Friday, March 3, 2017

Are You Real?


- Have you heard about this argument coming out of Oxford University supposed to prove we live in a computer simulation?
- No. Are you interested in such stupid ideas?
- Definitely. How better to learn how we go wrong than by studying how we believe what can't be right? You agree that thinking we are in a computer simulation is obviously wrong?
- Apparently not to some people. Let's hear it.
- Probably there are many worlds of people who like to make computer games. Probably there are many worlds. Probably in most of them computer simulations have achieved a perfection we can't imagine. Probably each world produces many games. Since there are probably many more worlds of people in games than worlds of game-making people, probably we are in a computer simulation and are computer simulations ourselves.
- And what do you make of this Oxford professor's argument?
- We need to look for probabilities because we are supposed not to be able to tell whether we are simulations or real. But then, what difference does it make whether we are real or not if our experience of being real is identical to not being real?
- The people who are playing us might stop playing the game.
- And god might drown us all in a flood. We're dealing with a myth. Myths make visible what is invisible, thoughts and feelings become living beings acting the the world. What would you say is expressed by this myth of our being in a computer simulation?
- If we are in a computer simulation our consciousness is an illusion too.
- It would have to be.
- And we can't tell whether or not we are really conscious? Consciousness is only an illusion?
- That's the argument. There's no difference between being made by aliens as simulation and being made by a god. The god is real, the aliens are real, and we are not, we are simulations. We are something less than gods and alien game players. We are said to have made a mistake, to be deceived in our thinking about our place in the world. But, I think, those who make the argument want to say something different, say more than that we are ignorant about our place in the world.
- What are they trying to say?
- That we have unjustified pretensions about our meaning, our significance. That in fact we don't have meaning because we are mere signs, symbols. We are representations, pictures, imitations. But though we may not know when and how we are deceived in our perception and conclusions about the world, we do know the difference between representation and what is represented. A basic definition of consciousness is representing ourselves to ourselves. It is something we do. We know when we do it, have done it. We can be deceived about the world, but not in making this distinction between what we do when we are conscious of ourselves and what we do when we perceive and make judgments about the world.
- So you answer the alien worlds argument by saying we can be deceived about the world because our knowledge is in the form of probabilities that this kind of thing will come after that kind of thing. Representation, however, is not a matter of laws of probable relation between kinds of things, but of individual experience. When we make a science of our individual experience, discover and test laws of action and consequence, we are the world we test with our action and remake with our action.
- Since we can feel the difference between illusion in the world and representation to ourselves, we have no reason to consider consciousness to be illusion and ourselves a mere simulation in a computer. Do you know where I think this idea comes from? You wrote* about blame that the more we are caught up in social role, the less freedom we have. And since mistakes are made by doing what the group wants rather than what we as individuals know is right, the larger the mistake, the more tightly caught up in the group, the less freedom, and the less blame. Blame is a social act. Individuals don't do blamable acts. We don't blame, judge, condemn them for not obeying rules. Individuals follow their own rules. Someone who is entranced by arguments that we are not conscious and not real is living in the world of blamable but unfree acts: of failure to follow the rules of conduct fixed in relation to rules of conduct of other roles.
- They see themselves as things in the world, instead of individuals remaking themselves with their conduct.
- Yes. They live in a constant state of being blamable but not responsible. That is, they live in a world where there is something to be said about them but they have no reality as individuals.
- A world where they are mere representations.


- Last night I was talking to the Consul General from Greece...
- I can't believe you get people like that to talk to you. What did you two talk about?
- I asked him to explain to me the Prime Minister, a radical socialist elected on the promise to do something about the European Union's destruction of the Greek economy. The Consul asked me:
- Explain what?
- Six months of negotiation led to the EU hitting them with demands even worse than they began with, and threats to cut off delivery of Euros to their banks. Capitulate, or risk being thrown out of the European monetary union. The Prime Minister held a referendum asking the Greek people if they wanted to go on fighting, taking that risk. By a ratio of two to one they said Yes, take the chance. But within a day the Prime Minister defied the people that elected him and gave in to the demands of the EU. What happened? Why did the Prime Minister do it?
- Politicians are not liars. They are three hundred percent liars.
Politicians' promises might be unreal but the Consul's hatred of them was real enough. I liked him for it. I was beginning to feel the same about American politicians who claim to have taken up battle against the powers that be. Our home grown politicians are genius public speakers, way off the scale in their ability. But once they get into office the truth comes out. Three hundred percent liars!
- I know what you mean. They are such good liars. How do they manage it?
- Could we apply to them what we've just been talking about? They tell themselves that the more they immerse themselves in the falseness of political life, the more they themselves lie, the more they are blamable, but the less responsible.
- That's disgusting.
- It sure is.

Further Reading:
How Do We Make A Computer Not Want To Be A Computer?
The Three Evils