking about some of Parfit's teleportation thought experiments, although with other general concepts about what makes you you:

 

 

For Parfit fans here is a much accessible paper quite relevant to this thread is his 1998 paper [1] with the title “Why anything? Why this?” in which he tries to tackle the conundrum we touched on recently here - why is there something, rather than nothing, and why this particular something?

 

He seems to come down on the side of "Many Worlds" theory as an explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe for life, as opposed to the "God Did It" theory.

 

 Parfit seems to agree with my earlier observation, that one of the hardest things to explain is not the existence of the material world(s) (singular or parallel), but the existence of mathematics and logical truths, which seemed to exist in a way that is independent of time and space and is therefore more fundamental than the material world. How and why those came to be seems impossible to explain, even in theory.

 

Really interesting read.

 

--Dean

 

--------

[1] Parfit, Derek 1998. “Why anything? Why this?”, London Review of Books, Jan 22, pp. 24–27.

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To follow up and augment my list of all-stars who at least entertain the Simulation Hypothesis.

 

You can add physicists Sean Carroll (on Twitter in reference to this Vox article) and Paul Davies, futurist & author David Brin, entrepreneur / inventor / futurist Ray Kurzweil (Google's Director of Engineering...), astronomer Martin Rees, the late (great) computer scientist Marvin Minsky and cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter, whose great book I Am a Strange Loop touches on both personal identity as information, and how we might be simulated in the brain of another. His poignant conversation with Dan Dennett in that book about the death of his wife, and part of her identity living on inside his own brain, helped me through some difficult times myself.

 

Speaking of conversations with Dan Dennett, who is professor of philosophy and cognitive science at Tufts. I had a conversation with him once, via an email exchange in 2013.

 

Ironically, it was on this very topic - including both many worlds and the simulation hypothesis. Below is what I wrote to Dan, and Dan's response is at the bottom. As you can see, I (kinda) convinced him to take more seriously the simulation hypothesis, and the idea we may be living in a simulation inside the mind of a super-intelligent being. Of course, he may have just been humoring me. But at least he read it!

 

Pretty cool that a famous philosopher like Dan (who's one of my personal heros) was so accessible and kind enough to respond.

 

The other cool (but spooky) think about my exchange with Dan is that today (2016) I was reminded of the exchange by a thought about Dan's conversation with Doug Hofstadter in Doug's Strange Loop book. And I notice now, again in 2016, that Dan mentioned Doug in his response to me in 2013, something I'd completely forgotten, as which is entirely irrelevant to what prompted me to think of Dan earlier today. A very weird time loop - almost as if my thinking about / mentioning Doug today reached back in time and caused Dan to mention Doug back in 2013. Or maybe it's all in my mind, which fits the model too. ☺ Reread this paragraph after you've read below, and it may (or may not) make more sense.

 

 

--Dean

 

-----------------

My Message to Dan Dennett:

 

from: Dean Pomerleau
You're perfectly able to reason about and infer a lot of things about the scenario. I could ask you questions you'd be perfectly able to answer - simple things, like would the lips of the woman be moving? You'd say, "yes of course, they'd have to in order to do the talking." You'd also be able to confirm that it must be quiet enough in the environment for the friend to be able to hear. They both must be awake and alive to be talking to each other.  So their eyes will (likely) be open, their hearts will be beating, etc. More situation-specific things can also be inferred with high likelihood - for example, they'll likely discuss where the date took place, what they did on the date, etc. In short, its perfectly natural for you to entertain, reason about, and answer questions concerning such a scenario that exists only in you mind.
The point is that inside our mind, we are constantly and adroitly manipulating "thought experiments" in which some aspects are pinned down with relative certainty, while others remain radically underspecified. It seems perfectly natural to think this way - nothing special. In fact, when we close our eyes and think about anything concrete, even stuff right in front of us, the mental model we have of that thing is tremendously underspecified. My representation of this computer I'm typing on is a great example. My mental model of it consists almost entirely of its externally relevant characteristics - the screen, keyboard, power button, case, etc. I have only a very vague notion of what's going on inside, and even that is almost entirely dormant unless I'm prompted to elaborate on it. I have no idea how pressing a key on the (bluetooth) keyboard causes a bunch of pixels on the screen a foot away to light up in the shape of the character painted on the key I pressed. But the nice thing is I don't NEED to know that level of detail to get thing done with my computer. I'm perfectly capable of interaction with the computer, and using it to get things done, with only the vaguest notion of how it works. The same goes for the car I drive - I have no clear idea how it works, but I put gas in it and then I can easily use it to get where I want to go.
In another analogy with quantum physics, "observation" in a thought experiment can reach through time and space to impact other aspects of the thought experiment. If I "made you observe" (by telling you) that the woman talking to her friend about the date was doing so from a hospital bed after getting in a terrible car crash while on the date the night before, how would this new "pinned down fact" impact the rest of the scenario? Pretty dramatically, both the part of the scenario happening "now" - i.e. the imagined conversation occurring between the woman and her friend. For example, you'd now say that they are likely to be in the same room, rather than talking over the phone. The woman is likely to be sitting up in a bed with white sheets, and the friend is likely to be sitting in a chair next to the bed. There is almost certainly a TV in the room, and electric lights overhead. There is a call button next to the bed, and doctors and nurses nearby. She's probably hooked up to some tubes. But other things in the "now" of this scenario will still be unspecified - does she have a bandage on her head? is her right arm in a cast? Does the friend have her coat on?

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Here is Dan's thoughtful response:

 

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