Re: The Simulation Argument

From: Nick Bostrom (
Date: Tue Dec 04 2001 - 19:39:50 MST

Dani wrote:

>Whether or not we live in a simulation is an
>unnecessary assumption at this point

It's not an assumption. It's an hypothesis, the rejection of which is in as
much in need of an argument as its affirmation.

>As far as we know right
>now from science, there is no evidence against
>this being the original universe.

Science tells us that it will be possible to build computers that are
powerful to run lots of ancestor-simulations. My paper explores the
consequences of this finding.

BTW, I've noticed that people tend to forget that the conclusion of the
paper the denial of a trisjunction and they lop of two of the possibilities
and arbitrarily focus on one of them.

>I would put this discussion in the same category
>as the hypothesis that God created the universe
>5 minutes ago with all our memories just right
>to make us think we've been in existence longer.

That hypothesis should be assigned a very low prior probability. By
contrast, it is by accepting what we see around us that we are led to the
conclusion of my paper. Totally different category!

>In either hypothesis, there is no evidence that
>can show the hypothesis true or false, and it
>doesn't make any difference to how we should
>act in the future.

What are your grounds for saying it makes no difference? I would think any
information about what the plausible future possibilities are would be
potentially useful. It may even have many subtle consequences for how we
should act on today, some of which I allude to in the paper, some other of
which Robin Hanson explores in his follow-up paper.

It seems to me that your basically indicating that you don't like to think
about this issues, which is fine, but don't mistake it for an argument. I
would immodestly think that the paper makes more difference to how we
should act in the future on important issues than >99.9% of all papers that
are published in reputable journals. Also, remember that we are gathering
pieces of a puzzle. One piece in isolation may not give us much guidance,
but when combined with other theoretical breakthroughs that may be made, it
could turn out to be a critical piece of information. We've got to learn to
love every piece of partial insight that we can get.

Nick Bostrom
Department of Philosophy, Yale University
New Haven, CT 06520 | Phone: (203) 432-1663 | Fax: (203) 432-7950

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