“There are things in the process view of others that you cannot see in your process view - things you cannot imagine.” - A.E. Sukinami
** The Booger Argument **
It was one of those magical evenings at Sukinami burger, sitting outside. It was the time of year when the days were so long they blended in with the night seamlessly, without anyone noticing. The evening light made everything soft and clear and relaxed the eyes. It was the kind of light that made you feel like you had walked into a land where you never had to squint to see the perfect version of things. You couldn’t guess the temperature, other than “perfect”.
Carin and Maggie had finished their burgers and were silent for a while, letting the food coma settle in. That never stopped Carin for long, though.
“O.k. Maggie, I found something cool today.”, Carin said.
“It’s called the Simulation Argument.”
“Um…what definition of cool are we working with?”
“Shut up. I’ll read it to you. It’s short.”, Carin said as she pulled out her phone.
“Aaaa! So bored!”
“I haven’t even started. Check this out, though:”
Carin read dramatically from her phone, “A technologically mature ‘posthuman’ civilization would have enormous computing power. Based on this empirical fact, the simulation argument shows that at least one of the following propositions is true:
1) The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage is very close to zero;
2) The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero;
3) The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.
If (1) is true, then we will almost certainly go extinct before reaching posthumanity. If (2) is true, then there must be a strong convergence among the courses of advanced civilizations so that virtually none contains any relatively wealthy individuals who desire to run ancestor-simulations and are free to do so. If (3) is true, then we almost certainly live in a simulation. In the dark forest of our current ignorance, it seems sensible to apportion one’s credence roughly evenly between (1), (2), and (3).
Unless we are now living in a simulation, our descendants will almost certainly never run an ancestor-simulation.”
Maggie had been digging into her fries and people watching while Carin rambled, but she had background-processed Carins monologue.
“Physics is amenable to change at the whim of the author of the simulation, then.”, Maggie said.
“Yeah, I suppose.”
“Yeeeeah. Not willing to talk through your God theories today.”, Maggie said.
Carin casually threw a hand in the air in exasperation. “Pfft. Pussy.”
“I’ll talk about that cute guy you won’t ask out.”, Maggie smiled a mischevious smile.
“Which one?”, Carin asked.
“The dan-smith-looking one in sales?!?”
Carin just shrugged and raised her palms in confusion.
“The one down the hall from you that you f-ing mention every day??!?”, Maggie said.
“Oh, that one. Nope. You’ll talk about this ‘simulation’ thing with me.”, Carin said, making finger quotes.
“Don’t pfft me. You bet me you wouldn’t swear the entire week…”
“Ugh.”, Maggie just gazed further into her fries, poking about and pretending they were her only company.
“I believe I have the con…and the topic for today iiiis…The Simulation Hypothesis!”
Maggie kept poking about, picking choice fries to eat.
“So?!?”, Carin said.
“So what?”, Maggie said, pausing with several fries sticking halfway out her mouth.
“So tell me what you think about that argument…er…hypothesis!”
Maggie shook her head side to side slowly, chewed her fries, and swallowed them down with a swig of lemonade, which she drank through a straw. She cleared her throat, and fixed Carin with the somewhat condescending look that Carin had nicknamed “Nutty Jedi” long ago, because it always preceded some sort of mind trick that was difficult to retort.
“Are you familiar with the HitchHikers Guide to the Galaxy?”
“Of course. Read it a dozen times, along with the rest of the books in the series.”, Carin said.
“Then you will be familiar with the concept that the universe was sneezed into existence by a gigantic super-being?”
“Hmmm…I recall that theory being proffered in the guide, although I don’t remember which book in the trilogy mentioned it.”
Maggie fixed Carin with a serious stare. “I propose, then, that one of the following must be true:
1) The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage is very close to zero;
2) The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are compelled to sneeze out new universes is very close to zero;
3) The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a booger universe is very close to one.
If (1) is true, then we will almost certainly go extinct before reaching posthumanity.”
Carin raised a finger to object, but it was waved down energetically by one of Maggies hands.
Maggie continued, “If (2) is true, then there must be a strong convergence among the courses of advanced civilizations so that virtually none contains any relatively wealthy individuals who desire to blow universe-snot and are free to do so. If (3) is true, then we almost certainly live in a nasty, nasty booger.
Therefore, in the dark forest of our current ignorance, it seems sensible to apportion one’s credence roughly evenly between (1), (2), and (3).
Unless we are now living in a booger, our descendants will almost certainly never blow universe-boogers. In fact, there is about a 33% chance that you, and everything you hold dear, is in a booger.”
Carin gave Maggie a slow clap. “Whoopie.”, She said, “You can replace ‘run an ancestor simulation’ with any equivalent, even ‘blow a universe out your nose.’ But…that only makes sense if you are basically using computing power to make the booger…er…universe…um…so you’re just making the same argument - except that it’s weaker for the obvious reason that little universes cannot be detected within my boogers.”
“No, my argument is equally cogent. You are saying that because you are human, not post-human. You can no more imagine post-human tech than ants can imagine computing. If we’re living in a simulation, then the physics of the universe outside this simulation are potentially completely different - and I mean everything can be different. And knowing nothing about the universe from which ours sprung, the desires of it’s occupants - our creators - can be completely different - almost anything is equally likely for statement 2, that middle part - boogers universes, ancestor simulations - we have no information. We can easily just be part of a booger.”, Maggie said.
Carin leaned back, picking up her lemonade. “You’re saying that…”, she said, flourishing her lemonade, “we have no evidence that makes it more likely that we are living in a simulation than a booger…” She took a long victory sip.
Maggie rolled her eyes. “Ugh. O.k., Maggie. I’m saying the simulation argument is not evidence of anything. It should be generalized. But…the booger argument is probably weaker in some way than the ancestor idea…can we talk about guys now?”
Carin waggled a finger back and forth in front of her. “Oh, no. You asked for this. You want to replace ancestor simulation with something better.”, she said, “Now, if you were a post-human, and had somehow maintained some evolutionary memory and human-like behaviors, what would you do with infinite computing power?”
Maggie appraised Carin seriously, then took the bait with a smile.
“I would make a dream, not a simulation…I would make…”, Maggie looked up to the sky, pushed her palms up, and yawned. When her arms came back down, she was smiling more genuinely at Carin, “…art.”, she said.
Carin nodded in agreement. “And why?”
“Oh, I supose to appease the big snuffleupagus post-human that sneezed us out, or…to make him happy.”
Carin continued for her. “Because in our little post-human minds, the best we could imagine is that our universe is a work of art - that we can be that little molecule of paint that part that makes Mona-Lisas smile impenetrable, if we work together, maybe.”
“Maybe we can make God so happy that he lifts our little minds into the next painting.”
“But that next life is as impenetrable as the mind of a post-human is to us. In the dark forest of our ignorance…”
“Basically everything is bullshit.”
They clinked lemonades and shared a laugh.
“So does that conclude our God-talk for the day?”, Maggie asked.
“Almost.”, Carin responded, deep in thought.
“So what if we aren’t in a simulation?”, Carin said, finally.
“Then there is only the dark forest - all our theories are equal.”
“What if god is trying to figure something out, and the reason you can’t figure it out is because you are supposed to be struggling with the same thing. You are one of a trillion people that just might, maybe, evolve into a solution he’s looking for. The solution he’s looking for.”
“Pfft. Brain in a vat.”
“Stall all you want. There are a lot of possibilities out there. We are little interacting equations - little automata. Maybe one of us will become the complex answer he’s looking for, without even knowing it.”
“You’re still stalling. It’s a higher purpose. A god that wants us to succeed in something. Inverse correllation with depression, there. I can look that up for you.”
“I suppose…but doesn’t it bother you?”
“In what way?”
“You realize that your philosophy has now just evolved into the primary plot vehicle of the Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy…that we are part of a computer designed to resolve the meaning of life?”
Carin laughed mid-drink, then she snorted her lemonade, then Maggie laughed and then they were a mess of lemonade and napkins and laughter and french fries that took a while to clean up.
When Carin had calmed down, and got her breathing under control, she said, “Oh, shit. The hitchhikers guide is the word. That makes so much sense. What else would two nerds come up with.”
“I’m going to forgive that last swear on the grounds that this is the most fun I have ever had talking about god.”, Maggie said, “H2G2 almost is the word. There is something it doesn’t get, though…”
“What’s that.”, Carin said.
“I think it’s…the pervasiveness of a god…that we are him…the universe is him. That kind of thing…”
“No…I mean…I think…that’s allowed by the simulation argument. It’s just not allowed by the booger argument. We can be a process running inside His head. The simulation argument works so well as a God argument because it puts everything into the same substrate…probably why Bostrom chose ‘ancestor simulation’ - intelligence-based constructs are fun.”
“Intelligence as the medium of the universe? I suppose. A booger could still be utterly profound to it’s creator, and affect Him…but you’re right, it’s easier to feel like I’m part of God when I look at it that way. Simulation as art/computer lends itself to explaining a whole lot - evil, miracles, you name it.”, Maggie said.
“Douglas Adams was so close, too. Maybe he never finished that series. Maybe if he lived a little longer.”, Carin said.
“Then…in the H2G2 world…I guess that makes us the girl in Chelsea who figures it all out right before a hyperspace bypass takes out earth?”