What Is The Self?
What is the self? Do I have a spirit, soul, or some other metaphysical identity separate from my physical brain? Am I just a series of biological processes which create the illusion of consciousness?
“What is real? How do you define real?
If you are talking about what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”
—Morpheus, The Matrix
Scientifically, the human brain is causally closed, which means that we can identify the beginning, middle and end of all conscious processes via neurons. We can explain how consciousness arises – so the need for a supernatural self is redundant.
And yet, I have the prevailing sense that “I” exist. Whether I’m thinking, talking, dreaming, writing or walking, it feels as if the experience is happening to “me”. Therein lies the problem. Scientific observation tells us there is no need for a self, but the experience of being human most definitely feels like there is something more to it.
To solve this problem, philosophers have devised a number of theories of the self. These are categorized in two groups: bundle theory and ego theory.
Bundle Theory: The Self is Illusory
Bundle theory says that the self doesn’t arise from an enduring “I” but rather from packets of individual experiences over time. In other words, your whole life is a series of events that occur in sequential bundles – but there is no single consciousness that can lay claim to experiencing all these events in your life.
While scientific in its founding logic, the Buddha probably created the first bundle theory. Among the world’s religions, Buddhism alone rejects the idea of the self. According to the legend, some 2,500 years ago the Buddha became enlightened after a long meditation under a tree. He rejected the idea of the eternal inner self and embraced the notion of no-self. He taught that much human suffering is caused by clinging to the idea of the self and that we should aim to shed this intuitive interpretation of our experience of consciousness.
Bundle theory is difficult to accept in our heart-of-hearts because it conflicts with our intuition. But it does have the backing of some of history’s most famous philosophers (notably David Hume in the 18th century) and does a very good job of explaining the illusion of the self, both philosophically and biologically.
Ego Theory: The Self is Real
In contrast, ego theory is based on the existence of a persistent self.
It lives in many forms. Supernatural theories rely on the existence of a spirit or eternal soul (this is central to the religious beliefs of Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus). Scientific theories rely on locating enduring structures in the brain which might give rise to a continuous self.
Ego theorists point to split-brain patients as evidence of this. In the 1950s and 60s, many epileptic patients had their brains almost completely severed in two, in an attempt to stop seizures spreading from one hemisphere to the other. While most recovered very well, retaining their pre-surgery IQ and personality, they did show some peculiar “dual-self” traits.
For instance, if you briefly showed a snow scene to the right hemisphere (via the left visual field) and a chicken claw to the left (via the right visual field) the patient would verbally report only seeing a chicken claw, because the left hemisphere dominates language. When subsequently asked to match what they saw to an image, the left hand pointed out a shovel to shift the snow – the right hemisphere now linking the images together conceptually.
It was as if the split-brain patients had two separate streams of consciousness, unified by the hemisphere’s individual responses to different packets of stimuli. Two selves; one person.
In response to this, bundle theorists point out that it violates Ockham’s Razor (where the observed minimalist solution is always better than calling upon additional unknown factors). What’s more, we can have several states of awareness of several different experiences at once in a single brain; it still doesn’t prove the existence of an enduring self.
Which Are You: Ego Theorist or Bundle Theorist?
There is a famous thought experiment which will help you decide which view you currently subscribe to. In fact... it may even make you change your mind. Imagine a teleporter that is 100% proven and safe. It works by scanning every atom in your body, destroying you, and instantly recreating you atom-by-atom at your destination. The process is totally painless and you'll still have all your memories intact when you emerge the other end. Would you use it? Bundle theorists would have no hesitation. Every biological structure in your body will be exactly the same at the other end. No-one will be able to tell the difference - not even you, because the illusion of the self remains. Ego theorists would stay the heck out of that teleporter. Not only would they be dead, but the soul-less creature that emerged the other side would be an artificial clone of them; a zombie with no inner
The Theatre of The Mind
So far the consensus is that we all have a sense of self, but opinions differ on the true origins of this self. Is it biological or metaphysical (real, existing in a form we are yet to validate scientifically) or psychological (a mental illusion; non-existent)?
It may help if we ask the question: exactly what is the self? The answer may lie in our understanding of human consciousness.
In laymen everywhere, the most intuitive way of viewing consciousness invokes ego theory, as if the human mind is a private theater. As a spectator, I am sitting inside my own head, looking out through my eyes. My senses also allow me to hear, touch, taste and smell the events of the outside world. I can even invoke my own imagination internally by conjuring new or remembered stimulus in my mind’s eye.
Though it feels like an adequate description of consciousness as we experience it, there are some major flaws with this conceptualization. And they throw our whole understanding of consciousness out the window.
The Cartesian theater of the mind is based on Rene Descartes’ famous dualism theory from the 17th century. Dualism states that the mind and the body function as separate things. According to Descartes, the mind is non-physical and has no actual position inside the head. Yet it is still a real, independent structure.
The problem with dualism, as the philosopher Daniel Dennett points out, is that there is no known mechanism for an ethereal mind to communicate with the physical brain. Descartes pointed to the tiny pineal gland in the center of the brain as a possible meeting point, but this is purely speculative. Without this conduit, the mind can’t be “real” as Descartes stated. And neither can dualism.
Dennett also rejects the Cartesian theater on the basis that there is no central headquarters of the brain via which all conscious information is processed. The brain is a parallel processing system, distributing sensory information across a network. Like bees in a beehive, countless elements get on with their own jobs, communicating individually as needed, to complete a single major task as a whole.
Even if we ditch the theater analogy, it still doesn’t help us understand why consciousness feels like a single unified stream of awareness. There is no all-seeing-eye in the neural network; no grand observer in the massive web of interactions. Mind boggling as it is, the idea that all my thoughts and experiences are funneled through a single observer is simply… wrong.
Consciousness and The Self
Today, the scientific community formally rejects dualism as an explanation for consciousness and the self. But it’s an important point to raise; after all, it is the most intuitive explanation for our sense of selves, and the majority of people from all different backgrounds subscribe to the notion, albeit unknowingly.
Dennett created the term Cartesian materialist to describe people who logically reject dualism, but cling to the idea of a separate self. It’s an awkward admission for a scientist to formally reject a theory, yet still subscribe to its conclusion. Indeed, most scientists won’t admit to being Cartesian materialists. Yet as we can see from many popular ego theories around today, the underlying idea of a “theater of the mind” or a “stream of consciousness” still holds strong.
So the sense of self is still very much alive and kicking, even when the supporting evidence suggests it is merely an illusion that we can’t explain…
Is Free Will an Illusion?
Is free will is an illusion?
On the surface, this seems like an odd question to ask. Everybody feels like they have their own free will – whether it’s a significant decision like choosing their life partner, or a minor choice like whether to keep reading this article or click away.
But when you break down the neurological process of conscious decision making, there is a distinct lack of evidence for free will. What’s more, scientific and philosophical theories about cause and effect frequently rule out any need for a conscious decision maker at all.
Is conscious will limited to humans and perhaps a few other primates? Do dogs, pigs or dolphins possess the ability to choose? How about mice, stick insects or jellyfish? If you have a pet, take a close look at him now. Is he exercising free will? Does your dog willfully choose to sit on your lap or is he acting on instinctive and conditioned needs for bonding?
Some argue that only humans have free will, because we possess the ability to consciously weigh up the alternatives and therefore become responsible for our actions. If so, is it a moment-to-moment influence or do we only call upon it during critical decision-making times? When do you feel it kick in? Is it when you get an urge to take action? What about inaction?
A Free Will Experiment
Hold your hand out in front of you. At a random moment, when you decide of your own free will, flex your wrist. If you didn't do the experiment, then you chose inaction. There's your sense of free will. And if you did do it, the moment you flexed your wrist gave you a sense of free choice in the timing. It was your decision. Right? Well, perhaps not. In a moment I'll explain why this might be.
The idea that free will is an illusion is difficult for most people to accept because it implies that we no longer need to take responsibility for our actions. Murderers and rapists are suddenly off the hook. What kind of a world is this?
Philosophers have long sought to pull apart the issue, and many have found it isn’t nearly as clear cut as it seems…
The Ancient Greek Philosophy of Free Will
The problem of free will goes all the way to back the ancient Greeks, who held many conflicting views about the nature of free will:
- Democritus taught that all events occur by necessity, and the Greek atomists believed in a mechanical theory of the universe, that all future events could (theoretically) be predicted with no room for spontaneous decision-making.
- Socrates focused on the moral aspect: we all will our greatest good – and those who commit evil acts do it out of ignorance as to how they can do good.Plato held a similar view: that the wicked man is a slave to his ignorance.
- Aristotle held the view that our future is not set in stone, and that we can choose to act against the greatest good. Vice is a voluntary action. For him, at least some free will was needed to justify the laws of crime and punishment.
For millennia, there was no unified theory – and by the 18th century, the philosopher David Hume referred to free will as the most contentious issue of metaphysics.
Free Will and Determinism
At the heart of the issue lies determinism, the original mechanical theory first taught by Democritus. Many modern scientists and philosophers believe the universe is deterministic: that, due to predictable laws of cause and effect, all future events are already logically determined by previous events.
In other words, the starting conditions of our universe (ie, the Big Bang) have already determined the entire future of the universe and, as such, every outcome in your life is inevitable. There is no room for your free will to change things.
Indeed, determinism states that (theoretically, at least) given accurate information about the start of the universe, mathematics could be used to predict everything in the future. In the land of science fiction, Isaac Asimov depicted a variation of determinism called Psychohistory in his Foundation universe.
Is a Coin Toss Random or Deterministic?
You might argue that a person could make their life choices based on "random" coin tosses ("heads I stay, tails I go"). But even a coin toss can be deterministic. Give a computer the exact initial conditions regarding air flow, distance from the floor, position of the landing surface, impulse exerted on the coin, etc, and it will be able to predict the outcome of the toss. Thus, the outcome of your seemingly random choice was always determined. Even truly random events, such as the radioactive decay of an atom, do not create a free will loophole in determinism since there is no conscious influence present. Indeed, true randomism is the opposite of free will.
Meanwhile, quantum mechanics defines probabilities to predict the behavior of particles, rather than determining the future and past with certainty. But because the human brain is composed of particles, and their behavior is governed by the laws of nature, Stephen Hawking still maintains that free will is “just an illusion”.
Determinism is a powerful theory that explains the mechanics of our universe. If true, argue its proponents, then free will cannot logically exist. Despite this, there are two other groups of philosophers who still believe in free will:
The polar opposite of determinism is metaphysical libertarianism. They argue that we do have choices in life, and the fact that we are able to take more than one possible course of action constitutes free will. This, in turn, denies determinism.
Further sub-branches of libertarianism, known as non-physical theories, insist that we have a metaphysical mind or soul which overrides causality. This makes way for the core beliefs of most of the world’s religions, such as the Christian God giving man free will, or the widespread belief that we have eternal souls.
Philosophers like David Hume claim to have found a middle ground: a way to make determinism and free will compatible. This is known as compatibilism.
Compatibilists believe humans, animals and even computers make complex decisions in a determined world, creating a good enough representation of free will.
Computers with free will? Just how does this new definition of free will work?
The compatibilist theory says that some deterministic processes are chaotic and have extremely complex outcomes that can’t be predicted, even in principle. Though this doesn’t mean that a person can choose differently in a given situation, it does suggest that there are, hypothetically, alternative choices.
A compatibilist can say “I may die on June 4th, 2044; I may not”. He is simply saying he doesn’t know what the determined future will be.
Critics of compatibilism say they are meddling with the definition of free will. There is a difference between having the freedom to act and having the conscious volition that can change a pre-determined course of events. Immanuel Kant called it a “wretched subterfuge” and “word jugglery”.
For compatibilists, at least, this offers a basis for moral responsibility and the law.
Neuroscience and The Conscious Veto
With conflicting theoretical models, perhaps practical science can help out.
Neuroscience gives us the opportunity to study the biological processes that surround free will. Performing a voluntary action involves a lot of brain processes. To flex your wrist, activity begins in the prefrontal region, sending connections to the premotor cortex, which programs the desired action in the primary motor cortex. Instructions are sent out to move the wrist muscles and the flex occurs.
We can identify which neurons are responsible for making this action happen from start to finish, and there is no room in this process for conscious free will to be enacted. This was illustrated further by Benjamin Libet in 1985:
Benjamin Libet decided to test whether a wrist flex really is originated by a conscious act of free will. He asked volunteers to perform the wrist flex action whenever they wanted, while measuring three events: A) The time at which they consciously decided to act - using a circular moving dot position on a screen and asking volunteers to memorize the position when they set their free will intention (this was the best way he could measure the timing of their decision, without having them talk, nod, etc). B) The beginning of brain activity in the motor cortex - using electrodes on the scalp via an electroencephalogram or EEG. C) The time of the wrist flexing action - using electrodes attached to the wrist via an electromyogram or EMG. You'd expect the sequence of events to occur A, B, C. But that didn't happen. Instead, the automatic brain activity fired first (B), then came the "decision" to act (A), then came the wrist flex (C). The timing separating these events was significant, and the effect was replicated across many volunteers: B) At -350 milliseconds, the motor cortex fired A) At -200 milliseconds, the decision was made to act C) At 0 milliseconds, the wrist flex occurredIn other words, the automatic brain processes began planning the wrist flex movement more than one-third of a second before the subject made a conscious decision to move. In brain terms, that is a very long time.
The conclusion of Libet’s experiment is controversial. And yet, it makes perfect sense. The idea of a conscious decision arising before any kind of brain activitywould be nothing short of magic. It would imply consciousness comes out of nowhere to influence physical events in the brain. (Indeed, if the free will decision (A) had arisen first, this would be evidence for a metaphysical mind or soul. But it didn’t; it came much later.)
However, there is a twist. Libet did not conclusively say that free will is an illusion. In the course of the experiment, he noticed something peculiar occurring.
Some subjects said they aborted the conscious decision to flex their wrist at the last moment. In these cases, the motor cortex activity fired but then flattened out again at -200 milliseconds. This implies the existence of a conscious veto: the ability to consciously override impulsive or automatic actions if we choose.
Libet’s conclusion was that consciousness can’t create the wrist flex action, but it can act to prevent it. It’s not free will – but rather free won’t.
This extraordinary experiment provides evidence for the condemning of murderers since they failed to consciously veto their impulses. However, there remain some criticisms of Libet’s experiment, and there is doubt that we can generalize the results of a trivial decision making experiment to criminal behavior.
Is Free Will an Illusion?
Ironically, most people impulsively accept that free will exists. Yet we now have a growing number of theories and experiments which state free will is an illusion.
If you’re bored of your work, you might start browsing job vacancies. If you’re sick of being a smoker, you might vow to kick the habit. These feel like expressions of your own desires, based on your personality, your likes and dislikes, and your individual choices based on your own specific life circumstances at this time.
But what if all of these decisions are based on deterministic needs which you would have attempted to fulfil regardless of your conscious justifications? Is it possible that all your choices are pre-programmed responses – and any sense that you are controlling the course of your life is an illusion created by consciousness?
“Everyone believes himself a priori to be perfectly free, even in his individual actions, and thinks that at every moment he can commence another manner of life. …But a posteriori, through experience, he finds to his astonishment that he is not free, but subjected to necessity, that in spite of all his resolutions and reflections he does not change his conduct, and that from the beginning of his life to the end of it, he must carry out the very character which he himself condemns…”
—Arthur Schopenhauer, The Wisdom of Life
So what do we make of this revelation, if we even “choose” to accept it?
One study has found that volunteers cheated more on tests when they believed they weren’t responsible for their own decisions. Meanwhile, another study found that subjects showed more aggression when their belief in free will was suspended. However, such studies are merely controlled projections of human behavior and may not even hold true in real life.
A more optimistic outlook is that, if free will is technically an illusion, it is still a very powerful one. That feeling does not disappear overnight. People continue to live “as if” free will exists; for others the feeling slowly disappears altogether and they get on quite happily with their lives knowing they don’t hold on to this falsehood.
What is Reality?
What is reality? Mainstream science describes reality as “the state of things as they actually exist”. One simple interpretation of this very broad definition is this: reality is everything we observe to be real.
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one”
Just how many realities are there – yours, mine, his, hers? As Einstein suggested, is every form of reality merely an illusion? Is nothing real?But hang on – I consciously observe the lucid dream world, so does that make it a genuine reality?
Let’s start by looking at how the human brain perceives reality, and how this can give way to subjective experience.
The human brain is split into two distinct halves: the right brain and the left brain. They have completely separate roles and agendas. Some would even say they have separate personalities. However, in order to function, the two halves of the human brain must communicate as one via the corpus callosum.
The right brain is all about the present moment; right here, right now. It thinks entirely in pictures and learns through the kinesthetic movement of your body. It absorbs energy from the world around you and translates that into information for your sensory systems. It does not know the difference between your individual consciousness and the world around you. The right brain only sees one universal energy field of awareness.
The left brain is a very different place. It thinks linearly and methodically. It picks out countless details from the events in the past and makes calculated predictions about the future. The left hemisphere thinks in language, which creates your internal voice. Crucially, it makes you aware of your existence, as a separate being from the mass energy field perceived by the right brain.
Imagine if the human brain had evolved with only the functions of the right hemisphere. Your perception of reality would be completely different. You would be drifting around in a universe filled with energy in the here and now, with no perception of the past and future. You would not know where your body ended and the ground began, or the difference between you and me.
This is a very different perception of the world. But would it be a more accurate representation of reality? Knowing this about the human brain, the question “what is reality?” changes form. It now hinges on your individual perception. This has led to multiple theories of reality by various philosophers and scientists.
Types of Reality
Phenomenological reality is based on subjective experience. Whatever you observe is instantly real to you. This theory of reality means that unreality is non-existent. Therefore lucid dreams, hallucinations, spiritual experiences, and astral travel are all forms of one subjective reality.
Consensus reality is based on the opinions and observations made by a group of people. A few individuals may decide on an interpretation of an event, which spreads across entire societies and becomes a consensual truth. Religion is a good example of a socially constructed reality.
Non-reality simply means that there is no such thing as objective reality. Every possible observation or interpretation is tainted by subjectivity and therefore does not constitute truth. Nothing is real! This is supported by quantum theory, which states that prior to observation, nothing can be said about a physical system (read In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat by John Gribbin for an excellent introduction to this topic). This theory is further backed by the Double Slit Experiment, which suggests our mere observation changes the outcome.
The Double Slit Experiment
When quantum physicists stumbled upon the Double Slit Experiment, they were in for a big shock. This infamous quantum experiment proves how tiny particles behave differently when they are being measured. It’s as if they know they are being watched. Check out this video synopsis to learn more.
As Niels Bohr once said, “Those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it.” Another quote by Richard Feynman goes “It is safe to say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”
We are all just guessing – albeit using all the scientific evidence gathered to date – and the universe could well be unthinkably bizarre. If we are on the right track with current theories, it could be terrifyingly bizarre. We just don’t know yet.
This particular experiment, which remains one of the most famous and tantalizing experiments of quantum mechanics to date, implies that there are multiple realities where every possible outcome is played out in a parallel universe. Each scientist in each universe observed a different outcome, throwing our original question – what is reality? – into more chaos, as now we have infinite realities.
So what is reality? A multiverse? Is our human brain perceiving just one possible interpretation of the ultimate reality? I think scientists and philosophers will be stuck on this one for a while. Our understanding of the universe is very much limited to our own capacity for understanding… The truth is out there – and it is probably much crazier than we can imagine.
The Simulation Argument
Your entire world is an elaborate computer simulation created by future humans.
That is the bold conclusion of The Simulation Argument, put forward by the Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom of Oxford University.
In a paper published in Philosophical Quarterly in 2003, Bostrom put forward the following abstract: At least one of the following statements is true:1. The human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a "posthuman" stage; 2. Any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); 3. We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.
The alternative is that we will not survive long enough to become posthumans and run ancestor-simulations. Based on our current rate of technological advancement, this would spell the collapse of civilization or total extinction within the next generation or two. Which would you prefer to believe?
Let’s breakdown The Simulation Argument and see exactly how Bostrom came to this profound conclusion about the nature of our reality.
The Extinction of Man Before Posthumanism
Statement 1: The human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage.
We humans have been evolving for millions of years. We have survived meteor strikes, ice ages, diseases, droughts, famines, wars and more. Although there are arguable threats to our survival as a species (such as nuclear war), the fact is, at 7 billion strong, the global population is thriving. It would take a massive catastrophe to eradicate the human species in one fell swoop.
We’ve come so far. The question is, can we survive long enough to reach a posthuman stage? What does it mean to be posthuman anyway?
Some believe we are already there. Others believe it will coincide with the rise of the cyborg (short for cybernetic organism) who possesses both biological and artificial parts. In Bostrom’s argument, it really suggests a time at which we have the technology to run artificially intelligent simulations of our own ancestral past.
(A key factor will probably involve reaching The Technological Singularity; a point in the future where artificial intelligence officially surpasses the human brain and evolves rapidly on its own. Some believe this may happen as early as the year 2045. Most scientists are reluctant to speculate about how this will change our world. But it does seem clear that this rapid technological evolution – machines making ever increasingly complex machines without human intervention – will bring about massive and unimaginable changes to our lives.)
It’s quite clear that your Sims characters aren’t conscious beings. However, given enough computing power and using advanced AI, it is thinkable that characters can develop personalities through years of life experiences, and even posses human traits like creativity and imagination. Is this not the essence of consciousness?
And so, Bostrom’s probability equations rule out the likelihood of human extinction before such a time exists, being so tantalizingly close to a posthuman world…
(An extension of this statement goes: if we humans on planet Earth are so close to reaching this point, is it not more likely that other intelligent species exist in the universe who have already reached this stage? Such advanced computer simulations may already exist, regardless of whether we do go extinct.)
We Lose The Desire to Simulate
Statement 2: Any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof);
If we could simulate our human evolutionary history in a computer program, does that mean we would? That’s the crux of this statement.
For instance, we may find in the future that running computer simulations just isn’t our thing. Perhaps we lose or overcome the desire to simulate.
Paradoxically, The Simulation Argument itself could go on to become a key reason why we choose not to create unlimited computer simulations. If the theory stands the test of time, we may decide it’s ethically repugnant to simulate thousands of generations of human beings who fully believe they are conscious and “real”. Especially when doing so would throw our own reality into question…
But Bostrom believes the probability of this is also very low.
We have no problem playing God when it comes to manipulating characters onThe Sims, which is all well and good because they’re clearly not self-aware. But would the critical consciousness threshold force us to reconsider our actions?
Another way to pose this question is to consider the rights of the dream characters who appear in your lucid dreams. Often, dream characters seem to act of their own accord, as if they have their own conscious free will. And yet, many lucid dreamers also admit to using these entities for their own needs, such as lucid dream sex.
Now, I’m not saying that lucid dream characters are necessarily conscious beings separate from myself, but there is some doubt as to “who” or “what” controls them. Certainly, they often seem to have a different agenda to me (or my ego). But this doesn’t really change my ethical stance. To me, on some level, they’ll always be “just dream characters”, just as our AI Sims could be rationalized as “just simulations”…
Therefore, it’s very believable that if we had the technology to simulate conscious entities, we would go ahead with it. We might argue that the simulated creatures are merely robots, or bits of computer code, designed and never born.
What’s more, a simulation would start at the beginning, perhaps of our universe, or of our planet. We would begin with single-celled organisms to which we couldn’t relate, even though we would expect them to eventually evolve into complex forms, demonstrated by John Conway’s Game of Life.
We Are Living In a Computer Simulation
Statement 3: We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.
So here’s the kicker. If you accept that the human race will survive long enough to invent this technology, and that we won’t be afraid to use it, then Bostrom’s third statement must be true. We are indeed living inside a computer simulation ourselves.
Bostrom did the math. A single computer simulation of our evolutionary history would create trillions of organisms (think: every living thing on planet Earth, ever).
Each immense simulation would lead to the evolution of posthumans, who create their own computer simulations. Simulations within simulations.
In this vast pyramid, there would be a single true reality, home to the original humans who lived (for real), died (for real) and created computer simulations (for real). Every virtual world spawned by that reality would be merely offspring simulations – each with their own offspring simulations, potentially adding up to trillions of simulated universes.
The chances of you existing in that original universe are infinitesimal. Indeed, you’d be crazy to think you live in the “real world”. You are most likely to be the construct of a very realistic, very powerful computer game…
Criticisms and Implications
Don’t go jumping off a skyscraper Matrix-style just yet – because there are some criticisms of The Simulation Argument.
For instance, there may be something inherent about a posthuman civilization that causes it to self-destruct. Or it may be impossible to simulate consciousness on a computer. So although it is taken seriously as a philosophical argument, we can’t say with 100% certainty that we are living in The Matrix.
Even if you discovered that you were a simulation of life, would it change anything?
Your reality won’t suddenly look or feel any different. You would, at least, have a new appreciation for the scale of the universe existing far beyond your current reality. And you may even come to suspect that certain people you know are merely autonomous programs – simulated “agents” who do not really have conscious experiences.
Perhaps most disconcerting is the possibility that our creators could become bored of our particular simulation and shut it off at any moment. Let’s try and keep it interesting for them, shall we? 😉
To read Bostrom's original paper and probe the implications of this idea further, check out his website The Simulation Argument. To share your views and see what other lucid dreamers think, post a comment at our Forum.
The Human Mind By Rebecca Turner.