Full text of George Smoot on You are a Simulation & Physics Can Prove It at TEDxSalford Conference.
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Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here. They asked me if I wanted a drink before I came on and I asked for a pint but they gave me water. So, following the other speakers I have a change of pace, a little bit of a fun talk. And what I am going try and do is convince you you’re a stimulation, and that physics can prove it, okay? So, instead of a usual uplifting talk, this is a different kind of talk.
Okay, so, there’s one thing you know for certain, that is that you exist as a flesh and blood human being; my goal is to convince you otherwise. Okay? So, logic is not going to be enough, you guys are going to be simulation deniers, there’s just no way round it.
So, my actual goal will be to actually create a sliver of doubt in your minds, so that you actually think about this, and what it might mean. Okay?
So, here’s is the first check about simulations. How many of you have ever played a computer game? Just raise your hands. Ah, all right.
So, did you do it against simulated player or simulated players? Or, in fact, was it you, several people plus simulated people? Right. And what role did you take? Was it a pawn or a hero? What role do you have in life? Is it pawn or hero? Right. Are you the king, for example? I don’t see him here… but…
Now, the other thing you might ask, if you were a social scientist, or other kind of scientist like a cosmologist: Would you like to run realistic simulations to test and develop your theories? Likewise for political candidates. Right? So, I’m just trying to see there’s motivation for it.
And then the question is: Are computation and simulation capabilities increasing over time? So, think of the HetNOS, think about Moore’s law, think about what computer you had when you were young and what you have on you now, not that you’re not all young still. Okay, that’s just setting you up for having the doubt.
Okay, so we’ll take a little journey into philosophy. Solipsism is the idea that one’s own mind is the only thing that’s sure to exist. It turns out, people have been studying this for decades, and realizes both irrefutable and indefensible at the same time, so have this point of view, and that it’s not a falsifiable hypothesis, there are people who work on this issue.
So, there doesn’t seem to be any imaginable disproof that you can have, so even if you have a Solipsan, and he dies, you can’t falsify his belief, because he’s not there to do it. So this is a pragmatic dead end, it’s kind of like what we have on TV now, which is, you know, zombie philosophy. But there is an opposite, that is philosophical zombies. There’s a slight use to philosophical zombies.
So what is the idea here? The philosophical zombie is a hypothetical being that in this thing what you all thought a normal human being, that is everybody you think you are, you know what you think you are, except that it lacks conscious experience, qualia or sentience.
So, if you take a philosophical zombie and poke it with a sharp object, it doesn’t feel any pain, however, it behaves exactly as if it does. It would say “ouch” and do all the usual kind of things. So, what the zombie is there for, is to support the idea that the world includes two kinds of things: the mental and the physical, or the concepts and the physical world around you. And so that’s the idea.
So, we have in cosmology, lots of things. We have the anthropic principle, that is, a philosophical concept that the universe must be compatible with conscious life that observes it. And there’s a strong version and a weak version. One of them that says the universe is compelled to have conscious life emerge, and the other says that the universe is fine-tuned for life to be necessary. And this is pretty much in line with a lot of even more specific kind of ideas, from conservative Christianity and Islam, that there’s intelligent design, or there could be like a simulation. I’m working on you… so….
And we also have the idea of multiverses, that there are many different kinds… there’s a metauniverse and there’s many possible universes inside of it. And there are different reasons for that, quantum mechanics, but also a way to explain whether physical constants happen to be the ones that make this auditorium possible.
And so, you know, one way is to have that many real universes, the other way is just to make a lot of simulations. So, your choice. Okay, so now we move on.
Here’s the crux of the arguments, and these arguments have been around for more than 30 years, and they were first published 30 years ago, and what people went through a lot of trouble to show, that one of these three things is extremely likely to be true. So, you get your choice between No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3, just like the doors, look what’s behind each door.
The first one is: Human civilization is unlikely to reach a level of technological maturity capable of producing simulated realities, or it’s physically impossible. Okay, so we made some progress in 30 years and I’ll mention that.
The second is: Comparable civilizations throughout the universe which do reach that capability will choose not to make simulations in such a large scale that, in fact, the probability of being a simulated being is much higher than probability of being a real being. So, those are your choices, right — there’s some other choices, but they’re extraordinarily unlikely, and we can pretty much rule them out.
And the third choice is: Any entities with our general set of experiences are almost certainly to be living in a simulation. That would be us. Right? Okay? In case you guys aren’t paying attention.
Okay. So, let’s talk about making simulated realities by humans. So, will humans produce realistic simulations? And the answer is yes. I have to keep coming back because I just wrote this talk and so I don’t remember what I’ll have to say. And, so, the answer to that is clearly yes, you guys already proved it, because there’s a lot of money to be made in making computer games, simulated realities. And the better the simulator reality, the more people you can involve in it. There’s a lot of entertainment, we have a lot of animated movies. Now, we’re going to have animated interactive movies and videos – it’s coming out — and pornography.
So, you know, you can’t rule out pornography. In the early days of the Internet, pornography was the No. 1 commerce, it was roughly half the commerce in the Internet in the early days. And even today, 50% of the bits that are transmitted on the Internet are transmitted for porn. So, you can wonder: Why is it? Well, originally stories and then there got to be pictures, and then there got to be videos, pretty soon there’ll be interactive videos. So, it’s clear there is a tremendous financial motivation, and especially here in Media City, where people make their living out of these kind of things.
So, how… I’m not sure which of the three, But okay. How detailed and how accurate will the simulations be? And the answer turns out, as we know from experience, computation power is the first issue. You have to have tremendously good computation power to make a really good quality simulation, and good programming, that is good software, to explain what’s going on, that’s the second. But, clearly we’re making progress, just look at the games, look at PONG, and look at the kind of video games we have now. So, we’ll see.
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