The Peer-to-Peer Hypothesis and a new theory of free will

29artsbeat-video-blog480by Marcus Arvan

[This essay is part of a special “free will week” at Scientia Salon. The Editor promises not to touch the topic again for a long while after this particular orgy, of course assuming he has any choice in the matter…]

Nick Bostrom [1] is well-known for arguing on probabilistic grounds that we are likely living in a simulation. Somewhat similarly, David Chalmers [2] has argued that we should consider the “simulation hypothesis” not as a skeptical hypothesis that threatens our having knowledge of the external world, but as a metaphysical hypothesis regarding what our world is actually made of. Finally, the simulation hypothesis is gaining some traction in physics [3].

In “A New Theory of Free Will” [4] and “A Unified Explanation of Quantum Phenomena?” [5] I argue that a new version of the simulation hypothesis — the Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Simulation Hypothesis — is not only implied by several serious hypotheses in philosophy and physics, but promises to provide a unified explanation of a bunch of baffling physical and metaphysical features of our world.

I begin “A New Theory of Free Will” by arguing that we presently have some philosophical and scientific evidence in favor of each of the following hypotheses:

  1. Eternalism about physical objects and properties: past, present, and future physical objects and properties exist “timelessly.”
  2. Mind-body dualism: the mind is at least partly comprised by non-physical properties or substance(s).
  3. Subjectivity about the passage of time: time’s passage occurs within consciousness alone.
  4. Only one timeline (ours) is actualized, or consciously experienced by observers.
  5. The holographic principle: the physical universe is simply a series of ordered two-dimensional information (i.e. 1’s and 0’s) “written” on the cosmological horizon.
  6. The multiverse hypothesis: the observable physical universe is merely a small part of vast multiverse of alternative possibilities.

Although many of these hypotheses are extremely controversial, I believe that the model they jointly imply — the P2P hypothesis — promises to explain things about our reality that need explaining, and for which we currently have no good explanation. Allow me to elaborate.

fig. 1
fig. 1

 

In computer science, there are two types of online simulations: (a) dedicated server simulations (fig.1), in which one computer on the network (the “server”) serves as the definitive representation of objects and properties in the simulation, and (b) peer-to-peer networked simulations (fig. 2), in which no single computer on the network serves as the definitive representation of objects and properties in the simulation, but in which, instead, “the” simulation is simply represented in parallel on the various interacting computers on the network.

fig. 2
fig. 2

 

Notice what a P2P simulation is. A P2P simulation just is:

  • An array of two-dimensional information (e.g., each computer’s game program or DVD)
  • Comprising a vast array of “possible pasts, presents, and futures” for the simulation
  • Being read in real time
  • By a multitude of external measuring devices (i.e., each computer on the network)
  • All interacting in parallel, such that
  • The joint measurements of all the computers on the network result in the appearance of single observed, intersubjective reality

These six features of a P2P simulation are functionally identical to hypotheses (1)-(6). Thus, if hypotheses (1)-(6) are true, our reality is functionally identical to a peer-to-peer simulation. Let us now examine what this new metaphysical model might explain.

Explaining the Physically Unexplained?

Our world has a number of baffling physical features. They include:

  1. Quantum superposition
  2. Quantum indeterminacy
  3. The quantum measurement problem
  4. Wave-particle duality
  5. Quantum wave-function “collapse”
  6. Quantum entanglement
  7. The Planck length
  8. The relativity of time to observers (no single, objective “universal clock”)

It’s worth noting, to begin, that physicists commonly recognize that we/they have “no idea” why our world has features (1)-(8). Contemporary quantum theory — and extant interpretations of quantum mechanics — explain how quantum mechanics works (i.e., what follows from quantum-mechanical equations), but not why our world has these baffling features in the first place.

Interestingly, all eight physical features listed above emerge naturally from the structure of a peer-to-peer network simulation. Here’s how:

  • A peer-to-peer simulation just is a superposition of different parallel representations of the simulated environment on different computers on the network (viz. each computer has its own ever-so-slightly different representation of where things in the simulation are, such that the union of the different representations of “reality” is a giant superposition of alternate states)
  • “The” location of any object or property in a P2P simulation is therefore also indeterminategiven that each computer on the network has its own representation of where “the” object or property is, and there is no dedicated server on the network to represent where the object or property “really” is (any object or property “really” is represented at many different positions on the network, thanks to slightly different representations on many computers all operating in parallel)
  • Any measurement taken by any single measurement device in a P2P network also thereby affects the network as a whole (since what one computer measures will affect what other computers on the network are likely to measure at any given instant), giving rise to a massive measurement problem (one can only measure an object that is on the network by disturbing the entire network, thereby altering where other computers on the network will represent the particle as being)
  • Because different machines on the network represent the same object in slightly different positions at any given instant (with some number n of machines representing a given object at position P, some other number n* of machines representing a given object at position P*, etc.) a dynamical description of where a given object/property probably is in the environment will have features of a wave (viz. an amplitude equivalent to the number of computers representing the object at a given instant, and wavelength equivalent to dynamical change of how many computers represent the object at a given point at the next instant)
  • By a similar token, any particular measurement on any particular computer will result in the observation of the object as located at a specific point (thus instantiating a wave-particle duality), such that
  • Any particular measurement on any particular computer will result in the appearance of a “collapse” of wave-like dynamics of the simulation into a single, determinate measurement (thus modeling wave-function collapse)
  • It is also a natural result of a peer-to-peer network that single objects can “split in two,” becoming entangled (in a peer-to-peer network multiple computers can, in a manner of speaking, get slightly out of phase, with one or more computers on the network coding for the particle passing through a boundary, while one or more other computers on the network coding for the particle to bounce backwards — in which case, if the coding is right, all of the computers on the network will treat the “two” resulting objects as simply later continuants of what was previously a single object).
  • All time measurements in a P2P simulation are relative to observers. Each measurement device on a P2P simulation (i.e., game console) has its own internal clock, and there is no universal clock or standard of time that all machines share
  • Because the quantized data comprising the physical information of a P2P simulation will have to be separated/non-continuous much as there are “spaces” between bits of data on a CD/DVD/Blu-Ray disc (fig. 3), there must be within any such simulation something akin to the Planck length (fig. 4), an absolute minimum length below which measurements of space-time cannot be taken in principle (a feature of our world for which, at present, “there is no proven physical significance”).
fig. 3
fig. 3

 

In short, the P2P Simulation Hypothesis promises to provide a unified explanation for many baffling physical features of our reality for which we currently have no such explanation.

Further, there are a couple of tantalizing new lines of evidence regarding the P2P Hypothesis.

First, 2013 National Medal of Science award-winning physicist James Gates has found the existence of binary-error-correcting block codes embedded in the equations of string theory [6]: error-correcting codes just like those computer programmers actually use to prevent inconsistencies in online simulations [7].

fig. 4
fig. 4

 

Second, the kind of quantum feedback mechanism I predicted on p. 41 of “A New Theory of Free Will” — a mechanism for primitive, libertarian free will to interfere with and alter the normal quantum wave-function (which was also predicted far earlier by the ORCH-OR theory of consciousness) — appears to have been observed (more on this below) [8,9].

Explaining the Philosophically Unexplained?

Our reality also has a number of philosophically baffling features. Among them are:

  1. The mind-body problem
  2. The problem of personal identity
  3. The problem of time’s passage
  4. The problem of free will

The P2P model provides what I take to be a unified explanation of these problems as well, while also providing possible new specific resolutions to them:

1. Explaining the mind-body problem: it’s a curious fact that it seems to many of us that no matter how complete a physical explanation might be, such an explanation could never possibly account for phenomenal consciousness (i.e., what red, green, blue, and yellow look like).

The P2P hypothesis promises, I believe, to explain this problem. Observers trapped in a P2P simulation would be convinced — just as many of us are — that there is something about their subjective point-of-view that cannot be captured in the physics of their world. And they would be right. The hardware upon which the simulation is running — the processing apparatus (viz. DVD laser apparatus/processor) — would comprise their subjective point-of-view, and be inaccessible to them within the simulation. More generally, the P2P model holds that a reality like ours is comprised by two fundamentally different types of things: (a) “hardware” (i.e., consciousness/measurement apparatus), and (b) “software” (i.e., physical information) interacting.

2. Explaining the problem of personal identity: many of us are tempted to say that we — our identity — consist in something over and above any biological or psychological facts about us. On the one hand, the “animalist” theory of personal identity doesn’t seem quite right. We can seemingly imagine our consciousness (i.e., ourselves) jumping from one body to another (viz. Locke’s prince and cobbler example [10] or the “Freaky Friday” movie). On the other hand, psychological continuity (i.e., “sameness of psychology”) seems problematic because we can imagine perfect psychological duplicates of us who are not us (the “light” of our consciousness would remain with us).

The P2P Simulation Hypothesis promises to explain how this is the case. On the P2P Hypothesis, there really is something to us above and beyond the physical or psychological that accounts for our uneasiness: our identities are comprised by phenomena (i.e., hardware/consciousness) in a higher reference-frame inaccessible to us within the simulation except by direct acquaintance with our own first-personal existence.

3. Explaining problems with time: There are broadly two theories of time, the “A-theory” which says that time passes (viz. a “moving spotlight”), and the “B-theory” which says that time is nothing more than an ordered series of events (viz. time just is some events ordered before/after others). Both theories seem to face problems. A-theories seem hopelessly mysterious. B-theories seem to face problems making sense of change (i.e., if an ordered series of events is all that time is, how does time pass?).

The P2P Hypothesis provides a new answer: one that synthesizes both positions via a kind of mechanism/model that we already understand. When I go to play back a CD, the CD is a series of ordered information, and that information is experienced in real-time moving forward only insofar as a distinct observation-mechanism (the CD-player’s processor) reads the information. This suggests that in order to make sense of time (i.e., it’s being ordered and moving), we need a dualist theory — and the P2P Hypothesis gives us a concrete example of how such a dualist theory works.

4. Explaining (and solving?) the problem of free will: Einstein taught us that the way things appear from one reference-frame may appear the opposite from another reference-frame. Here’s a simple example. If you were moving at a uniform speed within an enclosed elevator falling at an extremely fast velocity (say, 100,000 kilometers/hr), you would have no idea you are moving. You would think the elevator was still because the elevator is not accelerating relative to you. A person outside the elevator, however, would see you moving at an immense speed relative to them.

Now consider the problem of free will. From our perspective within our world, all of our actions appear to be determined by the laws of physics. This, obviously, is the issue that gives rise to classical problems of free will (viz. how can we be free if all of our actions are determined by physical law?).

P2P simulations and other online videogames, however, show how (a) the appearance of determinism or causal closure within a simulation can actually be an illusion of sorts generated by (b) causal interaction in a higher-reference frame not determined by any law of physics within the simulation. Allow me to explain.

Anyone who has played an online simulation knows that once one finishes playing a game, one can rewind the game back to the beginning, press the “play” button, and watch the game that just completed inexorably play out just as it did the first time. Accordingly, although the events that played out inside the simulation were the result of inputs from us from the outside, to any observer trapped within the simulation it would have to appear to them that everything in their world is determined by physical law. From their perspective, their laws of physics would appear to be “inexorable.” They would think, for instance, that if their world were rewound back to its beginning, it would have to deterministically evolve just as it did (with each of their actions being determined by its initial state and physical laws!).

Notice what’s going on here. Although their world is not deterministic vis-a-vis our reference-frame outside of the simulation (our inputs as game-players cause their game to play out the way it does), it appears deterministic (indeed, fatalistic!) vis-a-vis their reference frame within the game.

To make a long story short, the model shows how libertarian free will in a higher-reference frame (i.e., free will not determined by any physical law within a simulation) can generate the appearance of determinism in a lower reference-frame. Libertarian free will, in other words, is compatible with determinism — provided we distinguish between reference-frames.

Now, of course, there is one final rub. The simulations that we have created exist within our physical reality — a reality that appears itself to be determined according to physical law. As such, why not think that determinism is true vis-a-vis every reference frame?

This is where things get complicated, but in brief, the reasons I don’t think this — the reasons I think we probably have true libertarian free will (the ability to self-cause according to pure thought in a manner determined by no physical or psychophysical law) — is that I think that (a) mind-body dualism is probably true, (b) there are no reasons to think that the actions of non-physical minds are determined by physical or psychophysical laws, and (c) there are reasons to think that non-physical minds are causa sui.

I realize that this will sound like preposterous “magic” to many readers, but as I will argue in future essays (and we can talk about this in the comments section here), I think that physicalism (i.e., the traditional naturalistic worldview) invokes a lot of similar “magic” already in a manner that mostly escapes notice. Since I think there’s a whole lot of “magic” in our world no matter what, and since I think the P2P Hypothesis and Libertarian Compatibilism promises to dramatically reduce how much of it there is (viz. quantum features), I think there are grounds for believing we may have libertarian free will.

In short, while Libertarian Compatibilism/the P2P Hypothesis may be crazy, quantum physics and relativity have already shown us that our world is crazy — and we might just need libertarian free will to explain some of that craziness. Maybe… it all depends on whether its predictions come out true.

Predictions: The Proof is in the Pudding

This brings us to a final issue, which is that Libertarian Compatibilism and the P2P Hypothesis make unique predictions — predictions that, if verified, would give us more reasons to believe the craziness.

Although I think further investigation may reveal the P2P Simulation Hypothesis and Libertarian Compatibilism to more than this, at a minimum the theories make the following unique set of predictions:

  • Our universe is a simulation — for which there might be some tell-tale signs [11]
  • Our universe is a hologram — for which there might also be some tell-tale signs [12]
  • We have libertarian free will — for which there might also be some tell-tale signs (i.e., subtle violations of the normal quantum wave-function within brains [8]).

A final note on this last point. As I explain in “A New Theory of Free Will,” if such violations of the normal quantum-wave function are observed in brains, those violations may well appear to have fully physical explanations within our reference-frame, since, no matter which physical “path” through the multiverse our consciousness chooses, there will always be some physical explanation within that path to explain how the quantum violation arose (i.e., even if there are quantum violations, they may appear to us, in our reference frame, to preserve a kind of causal determinism).

_____

Marcus Arvan is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Tampa. He specializes in ethics, political philosophy, human rights, and free will. His doctorate dissertation, A Nonideal Theory of Justice, constructed a comprehensive theory of how to respond to political and economic injustices. Marcus is in the process of writing his first book, Reconstructing the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, in which he will explain in simple and easy-to-understand terms why morality is objective, and why people should behave morally even when immoral behavior appears to them to be in their self-interest.

[1] Bostrom, N. (2003). Are we living in a computer simulation? The Philosophical Quarterly53(211), 243-255.

[2] Chalmers, D. (2003). The Matrix as metaphysicsScience Fiction and Philosophy From Time Travel to Superintelligence, 36.

[3] Is the Universe a Simulation?, The New York Times, 14 February 2014.

[4] Arvan, Marcus (2013). “A New Theory of Free Will”, The Philosophical Forum, 44(1): 1-49.

[5] Arvan, Marcus (2014). “A Unified Explanation of Quantum Phenomena? The Case for the Peer-to-Peer Simulation Hypothesis as an Interdisciplinary Research Program.” The Philosophical Forum, 45(4): 433-446.

[6] Symbols of power, On Being, 6 June 2013.

[7] Gates, James (2010). “Symbols of Power: Adinkras and the Nature of Reality,” Physics World.

[8] Discovery of quantum vibrations in ‘microtubules’ inside brain neurons supports controversial theory of consciousness, Science Daily, 16 January 2014.

[9] Penrose, R., & Hameroff, S. (2011). Consciousness in the universe: Neuroscience, quantum space-time geometry and Orch OR theory. Journal of Cosmology14, 1-17.

[10] The Immateriality of the Soul and Personal Identity, SEP entry.

[11] The Measurement That Would Reveal The Universe As A Computer Simulation, MIT Technology Review, 10 October 2012. See also: Beane, S. R., Davoudi, Z., & Savage, M. J. (2012). Constraints on the Universe as a Numerical Simulation. arXiv preprint arXiv:1210.1847.

[12] Simulations back up theory that Universe is a hologram, Nature, 10 December 2013.

84 thoughts on “The Peer-to-Peer Hypothesis and a new theory of free will

  1. Sounds very interesting and this is definitely a cat among the pigeons. I will need a lot of time to digest this but I will agree straight away that physicalism involves a lot of magic.

    I imagine that subtle violations of quantum wave function within the brain would be nigh on impossible to test.

    But I earlier proposed a more straightforward verification/falsification for dualist (or Idealist) positions with respect to the mind – that an algorithmic simulation of the human brain should fail to produce human like behaviour.

    Maybe this would also apply here. (If I am reading right the simulation you propose here is not an algorithmic one, at least in the normal sense).

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  2. Meh? might be my initial reaction. Assuming for the sake of argument that all eight of the key physics points are indeed problematic, why is a peer-to-peer simulation the solution? What makes it better than other possible solutions? Ditto in spades for the four philosophy talking points that follow.

    And, the “many of us” on Points 1 and 2 of the philosophy four points? “Many of us” also don’t think that way at all. Beyond that, even if “many of us” did, philosophy, like physics, is not a democracy.

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  3. Socratic, well, yes, neither philosophy nor physics are democracy. But if the “many of us” refers to a majority of pertinent epistemic experts, then it becomes relevant, both in physics and in philosophy, no?

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  4. I think Simulation Hypotheses are not right, but what would be correct would be an Assembly Hypothesis: We are living in an assembly, not a simulation. In computational terms, a compiler can take source code and output either a computer simulation or a physical assembly (active material structures, e.g., “compiling programming languages and process algebra models not only to software but also to physical matter: to active molecular structures like the ones found in biology.”). And the simulation and the assembly are not the same things. The Assembly Hypothesis would eliminate “dualism” and be consistent with physicalism. Suppose there is source code for a conscious, free-willing brain. It would only be “operational” when compiled to an assembly (composed of particular materials), not a simulation.

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  5. Hi Marcus,

    I’m no stranger to weird ideas myself, and while there is quite a bit I agree with I really feel that you’re reaching to draw inappropriate analogies as well as making certain arguments which are predicated on what I view to be mistakes.

    First, just to list some points of agreement.

    I’m on board with certain versions of mind/body dualism, specifically those that view the brain as hardware and the mind as software. The mind is in this view an abstract structure realised by the brain. It’s the duality between form and substance.

    I’m also quite happy with eternalism, or the B theory of time (I disagree that the B theory has difficulty in accounting for apparent change, though).

    I am reasonably convinced that there is more than one universe, and that the set of universes can be viewed as a hierarchy of multiverses of different kinds.

    On to the points of disagreement!

    > physicists commonly recognize that we/they have “no idea” why our world has features (1)-(8)

    I think this would be the case no matter what the features of the world turned out to be. Besides, the strangeness of the world is evidence for nothing other than that our intuitions evolved to deal with medium sized objects at medium timescales. If the P2P hypothesis explains it, the question is why is the universe a P2P network and what does this even mean? Who or what are the peers in this scenario? Are you really suggesting that each of us has the computational power to simulate the whole universe?

    > A peer-to-peer simulation just is a superposition of different parallel representations

    OK, but I’m far from convinced this is an appropriate analogy to quantum superposition. It seems to me the two kinds of superposition work very differently.

    > “The” location of any object or property in a P2P simulation is therefore also indeterminate

    Not so. Usually, a peer responsible for changing the state of an object is responsible for propagating that change throughout the network. It’s not quite right to describe the state as indeterminate in the quantum sense — there is an updated state and an outdated state. In cases of conflicts (where there are two versions of an updated state caused by two peers changing the state simultaneously) there will be some kind of policy to determine which state wins out.

    > Any measurement taken by any single measurement device in a P2P network also thereby affects the network

    False. There is no reason for a measurement to disturb the network at all. Unlike a quantum state, in computer science we normally assume a state can be read (measured) without disturbing it.

    You are really reaching when you draw an analogy between a quantum wavefunction and the wave of updates that occurs as information propagates through a network. The latter, for instance, doesn’t show interference and doesn’t give the amplitudes from which can be derived the probability of seeing particular observables. A much better analogy would be between the propagation of information throughout a network and the propagation of information across space at light speed.

    I’ve already run out of space to address what’s wrong with your defence of the P2P theory and I’m not even half done. Your article continues in this vein, drawing connections so tenuous that it reads a little like a parody of a conspiracy theory. It’s fun if taken in a spirit of whimsy, but if you mean this to be a serious argument then it is (to me) a little exasperating.

    I’ll just make the point that a replay of a computer game is only made deterministic by recording and replaying the player’s input which is neither random nor predictable but governed by rules completely outside the scope of the system. We don’t see anything like that in the real world, and if we did it could be taken as evidence of divine intervention or supernaturalism just as easily as some kind of simulation hypothesis.

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  6. With all respect to Marcus, I have to be very critical of this essay.

    The text is clearly well-written — the exposition of material is systematic and written in a clear style. I found it very easy to read and follow through all ideas. Unfortunately, that is basically the only good thing I can say about the essay.

    As for the content, I disagree on so many points that I don’t even know where to begin. It is a challenge to find a single statement in the text that I could agree with, so I will not even attempt to discuss any specific point. In contrast to a recent essay by Quentin Ryant, whose understanding of quantum mechanics was so thorough that I couldn’t stop praising it, Marcus appears to be only cursory familiar with QM (if at all), and my impression is that he merely used a few buzzwords from QM and string theory to construct the argument for P2P simulation hypothesis, without really thinking through what those buzzwords actually mean and in what context they can even have a meaning. In this sense, the whole essay sounds like that famous argument in response to Galileo’s discovery of Jupiter’s moons (paraphrasing):

    “There are seven holes in the head, there are seven days in the week, there are seven metals known from the ancient world, seven is clearly a number preferred by God, so therefore there must be seven bodies in the heavens.”

    Arguably, for anyone familiar enough with the buzzwords Marcus used, this essay is on the very borderline of being labelled as crackpot pseudoscience. Even if I read the text as charitably as I can, and give the author the benefit of the doubt on all statements, and take into account that not every detail can be explained in a single essay, there are still way too many things that have not been properly addressed or simply don’t add up into a coherent picture.

    While my personal opinion is also leaning towards Libertarian interpretation of free will, this kind of argumentation for LFW is completely counterproductive, since it paints a picture that LFW proponents don’t know science well enough, and don’t have better arguments for their position. If Massimo wants to put a representative essay about LFW on Scientia Salon (which I don’t think he is attempting here, but still…), my suggestion would be to find some author who can mount a more serious argument for LFW.

    Marcus,

    I am sorry if my criticisms above sound too harsh or hostile, it is not my intention to dismiss your motivation and effort. On the contrary, I would suggest that you try to gain some more in-depth understanding of QM and related areas if you want to develop your P2P-ideas seriously. Or at the very least consult an expert in those fields, to help you get a clearer picture of what exactly physicists mean by the measurement problem, entanglement, holography, time, superposition, etc.

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  7. More serious and in-depth thoughts, again about why I don’t buy this.

    Whether peer-to-peer simulation or not, ideas that this universe is a simulation have been around for some time.

    Intellectually, I see little difference between them Bishop Berkeley’s view of idealism. Related, I don’t see a whole lot of difference between this and old, old ideas that this universe might be nothing more than the dream of a deity or a stone giant.

    First, I riff on Sam Johnson and refute such ideas THUS! (imagine a kick)

    Now, more detailed critique yet. Let’s start with your six hypotheses.

    I see no special evidence for eternalism. I see no evidence whatsoever for dualism. If time is true subjective, how, and why, do we claim to objectively measure it? MWI has yet to stand out against other QM theories. Holograms? If I’m not reminded of Berkeley, I’m reminded of Lt. Data.

    The eight “physically unexplained”? I’ve already noted that the “subjectivity of time” is contentious at best. Nos 1-7 fall under disputes about what theory best explains QM, therefore a P2P (or other simulation idea for the universe) has no special support.

    More importantly, there’s no special requirement for it crying out.

    DM speaks for me otherwise, in more detail.

    Massimo, per the note I had on G+, yes, scientific and philosophical consensus are important. That said, this “many think” seemed more like an ad populum argument.

    I am curious, though, what Coel will have to say.

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  8. This p2p simulation hypothesis cannot possibly explain any of those quantum mysteries. If it did, then there would be an interpretation of quantum mechanics as such a simulation, but an assortment of results such as Bell’s Theorem have convinced everyone that such an interpretation is impossible.

    A simulation is possible if you take the word broadly enough, such just declaring that reality can be considered a simulation of itself, or by simulating reality with hypothetical quantum computers. But then you have not solved any of those quantum mysteries.

    One can hope that some sort of everything will resolve questions about time and free will, but I do not see how this simulation hypothesis does any of those things. If you somehow learn the rules of the simulation then you can draw conclusions about those rules, but that’s about all. You cannot say much about the world outside the simulation, and it is not clear that knowledge inside the simulation would be any different from scientific knowledge that might be available anyway.

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  9. A point on that “quantum violations” you mention:
    You point out to Penrose & Hameroff’s Orch-OR theory, and a recent article they published defending it. I just want to say there’s a more recent one here http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1571064513001188 and as of today, no serious critique of that paper has appeared. Experiments are currently being designed to test some aspects of it (see Bouwmeester ).

    Penrose’s theory allows for a couple of things: it explains conciousness (via some sort of panpsychism+quantum information processing). It also provides an explanation for free will (here’s the relevant part) and could also provide one for mathematical platonism and moral realism (See Penrose’s The Road to Reality).

    The free will part does not violate any physical principles, or quantum laws. The theory hinges on Heisenberg’s Uncertainty principle (deltaT*deltaE deltaT=hbar/deltaE). Basically: physics allows for energy conservation to be broken for a very short time.

    They say

    “OR acts effectively instantaneously as a choice between dynamical alternatives (a choice that is an integral part of the relevant quantum dynamics) and EG(energy) is not to be thought of as being in direct competition with any of the usual biological energies, as it plays a completely different role, supplying a needed energy uncertainty that then allows a choice to be made between the separated space–time geometries, rather than providing an actual energy that enters into any considerations of energy balance that would be of direct relevance to chemical or normal physical processes. This energy uncertainty is the key ingredient of the computation of the reduction time τ, and it is appropriate that this energy uncertainty is indeed far smaller than the energies that are normally under consideration with regard to chemical energy balance etc. If it were not so, then there would be in danger of conflict with normal considerations of energy balance.
    […]
    As stated in Section 5.1, EG is, instead, an energy uncertainty —and it is this uncertainty that allows quantum state reduction to take place without violation of energy conservation. The fact that EG is far smaller than the other energies involved in the relevant physical processes is a necessary feature of the consistency of the OR scheme, particularly with regard to energy conservation. It does not supply the energy to drive the physical processes involved, but it provides the energy uncertainty that allows the freedom for processes having virtually the same energy as each other to be alternative actions.”

    A way to picture it: Imagine a ball atop the vertex of a cone. The ball can start to roll in many directions. All of them will conserve energy (as long as the sum of potential and kinetic energy is constant). Uncertainty will happen at the vertex, when it seems the ball is in equilibrium. A very little amount of energy could push it one way or the other. However, after the ball is rolling, that isn’t possible anymore: a ball cannot just change its course on pain of violation of physics. In that sense, we may not always have free will. But this idead poses a further problem that I haven’t yet seen solved by Penrose & Hameroff: Quantum collapses still have to be random, that is, an observed microtobule in superposition has to collapse according to a probability distribution what we already know. A posible fun solution: if you have many microtubules in superposition, there are many ways they, together, can collapse one way or the other. Given two entangled MT’s you can get the states 00,01,10,11. If you have millions there are lots of them. A “free will” could then nudge the microtubules to collapse in one way or the other. As long as they globally obey the probabilistic rules, they can individually collapase “as they wish”. This is similar to Kastner’s idea of the God of the Quantum Dominoes here http://transactionalinterpretation.org/2014/08/10/free-will-and-the-land-of-the-quantum-dominoes/ .

    Perhaps all this is wrong, but fortunately these theories make testable predictions, and I hope in a few years we can know something more about this.

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  10. Thanks for your comments everyone, critical though they may be! Given Salon’s restrictions on comment length and number of times one can comment, my replies must be brief: but let me give it a shot.

    (1) Disagreeable Me writes: “Usually, a peer responsible for changing the state of an object is responsible for propagating that change throughout the network. It’s not quite right to describe the state as indeterminate in the quantum sense — there is an updated state and an outdated state. In cases of conflicts (where there are two versions of an updated state caused by two peers changing the state simultaneously) there will be some kind of policy to determine which state wins out.”

    As you note, this is “usually” the case. *Some* peer-to-peer network environments update all systems sequentially with (near-)perfect error correction, so that (as you put it) any change on any CPU on the network propagates through the whole network, giving all machines on the network the same “values” (i.e. identical spatio-temporal positions). Not all peer-to-peer networks work this way, however–and not the kind I am talking about: networks in which all of the CPUs update themselves in real time given very imperfect error correction, and where there is no computational rule for which state “wins out” in cases of conflict…all of which does instantiate the properties my model describes.

    (2) Disagreeable Me writes: “False. There is no reason for a measurement to disturb the network at all. Unlike a quantum state, in computer science we normally assume a state can be read (measured) without disturbing it.”

    Answer: you’re describing a kind of peer-to-peer environment where all nodes update simultaneously with the same information (many peer-to-peer videogames work this way, *waiting* for all users on the network to enter a command before updating the network). However, what I am describing is correct for P2P networks that don’t work that way: P2P networks where each node updates in real time using contradictory information from other nodes on the network arising from fallible error correction.

    (3) Marko Vojinovic: I appreciate your skepticism, but I do not see substantive argument in your post (aside from statements to the effect that I just don’t know what I’m talking about!). The model may be wrong, but if it is, it would be helpful to know where (above and beyond saying I simply make use of “buzz words”). On that note, I argue that the model does have several testable implications–and so if all of those implications are verified, then that would (in my view) be substantial grounds for taking the theory much more seriously.

    On that note, let me say this: I make no bones about the fact that my model *is* speculative and on the fringes of science. But this, in my view, is a legitimate part of science. Many speculative models fail–and yet science would not progress without such models either; and some of them turn to out to be true. Moreover, there are different levels of speculative-ness. Some speculation has little basis in fact; other speculation has substantial grounds. My argument that there *are* real–albeit speculative!–grounds in philosophy and physics for taking the model seriously.

    (4) Socratic Gadfly: you may see no special evidence for eternalism, dualism, etc.–but there are plenty of philosophers and scientists who think we do have such evidence. My project is simply predicated on the fact that the hypothesis I list *are* taken seriously in both domains.

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  11. While I certainly agree with those who think this would be better as parody or irony, it does resemble much of what passes for current physical theory. For example, the point I keep raising about how the “fabric of spacetime” is used to explain how the universe could expand, but completely ignores the fact that in order to be relativistic, the speed of light would have to increase proportionally, in order to remain constant, yet if that were to happen, the light wouldn’t be redshifted. Similarly, everytime astronomic observations don’t match cosmological theory, some ginormous new physical force, be it inflation or dark energy, is proposed and accepted as a valid solution, rather then the presumed scientific consequence of reviewing the premises of the theory. So I can only applaud the fact this essay has not been taken seriously by everyone.
    That said, what if, rather than simulation, we consider reality as a bottom up illusion? Say arising from fluctuations of the equilibrium inherent to space. For one thing, while the idea of space having any properties other than the mapping device of dimensionality isn’t accepted, an equilibrium is inherent to the premise of the speed of light in a vacuum being the one constant. Since in a frame moving at the speed of light, there can be no fluctuations, or actions, as the combination would then exceed C, if we were to reverse this premise and place clocks around in space, until we found the one which ran the fastest, it would be closest to this equilibrium of the vacuum.
    So from this equilibrium, we have the wave action of positive and negative fluctuation.
    Now Planck length cannot be a precise unit, as that would require definition smaller than this measure to define it. The ends of the unit are presumably smaller than the unit. Now if we were to view this as wave action and the planck length is simply the smallest conceivable wave, from trough to trough, then this isn’t a problem.
    This also goes to particles as a whole, as emergent effects of wave action.
    As for Blocktime and having all events more physically real than the processes creating and dissolving them, I’ve banged my head on that door enough, here and elsewhere.
    Here is an interesting interview with one Carver Mead;
    http://freespace.virgin.net/ch.thompson1/People/CarverMead.htm
    Someone who gives a much more forceful and reputable argument for reality being fundamentally wave based. Among other accomplishments, he developed the math behind Moore’s Law.

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  12. I would really appreciate it if people set aside sarcasm for a moment and simply articulate their objection to the author’s arguments. Thanks.

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  13. Hi Socratic,

    I am curious, though, what Coel will have to say.

    Are you? 🙂 Well I’ll have to think of something to say then! Well, like Marko, I could think of any number of aspects of the article that could each take a 500-word comment, but I’ll pick just one:

    Marcus,

    Our world has a number of baffling physical features. They include: [list of aspects of quantum mechanics]

    The main thing that is “baffling” about quantum mechanics is that it doesn’t accord with our intuition. That, in itself, is not necessarily a problem. We would only expect our intuition to be at all reliable about the sort of every-day events relevant to our survival and reproduction over our evolution history, and that would not include things like quantum mechanics that are on a very different scale.

    This attempt to re-interpret quantum mechanics in terms of a simulation by a computer P2P network seems like an attempt to bring “ultimate reality” back into the realms of things that humans are (nowadays) familiar with and thus more comfortable with. For the reason in the previous paragraph, I’m not sure that is a good motivation.

    Now, let me ask you this. Do the computers in your P2P network run on quantum mechanics? Are they the same physical stuff as in our “simulated reality”? If they are, then you haven’t solved anything about quantum mechanics, and would then just have to explain it in the context of your simulation-running computers (unless you want to argue for turtles all the way down?).

    If, instead, your simulation-running computers do not run on quantum mechanics, then you need to postulate a whole new physics by which they do operate. Thus, you have not really explained anything until you give us that whole account. Until then, you’ve just added a huge and fanciful edifice that has little justification and no explanation for it. By any principles of what makes a good explanation, this is roughly the reverse.

    Essentially you would be arguing for some “hidden variable” physics that underpins quantum mechanics — but doing so without even attempting to actually give that model or show how it works. Any such “hidden meta-reality” scheme suffers from this problem (as I argued on my blog).

    This doesn’t apply just to the quantum-mechanics aspects, but every puzzle that you consider to be answered by the P2P scenario would then have to be asked again about the underlying simulation-running reality, and thus none of them are actually solved.

    For your explanation to begin to be an explanation, You really need to present us with an account of both the simulatED reality and the simulatING reality, and show that the combination of those is better than the standard single-reality view.

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  14. Hi Coel,

    This is a small point, but you said, “The main thing that is “baffling” about quantum mechanics is that it doesn’t accord with our intuition. That, in itself, is not necessarily a problem. We would only expect our intuition to be at all reliable about the sort of every-day events relevant to our survival and reproduction over our evolution history, and that would not include things like quantum mechanics that are on a very different scale”

    To be fair, I don’t think Marcus was using “baffling” to simply mean that these things in quantum mechanics go against folk intuition, I think he meant that these are things in quantum mechanics that are still hotly disputed/discussed amongst professionals due to how conceptually confusing they are.

    This is different from mere “going against one’s intuitions.” It goes against our folk intuitions that there could be unconscious processing that influences executive control of actions, but it isn’t “baffling” in the same sense that quantum wave function collapse or superposition claims are. In the former, professionals don’t disagree about how to interpret this idea, but in the latter professionals do. In this sense, the things Marcus mentioned are “baffling.”

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  15. I think speculative metaphysics by analogy is a really, really difficult endeavor. Here’s what I’d be looking for if I were trying to develop a theory of this kind.

    1. Is the analogy really tight? In the free-will section, you bring in the idea of a player. Is the player a part of the system you’re proposing or does a player fall outside it? A player has a brain. If the player falls within your analogy, what in the multiverse corresponds to the player’s brain? If we (simulated beings in the game) have the sort of free will you’re attributing to the player, how does that work within the analogy?
    2. What parts of the analogy need to cash out in terms of physical theory? For example, presumably, if multiple instances of the same entity on different servers are the “same” entity, would we expect a physical theory to explain that identity somehow? Should we expect an entire physical theory that corresponds with the parts of an MMOG? If we’re assuming levels of reality that physical theory can’t reach, how does the metaphysical theory help us to make sense of the physical theories we can have?
    3. Do all the parts of the theory follow from the analogy? For example, you mention dualism as a solution to free will, but MMOGs obviously don’t require dualism to work the way they do. How is dualism necessitated?
    4. Is there a reductio analogy? For example, if I were to posit that reality is not an MMOG at all, but instead, say, a comic-book convention, could the new analogy be construed to make the same predictions as the MMOG analogy?

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  16. Interesting article, but I do not think that the syllogism will solve the problem of free will for too many. It does demonstrate though that the human mind is essentially unlimited in its creativity, hence free will is demonstrated but not proved.

    I also believe that we exist in a simulation, but of a biological/imaginative kind. So I became a little disappointed when the argument descended into quantum mechanics after the first paragraph.

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  17. Hi Marcus,

    My understanding is the comment limits do not apply to authors, so you can feel free to be as wordy as you like.

    I don’t want to come across as mean or harsh, and I do appreciate radical theories. I do think though that in order for your theory to be a bit more convincing you would need to be a lot more rigorous in drawing the parallels (something I do not expect you to succeed at, if I’m honest). You would need to show how a generic P2P architecture can predict the kinds of phenomena we see with quantum mechanics, and vague analogies won’t cut it — it comes across much as Marko painted with his Galileo story. Again, you need rigour.

    You may need to partner with someone who has a very good understanding of QM, if you can find such a person willing to take your ideas seriously. Then you need to provide detailed examples of how your model predicts Bell’s theorem, the Born rule, Heisenberg uncertainty principle and so on. You also need to clarify what the various nodes in the network correspond to. Are they people, or do they include animals or what? Say the human race is near extinction and only one observer is left. Does that mean that all the quantum weirdness disappears, since now there is only one node in the network and so all state is determinate?

    The problems apparent to me are just too many to give me confidence that it can be made workable, but I wish you luck.

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  18. I was thinking this might be an April 1st article but was drawn in by the peer-to-peer robot drone diagram.

    My little sister (she’s 67 now) is a big fan of “The Course in Miracles” and is convinced that we’re all living in a dream from which we will awake when we die. The problem is that this cannot be proved to be false. The same goes for various imaginary realities like “the brain in a vat” or the idea that we are living in a “simulation”.

    The problem with the dream or simulation puzzle is this: If it were true, then what difference could it make? You still must deal with reality as it appears, just as if you were not in a dream (or simulation or merely a brain in a vat being fed sensory input by the mad scientist). So the idea quickly becomes extra, irrelevant baggage on the thought-scape, and may be dismissed as useless. On the other hand, if believing in miracles makes my sister happy, then the belief may have use, so long as it doesn’t cause accidental harm in a confrontation with the real reality.

    And the same may be said of multiverses, holographic simulation, and other imaginary realities.

    About time. I think time is probably a universal constant and the Einstein effect of time slowing down for an object approaching the speed of light may actually be a physical effect upon the physical forces and substance in motion, that is, that their reactions slow down. Time remains constant, but the physics slows down. But that’s just my thought. Time, per se, is a measure applied to duration and sequence of events. So we need some standard measure, just like we need standard measures for distance and mass.

    The experience of self, I presume, is the natural phenomena of the brain listening to itself (using speech and hearing centers) and viewing what it imagines (using visual and memory centers).

    And here is the unrelated piece, “Now consider the problem of free will. From our perspective within our world, all of our actions appear to be determined by the laws of physics. This, obviously, is the issue that gives rise to classical problems of free will (viz. how can we be free if all of our actions are determined by physical law?).”

    The answer is that we ARE physics, when it happens to be thinking and choosing, or walking, or shooting a basketball. And we are biology. And we are real living organism that spend a lot of time choosing, mostly through habit, but sometimes through deliberate deliberation as well.

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  19. Okay, without sarcasm then, although the temptation is strong.

    There is no reason to take the simulation hypothesis seriously. “There is some evidence that may suggest” doesn’t cut it if you have a puzzle piece showing the Mona Lisa’s eye but already know that the missing piece must be either sky blue or a piece of cloud. What I mean is that quite a lot of things that we can be as sure about as about anything we have ever known would have to be utterly wrong for the simulation hypothesis to become even just a faint possibility.

    As a reference for “the simulation hypothesis is gaining some traction in physics”, the post provides a link to a little New York Times piece. That piece merely mentions Nick Bostrom (who, remember, earns his money as a professional singularitarian, something that in a just world would immediately reduce one’s credibility to minus eternity) and references a paper which, upon further inspection, appears to discuss merely what they would expect to observe if we were in a simulation but does not provide any evidence either way. Also: “assuming that the universe is finite”? Well, to the best of our knowledge it isn’t, so yes, a simulator would need infinite resources. Again, there is no reason to take the simulation hypothesis seriously.

    And as for the others, no, physical objects and properties do not exist timelessly because matter can be transformed into energy and vice versa. No, mind-body dualism is wrong, as is amply demonstrated by the fact that physical and chemical trauma alone can change personalities and destroy memories; if we subtract everything that is known to be physical, nothing is left of the mind. No, passage of time does not occur within consciousness alone. Okay, this may sound a bit sarcastic, but did the author never notice that time continues to pass between going to sleep and waking up? The sentences on timeline and holographic principle I do not even understand at a semantic level, but I am fairly sure that a carbon atom is not 1s and 0s “written” on whatever a “cosmological horizon” is even supposed to be.

    It is of course possible that I am mistaken, and that all the author’s ideas make sense, but for that his definitions of terms like “timeless”, “mind-body dualism”, “conscious”, “simulation”, “two-dimensional” and suchlike would have to be strongly at variance with everybody else’s.

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  20. I’m afraid I agree with the critics here. Although well-written, it’s ideas clearly presented, the article is flawed and unconvincing. Besides the science issues, which Ive no authority to critique, there are a number of logical problems. With SocraticGadfly, I think ad populum creeps up occasionally. Yes, I know ‘some people think this,’ but why should I? With Asher Kay, I think there is reasoning by analogy here, which is very tricky, since it assumes that structures of one kind of entity can be deduced from the known structures of another kind; the ontologies of the entities compared need to be pretty much same, and this has to be argued convincingly first. There is some argument for that here; but this leads to a real problem: the six hypotheses get used as premises in the argument, but being hypotheses, they also need argumentation (just because we have ‘some evidence’ for them, doesn’t justify their assumption), but as this true, some of the argument has to be spent buttressing the hypotheses, which thus constructs circularity.

    – and here’s yet another problem with the presumed hypotheses: they are not necessarily logically consistent with each other. This is especially true of the three hypotheses on time, but I also suspect inconsistencies between the holographic universe hypothesis and that of the multiverse hypothesis as well.

    The big problem with theories of this sort is that they begin by presuming that a human invention – computers and the simulations they can construct – are somehow paradigmatic for reality, that somehow their invention amounted to discovery of something fundamental about the universe, and about ourselves. They do only to this extent – they reveal we are quite clever apes with a remarkable capacity for constructing artifice from physical materials at our disposal. But we already knew that.

    Imagine when perspective was fine-tuned in painting during the Renaissance, some clever metaphysician, looking for the first time at a painting using the new technique, cried ‘Eureka! Don’t you see, that’s clear evidence that we are merely layers of paint on the firmament!’ That seems to me the same kind of reasoning that goes into theories that ‘the universe is holographic, because, well, there’s holography! we function like simulations because there are simulations that function like us!’

    It’s not that computer simulations cannot be used to tell us something about the universe, and perhaps about ourselves; for that matter, the development of perspective in painting was an intellectual breakthrough that contributed to advances in such differing fields as optics and the triangulation needed to aim cannon-fire. But have we discovered what we ‘really’ are in the computer simulation? Do we now hold the secret of the universe? I think not. And this article has not persuaded me to rethink that.

    What survives from the argument is the proposition that free will can be defended if consciousness can be shown to be epiphenomenal to the structure of the universe, rather than to the material body. Intriguing, but not at all convincing.

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  21. @Marvin Edwards

    The problem with the dream or simulation puzzle is this: If it were true, then what difference could it make?

    To be fair to Marcus, he’s arguing that it does make a difference in that it purportedly makes sense at a metaphysical level of things we don’t know the “why” of at a physical level.

    I’ve come to think that metaphysical theories are not things that can be “grounded” in the same way as we expect theories to be grounded. Whether they can exhibit a “virtuous circularity” with their corresponding physical theories, and whether transcendental (“conditions of possibility”) arguments can work to create such a circularity is an open question.

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  22. Hi Alexander,

    I won’t say anything that I don’t have some familiarity with, but I did want to note a couple of things that I think are a bit unfair to the author.

    1- You claim “mind-body dualism is wrong, as is amply demonstrated by the fact that physical and chemical trauma alone can change personalities and destroy memories; if we subtract everything that is known to be physical, nothing is left of the mind.

    So first of all, that mental events change whenever physical events change (parts of the brain get damaged or destroyed, so do mental states/events) only shows a correlation between physical brain events and mental events. It does not show, by itself, an identity between, or reduction of, the mind and the brain. After all, if you were to remove all of the cold season you would remove all snow, but that doesn’t mean that the snow is identical to, or reducible to, the cold season.

    Second, property dualism (not substance dualism) approaches have gained (at least a notable amount) of support amongst professional philosophers and, believe it or not, scientists. For example, the neuroscientist Giuliio Tononi adopts much of what David Chalmers has to say on the matter of consiousness, and put forth the “integrated information” hyothesis of consciousness. Essentially this is a panpsychist position that is not physicalist in the traditional sense (in other words, it is dualist). Christof Koch (another leading neural scientist who, I can’t lie, I do take some philosophical issues with) thinks this is the only promising theory of consciousness right now.

    2- There is a large literature on the philosophy of time and consciousness that I think Marcus is sensitive to but you may not be, so what he understands as “time” in his paper might be different from yours. In other words, the matter might not be as clear-cut and closed as you think. If you are curious about specifics within the literature, this paper by Geoffrey Lee might help. It is on how consciousness fits in with a relativistic framework https://files.nyu.edu/gfl204/public/GeoffLeeSpace-Time.pdf

    I hope this doesn’t agitate people, but I just want to note one thing. A friend of mine and I in undergrad came up with a (we thought) fun term: “epistemic narcissism.” If somebody is epistemically narcissistic, for us, then that person tends to take pleasure in factually correcting another person (e.g you are wrong when you claim that factoid x, really its the case that factoid y), but infrequently, if ever, actually engages in arguments. He simply operates at the level of factoid disputes devoid of any serious critical thinking

    (Yes, its possible that epistemic sadism would have been a better term for this phenomenon, but hey, this was made up when I was 19.)

    I am not saying everybody on this site seems to be epistemically narcissistic, but to be honest I do feel sometimes like many people are, or that collectively the comments section tends to be. It would be nice to see less of this factoid-disputing and more people reasoning out arguments. There are some people on this site who reason out arguments more often, and I am sure they know who they are.

    Even if the author is factually wrong and so you feel we ought not take the conclusion seriously for empirical reasons, it would be nice to see people finding more interesting ways to reject it on philosophical grounds (e.g a reductio ad absurdum against the simulation hypothesis, etc.). When I learned Plato’s arguments I knew that there was no way most of them would hold up to contemporary scientific findings, but I still found it fun to try to find philosophical ways to defeat his claims. This is an interesting and beneficial mental exercise not only to engage in, but to witness in others’ comments.

    (side note- I recognize that much of my post here was just attempting factoid-correction aside from the first argument I put forth to Alexander that correlation doesn’t imply identity or reduction, but to ensure that I am not a hypocrite, feel free to look at my previous posts where I did try to argue against the conclusions on philosophical grounds on e.g the papers by Dwayne Holmes and Gregg Caruso).

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  23. Alexander, I agree, there is no reason to take the simulation hypothesis seriously, and I’ve argued that in the past. But it’s kind of fun to treat it as a thought experiment and explore the more or less logical consequences implied by it.

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  24. Daniel Tippens,

    Maybe I misunderstand, but at least your second point seems to go pretty much into the direction of what I speculated on in my last paragraph: Of course the ideas can make sense if terms are redefined. “The sky is yellow” is true if I simply redefine yellow to be what everybody else calls blue. So yes, maybe what he understands as “time” in his paper might be different from the common understanding, but then perhaps the word time should not have been used. However, I doubt that the argumentation would make more sense even then.

    Similar with dualism: If the mind is seen merely as a process arising from a purely physical substrate, then it is not really mind-body dualism in the commonly understood sense. Nor is it in any way different from monism, because of course the mind or consciousness could never be a bunch of atoms but has to be what a bunch of atoms does. One could just as well talk of a walking-feet dualism, but nobody would because in that context it is immediately clear that doing so would be unhelpful and needlessly complicated. People do not commonly envision walking as a thing, but unfortunately they do so for the mental processes we call mind or consciousness, and saying that dualism is true would widely be understood in that way.

    Narcissism? Perhaps it is because I am a scientist, but if somebody writes something that is founded on getting the facts wrong, I do not generally invest the time necessary to refute them in an “interesting” way. I would reserve that energy for the cases where somebody argues from correct assumptions to a faulty conclusion.

    ejwinner,

    ‘Eureka! Don’t you see, that’s clear evidence that we are merely layers of paint on the firmament!’ That seems to me the same kind of reasoning that goes into theories that ‘the universe is holographic, because, well, there’s holography! we function like simulations because there are simulations that function like us!’

    Beautifully put.

    I went running today and while my higher brain functions were idle I had related thoughts: The problem might be that there are many computer / tech savvy people today who would be embarrassed to be seen to believe in silly medieval things like immortal souls, the rapture, and divine creation, but who are as prone to wishful thinking as humans have always been. So they swap a few words; soul in the afterlife for mind uploading, rapture for technological singularity, and creation for the simulation hypothesis, and presto! Same belief content but with fancy 21st century terminology, much less embarrassing.

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  25. 1.Quantum superposition
    2.Quantum indeterminacy
    3.The quantum measurement problem
    4.Wave-particle duality
    5.Quantum wave-function “collapse”
    6.Quantum entanglement

    Those preceding features are baffling to those who believe that the world is made of cannon balls, some very small. Not having taken undergraduate physics helps that way.

    However, experiments that can be done nearly anywhere show that the universe is not made of canon balls. As soon as one closes one’s eyelids just so, wave effects appear. Nearly closing a door from a single powerful light source also exhibit striking wave diffraction effects.

    Thus, those six preceding features are not mysterious at all, once one introduces the concept that all and any “particle” (“particular” phenomenon) emanates from a process described by a “matter wave” whose frequency and direction is obtained from energy-momentum. This is the core of Quantum Physics.

    All of the preceding effects are observed. Collapse and Measurement Problem are at the core of the difficulty for making a Quantum Computer (so one cannot argue that they are just a matter of interpretation, as was done for decades by the “shut up and calculate” school: we cannot calculate Quantum Mechanically, because we don’t understand collapse and measurement well enough!)

    7.The Planck length is not too mysterious either: its far-fetched logic entangles in a discourse what is known about gravitation, matter wave relationship to energy, and relation of energy to mass. (it can also be obtained through dimensional analysis). It’s very far from being observed.

    To claim, as the author does that the “relativity of time to observers (no single, objective “universal clock”)” is a “baffling physical feature” would bring him an F in my basic undergraduate Relativity class. There is strictly nothing baffling whatsoever in the slowing down of clocks. By the way, time slowing down at high velocity, is an observed fact, observed in many ways.

    What is baffling is something that the author does not seem to know about: that time is global and instantaneous in Quantum Physics (said otherwise: the “Quantum Interaction”, the “Collapse” has infinite speed… As far as we can see, so far).

    By the way, the concept of “local time” was discovered by Lorentz and Poincare’, and Lorentz, at Poincare’’s urging, received the Noble Prize in Physics for it… In 1902 (three years before Einstein parroted the work).

    Many of those who dominate the legislation in today’s world, simulate thinking, in a parallel universe where wealth creates reality. So, it is all too true that we are living in a simulation. Yet nothing that appropriate taxation will not dispel.
    https://patriceayme.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/quantum-wave/

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  26. My main problem with this would be that I don’t buy that there is a problem of libertarian free will to explain in the first place. The everyday experience of free will is that a) there is more than one possible future and b) we can, at least sometimes, intentionally choose between the alternatives.

    I can’t see that anything in physics or neuroscience makes this impossible, although nothing demonstrates that it is the case either.

    In general I will leave the technical details to the physicists, but in passing I would point out that the binary/continuous error can hardly account for a fixed value like the Planck constant. For a start there is no relationship between the discrete jump of a binary value and any constant interval. It is unlikely that this error would be anything but random.

    If anyone were to go into the discrete/analog error in more detail I would warn that it lands you in some unexpectedly complex mathematics some of which is potentially more baffling than anything that Quantum Physics can dish up.

    Massimo and Alexander,

    Speaking of simulation hypotheses in general, whether you take them seriously or not depends on what else you take seriously. If anyone takes Tegmark’s mathematical universe seriously then they also have to take simulations seriously since his definition implies that every mathematically possible simulation exists with a probability of one.

    I am not sure about other ‘infinitely many different things happen so this universe is bound to happen ” type theories.

    And a simulation of an infinite universe does not itself have to be infinite, at least not if it only has to provide as much detail as is ever observed.

    But I would agree with Coel that a simulation argument can’t serve as an explanation unless you also have an explanation for the simulation, or there is something that only a simulation could explain.

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  27. Alexander,
    There is no reason to take the simulation hypothesis seriously.

    There is every reason to indulge in creative speculation seriously.
    We temporarily suspend our critical faculties, remove the blinkers from our minds and allow the mind to roam. This creative process is vital to developing new insights. My main criticism of creative speculation is the tendency of some to elevate it to dogma, as has happened with the ill-fated multiverse. There has been some harsh criticism of the main post, but I say ‘go for it’, be imaginative and be creative because the next big breakthrough will begin with the untethered roaming of an imaginative mind. Sure, most creative speculation will be wrong, that is the necessary cost of exploration.

    Thankfully philosophy has a long tradition of thought experiments. Let’s celebrate that and not punish it.

    No, mind-body dualism is wrong
    Daniel Tippens has already corrected you on that score. Moreover, dualism is alive and well in your computer. As for your observation: “physical and chemical trauma alone can change personalities and destroy memories“, try damaging the CPU or memory chips and see what happens to your computer’s mind!

    It is of course possible that I am mistaken
    I invite you to explore that possibility. That is where new insights are found.

    Daniel Tippens,
    epistemic/sadistic narcissism

    That is an interesting and amusing observation. We do see a lot of that. I suppose we are all somewhat guilty. It is a question of emphasis. Do we mostly contribute to the thinking or mostly attack the thinking of others? You contribute, so I readily excuse you from this characterisation. Additionally, the epistemic narcissist seems unable to affirm or recognise the contributions of others, unless they confirm the narcissist’s thinking. This may well be the defining characteristic of an epistemic narcissist.

    To add to your categories, we also see a lot of ideological narcissism. These ideologues can be recognised, firstly, by their determined persistence in seeing all arguments through the lens of a rigid point of view. Secondly, they will quickly attack, punish or try to suppress any hint of what they see as competing ideologies. Thirdly, they show little interest in anything outside the rigid domain of their worldview, other than to attack it.

    Like

  28. Hi Markus, to be sure as an author you don’t have to worry about comment limits. I definitely made more than 5 and over 500 words each.

    I can’t speak to physics related elements. But I did have two sort of related issues.

    1) Left undescribed is the simulating world. This quote in particular seemed to beg that question…

    “On the P2P Hypothesis, there really is something to us above and beyond the physical or psychological that accounts for our uneasiness: our identities are comprised by phenomena (i.e., hardware/consciousness) in a higher reference-frame inaccessible to us within the simulation except by direct acquaintance with our own first-personal existence.”

    Doesn’t that leave us in relatively the same place as before, having to figure out what that higher-reference frame reality is composed of?

    2) This question is true for any mind-body dualist theory, not just yours: how do we know we have free will in that ‘other’ realm? It is ok to claim that the mind’s freedom from events on a lower level give it some additional power controlling the body on that lower level. But just because it has that theoretical advantage, does not mean it is completely “free” at the higher level. We can posit that it could be, but I don’t see how we can ever be certain. It seems to essentially result in an argument from ignorance. We don’t know whether the higher level contains limits, and so can imagine it has none, and so there are none.

    To all I also endorse Daniel Tippen‘s suggestion for less… ermmmm… epistemic sadism (that does seem the more appropriate term). If the concept is for the author to be corrected toward better ideas then it can be done (and is more likely to be achieved) in a friendly manner addressing concerns with weaknesses in the arguments or evidence. I took Daniel’s criticisms to be some of the strongest regarding the construction of my position, and yet it always felt positive in nature. And I should admit, my past writing (see even my first essay contra Harris) contained plenty of barbs. So this is something I recognize and am attempting to correct in myself. Of course the question is always raised if one is willing to put one’s thoughts out for the world to attack, perhaps there is an element of epistemic masochism? 🙂

    Like

  29. Massimo,
    I think it safe to say a majority of commenters find fault in Marcus’ arguments. What I think is worth noting, again, is that various issues he raises, such as block time to explain the narrative vector from past to future being physically real, that reality is fundamentally digitized and therefore change is ultimately statistical hopping into and out of existence, as per the Copenhagen interpretation, are widely accepted in the physics and therefore the broader communities. Thus we have serious debates about time travel through wormholes in spacetime, etc. so my question is; Would there be a way to introduce a thread on skepticism about some of these currently assumed features, even though it would be professionally politically incorrect for anyone actually engaged in the field? Though they might play defense in such a debate.
    The link I listed previously would be a good example of someone qualified to raise these sorts of questions;
    http://freespace.virgin.net/ch.thompson1/People/CarverMead.htm
    Though most of the Fred Hoyles of the world have passed.

    Like

  30. Robin, you are correct, but I don’t take Tegmark seriously either (other than in a scifi-style thought experiment kind of way). In fact, I think his position is downright incoherent, a category mistake where he thinks that mathematical structures are *real* in the same sense of physical ones (or the other way around).

    Like

  31. Marcus OP 30Jan
    Quote 1 > to any observer trapped within the simulation it would have to appear to them that everything in their world is determined by physical law… From their perspective, their laws of physics would appear to be “inexorable.”Although their world is not deterministic vis-a-vis our reference-frame outside of the simulation (our inputs as game-players cause their game to play out the way it does)..libertarian free will in a higher-reference frame (i.e., free will not determined by any physical law within a simulation) can generate the appearance of determinism in a lower reference-frame.I think that (a) mind-body dualism is probably true, (b) there are no reasons to think that the actions of non-physical minds are determined by physical or psychophysical laws, and (c) there are reasons to think that non-physical minds are causa sui.quantum physics and relativity have already shown us that our world is crazy — and we might just need libertarian free will to explain some of that craziness. Maybe… it all depends on whether its predictions come out true.<
    There are bits that defy satisfactory explanation but I don't think "crazy" is the word to describe them. 

    But enough of this interminable nit-picking. Why is arguing about Free Will v. Determinism so tenacious, an "orgy"? Because of its ingrained connection with (social) behaviour, (i.e. Morality -despite what Jerry Coyne opines)? If one has solid religious faith then good and bad behaviour is not a problem. One has an omniscient super-parent to turn to who may concede a degree of self-freedom but an account at death will be tallied up and one's future afterlife is decided by how one has behaved.

    So, except for believers chipping in to say that our hand-wringing is so much wasted effort, this is a serious debate only for doubters or atheists, people like me. Because the brain responsible for action is not easily available to scientific experiment and reliable investigation the debate is still largely philosophical.

    THE ATHEIST'S MORAL BURDEN. The non-believer has to make up his own code and enforce it upon himself: (or her/herself take your pick). He has to monitor behaviour, but on what basis? Are we free to act as we please or are ALL our actions "caused": have we Free Will or not: can we be "blamed"? Why do identical twins with very similar body/brains act and behave so like each other: do they each have their own very similar LFW's or even CFW's? (to use Dwayne Holme's excellent acronyms)
    (continued below)

    Like

  32. Hi SciSal,

    > In fact, I think his position is downright incoherent

    Honestly, I think you just don’t really understand it deeply enough. It’s clear to me that you find it simply bizarre and almost meaningless to postulate that reality just is a mathematical structure, as if Tegmark had said that reality was an emotion or a poem or a memory.

    But I don’t think there is a category mistake at the heart of it. A category mistake is usually an error you walk into blindly. Tegmark knows that what he proposes is counter-intuitive and radical, but it is not an idea without any kind of justification.

    That said, I would not expect you to entertain the MUH if even functionalism/computationalism in philosophy of mind strikes you as manifestly incorrect. In my view, MUH is dependent on functionalism so if you reject the latter you will certainly reject the former and with greater force.

    I think it would be good some day to publish an essay on the MUH from a proponent if you can find one. I would submit one myself, but alas I have no PhD.

    Of course there’s always my own blog:

    http://disagreeableme.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/the-universe-is-made-of-mathematics.html

    Like

  33. Marcus OP
    Evolution has produced genetic coding in each of us for some basic morality. I think this is what Hume meant by Virtue. But this is only able to deal with behaviour at a one-shot, knee-jerk or emotional level, -ok for rapid safety reactions. But highly complex activities cannot be adequately coped with using only our archaic inbred reactions. So, latterly, complex control systems of Senses and a “Memory” to record experience (A Brain) have slowly evolved in all higher life forms to enable choice to be made where several competing alternatives for action may exist. And without Senses and especiallly without Memory there cannot be choice. Total anaesthesia, severe Alzheimer’s, even babyhood are simple demonstrations of this claim. But that choice is strictly constrained by the acuity of those Senses and Memory. We are not “meat-puppets” on strings but rather highly complex “meat robots” with self-control via sophisticated feed-back, each one a unique model of varying quality. 

    The nitty-gritty is, firstly,what IS good/bad behaviour for doubters and atheists? Then, supposing we solve THAT “small” problem, how do we encourage our behaviour to be the former and discourage the latter? Even should we?  [All apply whether we have Free Will or not!!]

    I think we should tackle the subject (by which i mean Morality) from a different angle. Get away from tying morality to whether the actions themselves are voluntary or involuntary and use them as indicators of the probity of the brain/body that performed them: meting out reward/punishment using that assessment. After all it is the genius himself that we admire and the cruel sadist himself that we revile. Yet even the most illustrious genius has almost complete dependency on his community and, ever more so these days, on global infra-structure. Other than, say, personal hygiene he has all his bodily needs provided by a myriad interdependent others: effectively rewarding him for the quality of the body/brain that has produced his outstanding contributions to academia, science, medicine, sport, entertainment, etc.etc. The cruel sadist Is not an asset to society…

    I am happy to accept Determinism. Speaking for myself as an unabashed “main street-er”, I don’t see how lack of Free Will removes responsibility for behaviour and I am happy to use the term “moral” to label that responsibility: where “moral” means ultimately and evolutionarily an objective concept which I can only hope to model with sufficient reliability -or take advice from others wiser than I.
    _________________________________________________

    Again re: the single sequential Comments/Replies-to-Comments thread:-
    To get readers the maximum benefit from chronological order, Commenters/Repliers should be prepared to take the trouble to identify the correct sequential Date and the Time_as_in_the_Website of their subject target.
    (I.e. SciSal’s local time NOT the time, probably different, on subscribers’ Emails.)
    For example, I suggest, to make a reply to Marcus Arvan’s first reply:

    Marcus 30Jan 1.52pm.
    Quote: >(actual quote)<
    Reply…..

    Multiple replies should each be similarly separately identified and targeted.

    Like

  34. Hi Robin you said…

    “My main problem with this would be that I don’t buy that there is a problem of libertarian free will to explain in the first place. The everyday experience of free will is that a) there is more than one possible future and b) we can, at least sometimes, intentionally choose between the alternatives.”

    Haven’t you equivocated between libertarian free will and compatibilist free will? The first sentence says libertarian free will, but the second discusses the experience of free will which includes “we can, at least sometimes, intentionally choose…”

    Outside of event based restrictions (because you can’t choose who you are and the situation you are facing) the libertarian account is that you can always intentionally choose between alternatives. It is the compatibilist account which allows for “at least sometimes”.

    Like

  35. Discussions like these often leave me quite astonished. What we know about the universe: It is more than 13 billion years old, it appears to be infinite in size, and even just the visible number of galaxies (each of which contains a humongous number of stars) is beyond understanding; life on Earth has slowly evolved from tiny bacteria to complex multicellular organisms that can think and plan ahead, but also suffer in previously impossible ways; and the same is quite likely happening on millions of other planets in parallel. What is more, the universe looks pretty much as if it started with an energy sum of zero and will end as a depressingly dead cloud of utterly dispersed matter.

    And all this is supposed to run one somebody’s computer? Who is the simulator? Where would they get the time and computing power? Why would they run such a simulation? What will they get out of it that they would not have got out of terminating it ten billion years ago?

    Even apart from testability and suchlike, is there anybody who can seriously consider the simulation scenario plausible after thinking it through for a few seconds? Meaning: after reconsidering its plausibility in the light of the facts listed above? Again, astonishing.

    labnut,

    You will have to explain that in a bit more detail. How has Daniel Tippens corrected me? As far as I can tell, he has written that if we call something that is plausible but isn’t mind-body dualism as commonly understood mind-body dualism, then mind-body dualism is plausible.

    And the one with the computer is even less clear to me; if I destroy my computer’s CPUs, it will not work any more. If I destroy its hard drive, my data will be lost. Yes, that is entirely equivalent to a human being shot in the head or undergoing traumatic amnesia: once the physical is removed, nothing is left. Therefore dualism is wrong; there is no immaterial component that could potentially carry our traits or memories on after death.

    Like

  36. DI, I assure you I understand Tegmark’s hypothesis very well, and I think he has no clue on how to cash it out ontologically. I saw him stumble pretty badly recently in a room full of philosophers at CUNY’s Graduate Center. Also, what Alexander said.

    Like

  37. DM,
    One should at least consider the history of the Mathematical Universe Hypothesis, given that the clockwork universe of giant cosmic gearwheels and levers was one of its original expressions, as physical explanation for the astronomical order expressed in the math of epicycles.
    It should be noted this early cosmology not only proved to be foundational to topographical maths, like geometry, but as the architecture and construction of actual clocks were some of the earliest efforts at complex mechanics, it was foundational to much of the modern world of technology.
    The fact remains that math is description, not explanation. It is abstracted from the surface of reality and as such, is very good at describing all the relations between all the components, but that still doesn’t explain how all these parts and relationships came to be.
    I would argue “the fabric of spacetime,” as our explanation for why the math of General Relativity works, is essentially the same premise made for epicycles being a one to one correspondence with a physically real, mechanical universe.
    By this logic, C.S. Escher’s stairs and waterfalls could be scaled up from two dimensions to three and we would have a sound basis for a perpetual motion device, much as the fabric of spacetime is used to argue for everything from an expanding universe, to time travel.

    Like

  38. Massimo, I don’t necessarily think Tegmark is a particularly good defender of the MUH. I certainly have some problems with the way he articulates it. I’m not sure I would find him very convincing either if I hadn’t already come to the same conclusion for slightly different reasons.

    And what Alexander said is not relevant to the MUH.

    But, while we’re on the subject:

    Alexander, I don’t think you’re fair to Bostrom, not least because Bostrom is quite explicit about the possibility that ancestor simulations will not be run because they are too hard.

    The simulation argument does not actually make the case that we must be in a simulation, it makes the case that one of three propositions is true. These are:

    (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.

    The problem you have with Bostrom could be interpreted as falling into proposition (1) or (2). (1) if we interpret posthuman to mean having the technological ability to run ancestor simulations — your point is that this is too hard to ever be possible, so we can never reach a posthuman stage. If we interpret ‘posthuman’ more broadly, your point falls under (2) — if it is too expensive or infeasible to run such a simulation even for very advanced posthumans then obviously they are in fact extremely unlikely to run them.

    But I think you perhaps overestimate the difficulty of running such a simulation. You imagine that the whole universe need be simulated at the quantum level. In fact this is not the case. A simulation could simply fill in detail as required to fool any conscious observer, letting everything else be vastly simplified. Computer games do this kind of thing all the time.

    That’s not to say that I think such a simulation would be feasible, but it’s not obviously crazy to propose that a galaxy-spanning posthuman civilisation might be capable of it.

    There are two more legitimate criticisms of the simulation argument though.

    The first comes from Massimo’s point of view. If you are predisposed to biological naturalism (or pantheism, or dualism, or some other non-functionalist viewpoint) then the simulation argument fails because people in a simulation would not be conscious.

    The second comes from mine. Pace Robin, the MUH does not reinforce but obsoletes the simulation argument. If the MUH is correct, then a simulation would essentially just be a way of observing another universe. Yes, it implies that there exist simulations of this universe, but it also implies that we exist independently of the simulation. Whether we exist in a simulation therefore becomes a meaningless question (unless of course the creators of the simulation intervene, in which case the mathematical structure which is our reality must comprise both us and the creators of the simulation and we really could be said to be unambiguously in a simulation).

    Like

  39. As the subject surfaced, and is related, let me address it. The “Mathematical Universe” is not a recent invention. Far from it. Neither is it new to capture the oldest idea, and presenting it as one’s own invention. Crooks and snake oil doctors, have used that technique forever.

    Galileo claimed that the universe was written with circles, lines, etc. (Amusingly I did not see him mention ellipses, that is, Kepler’s great work.)

    Plato, 24 centuries ago, wanted to bar anyone to enter his academy (that word again) who had not studied geometry (ironical, as extreme Greek mathematics, at the time, was more interesting than what became classical Greek mathematics).

    So we have determined that there is epistemic narcissism, and sadism. Sadism, indeed is best practiced in a sustainable way, as Nietzsche pointed out with the Christian priests’ obsession with torture of naked men, on a cross.

    Attributing the Mathematical Universe idea to a contemporary is an historical, and thus causal, error.

    The brain is what mathematics are made of (and reciprocally). Thus, ultimately, mathematics is physics, therefore physics, mathematics.

    A lot of mathematics consists in observing, sometimes millennia later, that one’s brain went a bit fast, and assumed in passing, something that was, indeed, assumed, but neither demonstrated, nor a consequence of axioms.

    A spectacular example is Non-Archimedean (or Non-Standard) algebra and analysis. Archimedes assumed in passing something non obvious about numbers (given 2 numbers, a third one can be found whose product with the first is always superior to the second). It took more than 22 centuries to discover that this was an axiom, not a theorem. Denying it allowed to embody Leibnitz’s infinitesimals with meaning.

    So what’s the difference between mathematics and physics? Physics is mathematics that ought to restrict itself to axioms observed in, or inspired by, nature. String theory, Susy, and the Multiverse, fail that way. Even the Big Bang is “observed” through an arsenal of hypotheses.

    On the other hand, the “collapse of Quantum waves”, and “measurement” are no doubt observed. What fails there is… the mathematics, namely the imagination connecting what is observed with how it could work. The reason is simple: it has to do with non-linear waves, the theory of which does not really exist… in mathematics.

    Progress, though, is made in physics: the speed of light is not constant in vacuum:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150123144158.htm
    This is a predictable (non-linear) wave effect (the Quantum wave needs a bit of time to rearrange itself in a “planar” way). As this sort of effects are found here and there, the need for new mathematics will arise.

    It helps to know the origins of systems of thoughts. Simulation hypotheses are at least as old as the Bible. Such an old recipe is hardly creative thinking.

    Like

  40. Marcus OP 30Jan {superseding corrupted 31Jan 8.18am}
    Quote 1 >to any observer trapped within the simulation it would have to appear to them that everything in their world is determined by physical law. From their perspective, their laws of physics would appear to be “inexorable.”Although their world is not deterministic vis-a-vis our reference-frame outside of the simulation (our inputs as game-players cause their game to play out the way it does)libertarian free will in a higher-reference frame (i.e., free will not determined by any physical law within a simulation) can generate the appearance of determinism in a lower reference-frame.I think that (a) mind-body dualism is probably true, (b) there are no reasons to think that the actions of non-physical minds are determined by physical or psychophysical laws, and (c) there are reasons to think that non-physical minds are causa sui.quantum physics and relativity have already shown us that our world is crazy — and we might just need libertarian free will to explain some of that craziness. Maybe… it all depends on whether its predictions come out true.<
    There are bits that defy satisfactory explanation but I don't think "crazy" is the word to describe them. 

    But enough of this interminable nit-picking. Why is the argument about Free Will v. Determinism so tenacious, an "orgy"? Because of its ingrained connection with (social) behaviour, (i.e. Morality -despite what Jerry Coyne opines). If one has solid religious faith then good and bad behaviour is not a problem. One has an omniscient super-parent to turn to who may concede a degree of self-freedom but an account at death will be tallied up and one's future afterlife is decided by how one has behaved.

    So, except for believers chipping in to say that our hand-wringing is so much wasted effort, this is a serious debate only for doubters or atheists, people like me. Because the brain responsible for action is not easily available to scientific experiment and reliable investigation the debate is still largely philosophical.

    THE ATHEIST'S MORAL BURDEN. The non-believer has to make up his own code and enforce it upon himself: (or her/herself take your pick). He has to monitor behaviour, but on what basis? Are we free to act as we please or are ALL our actions "caused": have we Free Will or not: can we be "blamed"? Why do identical twins with very similar body/brains act and behave so like each other: do they each have their own very similar LFW's or even CFW's? (to use Dwayne Holme's excellent acronyms)
    (continued above 31Jan 8.34am)

    Like

  41. Marko Vojinovic: “As for the content, I disagree on so many points that I don’t even know where to begin.”

    Amen!
    For this reason, I had no desire to write any comment for this article. Yet, the following comment changed my mind.

    {SciSal: “In fact, I think his position is downright incoherent…”

    Disagreeable Me: “Honestly, I think you just don’t really understand it deeply enough. … I would not expect you to entertain the MUH if even functionalism/computationalism in philosophy of mind strikes you as manifestly incorrect. In my view, MUH is dependent on functionalism so if you reject the latter you will certainly reject the former and with greater force.}

    Multiverse is conceptually wrong, and it is pointed out at http://www.quantumdiaries.org/2015/01/09/string-theory/#comment-1788717126 . But, this is beside the point. Physics is all about the solid arguments {evidences and solid calculations}; shut up and calculate. Sometimes, some discussions from the Newspaper-physicists (learned physics via the newspaper only) are fun. But when newspaper-physicists pretend to be trained physicists, it becomes … and will have many problems.

    The core problem of this article is that the author is not a trained physicist while trying to address a physics issue.

    The difference between the simulation and the THING it simulated is clearly defined. Before detonate a nuclear bomb in a test, thousands parameters are checked. This check procedure can be SIMULATED with computer. The simulation can print out the answer: explored or not. The successful detonation of the real THING will release million tons of TNT energy. That is the difference.

    All physics models are simulations of the real world. Yet, what is this “peer-to-peer simulation”? Simulating WHAT? GR (general relativity)? QFT (quantum field theory)? The final physics theory?

    What the connection of two computer MEANs? What is the “parallel processing” corresponding to any physics concepts, realities or laws? Are those connecting lines between computers having any PHYSICS meaning? If those lines are viewed as STRINGs, M-string theory has worked out ENTIRE line-universe without being able to calculate any nature constants. Can this P2P simulation do any type of calculation?

    Anyway, simulation what? If the “what” is physics, then sorry, it is totally wrong. DM, you are totally wrong on your above comment too.

    Like

  42. Asher

    I don’t mind creative thinking. Time travel is impossible but I still love time travel movies. But the silly paradox of free will “versus” determinism has already drawn much more attention than it deserves, and seems to be sprouting arms and legs, turning into a monster of totally unnecessary complexity. I still want to chop off the illegitimate LFW and AFW branches, and change CFW back into simple FW where it belongs.

    Daniel,

    There is no need for a mind/body dualism. If mind were nothing but disembodied spirit engaging in rational thought, it would STILL be deterministic — otherwise it would be irrational chaos, i.e., “mindless”.

    Also, I don’t know what “property dualism” could possibly be. Typically, “properties” refer to the multiple characteristics by which one thing is distinguished from another.

    I suppose I must be one of your “epistemic narcisists”. My search is for the best answer, the best description of what is real. My goal? Just the simple truth. What I see here is a lot of people swimming in theories for the sake of theories. The goal? I’m guessing it is to appear erudite or perhaps to get a good grade in the course.

    Patrice,

    I was raised by Don Herbert (Mr. Wizard) and never had a physics course. Could I bug you with a question? When we talk about the conversion of matter into energy and vice versa (e=mc2) is there actually any “thing” corresponding to “energy” or is energy always a state of matter?

    And one follow-up question? I imagine something I refer to as “stuff-in-motion” to be eternal. Stuff would be anything from the largest galaxy to the smallest subatomic particle. And motion would include transformation of stuff from one form to another, e.g., the condensed stuff in a super-massive black hole that transforms into a universe (and eventually collects into other black holes). If anything must be eternal, I figure stuff-in-motion would be it.

    Mogguy,

    Morality is a secular issue. The problem of every society is how to achieve the best possible good for everyone. We call something “good” if it meets a real need we have as an individual, a society, or species. To that end we try to come up with the best set of rules, those that achieve the best good. Rules define rights. All practical rights arise by a general agreement to respect and protect that right for each other.

    The role of religion is to provide spiritual support for morality. Ideally, we should feel good about doing good and being good. And churches help with that task. But it should be possible to accomplish this without a belief in the supernatural.

    Like

  43. I don’t want this discussion to be highjacked from the simulation hypothesis to how to define mind/body dualism, so I am sorry about this in advance Marcus.

    Hi Alexander,

    For some reason you seem to assume that what the author meant when he was referring to the plausibility of mind/body dualism was the view that there is an immaterial soul that can live on after the brain has died and is in no way causally effected when the brain is effected. This is but one specific form of “substance dualism.” Substance dualism, however, is only one form of dualism that Marcus mentioned in his article. This form of dualism, I agree, is not in vogue, for very good reasons. However, property dualism is in vogue, and Marcus also mentioned that the mind/body dualism generally can be understood to be property dualism when he said, “Mind-body dualism: the mind is at least partly comprised by non-physical properties or substance(s).” Note that here he said properties or substances; denoting two different views.

    So, by saying “oh mind/body dualism is false because substance dualism is false,” you are attacking a straw man, since nobody takes substance dualism seriously, but many do take property dualism seriously, and Marcus said that Mind/body dualism can be understood as property dualism, and this can still be of use in his paper.

    So I am not simply doing what Aravis calls “humpty dumpy semantics” and redefining things for my purposes when I say mind.body dualism can be property dualism, these are ways of defining the mind/body problem that are extremely standard in academic philosophy and Marcus himself has said that property dualism is a plausible mind/body dualist view that is not clearly wrong. If you are interested in property dualism and seeing why it is plausible, see Chalmer’s landmark paper “consciousness and its place in nature” here http://consc.net/papers/nature.html

    Now, even if the author were arguing for the plausibility of some form of substance dualism, I just want to show that your argument against it isn’t even a convincing way to reject substance dualism generally (even though I obviously do not endorse substance dualism).

    Your argument seemed to go like this:

    1. If there is an immaterial soul, then when the brain dies the immaterial soul can live on.
    2. When the brain dies the immaterial soul does not live on (since I do not see any mental activity)
    C. There is no immaterial soul.

    Unfortunately, the substance dualist could just deny that the immaterial soul can live on after death (deny premise 1). They could just say that the brain functioning properly is a necessary condition for the soul to exist. So, when the brain dies, the soul dies, even though the soul is something non-physical. Just because you see no mental activity when you see no brain activity, that doesn’t mean that you have shown that there is no immaterial soul.

    If you were to revise the argument to make premise 1 something like “if there is an immaterial soul, then it isn’t effected when the brain is effected,” once again the substance dualist can just deny this and say that damage to the brain necessitates damage to the soul (once again, I do not endorse any form of substance dualism, this is just to show that even simple views like substance dualism can’t be dismissed by your argument alone).

    Additionally, as I mentioned before, a correlation alone between the brain and the mind (the brain changes state, therefore the mind must change its state), doesn’t show that the mind is identical to, or reducible to, the brain (which is what physicalism wants to say). Just as wiping out the winter season would wipe out all snow, that doesn’t show that snow is reducible to or identical to the winter season, so too wiping out the brain and wiping out all mental events doesn’t show that the mind is reducible to or identical to the brain; all it shows, at best, is that the mind depends upon the brain for its existence (like how snow depends upon the winter season for its existence) which is something a substance dualist could, theoretically, be fine with.

    I won’t say anything more on this because, to be honest, this is pretty standard stuff and I don’t think it needs to be rehashed again. I hope it helped. Sorry for this tangent, Marcus.

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  44. dbholmes

    Haven’t you equivocated between libertarian free will and compatibilist free will?

    No, I am stating the concept simply and clearly, stripped all all the straw men with which it is usually overloaded.

    I have already said that I don’t understand what is meant by compatibilism.

    The first sentence says libertarian free will, but the second discusses the experience of free will which includes “we can, at least sometimes, intentionally choose…” Outside of event based restrictions (because you can’t choose who you are and the situation you are facing) the libertarian account is that you can always intentionally choose between alternatives.

    Where exactly are you getting that from? Are there really libertarians who claim that all of our actions are voluntary, or that the unconscious plays no role?

    It would be pointless to refute or even debate a view that no one actually holds.

    It is the compatibilist account which allows for “at least sometimes”.

    This is a perfect illustration of why I don’t understand what the term ‘compatibilism’ means. It seems to mean different things to different people. I have recently had long discussions with compatibilists who are determinists.

    Determinism does not allow for “at least sometimes”, it only allows for “never”.

    Under determinism there is only ever exactly one thing that you can do. If there is more than one thing that we can do “… at least sometimes …” then determinism is false.

    So, no, there is no equivocation in my definition. It is only referring to compatibilism if, as I suggested earlier, compatibilist positions might include libertarian ones.

    But this is what I have been saying about free will debates all along – the terms are ill defined and therefore everybody just merrily talks past each other.

    This is why I try to define what I mean by the terms I use. There can be no perfect definitions, but we can always provide a best effort.

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  45. Labnut,
    I understand your desire to be generous, especially given that Marcus’ essay has not received a warm reception here. But Marcus is not indulging in ‘creative speculation.’ He is making metaphysical claims to which he is committed, and from which he apparently intends to derive a theory of morality, given the title of the book he is writing. The claims he is making intersect ontology, epistemology, physics and computer science. Critical analysis of such claims can therefore be derived from any of these interests, and, most problematically for Marcus, if any one of these analyses undermines the claims, the argument as a whole simply fails. Further, since the argument as a whole presents a defense of existing metaphysical positions and further propositions derived from those positions, the argument also opens itself to direct criticism of the logic of the argument itself.

    I certainly don’t wish Marcus to stop thinking creatively, but I do think theories of simulation-existence and holographic universes need rigorous criticism, and if they don’t survive it, then they just don’t.

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  46. DM,
    [MUH] Honestly, I think you just don’t really understand it deeply enough.

    I am a little more sympathetic to the MUH than Massimo is. First we must see science in terms of gaps and boundaries. Gaps are to be found within the existing framework of scientific knowledge. Normal science will fill these gaps and we judge potential solutions within the framework of existing knowledge. We see existence as a closed system and the unknown as merely gaps that are soluble in the overall framework of scientific knowledge. This attitude dominates the scientific world and is the reason we expect to find a theory of everything. It is a nice comforting attitude that leads us to expect that we can solve all problems in a neat, tidy framework.

    But there is a problem. While we have been filling in the gaps we have started to discover that there are also boundaries. This implies that existence is not closed, but merely that our knowledge of it is closed by boundaries we cannot penetrate. Some of these boundaries are the time before the Big Bang, things outside our universe, the nature of reality at and below the quantum level and most importantly, the nature and origin of the laws of nature. Possible boundaries are consciousness, free will, the origin of life and the workings of strong emergence. But more science is needed before we can label these as gaps or boundaries. I think that consciousness is almost certainly a boundary. Others will disagree but progress is none-existent.

    Modern science is revealing the startling fact that there are real and impenetrable boundaries. Even more startling is the weirdness at the boundaries(think EQM, string theory and multiverses, for example). How do we understand what is beyond the boundaries when it is unobservable, untestable and all clues are weird? You can speculate but then someone cuts you down to size by appealing to the normal. That is because they are married to a closed system where there are only gaps and no boundaries. But the normal is no clue to what lies beyond the boundaries. Like it or not, we are compelled to accept the existence of boundaries. This raises further fundamental questions. Why are there boundaries? Why are the boundaries weird?

    I agree with you in a certain sense, that reality is defined by abstract structures but not that these structures are mathematics, per se. The ultimate structures that define reality are the laws of nature. They can be expressed mathematically. These laws of nature are a subset of the total possible mathematical structures, so in that sense Tegmark is correct. Where do the laws of nature come from? Why do they even exist? And weirdest of all, what gives the laws of nature their prescriptive power? These questions delineate the ultimate boundary to our knowledge.

    Neither science nor speculation will take us across this boundary. Nor is the normal within our scientific universe any guide to what lies outside this ultimate boundary.

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  47. One more comment, a brief one, which I meant to put in my second comment.

    DBHolmes picked up on this a bit, but could have put it even more bluntly or directly. in Section 1 of his first comment. The P2P simulation ultimately faces the causal chain to an uncaused cause, or First Cause or whatever, problem as does Aristotle’s original.

    Because of that, even if it were the right answer, and even if it were answering the right questions, all it would seem to be doing is punting the issues further backward.

    So, yeah, it may be fun as a thought experiment.

    For … a minute, or a little longer? Since the eternal regress brings up the logical issues Massimo mentioned in his one comment.

    It’s like alternative or counterfactual history. The more plausible the counterfactual(s) is (are), the more likely I’m going to engage in extended discussion.

    For example, Stonewall Jackson not getting killed at Chacellorsville, and his presence helping Lee win at Gettysburg? Sure, let’s talk.

    Time travelers giving Lee machine guns at Gettysburg? Erm, no.

    mogguy Atheists “make up” moral codes no more and no less than any religious believers.

    On identical twins behaving so much alike? Erm, that’s not necessarily so true. Those that do behave so much alike, call it the old bullseye fallacy or similar. They get remembered, written about, etc. others don’t. Now, do identical twins behave somewhat more alike than others, setting aside as best we can family issues for all siblings AND (important point, and one that’s still not fleshed out a lot) setting aside epigenetic womb environment effects for fraternal twins vs. identicals? Yes, but that’s a “somewhat,” not a “lot,” I do think.

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  48. Daniel Tippens,
    When you used the analogy once, I cringed but let it go. The second time leads me to point out the mistake.

    Snow is *not* a phenomenon emergent from the ‘winter season’ or the ‘cold season.’ It is emergent (weakly) from the temperature of certain atmospheric conditions (that are easily reproducible technologically at any time of the year). The analogy you’re trying to make belongs to the pre-modern era (and suggests the fundamental problems with any reasoning from analogy). Snow is therefore a completely physical phenomenon completely reducible to physical phenomena.

    So much for the analogy – in short, there isn’t any.

    I can’t speak for Alexander, but my argument against supposing an immortal soul follows (simplified) thus:

    1. If there is an immaterial soul, then when the brain dies the immaterial soul can live on.
    2, Allowing the possibility that an immaterial soul lives on after the brain dies requires evidence that can be objectively verified.
    3. Such evidence is not possible since it would require evidence only provided through direct, testable experience of the souls of the dead.
    4. Premise 3 necessarily negates premise 2.
    5. Negation of premise 2 sufficiently implicates negation of premise 1.
    6. Therefore, the possibility of an immaterial soul surviving the death of the brain need not be presumed.

    This being the case, it follows that questions concerning consciousness can be raised without any reference to the possibility of an immortal soul. Are there explanations that accomplish this – yes, dating back centuries; and most of these are what can be at leastloosely categorized as physicalist, materialist, or naturalist.

    For the truly dedicated dualist, of course, the story need not end there; there are mind-body dualists who do not invoke the possibility of an immortal soul. Descartes may or may not have believed he had such, but his dualism is purely epistemic. But the reasoning against dualism is fairly strong – the question is whether human cognitive functions arise from discernible biological functions, and the weight of the evidence is that they do. Contemporary dualist arguments – especially those invoking simulation hypotheses of various kinds – seem to me to be rear-guard efforts to get around the evidence and claim a higher logical ground. Although in the current cultural environment, such a move can win many supporters, for a myriad of reasons – ‘trans-humanism,’ ‘post-modernism,’ theology, scientism – no metaphysics can survive long by ignoring evidence. The theology of Aquinas is so bold and so beautifully designed because it accounted for what could be known at the time. What evidence that was allowably known was included within it. What could not be known could be reasonably extrapolated deductively from accepted doctrine, or through reasoning by analogy.

    But that was then and this is now. I loved reading Aquinas when I was young; but I doubt I’ve had a single Thomistic thought in at 15 years. I have no wish for having any now.

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  49. @labnut: I tried very hard not writing this comment. But, not a single statement of yours in your comment is correct. If I don’t right these wrongs, many readers will be misled by them.

    {Modern science is revealing the startling fact that there are real and impenetrable boundaries. … Neither science nor speculation will take us across this boundary.}

    Modern science has resolved at least 95% mysteries of this universe. The remaining issues are very few although they are definitely more difficult. The conclusion that those issues are forever impenetrable is totally wrong, without any scientific or philosophic support. If you truly understand those difficult issues, you will know that gates for most of those issues are not far off. The dark energy survey was launched a year ago and will have results in 4 more years. The BICEP2 issue will be resolved in less than 2 years. Although LHC is designed for 20 more years running, 95% of the discovery will be done in 2 years. By then, the SUSY issue will be settled regardless of some Devotees’ rejection.

    {How do we understand what is beyond the boundaries when it is unobservable, untestable and all clues are weird? You can speculate but then someone cuts you down to size by appealing to the normal…. Like it or not, we are compelled to accept the existence of boundaries.}

    In two ways:
    One, show them having conceptual errors. Multiverse claims that the nature constants are bubble dependent. By showing that the nature constants of THIS universe is not bubble dependent (see, https://tienzengong.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/damage-control-for-the-multiverse/ ), it will be the end of that wrong claim.

    Two, by relevancy: if a THING does not interact with this universe, it has no MEANING to this universe. If it has any meaning to this universe, that MEANING will be detected in this universe.

    Your reasoning and conclusion are totally wrong.

    {The ultimate structures that define reality are the laws of nature. They can be expressed mathematically. These laws of nature are a subset of the total possible mathematical structures, so in that sense Tegmark is correct.}

    “Nature” math and “Nature” physics have isomorphic structure, but with different expressions (see, https://scientiasalon.wordpress.com/2015/01/16/reductionism-emergence-and-burden-of-proof-part-ii/comment-page-1/#comment-11037 ). The DESCRIPTION of the Nature physics on paper is just a SIMULATION of that reality. While we can use the Nature Material to replicate many Nature physics (including the building a life), we will not be able to replicate the universe. This statement is very much like yours, totally presumptuous, but it is not when we know the Final physics (how did this universe popped out).

    One, Tegmark did not explicitly distinguish the “Nature” math from the human math. Furthermore, Nature math and Nature physics have two different pops although they do share the same source.

    Two, the mission of Tegmark’s MUH is for arguing for the multiverse which can be proved to be wrong, soon enough.

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