Please note this question isn't about "simulation" as such. It is cast in this way to illustrate a particular sub-to-super ontology relationship:

Given that all we see or seem, are the product of arcane computations on an unimaginably sophisticated machine. We may be tempted to wonder if we could learn something of the outside, after all we too make computers and run simulations...

Problem though is that our most basic physical laws are not "real". Our thoughts may not notice if the simulation stops and starts. All of the information at our disposal is at once as solid as our physical reality and as fleeting as a forgotten dream. How can anything from here tell us anything about what is really real?

Maybe our computers can tell us how the Grand simulator works? We can imagine that it must have a clock cycle. Or if we could generate enough activity we might notice the processor struggling a bit? Alas that with our limited view we could hardly hope to imagine what every possible kind of computer could be.

Yet if there is a simulation, there must be simulators. And they, they must have put, like us, their knowledge into the machines and software. They would have certain aims and expectations when designing a simulation. We should be able to connect with that sentience, that "aspect of design" in our world.

"Question: Has there been any attempts to make ontological distinction based, on objects of our Reality that would be necessarily "inherited" from an upper ontology? Or objects that we could in principle not place in a simulation?

Are there things that would necessarily propagate right down a simulation hierarchy, essentially binding all levels into a particular kind of reality?

**To be fair I was looking into the question from @tidymonkey81 when this question came up.

  • It sounds like a copy of kantian noumenon-phenomen distiction. – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Jul 15 '19 at 7:34
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA As far as I can see both noumena and phenomena are candidates for objects necessarily shared between upper and lower ontologies. A relation between the noumenal world and an upper ontology world seem enticing. However one may just as easily assert it is the phenomenal that is inheritable to the sentience inside a simulation. – christo183 Jul 15 '19 at 9:34
  • The answer is no (unless our designers let us know in a way that induces us to trust them), which is why simulation speculations are not taken very seriously outside of pop-culture. Their authors simply assume the laws of physics like ours, perhaps with minor modifications, and would have nothing to go on and talk about otherwise. Related If we live in a simulated world, doesn't there have to be a first world that's real? – Conifold Jul 15 '19 at 23:40
  • @Conifold Given your answer to the related question I assume your are looking at this as seeking for physical explanation, and in that context I'm more or less fully in agreement with your answer. But foregoing physical(ism) reality's solid footing, what are we left with? Could we think what thoughts the simulators must have had when creating our world? - Yes, I know this comes back to: "What's the purpose of life, the Universe, etc." But maybe there are some interesting steps in between. – christo183 Jul 16 '19 at 6:06
  • Bostrom originally imagined our distant descendants running a simulation of their ancestors, us. This still gives us little on what capabilities our descendants might have, how they might view us, and what they would choose to simulate. One would expect simulations "indistinguishable from physical reality", as Bostrom has it, if it weren't for the example of current virtual designers who choose to spice things up at every turn, even when their theme is historical. One could say that simulations are bound by the simulators' conceptual apparatus, but I haven't seen an exploration of this. – Conifold Jul 16 '19 at 6:35

You’re assuming that simulation is a philosophically coherent category. It’s not. Few philosophers have taken up Bostroms notion of a simulation as a philosophically coherent thought. It’s science-fiction dressed up as philosophy, and for we know, that’s where Bostrom got the idea from.

  • 1
    Not really about Bostrom, more about what we could know. The simulated world is more of a vehicle/metaphor to indicate the possibility of different ontological categories of knowledge. – christo183 Jul 17 '19 at 8:58
  • @Christo183: Bostrom is a philosopher who is one of the leading exponents of the simulation. I’m pointing out that few are. Can you list twenty or so professional philosophers that have taken this on? Or philosophy departments that are devoted to this question over a significant period of time? – Mozibur Ullah Jul 17 '19 at 9:06
  • Not about Bostrom, not even really about simulation. I don't think "simulation" warrants that kind of attention... The only reason it is mentioned is that the question is nicely framed in the context of a simulator world to simulated world relationship. – christo183 Jul 17 '19 at 9:20
  • See also i.e. @MauroALLEGRANZA comment. – christo183 Jul 17 '19 at 9:21

Maybe the question is what do you mean by "our simulation". Lets say I designed a very immersive computer game that I spend a lot of time playing. At certain times in my game it is just so immersive that I forget I am the designer of the game and become simply the gamer. Is the designer-me from before the same me as the gamer-me who plays so immersed? Are you the same "you" as you were yesterday? What about those moments you can no longer remember?

If there are these simulators on the "outside" I suppose they may be struggling with the same questions of who is simulating them from their outside and so on...but maybe the outside simulator is really the game designer who becomes just very immersed in his own game as a player on the inside.

What do you suppose it would feel like to be this higher reality simulator being? How do you suppose would it feel different than you feel now about reality? How can you be sure that your are at the highest reality and nothing is inherited from higher still?

  • I have rather ambiguous "feeling" toward reality, to an extent because of questions you raise. Thus it is that I'm looking for epistemological answers here, that is "How can we know?", is there particular knowledge pertaining to the relationship between simulator and simulation. E.g. if we found some object of our experience that, in principle, could not be placed in a simulation by us, that would be reasonable grounds to conclude that we are at a top level Reality. - Your notion that a single consciousness can traverse from simulation-designer, to user, to simulated entity is intriguing. – christo183 Aug 1 '19 at 6:33
  • @christo183 - The epistemological issue is that we cannot know that the claim of mysticism regarding the ultimate unreality of space-time is false Thus the plot-line of the film 'The Matrix' largely works. You could see this as an argument for simulation, but the film borrows its ideas from Buddhism and this is not a simulation theory. The extended universe would not be a simulation but a conceptual imputation. The scientific evidence cannot decide which it is but logical considerations and explorations of consciousness suggest it is the latter. – PeterJ Aug 1 '19 at 12:00
  • @PeterJ Indeed simulation isn't strictly necessary to explore these questions. Though I find it handy a paradigm to classify some of the concepts, i.e. upper-, lower, or derived ontologies. More pointedly, using simulation as a sort of modern(ist) language, for contemplating the "conceptual imputation", forces the relegation of scientific fundamentalist notions. A sort of circumvention allowing materialists to think outside the box, so to speak. – christo183 Aug 1 '19 at 12:42
  • @christo183 - I get that it's a handy paradigm. The trouble is with simulation theory is that it makes us think outside the box only to find ourselves in another box and an endless regress of simulations. This is the problem The Matrix scriptwriters did not solve and which leads onwards to the principle of non-duality and Buddhism proper. I've met many young people whose interest in mysticism and metaphysics was sparked by this film so as you say, at least simulation theory gets us thinking out of the box. . – PeterJ Aug 1 '19 at 15:22
  • This infinite layers of simulations problem precisely illustrates one of the weaknesses with simulation theory in my opinion. Simulation theory assumes reality to be either the "true reality" or a simulation just like in the Matrix. But what does it mean to be in the matrix while playing a virtual reality game in which you are playing another game? Which level is your subjective experience really engrossed in and how many upper layers are you conscious of at every moment? – virtore Aug 5 '19 at 18:17

As you point out, a computation can be sped up, slowed down, or temporarily halted without affecting how the computation proceeds at all. Similarly, if everything is properly implemented, other computations could be taking place in parallel without affecting the computation in question at all. So if our experience is nothing more than a computation, it should also be unaffected by such things. I.e., if everything is properly implemented we should not expect to see any Matrix-style glitches as a result of what is going on outside.

On the other hand, if the computation is intentionally altered due to hardware considerations -- e.g., things are only simulated / executed at a given resolution / discretization -- then we might in principle observe this and infer something about the hardware. (See also here: Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?) In principle, one might also infer something about the intent of the programmer (or more generally the nature of the higher-level system) purely from the content of the computation itself, but of course it may be difficult to do so.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.