Maybe we’re not living in a simulation

Nick Bostrom has this interesting simulation argument thing (see also his discussion in our Ideas of the Century series). It holds that at least one of the following three propositions must be true:

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

Okay so I was just eating a packet of crisps, and I came up with a couple of counter-arguments. The first was that the argument doesn’t get off the ground unless we’re not living in a simulation (because if we are living in a simulation then propositions 1 and 2 might not even make sense about the “real” universe). The second was that it’s possible to construct an identical argument with “baby universes” (thereby demonstrating that we’re not living in a simulation).

Annoyingly other people seem to have got there first with these arguments, which isn’t in the least bit surprising (of course). And Nick – who incidentally is super smart and a nice guy – has provided his response (see the FAQ here – arguments 4 and 16).

I’m not entirely convinced by his responses, but regardless, suppose we combine arguments 4 and 16 together? Like this:

If we’re living in a simulation or a baby-universe we have absolutely no way of knowing from our experience of that simulation or baby-universe, whether in the originating world (the “real” world), it is easier to construct simulations or baby universes, or whether – for whatever reason – an advanced people would be more inclined towards one rather than the other. It follows then we’re in no position to make a judgement about the relative probability of a simulation versus a baby-universe. Therefore, there is no reason to suppose that at least one of the propositions above must be true (and therefore the simulation argument fails).

Right, I’ve spent about 10 minutes thinking about this and I didn’t really know what the simulation argument was until about an hour ago, so I suppose my argument must be wrong.

So where’s it wrong?

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