Are You A Computer Simulation?
I have this awful feeling that the truth of the matter is that
civilisations destroy themselves somewhere on their way to becoming
'advanced'. In fact, I find it very difficult to think of them not doing this.
One slip. One accident. One act of terror. One miscalculation.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics!
And the notion that consciousness is an **extremely** lucky happenstance - a mere
epiphenomenon - seems highly unlikely - but, yes, possible.
But I have a dilemma.
I cannot really believe that
consciousness is just a piece of unimaginable luck.
I cannot really believe that consciousness is just a piece of unimaginable luck.
And I also do not actually believe that we are ever going to understand
And given that it does now seem as if there has been the most
monumental amount of luck involved in so many areas that are essential to our existence, I am becoming somewhat disconcerted about the whole matter.
Goodness me. Even the presence of the Moon seems to have been essential to the evolution
of life on Earth - producing inter-tidal zones thus providing a stepping stone
towards life on dry land, throwing water-borne chemicals on to the shores,
providing a source of night light, a way of navigation, varying the weather patterns and the climate,
creating monthly lunar rhythms (often used for reproductive cycles) and so on.
And the fact that the Moon just happens also to be of the right size and
distance to provide occasionally a total eclipse of the Sun while leaving the
outer halo visible for scientific observation just seems astonishing.
it is almost as if someone is
playing games with us.
In all, it is almost as if someone is playing games with us.
Worse still, such a possibility not only seems highly likely - it seems to be
the most reasonable conclusion that one can reach.
And being quite a hardened atheist, I find this very disturbing indeed.
And consciousness seems to be the big bugbear.
Why is there such a thing?
How on Earth did it happen?
What the hell is it?
How is it that consciousness is never likely to be understood? - well,
certainly not by humans.
And, worst of all, given that its very presence seems likely to lead us
humans into oblivion - see later! - it seems to me that the very presence of
consciousness is telling us something that, thus far, most scientists seem to be
missing. And this 'something' is quite alarming.
So why do we have it? Wherein lies the benefit?
It is sometimes argued that consciousness allows us to
imagine different courses of action before we commit to them, but computers can be programmed to calculate all
sorts of planning operations before executing any of them without, apparently, the need for
So, again, why do we have it?
And it's no use just shrugging your shoulders and saying, "Well, there
we are. That's just the way it is." Because, if you do this, then you are
admitting that science has no answer to the question.
And if you just assume that consciousness is simply an epi-phenomenon (i.e.
something that just happens to come along with the territory) then, my goodness,
what another stroke of luck, eh?
How many more bits of luck are we going to admit to?
How many more bits of luck are we going to admit to?
And, of course, you might as well also say that the universe just happened to
come along; i.e. science has gone out of the window.
Well, I'm afraid that science has actually gone out of the
window when it comes to consciousness - because it cannot touch it.
If you doubt this, just ask yourself how you could ever determine
whether or not, let us say, your TV was conscious.
How could you ever definitely know the answer to this question?
Worse. Given that you are definitely conscious, how do you know that
any of your conscious experiences represent reality - rather than, say,
some artificial construction; like virtual reality?
You could never know such things.
But that's another story.
For the moment, let us just accept the fact of consciousness, so that I can
get on with the computer simulation argument and show you all what a nightmare
it all is.
Well, in my view, even an earthworm is conscious - with
a tiny, tiny, tiny, teensy glimmer of consciousness somewhere embedded in its
I'm pretty convinced that consciousness is a product of brains (as opposed to
something that is tapped into by brains) and, further,
that it arises from their information processing activities.
And I also suspect that the amount of consciousness that brains produce is
directly correlated with the amount of processing going on.
And many people would agree with this generalised view.
But an extremely important question arises in relation to this. And this is a
question that, ...
1. ... we will never really be able to answer.
2. ... has positively enormous implications - most of which are likely to be
'bad' for humans.
The question is this.
Is consciousness something special to brains
because they are 'living' structures, or can any sufficiently
complex information-processing devices
we are in trouble
Now, if we believe in the latter, we are in trouble. And here is why.
At some time in the not-too-distant future we are going to have
machines up to all sorts of information-processing shenanigans. And some of them
will even start to look human.
And unless we have firmly implanted in our minds some convincing notion that
they are not conscious (even if they are) they will end up taking us over.
Goodness me. It's bad enough getting rid of an old comfortable armchair.
That armchair is your friend!
You weep at the very thought that it will end up in the garbage dump.
That lovely unique constellation of cigarette burns.
Those hardened coffee stains that match so well the ones on the carpet.
Your whole week is ruined.
Can you imagine how much worse matters would be if you actually believed that
your dear old armchair was actually conscious!?
And, possibly, that it was deeply attached to you!
"Please don't abandon me."
You would rather die a horrible and hideous death than be parted from it.
And so if information-processing machines are ever discovered to be conscious (or even if we
them to be conscious) we have had it.
we will become their slaves
At the very least, we will become their slaves as we pander to their
ever-increasing number of wishes.
Especially if they are constructed to look and feel like submissive sensual
perfect womenfolk with enormous perfect breasts!
Men are already slaves to the very imperfect women that they've got; i.e. things
are bad enough already.
So. Goodness knows what would happen if robots ever started looking like this ...
... especially if we believed that they were conscious.
But, worse still, if it is the case that the information-processing done by
computers leads to consciousness, then we are definitely in a truly unholy
existential mess -
because it would ***clearly*** follow that 'we' might not exist at all!
Think carefully about that.
For example, 'we' could simply be a program running on somebody's home computer.
We might be some socially-oriented type of video game for some horrid little alien
schoolgirl who should
be doing her homework.
Perhaps we all exist only in some kind of virtual reality. And our
consciousness arises because the parts of the program that represent 'us' are
processing sufficient information to make those parts of the program (hence,
If heavy-duty information-processing machines (or, rather, parts of programs)
are conscious, all is lost.
We could never even know if we - or if anything else that we perceive -
It is therefore best to assume that such
machines are not conscious
It is therefore best to assume that such machines are not conscious so that
we do not get too glum about the likelihood that we are nothing more than
sophisticated programs created for some other beings' amusement, and so that we
also do not get too emotional over sophisticated robots that look human -
especially, of course, if they look and feel like submissive sensual perfect womenfolk with
enormous perfect breasts!
Remember: If the robots ever look like this, ...
... we will be doomed!
We will be enslaved by them.
(Well, I certainly will be.)
My only real problem with actually doing this myself (i.e. blindly assuming that
machines can *never* be conscious) arises from that little earthworm.
If the earthworm does, indeed, have a teensy, tiny, flimsy, nano-nano bit of
consciousness, then what has it got that an enormous information-processing
machine cannot emulate?
And then, of course, you could argue the same sort of thing by thinking about
then a dog, then a monkey, then a human.
Surely, a super-duper computer will one day outdo them all?
Which leads us right back to the distinct possibility that we are each just a
part of a very sophisticated video game - that can do the job of consciousness-raising far better than can a worm.
Thus, the bit of program that creates the dirty mug that sits upon my table
is not very sophisticated or complex, and so the mug part of the computer program is not
very conscious. But the bit that creates me and my perceptions is, needless to say, some
of the finest and most sophisticated programming ever invented, and so this bit
is extremely conscious - and good-looking too!
Indeed, unless there is something particularly peculiar about
information-processing brain tissue - something that gives rise to consciousness
in animals but not in machines - there is a **high likelihood** that we are
nothing more than sophisticated programs written by an advanced species (or
perhaps even written by our own **descendants**) who, for some reason, wanted to
re-create a virtual reality experience of our prior existence.
Why would they do this?
Perhaps they want a better version of reality TV.
Perhaps they are trying to reconstruct their ancestors (us) as authentically
After all, are not these exactly the kinds of things that we do
all the time? (Films, books,
photographs, history, genealogy, paleontology, biology etc etc).
We are always trying to figure out who we are!!!
We are always trying to figure out who we are -and
putting the most enormous effort into it.
And an advanced species might be doing exactly the same thing.
With us being 'virtually created' to help them with their studies.
Perhaps, bit by bit, they painstakingly and
scientifically reconstructed us on their computers, just like we are always
trying to reconstruct the past.
That's not such a crazy idea, is it?
Or maybe these advanced beings did not descend from us at all.
They might have been our mortal enemies, and
they are now simply replaying the coming Battle of the Species where the humans
are finally obliterated by their own stupidity.
Indeed, from their own point of view, this
replay of our past existence could be an award-winning comedy of some
In summary: If machines can have consciousness, then we surely have a number of very,
problems to face. And this will be especially true if only machines can produce
Think about the implications of that on a dark night!
But, in fact, this could certainly help us to to explain why we still appear to be so alone
in the universe (Fermi's Paradox) and why every fundamental thing to do with Nature seems
so hugely coincidental and, even stranger, seemingly in particular favour of our
very own peculiar existence.
So, perhaps we are just a part of a damn good computer program
- like Sim City - but they left out some of the more difficult complicated bits
- like having aliens beaming out at us from elsewhere.
Perhaps this is the real reason why 'we' do
not hear anything when we currently listen out for aliens from other galaxies.
They were, quite simply, not programmed in.
And they were not programmed in, perhaps, in
case somehow we discovered from them about the impending subterfuge - so giving
the game away.
The possibilities are truly endless if
machines can be conscious.
Within virtual reality, just about anything can happen, and anything could be 'true'.
Which, of course, could be great news in some ways; particularly given that I
might be able, eventually, to get my hands on this! ...
I really do think that we are genuinely lost if we ever believe that machines can be conscious - because
those machines will then definitely 'take us over'
- in one way or another.