Adam I. Gerard
MSFT Research
Future MS

Some Thoughts on the Simulation Argument

Dr. Bostrom of the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute is famous (or infamous depending on your view) for arguing that the universe we inhabit is highly likely to be a vast simulation of some sort.

Regarding the Fermi Paradox

Many academics have commented on the relationship of Bostrom's thesis to the Fermi Paradox. For example:

  1. Pereira

Or have otherwise directly argued that advanced, comprehensive, digital simulation is a solution to Fermi Paradox:

  1. Haihan
  2. Baxter

Essentially, such views purport that the lack of intergalactic communication and the absence of extraterrestrial contact might be due to most advanced civilizations simply simulating most of reality since traveling across the vast lonely expanse of space might be too burdensome/boring.

The Three-Body Problem addresses additional concerns surrounding the inherent danger of intergalactic interspecies communication. Unlike most science fiction tales, advanced future civilizations make every effort to go in the opposite direction: miniaturization and pocket dimensions rather than expansion using large armadas and fleets.

Combine those two together and perhaps a more plausible future scenario emerges (to most other Fermi Paradox solutions):

  1. Civilizations find it more expedient to simulate an unlimited number of universes within which the experience of time is completely subjective and mostly untethered to external, objective, time (e.g. upon consideration of the frame of reference).
  2. They do so through extreme miniaturization: hiding super-computers in between sub-atomic particles or in dimensions that exist between dimensions, for instance.

Regarding Possible Worlds

Perhaps, it might turn out, that the reason there is (apparent) evil in the world is just that the world is fully simulated. That evil is actually (ultimately) benign (or harmless) and all evil acts really aren't as such (once they are resolved to their most objective state - they are evil within our world but are benign outside of it).

Would that provide a plausible reply to the Argument from Evil?

Epistemically, one cannot establish this with 100% certitude - like other skeptical arguments, it cannot be deductively, empirically, or analytically proven (nor disproven) incorrigibly. (Although it differs from the others by being a positive or desirable reality rather than a pessimistic one.)

Perhaps this argument runs parallel with certain perennial but far more pessimistic arguments like the Argument from Evil. I know of no "positive" arguments that are similar in meta-argument structure to the Argument from Evil.

Suppose, we are judged for the deeds we commit within the simulation but ultimately the deeds are merely appearances (say when some clear determination of ultimate reality is finally resolved). Perhaps this allows a deity or divine being to both create a moral universe perfectly consistent with their moral perfection but simultaneously allowing for robust free will?

Given that we can neither prove nor disprove the conclusion above, it remains a mostly academic curiosity possibly of relevance to theologians in the theism debate.

Note: that modern treatments about interpersonal ethics would still apply and be compatible with such a view. Within a reality, denizens of the virtual simulation interact, they are fully sentient. However, unbeknownst to them, outside such a simulation would be some kind of benevolent judge of their actions and the virtual actions would have no external, ultimate, effect (only within the virtual reality - just as in today's video games).

Simulation Trajectories

The future of simulation will probably see people dwelling inside their own subjective experiences for some duration. External to that reality, time will trudge forward as it does. Within that simulation, thousands of years might go by in a few hours of objective time (indeed, this is true presently of many video games today).

Extrapolate out a few centuries given developments in Virtual Reality, Mixed Reality, and the ascent of the video as the high art of the 21st century (excellent not only for its own sake but since video games incorporate many of the other arts within them). Does this seem so implausible? No, it seems obvious and inexorable.

Want to drop in and live as a Dwarf battling a might Evil Necromancer for couple thousand years of (completely immersive) subjective time over a weekend? (We can, of course, do some of this already by loading up our favorite video games.)

Will thousands of subjective years of research be unlocked in the blink of objective time?