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The simulation hypothesis

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5/15/2014 10:42:03 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
I didn't post this in the science or technology sections because those discussions seem to be focused on currently existing science and technology, while the simulation hypothesis is more of a philosophical topic that can't currently be tested.

The version of the argument for a simulated universe that my friends recently posed to me goes something like this:

1. If intelligent life will eventually be able to simulate the entire universe and

2. if intelligent life living in the simulated universe will eventually simulate its own universe, and so on, then

3. because there is only one original universe and all of the others are simulations, the probability that our universe is a simulation, rather than the original, must be approaching 100%.

I won't bother poking holes in the argument based on all of the assumptions it makes: that intelligent life forms won't destroy themselves before developing this ability, that each simulated universe somehow evolves intelligent life or that each universe is simulated containing intelligent life, in which case we were simulated at some point in our development before developing this technology, etc. I don't really care about these questionable premises for the purpose of this topic.

What I have a serious problem with is the assumption that an infinite chain of simulations is physically possible. My counterargument to the simulation argument is as follows:

1. If intelligent life forms will never have access to an infinite amount of information (that is, an infinite amount of matter and energy with which to create computer programs), then

2. an infinite number of simulations is impossible given that one of the simulated universes will eventually contain so little information (matter and energy) that life forms intelligent enough to simulate a universe will be unable to exist. In other words, the last universe that can be simulated will be the universe that has had to be oversimplified (by the simulated life forms simulating it, due to a lack of information contained within the previously simulated universe) to the point of being unable to contain life intelligent enough to simulate a universe. Therefore the probability that our universe is simulated is not approaching 100%, but is instead approaching some other value, depending on how efficiently universes can be simulated (how little information from each previously simulated universe is withheld from each simulated universe).

Though there are many other problems with the simulation hypothesis, this seems to me to be the most obvious logical contradiction within the version of the argument posed to me by my friends. They seemed to treat "simulation" as some amorphous, infinite source of "stuff" that could shape universes within universes forever. But maybe they were misinformed about the particulars of the argument; I'm not very familiar with it myself.