Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Why the Simulation Hypothesis Isn't and Can't be a Bona Fide Scientific Assertion


The Simulation Hypothesis is probably about as old as humankind. There's not really any essential difference between us thinking "perhaps we live in a computer simulation" and our ancestors thinking "perhaps we live in the imagination/dream of a god." But I'll go with Bostrom's trilemma:

A technologically mature “posthuman” civilization would have enormous computing power. Based on this empirical fact, the simulation argument shows that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage is very close to zero; (2) The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero; (3) The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.

If (1) is true, then we will almost certainly go extinct before reaching posthumanity. If (2) is true, then there must be a strong convergence among the courses of advanced civilizations so that virtually none contains any relatively wealthy individuals who desire to run ancestor-simulations and are free to do so. If (3) is true, then we almost certainly live in a simulation.

So far as I can tell, the logic checks out, and my money is on (3).

But I keep seeing pieces that go like this one:

Now scientists are searching for ways to put the simulation hypothesis to the test. Bostrom is eager to see more concrete developments of his idea. Experiments that could distinguish physical reality from a simulation “are what would be needed for it to be a bona fide scientific assertion,” he told MACH.

The difference between a hypothesis/conjecture and a "bona fide scientific assertion" is that the latter is falsifiable. That is, it is possible to show that it is false (if it is, in fact, false).

The Simulation Hypothesis is not falsifiable because if it is true, the creators, programmers, or administrators who created the simulation we live in could have coded rules into that simulation that return experimental results reflecting what they want us to know or not know -- for example, false falsifications -- rather than returning experimental results reflecting the truth. In extremis, they could even re-start the simulation or run it back in time if we conduct an experiment that gets around such rules, and add some new factor to make sure that doesn't happen "again."

Going back to the first paragraph, I find it interesting that attempting to scientifically test the Simulation Hypothesis is not just the equivalent of attempting to scientifically prove the existence or non-existence of God, it is attempting to scientifically prove the existence or non-existence of God.

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