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Are You Living In a Computer Simulation?

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This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.


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This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.

30 review for Are You Living In a Computer Simulation?

  1. 4 out of 5

    Martin Krauskopf

    For some reasons, as a layman in the topics, I thought that the essay would be, to some extend, easy reading - only until I had immersed into the paper. As one gets into the core of the document argumentation gets gradually more complex. Furthermore terms like "substrate-independence", "weak indifference principle", "functionalism", "computationalism", "sub-neuronal level", "principle of indifference", "Doomsday argument", etc. start to pop up. The essay explains some terms to a certain level di For some reasons, as a layman in the topics, I thought that the essay would be, to some extend, easy reading - only until I had immersed into the paper. As one gets into the core of the document argumentation gets gradually more complex. Furthermore terms like "substrate-independence", "weak indifference principle", "functionalism", "computationalism", "sub-neuronal level", "principle of indifference", "Doomsday argument", etc. start to pop up. The essay explains some terms to a certain level directly, while for others reader is pointed to the bibliography or have to research in parallel with reading. The content also presumes a basic knowledge of probability theory. Even putting all the possible above barriers aside, the content is still dense to process per se, a delightful brain-twister I would say. As such, it is a mandatory, blow minding reading for futurist, philosophers, technological geeks and other such species, or just to a non-specialists who started to be interested in involved topics Above is subjective experience and for some, it might be easier reading. Obviously, depends on reader's background and intellect. Taking notes during the reading helped me a lot. As well as going through in parallel, or first, some related resources like the simpler explanation by author or this article, which are less dense and use less technical terminology could help. After all, this was joyful, demanding reading and I'm sure I'll reread it one day, analyse it furthermore and look up some critiques and advances since paper gets published in 2003. By the way, the author seems to be deservedly in an enviable situation :) I am in a very fortunate position. I have no teaching duties. I am supported by a staff of assistants and brilliant research fellows. There are virtually no restrictions on what I can work on. I must try very hard to be worthy of this privilege and to cast some light on matters that matter. -- http://www.nickbostrom.com/ (worth to click if you enjoyed the paper)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    It is no wonder Musk and others reference this work. The logic is sound and it seems pretty convincing to believe that the safest bet is not only to believe you yourself are not real, but there is actually a God afterall, although he probably answers to his God...and it's turtles all the way down. It is no wonder Musk and others reference this work. The logic is sound and it seems pretty convincing to believe that the safest bet is not only to believe you yourself are not real, but there is actually a God afterall, although he probably answers to his God...and it's turtles all the way down.

  3. 4 out of 5

    tiago.

    Mindblowing is the word that first occurs to me to describe this article. It really can change your perspective on the universe; at least, it did change mine when I first heard about the simulation argument, years ago. Somehow, I only came around to reading it now, and I can confirm it is every bit as brilliant as expected. Not the easiest of reads - lots of technical lingo, some equations thrown around, a few references to ideas such as Bertrand's Paradox or the Turing test, that might require Mindblowing is the word that first occurs to me to describe this article. It really can change your perspective on the universe; at least, it did change mine when I first heard about the simulation argument, years ago. Somehow, I only came around to reading it now, and I can confirm it is every bit as brilliant as expected. Not the easiest of reads - lots of technical lingo, some equations thrown around, a few references to ideas such as Bertrand's Paradox or the Turing test, that might require some light research - but perseverance rewards, and in few places is this statement truer than in this paper. Bostrom analyses the possibility that a given civilization (namely one such as the human civilization) will be able to produce a simulation which integrates which conscious beings. What Bostrom proposes is that one of the following must be true: 1. The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage (that is, one capable of running high-fidelity ancestor simulations) is very close to zero. 2. The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running simulations of their evolutionary history, or variations thereof, 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. He explains this with more detail, seeking to explain how each of these hypotheses may come to being, but the third hypothesis certainly presents a disruption of the ways we traditionally see our universe. It is possible that any human-level civilization can render itself extinct before thet are able to produce high-fidelity simulations, and in our particular case we certainly have been further from that point (hypothesis nr. 1). He further points there is also the possibility, albeit a slim one, that we choose not to create such simulations, for ethical reasons for example (hypothesis nr. 2). But accepting that both of these hypothesis are wrong, he says, then certainly, a simulation shall be produced. More than that: it can be expected that such a civilization will produce not one, but many simulations; there is further the possibility that there might be more than one such technologically advanced civilization, meaning that there will be several civilizations producing such simulations; and furthermore, the consciousnesses that inhabit those simulations may themselves seek to produce a simulation within a simulation, and that new simulation can in turn seek the same objective; and so on, and so forth. What results from this is that the number of simulated consciousnesses is vastly superior to that of non-simulated ones. Therefore, it is vastly more probable that you are within a simulation than without. In other words, in all likelihood, we are all inside the Matrix.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rohit Jain

    During World War 2, Konrad Zuse, a German mathematician working for Nazi government, after inventing the first electronically programmable computer Z3, put forth the concept of Digital Physics. This infant field of physics had then postulated that the entire universe is nothing but a computer and it follows a certain algorithm. This premise has gained wide acceptance today, and Nick Bostrom's paper is a further exploration of this idea. Whilst reading this article, I came upon this brilliant ide During World War 2, Konrad Zuse, a German mathematician working for Nazi government, after inventing the first electronically programmable computer Z3, put forth the concept of Digital Physics. This infant field of physics had then postulated that the entire universe is nothing but a computer and it follows a certain algorithm. This premise has gained wide acceptance today, and Nick Bostrom's paper is a further exploration of this idea. Whilst reading this article, I came upon this brilliant idea, which was directly impacted by something I was researching for years. We all know that according to ancient Indian religious belief's, Lord Mahavira and Gautam Buddha had attained liberation and enlightenment respectively viz. liberated from the cosmic cycles of birth and death. What if in reality they had found bugs (Software Developer's terminology for loopholes/ backdoors in a code) in the computer program that our ancestors have designed. What if they realized that our current gods are in reality super sophisticated programmers from the future? For the first time in the history of philosophy, we have a solid explaination for what happened to these enlightened fordmakers, and indirectly, a formal proof of God.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Thebookiemonster

    I understand and mostly agree with the author's assertion that conclusions 1, 2 or 3 must be true. But I think the rest of the paper is wild. Basically, he says future civilizations, if there are any, will have super powerful computers capable of simulating fake worlds. Naturally, those civilizations would then use those super powerful computers to simulate fake worlds. Uhh, I don't follow that. He also never addresses the purpose of running such simulations. I guess it would just be fun. It's als I understand and mostly agree with the author's assertion that conclusions 1, 2 or 3 must be true. But I think the rest of the paper is wild. Basically, he says future civilizations, if there are any, will have super powerful computers capable of simulating fake worlds. Naturally, those civilizations would then use those super powerful computers to simulate fake worlds. Uhh, I don't follow that. He also never addresses the purpose of running such simulations. I guess it would just be fun. It's also possible the future civilization already exists and has created the entire universe we currently live in as a simulation. OK, that would be hard to disprove. The whole thing strikes me as a neat thought experiment rather than a theory. To be fair, this is clearly not intended for the layman and it uses a lot of terms only those familiar with the literature would recognize.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Karnika Kapoor

    Touche!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Logan

    4 stars When I first started reading this paper, it seemed just a bit too technical for me. Words like "doomsday theory" and "belief-states" made a bit nervous about my choice for today. However, once you get past the probability theory and the computational calculations, this philosophical points made are quite compelling and make you think deeply about the world around you. The three points it aims to show, from the abstract, are that either: 1) we will not reach a post-human state; 2) we won't h 4 stars When I first started reading this paper, it seemed just a bit too technical for me. Words like "doomsday theory" and "belief-states" made a bit nervous about my choice for today. However, once you get past the probability theory and the computational calculations, this philosophical points made are quite compelling and make you think deeply about the world around you. The three points it aims to show, from the abstract, are that either: 1) we will not reach a post-human state; 2) we won't have any interest in running simulations; or, 3) we are almost certainly living in a simulation. The paper presents in a rather understandable way, and now I understand just why so many luminaries of the day like to point to this paper for others to read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Augustine Matthew Dilan

    No, I am not

  9. 4 out of 5

    Barrett

    https://www.simulation-argument.com/s... https://www.simulation-argument.com/s...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Oliver

    Elon Musk ranting about simulation theory in an interview years ago got me slowly intrigued to the topic. I read this paper searching for Bostrom's other works without realizing it was the famed basis for Bostrom's own further books and countless others exploring similar topics. Cool read, but a very small starting point in the grand scheme of attempting to understand any of these 'meta' fields with much comprehension. Elon Musk ranting about simulation theory in an interview years ago got me slowly intrigued to the topic. I read this paper searching for Bostrom's other works without realizing it was the famed basis for Bostrom's own further books and countless others exploring similar topics. Cool read, but a very small starting point in the grand scheme of attempting to understand any of these 'meta' fields with much comprehension.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Brian Mikołajczyk

    If technology persists, we will eventually have computers powerful enough to be able to simulate a civilization. Are we already in a simulation that our ancestors made? Bostrom uses probability and philosophic principles to answer this question. If humanity is to make a posthuman civilization then odds are we are indeed all in a simulation. A very interesting read!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Arturo

    It is a very concise and well-explained article that might blow your mind about the possibilities, for some might be disturbing and for others, an amazing reference but either way it is a must-read for everyone no matter your interests, it is about our reality and we should be aware of it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    PvOberstein

    Read the version at: https://www.simulation-argument.com/s... I entered skeptical, but this is honestly fairly convincing. Still torn between whether we're in scenario (1) or (3), though. Read the version at: https://www.simulation-argument.com/s... I entered skeptical, but this is honestly fairly convincing. Still torn between whether we're in scenario (1) or (3), though.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Vivek Vikram Singh

    Brief and brilliant. Case 2 could have been argued more hence the deduction of 1 star.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    My takeaways: If we accept that 1) consciousness is substrate independent and 2) computational power will continue increasing, the argument that we are in a simulation is quite compelling.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rory Tregaskis

    Did something strange to my brain I'm not sure I can undo. Did something strange to my brain I'm not sure I can undo.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Paula

    Eu não acreditava até começar a ler, mas agora tudo fez sentido, chega a ser ridículo de tanto sentido que fez.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Pierre

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. An interesting paper from Bostrom that presents an argument for three possible realities: 1) The human species is likely to go extinct before 'advanced' computer simulations can be run 2) Post-human civilisations choose not to run advanced simulations for some reason, or, 3) We are likely to be living in an advanced simulation ourselves. I find Bostrom's argument to be unconvincing in reducing the range of possibilities to just these three. I think there is a substantial chance that there are physi An interesting paper from Bostrom that presents an argument for three possible realities: 1) The human species is likely to go extinct before 'advanced' computer simulations can be run 2) Post-human civilisations choose not to run advanced simulations for some reason, or, 3) We are likely to be living in an advanced simulation ourselves. I find Bostrom's argument to be unconvincing in reducing the range of possibilities to just these three. I think there is a substantial chance that there are physical limits which would prevent the creation of a simulation as complex and varied as our reality. Similarly, I think Bostrom goes too far to begin assigning motives to the beings that would be capable of running such simulations. Bostrom once stated that he guessed a 20% chance of option 3, whereas I think that even if such simulations were possible, there might be vastly more informative purposes for such simulations or better ways to probe our evolutionary history. Either way, the argument is interesting and worth a read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Douglas Oliveira

    Skies turned red, sunlight vanished and a new paradigm shift rushed blood tempestuously throughout my brains and chest: Is it real or am I dreaming about it? Now it's a worldwide subject, great in relevance and worth noted by the widespread media in every corner. Since its inception, few people knows the deepest and implications of Bostrom's theory (albeit it's not from him the first touches on the matters). Whet am Daht movie from October '73 scrapped slowly in this subject through media apprais Skies turned red, sunlight vanished and a new paradigm shift rushed blood tempestuously throughout my brains and chest: Is it real or am I dreaming about it? Now it's a worldwide subject, great in relevance and worth noted by the widespread media in every corner. Since its inception, few people knows the deepest and implications of Bostrom's theory (albeit it's not from him the first touches on the matters). Whet am Daht movie from October '73 scrapped slowly in this subject through media appraisal of this idea. Countless discussions runt then, and a fast lookup could reveal how Bostrom's argument has set on fire a whole bunch of controversial, paradoxical and correlated ideas nodally attached on this beautiful and same time creepy arguments.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mar Alexanian

    I keep coming back to this. I do think it's likely that we are in a simulation (within potentially multiple or infinite number of simulations... sort of like dream like states within dreamlike states) - at the base to the extend we can feel/ sense/ experience is something i am going to refer to as consciousness and the rest is a construct to convey complexity that is too difficult to process all at this time. After reading this again I do think there's a lot here. I recommend his work. I keep coming back to this. I do think it's likely that we are in a simulation (within potentially multiple or infinite number of simulations... sort of like dream like states within dreamlike states) - at the base to the extend we can feel/ sense/ experience is something i am going to refer to as consciousness and the rest is a construct to convey complexity that is too difficult to process all at this time. After reading this again I do think there's a lot here. I recommend his work.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mati Roy

    See the website, it has a lot of interesting content: http://www.simulation-argument.com/ See the website, it has a lot of interesting content: http://www.simulation-argument.com/

  22. 5 out of 5

    Chase

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dreaming Though Awake

  24. 5 out of 5

    Darion

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mitchell Barrington

  26. 5 out of 5

    Askaso

  27. 4 out of 5

    Bastiaan van den Boogaart

  28. 4 out of 5

    Shalini

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sepideh Nikkar

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jye Sawtell-Rickson

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