Let's turn to the lighter side of the news. No animals were harmed in the making of this film...
Now, a philosopher and team of physicists imagine that we might really be living inside a computer-generated universe that you could call The Lattice. What's more, we may be able to detect it.
In 2003, British philosopher Nick Bostrom published a paper that proposed the universe we live in might in fact really be a numerical computer simulation. To give this a bizarre Twilight Zone twist, he suggested that our far-evolved distant descendants might construct such a program to simulate the past and recreate how their remote ancestors lived.
He felt that such an experiment was inevitable for a supercivilization.
If it didn't happen by now, that meant humanity never evolved that far and we're doomed to a short lifespan as a species, he argued.
To extrapolate further, I'd suggest that artificial intelligent entities descended from us would be curious about looking back in time by simulating the universe of their biological ancestors.
There is of course a strictly theological view of "reality" which has exactly the same form as Bostrom's argument. On that view, God (the sim programmer) put fossils in the rocks to fool us into thinking that life evolved over the 4.56 billion years of the Earth's existence, and hominins evolved in the last 6-7 million of those years. (Homo sapiens is last remaining hominin species.) The Gnostic variant of this argument says that Satan put those fossils in the rocks, for it is the Prince of Darkness who actually runs this world—I find this last part plausible
There is a name for some variants of this theological argument—it is called Intelligent Design.
Back to Discovery Magazine—
As off-the-wall as this sounds, a team of physicists at the University of Washington (UW) recently announced that there is a potential test to seen if we actually live in The Lattice. Ironically, it would be the first such observation for scientifically hypothesized evidence of intelligent design behind the cosmos.
The UW team [also] propose that super-intelligent entities, bored with their current universe, do numerical simulations to explore all possibilities in the landscape of the underlying quantum vacuum (from which the big bang percolated) through universe simulations. "This is perhaps the most profound quest that can be undertaken by a sentient being," write the authors.
It is perhaps unnecessary and embarassing for me to point out some additional confusion amongst all this serious confusion, but here we go—
Before you dismiss this idea as completely loony, the reality of such a Sim Universe might solve a lot of eerie mysteries about the cosmos. About two-dozen of the universe's fundamental constants happen to fall within the narrow range thought to be compatible with life. At first glance it seems as unlikely as balancing a pencil on its tip. Jiggle these parameters and life as we know it would have never appeared. Not even stars and galaxies. This is called the Anthropic Principle.
The discovery of dark energy over a decade ago further compounds the universe’s strangeness. This sort of “antigravity” pushing space-time apart is the closest thing there is to nothing and still is something. This energy from the vacuum of space is 60 orders of magnitude weaker that what would be predicted by quantum physics.The eminent cosmologist Michael Turner ranks dark energy as "the most profound mystery in all of science."
The (weak, valid) form of the Anthropic Principle simply states that we can only observe a Universe which is compatible with the existence of those who observe it. In other words, we could not observe a Universe which precludes our existence! As for dark energy, it does not follow that we need exotic explanations (like computer simulations from our super-evolved descendants) to explain things about the Universe we do not currently understand.
Finally, an artificial universe solves the Fermi Paradox (where are all the space aliens?) by implying that we truly are alone in the universe. It was custom made for us by our far-future progeny.
Biblical creationists can no doubt embrace these seeming cosmic coincidences as unequivocal evidence for their "theory" of Intelligent Design (ID).
But is our "God" really a computer programmer rather than a bearded old man living in the sky?
[My note: I wrote about the Fermi Paradox in Are We Alone In The Milky Way? ]
Humans apparently need a "God" in all cases, whether he is imagined to be a computer programmer or a bearded old man living in the sky. That's the bottom line, and things get even more complicated than that.
Bostrom imagined a hierarchy of deities, "In some ways, the post-humans running a simulation are like gods. However, all the demigods except those at the fundamental level of reality are subject to sanctions by the more powerful gods living at lower levels."
Well, OK, let's assume we're living in a computer simulation. In that case, I give you Dave's Plea for Mercy—
To Whom it may concern,
Please don't pull the plug!
But may I suggest a few small modifications to the current simulation program? I humbly submit that You might consider these changes, including but not limited to the following, regarding Your Homo sapiens subroutine—
- make it such that they don't kill or physically harm each other anymore
- make it such that they no longer want to fuck each other over all the time
- give them a low threshold of gratification
- make it such that they don't kill off other species and destroy their natural habitat, including the oceans, the climate, wetlands, tropical forests and so on
- make it such that they're not so damned crazy and confused all the time
- give them the gifts of Reason and Self-Knowledge, tempered with Compassion
- make them humble, such that they always take a realistic view of themselves
- get rid of those irksome Animal Instincts that cause them to grow like bacteria in a Petri dish
If You would consider these small but not insignificant changes, and some others I might submit in the future, I would be eternally grateful.
Yours in simulation software,