Re: How To Live In A Simulation

Date: Fri Mar 16 2001 - 00:11:55 MST

Robert J. Bradbury, <>, writes:
> In reply, On Thu, 15 Mar 2001 wrote:
> > I think what Nick means is that it is irrelevant whether you are
> > dealing with a "simulated" being or a real one. He is not saying that
> > consciousness is the deciding factor, merely that simulation-vs-real
> > doesn't matter. If you don't care about a simulation with a certain
> > level of consciousness, then you shouldn't care about a real being with
> > that level of consciousness.
> >
> > The question of what level of consciousness deserves consideration
> > is independent of this.
> If that is what he is saying, then I would disagree completely
> and with Intestinal Fortitude.
> ...
> There is a critical distinction between a basement level "real"
> self-conscious entity and one that is running on a simulation of
> some sort.

Let me briefly give an explicit argument for why simulated beings deserve
the same consideration as real ones. Basically I will claim that there
is no fundamental difference between a simulated and a real being.
I know this is a radical claim but see if the chain of reasoning below
is convincing.

Real human beings have all of their consciousness tied up in their brain.
The activity of the brain somehow produces the consciousness that makes
us want to care about them morally. We know the brain works by the
activity of neural cells which interact with each other via chemical
and electrical messages. Likewise they get information from and send
signals to the outside world via similar messages.

Now imagine a brain with the neurons replaced by artificial electrical
components which have the same functional effect. Each neuron has been
turned into an electrical equivalent. The brain continues to run the same
way, and it still is able to receive sensory input from the outside world
(the sensory neurons will be replaced with electrical transducers).
Is the person now a simulation? I would say no, he is still real.
The fact that his neurons are made of metal instead of protein is not
of fundamental importance.

Now imagine the brain replaced by a computer sitting in the head,
performing exactly the same calculations that the artificial neurons did.
It still has connections to the I/O transducers which communicate with
the outside world. Is the person now a simulation? I would still say
no, he is real, because all we have done is rearrange the electrical
circuits inside his head. This cannot change his level of reality.

Now imagine the computer is not located in the head, but in a console
somewhere. Maybe the body is still teleoperated by the computer, or maybe
it is a simulated body running in VR. Is the person a simulation yet?
Again, I would say no. If the I/O is still attached to a real body,
all we have done is move the computer, and that can't change his level
of reality. If the I/O is virtual, we can reverse the steps and get
back to a biological brain which is interacting in VR. If we agree that
a biological brain interacting in VR is "real", then a computer brain
interacting in VR is real too.

The result of this chain of reasoning is that the distinction between
"levels of reality" is not correct. "Simulated" people are just as real
as physical ones.

I think this is what Nick had in mind. He emphasized that a conscious
brain is a *physical* object. This is true whether it is a bunch
of neurons, an electrical circuit, or an appropriately programmed
computer. When someone is thinking, in a brain or a simulation or a
sim-within-a-sim, there is physical activity in the real world that
implements that thought. The thoughts are real, regardless of the
context in which they appear.


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