A physicist rejects the idea that we live in a Sim universe

dartmouth college physicist marcelo gleiser insists that the reality we live in is not a simulation by advanced aliens or other intelligence, and the fact that it is not is important. As a summary of his essay in IAI News Explain,

The idea that we are living in a simulation has become commonplace. Elon Musk, for example, thinks that we are almost certainly living in a simulation. But the simulation hypothesis runs into insurmountable problems and is, in the end, an excuse for not solving our true moral failures…

marcelo gleiserReality is not a simulation and why it matters” a IAI News (January 4, 2023)

The idea of ​​”simulation” may sound pretty far-fetched, but it’s more popular than some might expect. science announcer Neil de Grasse Tyson, driverless car entrepreneur Elon Musk, and former Astronomer Royal martin rees They have aired the idea. philosopher of consciousness David Chalmers argues that we we cannot prove that we are not living in a simulation

First, Gleiser agrees with Chalmers that, from a philosophical perspective, a simulated universe is not obviously false. The claim that the average cat has six legs, for example, can be easily falsified, and we don’t need philosophy to do it. But how do we prove Tyson, Musk and Rees wrong?

Gleiser traces the history of the modern sim universe back to a paper by the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom, “Are we living in a simulation?” (2003) Gleiser summarizes the argument: “Bostrom’s point is that if our species survives the transition to a new posthuman phase, the ‘new us’ will have unimaginable computational powers, and running realistic simulations will be a given. If this were the case, by now we would be like characters in a super advanced Sims game, convinced that we have autonomy when, in fact, we are puppets in the hands of the players.


Among those looking for intelligent life beyond Earth, there is also the planetarium hypothesis, where advanced aliens, rather than our own descendants, are supposed to be our simulators. A universe today, Matt Williams notes, “To break it down, this hypothesis states that the reason we’re not seeing aliens is that humanity is in a simulation, and the aliens are running it! So that human beings are not aware of this fact, they ensure that the simulation presents us with a “Great Silence” every time we look out and hear the depths of space.(August 27, 2020)

Some expect experiments that provide evidence simulation:

More realistically, physicists have proposed experiments that could yield evidence that our world is simulated. For example, some have wondered if the world is inherently “smooth” or if, on the smallest scales, it might be made up of discrete “chunks”, a bit like pixels in a digital image. If we determine that the world is “pixelated” in this way, it could be evidence that it was created artificially. A team of American and German physicists have argued that careful measurements of cosmic rays could provide an answer.

and falkAre we living in a simulated universe? This is what the scientists say.” a nbc news (July 6, 2019)

Physical Melvin Vopson suggests looking for faults in the sim:

The late physicist john wheelbarrow has argued that a simulation would generate minor computational errors that the programmer would need to fix to keep it working. He suggested that we experience such an arrangement as contradictory experimental results that appear suddenly, like the change of the constants of nature. So monitoring the values ​​of these constants is another option.

Melvin VopsonHow to test if we are living in a computer simulation” a The conversation (November 21, 2022)

Yes, it all sounds pretty far-fetched. Still, unbelief is not, in and of itself, an argument against it. Gleiser offers a more philosophical reason for the doubt: How do we know that our simulators are not themselves simulated by earlier ones, in an infinite regress back in time? In theology, God, who is beyond nature, is postulated as the First Cause by definition, which avoids that problem. But the proposed non-theistic sim cosmos does not have that option. And incidentally, in the absence of a First Simulator, theorists will find themselves main logical problems with a universe that is infinite in past time anyway.

Gleiser fears that taking a sim universe seriously means abandoning the concept of free will just when we need it:

The pretense argument messes with our self-esteem, assuming that we do not have free will, that we are just deluded puppets who think we are autonomous beings, free to make decisions. To believe this is to give up our sense of autonomy: after all, if everything is a big game that we can’t control, why bother? What difference could my actions or sense of purpose make? “Let the world go to hell, as it is now. We can’t change it anyway.”

marcelo gleiserReality is not a simulation and why it matters” a IAI News (January 4, 2023)

But the awkward problem is that we either have or don’t have Free will. The hotly debated question does not depend on whether we live in a sim universe. After all, we could be robots in an accidental universe where free will is an illusory concept. Alternatively, we could be living in a universe created by an all-powerful supernatural being that gave us no free will. However, in neither of these cases is it clear how would we even know about free will.

Free will seems more like one of those things we wouldn’t know if we didn’t have it. That may be one of the strongest arguments against the simulation hypothesis.

You may also want to read: How can we believe in naturalism? if we don’t have a choice?

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