Re: How To Live In A Simulation

Date: Tue Mar 13 2001 - 11:37:05 MST

Robin writes:
> The idea that we might be living in a simulation has
> been popular lately in film and fiction (e.g., 13th
> Floor, Matrix).
> But I never saw anyone take the idea seriously enough
> to ask how you should live your life if you think you
> might be living in a simulation. To fill that gap:
> How To Live In A Simulation

Very interesting, although a bit "iffy" (21 "if"s!). I was looking
through some of my old extropian files last night and Lee Corbin raised
a similar question back in February 1996, in a thread titled "The VR
Solipsist". Unfortunately the archives don't go back that
far so I have included his message below [1].

The problem with these kinds of speculations is that they hinge so
much on the desires and motivations of those running the simulations.
I think for almost every point you can come up with a plausible scenario
in which the opposite conclusion would apply.

Robin's first suggestion is that it is more probable that everyone else
in the world is a "zombie", a being who acts conscious but actually is
not, and therefore we might care less about other people. However many
philosophers argue that zombies are impossible (Chalmers goes into this
at great length in his book, The Conscious Mind). Hence the fact that
we are in a VR would not imply that it is more probable that others are
zombies, since that is impossible.

Even if we believe zombies are possible, we still might not want to act
uncaringly towards others since it could be harmful to us. Presumably
there are good practical reasons why we behave as we do in the real world.
If the simulation is faithful then those reasons will still apply in
the VR. Also, our descendants may share moral views common today and
may punish us in some way if we behave in an evil or uncaring manner.

Robin also suggests that a simulation may be more likely to end sooner
than actual human history, hence you should care less about tomorrow.
However, if we are not in a simulation, actual human history may end soon.
If we are in a simulation (assuming humans or their descendants run
the sim) then this tells us that human history extends long enough for
simulations to be common, causing us to actually be more optimistic that
we could live a long time. Plus there is the observational fact that
the world seems to be getting faster, more complex and more interesting,
suggesting that the simulation still has some way to go and is not about
to stop.

Another argument is that we should work harder than we might otherwise
to make the world a wealthier place, on the assumption that this will
make it more like the world of the simulators and hence that they will
be more likely to keep the sim running. OTOH they may be running sims
to explore alternate histories and ones which fall into the same old
predictable track will be boring. Or it might be that they are forcing
the sim to follow some general historical path, in which case nothing
we do matters in the long term, they are just observing social details.
So we could stop working so hard to improve the world.

(One observation, these and other points are predicated on the assumption
that as a simulated creature it ought to be our goal to keep the sim
running as long as possible. Other possible goals are to have the sim
re-run as frequently as possible, or in as many different variations as
possible, or to convince the simulators to upload us from the sim into
the real world.)

I won't go on, but these are just a few of the possibilities which
we would have to consider if we want to assume that we are in a VR.
Ultimately you have to guess about the motivations for the sim and
make your decisions accordingly. Given the difficulty of predicting
the nature of a world which is rich enough to allow for this technology
to be common, I think it is virtually impossible to draw any meaningful
conclusions about what we should do.


[1] Lee Corbin's "The VR Solipsist" from February 27, 1996:
: Suppose someone from "outside" builds a secret, narrow, channel
: to you and somehow persuades you that your whole experience is
: already virtual reality. In other words, suppose you learn that
: your world is only the execution of a program I'll call the Operating
: System. It has been designed to convince the subject that he or
: she lives in a real world of about A.D.2000 technology. Moreover,
: the OS is completely reliable (and realistic): you can commit suicide
: if you wish, and you'll really die (i.e., your experiences will come
: to an end).
: To forestall irrelevancies, let me also postulate that you
: understand that in 30 or 40 years, you will find out a lot about
: the "real" world outside, but for now, it must remain a mystery.
: How would your behavior change? Because this thought is quite
: new to me, let me tell you how I think my behavior would probably
: change. Right now, I can think of just two ways:
: One, I would completely disregard the feelings of others. Of
: course, I would not be rude to others because they would retalitate.
: For example, I could hardly disregard the apparent feelings of the
: people I work with, because I might lose my job, and I still would
: need money. (The OS would have no problem watching me starve.)
: But if an old friend was looking forward to visiting me, and I
: really didn't want to see him, I'd just tell him I was busy, and
: under no circumstances have any regard at all for his feelings,
: since he didn't really exist anyway.
: (Likewise, I'd stop feeling any concern whatsoever for the poor,
: the sick, the war-ravaged, the hungry, victims of crimes, and so on.
: I'd know that no actual misfortune, suffering, or inconvenience was
: really occuring.)
: Two, while I would work towards my own indefinite survival, I
: would make no efforts to "make the world a better place", except
: insofar as it benefitted me. "Fame", for example, would certainly
: mean less to me.
: Am I just old fashioned? I get the impression that for many
: people, nothing would change. Are there ways you believe that
: your behavior would change? Comments?

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