Blake Borgeson, in blog form

suspected facts. validated opinions.

nick bostrom: are we living in a matrix? more possible than you might think

with 4 comments

This story isn’t new, as it’s a discussion that’s been going on for decades and was recently made into an extremely popular movie trilogy that spurred lots more conversations on metaphysics than most of us were accustomed to in 1999. And Nick Bostrom’s article, the subject of this post, was published in 2003. But if you haven’t read his simple, logical approach to presenting the case that there’s a measurable chance we’re actually living in a computer simulation, you should take a minute to check it out. That is, if you’re in a metaphysical mood.

Here’s the 2-pager that brings the point home. Here’s the Nick’s home page for the argument, with links to the full article and other perspectives and thoughts on the question, for the more curious.

Here’s the spoiler, if you’d rather have the 10-second version.

Let me state what the conclusion of the argument is. The conclusion is that at least one of the following three propositions must be true:

  1. Almost all civilisations at our level of development become extinct before becoming technologically mature.
  2. The fraction of technologically mature civilisations that are interested in creating ancestor simulations is almost zero.
  3. You are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.

The big reason, in my opinion, why this idea isn’t more prominent in discussions today, which Nick also points out, is that whether or not our world is real or a simulation doesn’t really affect how we should lead our lives. I’m sure there’s a philosophical term for that kind of question, as there seem to be a lot of questions like that scattered throughout philosophy. If you know it and have some more examples, kindly let us know in the comments.


Written by blakeweb

June 5, 2008 at 9:10 pm

Posted in tech

Tagged with , ,

4 Responses

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  1. I didn’t like this argument when I read it a couple of years ago. Like many arguments for the existence of God, it plays tricks with large near-infinite numbers.

    It seems to me that you could come up with any large number of potential reasons for our existence that a sufficiently advanced race of beings might have created us for.

    Ex: It could also be that species that achieve a certain level of technological maturity infect new planets with young DNA in order to watch them develop. I could then make the exact same argument about our existence, assuming a sufficiently large number of planets, that we are likely a seedling race from some other technologically advanced race.

    Many, many other ’causes’ for existence could exist when you start to take technology out to its limits and add in recursion, all of which could create similar existence arguments.

    Dan Graham

    June 9, 2008 at 12:49 am

  2. I didn’t read the argument, but i think it must be crap because humanity is a terrible fuel source; especially since the vacuum of space does not prevent machines from using the power of the sun as an energy source more directly that humans. Enslaving humans would be extremely inefficient.


    June 9, 2008 at 4:13 am

  3. @soundslikeaustin I 100% agree with your comments as they pertain to the movie ‘the matrix’, although that wasn’t quite what the post was about. You should check it out. But yeah, what’s the primary energy source for the human race? Doesn’t make sense.

    @dan Yeah, I agree with your criticism of the argument, but the thing that makes this particular possible explanation for our existence a bit more meaningful to me is that it’s actually hard to come up with a reason why we wouldn’t want to run billions simulations of our existence in the distant future, given the computational ability. I can better visualize the potential benefits of running simulations than I can for any other seedling-esque hypothesis I’ve heard. I’d be interested in hearing other hypothetical future ’causes’ that seem plausible.


    June 9, 2008 at 11:29 am

  4. i think it must be crap because humanity is a terrible fuel source; especially since the vacuum of space does not prevent machines from using the power of the sun as an energy source more directly that humans.


    August 22, 2009 at 8:09 am

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