If the Universe is a simulation

Cheat codes, among many other things.

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44 Responses to If the Universe is a simulation

  1. melendwyr says:

    There ultimately are no properties of “the universe is a simulation” that differentiate it from “the universe isn’t a simulation”. The idea itself is flawed. Reality is reality, and if some portion of it is more central, that’s just how things go. You might just as easily say that our everyday world is the dream of a god. If the god is outside reality, there are no implications of its asserted being that aren’t also implied by its negation. And if it’s inside reality… well, that’s strange, but not outside the limits.

    There’s no way to distinguish a ‘cheat code’ from ‘a rule of physics incompatible with your intuitions’. If the laws of physics say that time goes more slowly the faster you move, or that you can create a fireball by snapping your fingers while palming a ball of sulphur and bat guano… that’s just what physics is.

    • aisaac says:

      And entering cheat codes like, say, the Konami code that gave you 30 lives in Contra is just part of the program, yet the concept of a cheat code is still useful.

      • melendwyr says:

        Because our game programs are clearly teleological, and the effect of those codes is incompatible with the normal intention behind the program’s functioning. Which is why they’re ‘cheats’.

  2. gcochran9 says:

    There’s probably some NPC in Halo that says the same thing. But he’s obviously wrong.

    • melendwyr says:

      People have tried proposing observable phenomena that would indicate we’re in a simulation. No one’s ever managed to come up with one that would work, for the simple reason that it logically can’t work. Our models of the universe must conform to what we observe, even if the result no longer makes sense to us. We just get used to the weirdness with enough time until it becomes normal.

      Which is why no one considers forces working across distances to be occult nonsense, as many of Newton’s contemporaries condemned his model of gravity, and why spooky-action-at-a-distance is accepted despite Einstein finding it abhorrent. In a contest between our observations and our ideas, our ideas must always ultimately lose.

      If you can provide a valid explanation of why this is not the case, I will gladly recant. But I think you’re making an error. (I’m sure this will keep you up at night.)

  3. One of the ways to get the sociological benefits of religion (thinking you’re being watched to stop you masturbating for example) without tossing out science, is simply to keep the simulation hypothesis in mind.

    Maybe karma does exist, if you do good deeds in this turn, you reincarnate as a dog in a middle class American family in the next…

  4. engleberg says:

    Steven Brams Superior Beings gives some game theory for figuring what cheat codes would look like from inside a simulation universe. He was talking about God as seen from inside the Bible- Kenneth Boulding gave a favorable review saying it would work even if you were looking for Leviathan.

  5. Bryce Laliberte says:

    From within the simulation, how do you tell the difference between laws of nature and cheat codes?

    • gcochran9 says:

      I could. Maybe you can’t.

      For example, if I were to demonstrate that saying “Afghanistan Banana Stand” made an emerald the size of a plover’s egg materialize in mid-air and fall into my hands, you would wonder – and rightly so.

      • melendwyr says:

        That would be pretty incompatible with our everyday understanding of physics. But we’d eventually be forced to discard that understanding in the face of clear empirical data to the contrary.

        Now, if you go around zapping programs out of the TRON-style system, you might be able to convince them that their world is a simulation. But that would only mean that the universe was a lot weirder than they thought. Reality as a whole? Can’t be done.

      • Bryce Laliberte says:

        It’d certainly defy my expectations, but I could just revise my model of the world.

    • Esso says:

      It’s a matter of definition, but I think a law of nature is usually required to apply to everything, everywhere.

      There are some problems with adopting cheat codes into your model of the world. What if they are one-off? Or it turns out that there is an unlimited number of them? “Que sera, sera” is not a very useful theory. It sure is deterministic, though.

      • Bryce Laliberte says:

        What if some of the things we take to be “laws of nature” are spatiotemporally contingent?

  6. a very knowing American says:

    My car disappeared once, just wasn’t where I parked it. I did contemplate the possibility that there was a glitch in the Universe software, and the corresponding file accidentally got deleted or something. Turned out the car had been stolen (or else SOMEBODY sorted out the problem with that part of the simulation).

  7. Patrick Boyle says:

    I saw that movie. (The Thirteen Floor). One tip off might be that all the men are 6’4″.

  8. Polymath says:

    That reminds me of an idea I had (today, coincidentally). If the universe is a simulation, don’t overlook the possibility of going over the head of the simulator and addressing your prayers to “not you, Him”.

    It is indeed possible to apply Bayesian logic and draw inferences about the likelihood that the universe is a simulation. If it is A CERTAIN KIND of simulation, then attempts to do this will be fruitless,but there are other kinds of simulation about which, for reasons of resource availability or programmer indifference or inattention, the correct inference is possible.

  9. JayMan says:

    My view on this matter (well, the nature of the universe, not so much the simulation bit, but back to that in a sec) is more or less Max Tegmark’s, which would seem to be a given if Occam’s Razor is at all informative.

    Now as for the simulation bit, something ala the scene in the Matrix with implanted bug in the belly would be a bit of a clue that something’s up. Of course, according to the Tegmark model, this isn’t ruled out, it just implies one additional layer of mathematics involved (that is, our simulation in whatever the “universe” is).

    Now, as for the religion part, hard core atheist here. But the thought crossed my mind that if all mathematical entities exist physically, then “intelligences” of far greater complexity than anything in our universe must also exist. Does this matter to us? No, not beyond the academic aspect, but something for the religious-minded out there to think about.

  10. RS says:

    Paul Davies has militated against multiverses, simulation theories, ‘many worlds’ interpretation, super-awesome hyperspaces, and any strong anthropic principle. He just thinks science (whatever that may mean to one) is only about what can be reproducibly experienced — by us, to be precise, by people we can contact — if you’ve gone as far as you can with that, scientific progress along a particular path just comes to an end as far as we can ascertain, for centuries, millennia, or indefinitely.

    Whereas Goedel evidently told a student that the implications of the a priori are grossly underrated, and that no grandfather-type paradox arises when particles briefly move backward in time (which phenomenon I don’t think is highly controversial – ?) . . . because some laws must constrain anything they do in retrograde time from causing some wild absurdity. (It sure seems like that would require a whole lot of constraint.) So I assume Goedel was at the other pole, highly receptive to ‘many worlds’ and its like, regardless of whether he thought much of a particular idea in that mold. But presumably he wouldn’t class these ideas as pure ‘science’ or as pure ‘empirical science’.

    Sadly I will never begin to understand the physics involved in these contrasting outlooks, and am barely smart enough to behold the purely philosophical aspects, but it’s fascinating.

    Apparently Davies also takes a very strong form of the view that science doesn’t actually explain the universe in toto unless physical law itself can be explained. Even if you’ve got a consistent theory of quantum gravity, and manage to wrap up the dark matter question and such, you are still in a perplexing world, essentially a mysterious one, to the extent that you can’t explain the laws themselves. (I wonder how well this gels with his strict emphasis on what is experienced ; does one actually experience the laws?)

    Whether or not physical laws can be explained, I already felt that way about life, because I don’t really think science can ever explain consciousness. I suspect it’s not possible even in the abstract. Though unfortunately I’m not smart enough to be sure. I think people just believe, by induction, that ‘eventually’ science will ‘probably’ explain consciousness, seeing as science has gradually, century by century, already explained most stuff quite ably. This seemed to me to be the only real fundamental argument in F. Crick’s book on the subject (a book I read maybe 10% of). (The fact that consciousness is affected by receptor ligands, neurons, etc I don’t see as a fundamental argument.)

    To me this seems very sad in a way ; intuitively, it seems to me that having this outlook dims people’s experience of their own selves (through consciousness, of course). Presumably the Romanticists who chafed under science had some comparable feeling. It seems most elites think science has explained ‘everything, or close enough’, other than things that are arguably metaphysical imponderables — with a couple asterisks for the dark matter problem or the failure to unify gravitation with the other forces, if like me they are aware at a pop-sci level of those particular ‘incompletions’. Further, they may accept with Kuhn that science is only asymptotic to Truth. But other than that, science has become an essentially total outlook for many.

    But consciousness is obviously not a metaphysical imponderable at all. You experience directly. Where the cosmos came from, or where the nomos that allowed the cosmos to self-generate came from, is arguably a metaphysical imponderable. That is: it may be meta wrt physics, and you ponder it. Consciousness you may certainly ponder if you like, but you also just plain experience it. You do not ‘experience’ cosmos/nomos having (or lacking) an origin.

    • Hayrick says:

      Personally I am with Ernst Cassirer . – Tr. The place of language and myth in the pattern of human culture:-

      “All schemata which science evolves in order to classify , organise and summarise the phenomena of the real world turn out to be nothing but arbitrary schemes – airy fabrics of the mind, which express not the nature of things, but the nature of the mind.”

      and Surrealism :)

  11. pearl gates, ceo macrosoft says:

    Oh come on that non-Newtonian physics stuff its from when we tried to outsourcing the code to the patelaxy. we still haven’t sorted it out.

  12. TWS says:

    Test if we live in a simulation? What do you do if discover you’re right? Look for the cheat codes? Try to directly contact the programmer? What if the programmers moved on and a pimply 13 year old is the only person interacting with the program? How do you arrange to move to the ‘all tropical paradise’ version?

  13. Anthony says:

    cheat code = miracle

  14. j3morecharacters says:

    Any mechanism inevitably produces errors and inconsistencies. Since never had been identified any, this is the real thing.

  15. Ian says:

    If the Universe were not a simulation, but an algorithm, you wouldn’t have cheat codes but hacks.

    About that “algorithm” thing: what stuff are electrons made of? it’s a silly question, of course. An electron is just a set of rules. May be you can decompose those rules into simple rules (the 1/137 rule seems to be too arbitrary to be a real basic rule). But, in any case, at the bottom of reality, you always finds algorithmic rules, instead of any primeval goo.

  16. Jim says:

    One difference between unintuitive physics and a miracle is that unintuitive physics is reproducible while a miracle presumably isn’t. Thus if every time that someone says “Afghanistan Banana Stand” a huge emerald materializes then that just becomes a newly discovered if untuitive law of physics and the price of emeralds goes to zero. But if it happens just once and never succeeds again then it is a miracle.

    • melendwyr says:

      Every event in the universe happens only once. Even if time is a loop, each time an event occurs is the first and only time.

      Is everything to be considered a miracle, then?

    • melendwyr says:

      How do we distinguish between non-reproducible events, and events whose requirements we don’t understand well enough to reproduce?
      And what grounds do we have for considering something a ‘miracle’ merely because it conflicts with our current understanding? Scientists have found lots of things they couldn’t explain. And they study them until they’ve extended their understanding, or thrown out their incorrect understandings. They don’t declare that it was a miracle.

      If you want to find a miracle, though, there’s a scientific journal dedicated to them. It’s called “The Journal of Irreproducible Results”.

  17. Jim says:

    Ian – Can the names of electrons be substituted for the free variables of physics? I don’t know enough about physics to know whether this is possible but I suspect not. If they can’t then electrons themselves are not part of the Quinean ontology of physics and questions about their nature are transcendental. Parameters such as “number of electrons” or “energies of electrons” are substitutable into the free variables of physics and these things are “real” but the electrons themselves are not.

  18. aisaac says:

    Why would there necessarily be cheat codes? Cheat codes are put in games for debugging and for cheating. How do we know the designers, if its designed, of the simulation we hypothetically live in, would have put any in, or would have enabled them for non-admin users if they had?

  19. mapman says:

    Is “we are in a simulation” a more politically correct way of saying “god exists”? I can’t see a logical difference.

  20. Jim says:

    melendwyr – As the word “miracle” is normally used I think it refers to events that we don’t how to fit into regular casual patterns. If we don’t know how to do that it’s a miracle to us. It doesn’t matter if some intelligent being on another planet understands it. If we can reliably reproduce a type of event then we have fitted it into a pattern – for example we find that saying “Afghanistan Banana Stand” is always followed by the materialization of an emerald. That may be surprising at first just like X-rays surprised 19th century physicists. But X-rays behaive in a predictable if initially surprising way so X-rays are not miracles to us.

    The Big Bang is a miracle to us because we can’t think of a casual explaination.

    • j3morecharacters says:

      Bing Bang is not a miracle since all and every one of its phases follows nature’s laws, which can be proved and replicated. If there is one point we dont understand, it makes more sense to say “coming generations will find the explanation as we did for points our fathers didnt understand” than presume it is something supernatural aka miracle. The only working hypothesis we have is that this is the real world and there is no puppeteer behind (or above) it.

      • melendwyr says:

        Or if there is a puppeteer, it exists in a wider and greater section of reality in which it’s just another entity.

        Existence is ultimately not founded upon intelligences, for the same reason it can’t be founded upon hamburgers.

    • Hayrick says:

      Does nature abhor a vacuum?

  21. Jim says:

    We can replicate the Big Bang?

  22. melendwyr says:

    Unless the ‘cheat code’ was extremely obscure, we wouldn’t recognize it as being a violation of normality. It would constitute normality, instead. Weirdness is determined by frequency more than anything else. For example, we consider the behavior of water to be normal because it’s so common, but it’s a very odd liquid with a variety of peculiar and probably unique properties. We don’t go around saying “oh, water must be the result of a specific cheat embedded in the laws of chemistry” because our ideas about chemistry formed to incorporate water.
    Ever wondered how many of the things astronomy takes for granted are the result of alien cosmological engineering? How could we tell? We can barely rule out Dyson swarms within several dozen lightyears, much less determine what the proper frequency of supernovae should be.

  23. Gottlieb says:

    The simulation is also reality, only it is a controlled and non-spontaneous reality and still is a kind of reality.
    If the universe or universes are a simulation, then there is something very powerful force that governs us. God?
    Well, if you want to name the expansion of the universe or universes with that name …
    Human beings and all living creatures are like multiple bugs of space and time. I mean, life would be as a micro-simulation of the universe since it is dynamic, expands, contracts, and is extinguished reborn. We are smearing time, we have our own time but we are in orbit around the universe and therefore fundamentally interact with them.
    God is the wind itself.
    The simulation depends on what perspective you’re looking for. If you look at the whole, could be questioned. We are simulation of what? Every simulation must come from something.
    The whole simulation has to come from something that has not happened yet. Life itself is like the universe itself, trial and error.

  24. Wow. So this this where all the smart blog-readers are. Gotta come here more often.

  25. Bruce says:

    From inside the model/simulation, how would you know if it’s deterministic or stochastic?

    • Gottlieb says:

      You asked me?
      Well, I promised myself I would not comment on hbdosphere because of my terrible English. But it seems that the question was directed at me, so I will not be rude.
      The idea of time, it would be nothing more than the expansion of the universe itself, in my opinion, goes on an idea of determinism, despite the random events that happen inside.
      I mean, if you need to go somewhere, then you’re determined to perform this activity. However, along the way you will have setbacks, like dodge a drunk, or tying shoelaces. The drunk, randomly, was in the same place where you have to pass. None was determinated. But from the moment that happened, this little random event became certain, because it has happened and can not be changed. The past is determinism, the future is uncertain or aleatory.
      Therefore, the simulation model of the universe from the idea that other events would have happened millions of times before. (my opinion) Most likely, one event would have happened to forge this whole chain of repetitive echoes. All the phenomenological event or mutation of space and time, mimics evolution itself. It’s a bug that which was given in the past. Prior to happen, it’s random, because there are several possibilities. The model is as random as deterministic.
      I hope you have understood.
      Now excuse me because I’m trying to learn pronouns in English are so many …

  26. JayMan says:

    Dr. Cochran,

    Here’s something a little different here, an actual physics question to a physicist: :)

    Out of curiosity, what are your thoughts on the Many World vs. Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics? Which one do you think is more likely to be correct?

    (For the record, I believe it is Many Worlds.)

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