Breaking the Simulation of Reality
If constructed consent determines that inclusion of the new legacy (and castration the opposing civility) has the risk of rendering the current [opposing] civility completely subjective, the growing external [new] civility will eventually overtake the community […] forcing it to become submissive to a new mythos.Radical Civility – Social Consent – Constructed Consent
Simulation Hypothesis and Alternatives
There has always been a desire to understand how to differentiate between reality and the fiction we believe. While this exploration (also known as epistemology) is a black whole of nihilistic self doubt which can crush even the most open mind, the scope of this article will be to look only at some of the introductory arguments and suggest a rarely stated approach to understanding them.
The evolution of the problem has taken different forms through human history, which we will sum up with 4 specifically metaphors: Plato’s Cave, Descartes’s Demon/Brain in a Vat, Simulation Hypothesis, and the Experience Machine. As a bit of background for those that are unfamiliar with these, they will be described generally here.
The Allegory of Plato’s Cave describes a group of people chained up to a wall in a cave (call them “Prisoners”). They know nothing other than the wall in front of them and the shadows that dance across it (due to a fire that they’ve never seen). This is their entire existence. One day, one of them gets free to wander. They find the cave entrance and see the world and the sun (call this one the “Philosopher”). In his excitement, the Philosopher goes back into the cave to tell his peers what they are missing. The other Prisoners reject the idea of a bigger world (and in some versions kill the Philosopher for talking crazy).
They issue with the cave: it is hard to internalize due to it’s absurdity. People should understand the shadows aren’t real. So, to advance the inquiry, Descartes’s Demon was generated as part of a grander exercise to question “what knowledge can we depend on?” The broader discussion takes journeys through doubting observations and even logic until finally it is summed up with the following: what if there is an evil demon that is altering every sense perception and manipulating my understanding of reality so severely that even math is faulty? As an updated version that attempted to separate it from the spiritual, this was revisited by suggesting that we are a Brain in a Vat and a Mad Scientist bypasses the senses altogether; stimulating the brain with electrodes so all of existence is misunderstood.
The Simulation Hypothesis takes this a step further to suggest that technology is becoming so advanced in terms of realistic presentation and immersion that it is conceivable that in the near future there will be the opportunity to immerse yourself into historical simulations. These will be so indistinguishable from reality, that it may very well be reality itself with even the simulated characters believing themselves alive. In this future world, there will be vastly more simulations than the original reality, so it is statistically true that you, me, and everything we know is native to a flawed simulation (built by human programmers of the future) and it will end when the student finishes the lesson.
Finally, this takes us to the Experience Machine which poses a simple question: if you could plug yourself up to a machine that could optimize your happiness with no ill effects on anyone else, would you? In this same scenario with simulations being created that were indistinguishable with reality, we could program “perfect personal utopias” that people could exist within, so why indulge the suffering of reality if you can escape it? Some of the more devious versions make it more risky by adding the additional thought: what if you couldn’t get back out?
With each subsequent mental exercise above, there becomes a bit more of an ease of consideration and another aspect to explicitly consider. But at the end of it, the Allegory of the Cave has all of these considerations included. It may be unrealistic, but the shadows can generalize into the synapses firing if we care to really consider it. The Prisoners ignoring the Philosopher is an allusion that we all consider the Experience Machine acceptable on some level. So for the sake of contrast, I’ll be pointing primarily to the dynamics between the Prisoners and the Philosopher to discuss this topic.
In all of these, there is a clear diametric opposition between the known and the unknown; the recognition of existence and existence itself. And this is something that is often taken for granted in other discussions. For example:
Within science, we would like to think that the dependency on empirics to justify models that represent the material world would grant us “true” knowledge, but we are shown time and again that this is flawed. From Newton treating the universe as a Euclidean space, to Marx looking at the material world as predefined, to race realists looking for the nuances of skull shapes, to doctors of the 1800s neglecting germs; we conflate the “physical” with the “empirical” when the former carries assumptions of completeness and the latter assumes universal agreement.
Just like in all these examples from the past, we – in the present – are not at the end of history. There will be new aspects of the physical that are identified and more nuanced understanding of empirical reality will strip away myths from the past. We will recognize how to be more analytical of the shadows dancing on the wall, but they will always be shadows.
Which leads to the morality that is associated with all of this: is it moral to respect a reality that we know but is almost assuredly a simulation? Or should we embrace upsetting the system and all that depend on it to explore what is out of bounds?
There is a reason this is still an open question: there is no answer.
Changing the Discussion
I’m going to propose something here that may be a bit unorthodox: we should stop appealing to the dichotomy that we are given.
I’m not saying that the simulation and reality aren’t opposed, but we should stop looking at it as if the simulation is imposed on us. It isn’t. At least not by others.
We are the Mad Scientist. No one is imprisoning us except for and necessarily by ourselves. This simulation is generated internally to make sense of a chaos that we can’t possibly fully explore.
Within this aspect, things become a bit more simple. Descartes’s Demon is a projection onto the world to excuse our ignorance. Everything we encounter is a simplified construct of our own mind trying to keep us safe. We are the god of the universe we manufacture. We are the creator of the simulation that we believe is real. Your ideal paradise would be just as flawed as any other existence you experience – if not worse.
Saying this will undoubtedly be blasphemy against whatever truth you believe in. I share the belief of some other philosophers that Descartes knew this when he built a cowardly appeal to the Catholic Church (so he wouldn’t be exiled like Galileo) within his solution. That solution being: “the Demon wouldn’t allow me to question it’s existence, so I can therefore trust God is leading me true. As such, I can now trust my senses.”
In short, the perspective I am suggesting is a rejection of the famous “I think therefore I am”. So of course it would be an absurd thing to claim, but this is where I get to say: my blog allows me not to care. If you don’t like this perspective, stop reading. Shrug. I don’t see any way to avoid this conclusion if we are to attempt to avoid self delusion.
But by accepting this, we also should be able to see that all the thought experiments above prime us avoid considering it. It is – ironically – a layer of the simulation meant to paint us as the victim. If we are all self imposed Prisoners, the “Philosopher” is a common Prisoner who has accessed a bigger portion of the cave. They cannot escape. They just saw another shadow and called it a “sun”.
As for how this affects the morality of it all: if we conflate our self generated material simulation with reality, we will impose our simulation onto others. But this will contradict since other’s simulations won’t always overlap with our own. How can laws made within a simulation account for reality? To put this in practical terms – How can laws made for phones be used for the internet? How can morality meant to discuss single shot rifles from the 1700s be used for ak47s? How can religion meant to prescribe slaves’ salvation apply to those that can choose freedom?
It should be obvious this is not only a poor and ignorant ethical proposition, but it is destructive to those that cannot act within our personal simulation. This outlook forces us to admit we can’t account for the chaos of reality that exists beyond us. To declare our creation complete is to condemn ourselves to be Prisoners and kill the Philosophers that challenge our reality.
The “other” is our salvation
So this begs the question: Does the sun really exist?
The discussion above leads to a single absolute unquestionable conclusion: I have no idea. You don’t either.
I personally hope it does. I would like to think my simulation reflects something real. That I’m doing more than existing in a void and creating incomplete delusions of reality to escape solitude. But that’s a “hope” built out of necessity, not logic.
I’m going to make a claim that I think is true for everyone, but I’ll reference myself because I know it’s true for me: I have a need to be validated – to understand that there is something beyond myself to justify my existence – it follows that I must search to understand that which is beyond me. That which is not part of my simulation. The people that I love are not loved because of who I know them as, but because of who I don’t. What I know is part of the simulation and is therefore necessarily a creation that I’ve made, and I cannot validate myself.
Contrary to what has been claimed, the Philosopher of Plato’s Cave is the most trapped character because they have seen a truth and rejected it. They realized that reality is bigger than they once believed yet deluded themselves into thinking the sun is more than just another shadow. The Philosopher is resigning to be a Prisoner once again – they are choosing the Experience Machine. He’s committed to believing the simulation is real and has learned nothing.
There is an alternative action that the Philosopher could take which is both insightful to the Philosopher’s delusion and that of Plato himself. Instead of asserting that he knew a reality beyond theirs, he should be asking if the other Prisoners know of “shadows” that he’s unaware of. He should be looking to incorporate the “other” instead of demanding that his simulation is acknowledged.
And that’s the simple solution that cannot be seen in the original presentation: we must continuously seek the Other out. We must seek to incorporate the “unknown” and the “chaotic”. We must seek to acknowledge Azathoth even though it will never be known. We will never be the Philosopher within our own Simulation. Only the other Prisoners or the darkness that we are afraid to venture into hold that wisdom.
For me, it is immoral to desire the Experience Machine. Not because of the simplistic claim that “hedonism is bad”, but because it – by definition – is the commitment to conflating “reality” with the simulation we know and a rejection of the Other.
Every action, every decision, every choice is a vote to make reality what you want it to be. Please help promote each other.