A response to Nick Bostrom’s “Simulation Argument”
My understanding of how quantum computers work* is that when they are in an uncollapsed state it’s mathematically valid to think that all of the possible computational paths are being traversed simultaneously. In other words, a possible “universe” opens up for each logically possible path. Whenever the logical feasibility/stability of one parallel “computation” falters, its “universe” collapses. When all of the unstable paths have expired, the computer reurns to a collapsed state — returning all possibilities that fit the constraints of the “reality” (logical rules) provided for that computation.
We look at quantum computers, observing how they work, and we think of that phenomenon as being something novel, abstract, foreign and dependent upon human-made technology. How silly! Any physicist can tell you that quantum computing is just harnessing something that is absolutely ubiquitous in the phenomenal world. It’s not inventing a brave new thing. Rather the opposite – it’s tapping into something that’s so integral to every aspect of the phenomenal world that we don’t know how to recognize it. It’s so close to our noses that we can’t see it without extreme contortions or profound insight.
What we experience as reality is just what happens when a consciousness interacts with a probability field that is constantly collapsing and uncollapsing in countless ways.
What does this tell us about Bostrom’s “Simulation” argument? It tells us that the distinction between “simulation” as he describes it and some “reality” external to that simulation is meaningless. The futuristic “ancestor simulation” machines he imagines are nothing more than reality functioning exactly as it has always functioned. This is not to say that some actual, manifest computational devices will never be engineered by humans to do the things he speaks of. Rather, it means that those machines would be gross unwieldy prototypes of something whose truest form would have to shed the chauvanism of a race that clings to a known misperception of time as linear and space as finite.
If or when we let go of that foolishness, we might then glimpse a so-called posthuman existence and discover, not for the first time, that it’s just reality staring us in the face.
The important questions to ask don’t pertain to whether this world is real in some absolute sense (it’s not.), or even how this reality came to occur. Instead, they pertain to why we believe that it’s real, how that impacts our minds, and how it serves as a basis for suffering. This has always been true and will always be true. Neither technology nor knowledge of the mechanisms of the universe will change it.
If a microbe in a petri dish were intelligent and became aware of the experiment, how would that change anything for the microbe? Possibly it could contrive some form of escape? What then? It’s just one microbe among zillions, whose capacity for experience can’t meaningfully differentiate between petri dish and non-petri dish. Likewise, while Bostrum’s simulation might be a fun idea to toss about, the theory doesn’t provide any meaningfully novel inroads to actually understanding reality.
* I would love to get links to well-written sources that correct or extend my understanting of this topic.