Thursday, August 16, 2007

Pass The Bong

Robert Crowther:

So, the benighted brites at the New York Times are suddenly all agog over the deep ponderings of Oxford’s Nick Bostrom (never mind that it isn't really a new idea at all — it's been bubbling up for a few years now). What exactly has them so excited, you ask? Well, Bostrom thinks we all might just be an eleborate Sims game for some sort of advanced video game addict. Seriously.

He has “thoughtfully” proposed the idea that this world, your reality, is nothing more than a very advanced simulation, an illusion, if you will. In fact, he thinks that this simulation might just be running inside another simulation, inside another simulation, inside another simulation on and on back, forever and ever amen.

Bostrom put it this way:

Let us suppose for a moment that these predictions are correct. One thing that later generations might do with their super-powerful computers is run detailed simulations of their forebears or of people like their forebears. Because their computers would be so powerful, they could run a great many such simulations. Suppose that these simulated people are conscious (as they would be if the simulations were sufficiently fine-grained and if a certain quite widely accepted position in the philosophy of mind is correct). Then it could be the case that the vast majority of minds like ours do not belong to the original race but rather to people simulated by the advanced descendants of an original race. It is then possible to argue that, if this were the case, we would be rational to think that we are likely among the simulated minds rather than among the original biological ones. Therefore, if we don’t think that we are currently living in a computer simulation, we are not entitled to believe that we will have descendants who will run lots of such simulations of their forebears. That is the basic idea.

Sounds pretty circular, doesn't it?

And his conclusion? "Unless we are now living in a simulation, our descendants will almost certainly never run an ancestor-simulation." You just can't make this stuff up ... er, wait a minute, I guess you can just make this stuff up.

Compare this to the serious scientific ideas advanced by intelligent design theorists. How does Bostrom’s simulation theory look when lined up next to an idea propsed by Michael Behe such as irreducible complexity? Or, next to theorems proposed by William Dembski, such as those in The Design Inference or No Free Lunch?

Yet it is ID proponents like Behe and Dembski that are denied serious consideration and coverage by The New York Times (or, if they are covered, they're attacked and mocked), while the same media which ignores a scholarly proposition from an ID theorist will fuel serious discussion of ideas such as Bostrom’s. One scientist commented after reading this article that it is "fascinating what explanations for reality are acceptable in quarters which despise ID."

Regardless, it is Behe and Dembski — who are using science to search for evidence of design, not a designer — who are constantly asked who’s the designer, who’s the designer, who’s the designer? When they patiently explain that science can’t answer that question, they are criticized and told they are not doing science.

Bostrom too is confronted with that question, but with considerably more respect and deference.

Of course, it’s tough to guess what the designer would be like. He or she might have a body made of flesh or plastic, but the designer might also be a virtual being living inside the computer of a still more advanced form of intelligence. There could be layer upon layer of simulations until you finally reached the architect of the first simulation — the Prime Designer, let’s call him or her (or it).

The interesting thing is that, try as hard as they might, everyone’s common sense grasps the fundamental reality that life, the universe and everything is quite obviously designed. You can’t help but see the design in nature. Even Darwin’s current bulldog Richard Dawkins acknowledges this by saying that biology is simply “the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed.”

A colleague wrote about this article:

The annoying thing about the cultural elite is that, because of the profound philosophical and theological illiteracy, the most sophomoric observations about the nature of ultimate reality pass for "thought-provoking" or "profound." Their forays into the world of philosophy or theology are regarded as "cute" or "brave" forms of self-disclosure, with almost no attention paid to whether they are plausible or even coherent.

Indeed. It's almost enough to make you want to take the red pill.

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