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Simulation Hypothesis in Sandbox

Simulism Copy

Current Copy of Simulism (March 3rd)

Simulism[1] is a skeptical hypothesis concerned with the idea that reality as we perceive it is an illusion, and the world as we know it could be a simulation — possibly a computer simulation — to a degree indistinguishable from 'true' reality. While to many the idea may be dismissed as a crank notion or a conspiracy theory, in fact there is a long history to the underlying thesis: it can be dated back to Plato, arguably underpins the Mind-Body Dualism of Descartes, and is closely related to Phenomenalism, a stance briefly adopted by Bertrand Russell. It is an important theme in Science Fiction, and recently has become a serious topic of study for Futurology, in particular for Transhumanism through the work of Nick Bostrom.


Types of Reality Simulation[edit]

Simulation of Reality is currently limited to Reality TV or computer simulations of specific events and situations. The following typology of the different forms of reality simulation is drawn from examples from both science fiction and futurology. We may usefully distinguish between two types of simulation: in an Extrinsic simulation, the consciousness is external to the simulation, whereas in an Intrinsic simulation the consciousness is entirely contained within it and has no presence in the external reality.

Extrinsic Consciouness Simulations[edit]

Physical Simulation[edit]

Here, the body and functions of participants remain intact, entering into a simulation and participating using their normal physical body. Examples range from Reality TV shows such as The Big Brother House which are social simulations , through online social network services such as Second Life and Massively On-Line Role Playing Games to fictional simulations such as the Star Trek Holodeck.

Brain-computer interface[edit]

Morpheus teaches Neo inside a small simulated reality

In a brain-computer interface simulation, participants enter the simulation from outside, directly connecting their brain to the simulation computer, but normally keeping their physical form intact. The computer transfers sensory data to them and reads their desires and actions back; in this manner they interact with the simulated world and receive feedback from it. The participant may even receive adjustment in order to temporarily forget that they are inside a virtual realm, sometimes called "passing through the veil", a term borrowed from Christianity, which describes the supposed passage of a soul from an earthly body to an afterlife. While inside the simulation, the participant can be represented by an avatar, which could look very different from the participant's actual appearance. The Cyberpunk genre of fiction contains many examples of brain-computer interface simulated reality; most notably, this type of simulation was featured in The Matrix trilogy.


Brain in a vat (en).png

A variant of the brain-computer-interface simulation is the brain-in-a-vat. This is often used in philosophy as part of thought experiments to draw attention to particular issues, notably the idea of solipsism, a philosphical position claiming that knowledge of anything outside the mind cannot be determined. In this simulation variant a disembodied brain is connected to the real world by a series of wires, and the simulated reality is fed to the brain. There is a large number of references to Brains in Vats in popular science fiction.


In an emigration simulation, the participant would enter the simulation from an outer reality, via a brain-computer interface, but to a much greater degree. On entry, the participant is subject to mind transfer which temporarily relocates their mental processing into a virtual-person which holds their consciousness. Their outside-world presence remains in stasis during the simulation. After the simulation is over, the participant's mind is transferred back into their outer-reality body, along with all new memories and experiences gained. Mind transfer is portrayed in Science Fiction novels such as Mindswap (1966) by Robert Sheckley and the TV series Quantum Leap

Intrinsic Consciousness Simulations[edit]

Virtual World Simulation[edit]

In a virtual world simulation, every inhabitant is a native of the simulated world. They do not have a 'real' body in the 'outside' reality. Rather, each is a fully simulated entity, possessing an appropriate level of consciousness that is implemented using the simulation's own logic (i.e. using its own physics). Typical of such a simulation at one extreme with no level of consciousness would be Gene Pool, an Artificial Life Simulation or The Sims computer game. In many computer games, inhabitants lacking consciousness are referred to as NPCs (Non-Player Characters), or bots (see also Philosophical zombies. Where virtual entities achieve the level of artificial consciousness, they could be downloaded from one simulation to another, or even archived and resurrected at a later date. It is also possible that a simulated entity could be moved out of the simulation entirely by means of mind transfer into a synthetic body. Ancestor Simulations as described by Nick Bostrom would fall into this category.

Virtual Solipsistic Simulation[edit]

In this type of simulation, an artificial consciousness is created; the "world" participants perceive exists only within their minds. There are two possible variants of this: in the first, there is only a single solipsistic conscious entity in existence, and is the sole focus of the simulation; in the second, there are multiple conscious entities, but each receives a separate but globally consistent version of the simulation . This scenario is a counterpart of social constructivism which concerns the ways in which groups participate in the creation of their perceived reality.

Intermingled Simulations[edit]

An intermingled simulation would support both extrinsic and intrinsic types of consciousness: beings from an outer reality visiting or emigrating, and virtual-people who are natives of the simulation both artificial consciousnesses or bots, lacking any physical body in the outer reality. Sometimes this is termed a metaverse. The Matrix trilogy features an intermingled type of simulation: it contains not only human minds, but also the 'agents', who are sovereign software programs indigenous to the computed realm, and NPCs.

Philosophical Background[edit]


The idea that the world is an illusory computer simulation, is on the surface a modern example of a skeptical hypothesis, a hypothetical situation posed in order to raise doubts which challenge epistemological theories. However, Nick Bostrom argues that the purpose of The Simulation Argument goes beyond such skepticism, claiming that "...we have interesting empirical reasons to believe that a certain disjunctive claim about the world is true", one of the disjunctive propositions being that we are almost certainly living in a simulation.[2].

Chalmers, in The Matrix as Metaphysics agrees that this is not a skeptical hypothesis but rather a Metaphysical Hypothesis. [3]. Chalmers goes on to identify three separate hypotheses, which, when combined gives what he terms the Matrix Hypothesis; the notion that reality is but a computer simulation:

  • The Creation Hypothesis, that "Physical space-time and its contents were created by beings outside physical space-time" [3]
  • The Computational Hypothesis, that "Microphysical processes throughout space-time are constituted by underlying computational processes"[3]
  • The Mind-Body Hypothesis, that "mind is constituted by processes outside physical space-time, and receives its perceptual inputs from and sends its outputs to processes in physical space-time".[3]

Historical Precedents[edit]

The roots of skepticism can be traced back to the early 5th Century BC, in Parmenides' work The Way of Truth, in which he argued that the every-day perception of reality of the physical world is mistaken, and that the reality of the world is an unchanging, ungenerated, indestructible whole.[4]


Zeno of Elea, (c. 490 BC ) put forward three paradoxes concerning the nature of motion, and questioning the reality of what we see around us. In the final 'Paradox of the Arrow', he suggests:

If everything when it occupies an equal space is at rest, and if that which is in locomotion is always occupying such a space at any moment, the flying arrow is therefore motionless.[5]

The paradoxes taken together appear to support Parmenides' doctrine that "all is one" and that contrary to the evidence of our senses, motion is nothing but an illusion. The challenges offered by the paradoxes can be dealt with through the use of calculus; however, even as recently as the 1950's variants of these paradoxes were still causing puzzlement. (see for example, Thomson's lamp a paradox proposed by J.F.Thomson [6]


Plato's Cave

Plato, (c. 428-348 BC) in the seventh book of The Republic relates the Allegory of the cave, in which a prisoner is chained to a wall in a cave lit by a fire, and can only see vague shadows on the wall caused by unseen hands moving statues. The prisoner's mind interprets these shadows, ascribing form and structure, and this is what the prisoner takes to be reality. When the prisoner is freed from the cave, he begins to understand that the shadows on the wall were not 'reality', and sees that he has been deceived. Outside, in the real world, the prisoner is initially blinded by the light of the sun, but then realises that real objects are illuminated by the sun, just as the shadows were lit by the fire in the cave, and what he thought was reality was merely an imitation of the real world. Plato's metaphor of the sun is thus understood to be intellectual illumination,

The prisoner's stages of understanding correlate with the levels on the so-called divided line, which is divided into the visible and intelligible worlds, with the divider being the Sun. In the cave, he is in the visible realm, receiving no sunlight and outside he is in the intelligible realm.

There are clear parallels here with the plot line of The Matrix, in which Neo initially thinks that he is living in the real world, but then is freed by Morpheus, who gives him understanding that what he took to be reality was in fact a computer simulation.

Hindu & Buddhist Philosophy[edit]

In Advaita Vedanta a branch of Hindu philosophy, the 'reality' which our everyday consciousness experiences is the result of Maya, a complex illusionary power, disguising the real nature of Brahman, the true, unitary self & cosmic spirit. Maya has two main functions — one is to 'veil' Brahman from the human minds, and the other is to present the material world in its stead. Maya is believed to be a temporary state and is destroyed with 'true knowledge or by the 'lifting of the veil'. The concept of Maya is expounded in the Upanishads (Hindu Scriptures); see, for example the Bhagavad Gita 7.14 .

A related concept, Bodhi is found in Buddhism. Bodhi is the awakening experience attained by Gautama Buddha, the awareness of the true nature of the universe. After attainment, it is believed one is freed from the cycle of Samsara, that of birth, suffering, death and rebirth to reach nirvana. The Nirvana Sutra teaches that:

"The attributes of Nirvana are eightfold. What are these eight? Cessation (nirodha), Wholesomeness / Loveliness (shubha), Truth (satya), Reality (bhuta) / (tattva), Eternity (nitya), Bliss (sukha), Self (atman), and Purity (parishuddhi): that is Nirvana."[7] .


Descartes (1596-1650) is one of the first 'modern' thinkers to attempt to provide a philosophical framework of mind and the world we perceive around us, seeking a fundamental set of truths. In his writings, Descartes employs a version of methodological skepticism , the first precept of which he states is "never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such".[8]

Descartes' Meditations

In his work Meditations on First Philosophy, he writes that he can only be sure of one thing: thought exists - cogito ergo sum , normally tranlated as "I think, therefore I am". [9]. One of the fundamental ideas explored by Descartes is Mind-Body Dualism which impinges on the nature of reality as we perceive it, and concerns the relationship which exists between mental processes, and bodily states. Descartes mused whether his perception of a body was the result of a dream, or an illusion created by an evil demon. He reasons that: "The mind is a substance distinct from the body, a substance whose essence is thought." [9] From this stance, Descartes goes on to argue:

"I have a clear and distinct idea of myself as a thinking, non-extended thing, and a clear and distinct idea of body as an extended and non-thinking thing. Whatever I can conceive clearly and distinctly, God can so create." [9].

Descartes concludes that the mind, a thinking thing, can and does exist apart from its extended body. This relationship of the mind to the body, is arguably one of the the central issues in the philosophy of mind.[10] Descartes also discussed the existence of the external world, arguing that sensory perceptions are involuntary, and are not consciously directed, and as such are evidence of an world external to the mind, since God has given him the "propensity" to believe that such ideas are caused by material things.[9]

Later critics responded to Descartes's 'proof' for the external world with the brain in a vat thought experiment, suggesting in that Descartes' brain might be connected up to a machine which simulates all of these perceptions. However, the vat and the machine exist in an external world, so one form of exteranl world is simply replaced by another.

Later Thinkers[edit]

David Hume[edit]

Hume (1711-1776) argued for two kinds of reasoning: probable and demonstrative (Hume's fork), and applied these to the skeptical argument that reality is but an illusion. He concludes that neither of these two forms of reasoning can lead us to belief in the continued existence of an external world. Demonstration by itself cannot establish the uniformity of nature (as laid out by scientific laws and principles), and reason alone cannot establish that the future will resemble the past (e.g. that the sun will rise tomorrow), Probable reasoning, which aims to take us from the observed to the unobserved, cannot do this either, as it also depends on the uniformity of nature, and cannot be proved without circularity by any appeal to uniformity. Hume concludes that there is no solution to the skeptical argument except, to ignore it.[11]

Immanuel Kant[edit]

Immanuel Kant

Kant (1724-1804) was an advocate of Transcendental Idealism, that there are limits on what can be understood, and what we see as reality is merely how things appear to us, not how those things are in and of themselves. In his Critique of Pure Reason he notes:

"Everything intuited or perceived in space and time, and therefore all objects of a possible experience , are nothing but phenomenal appearances, that is, mere representations [and] have no independent, self-subsistent existence apart from our thoughts". [12]

An important theme in Kant's work is that there are fundamental features of reality that escape our direct knowledge because of the natural limits of our senses and faculties.[12]

Hegel, Husserl & Heidegger[edit]

These three philospohers form the core of Phenomenological thought.

Hegel ( 1770-1831) proposed a conception of knowledge, mind and reality in which the mind itself creates external forms and objects that stand outside of it or opposed to it. The mind recognizes itself in these external forms, so that they become simultaneously 'mind' and 'other-than-mind'.[13]

Husserl (1859-1938) observed that the 'natural standpoint' of our perception of the world and and its objects is characterized by a belief that the objects exist and possess properties. Husserl proposed a way of looking at objects by examining how we "constitute" them as (seemingly) real objects, rather than simply figments of our imagination. In this Phenomenological standpoint, the object ceases to be "external", with mere indicators about its nature, its essence arising from the relationship between the object and the perceiver.[14]

Heidegger (1889-1976) in Being and Time questions of the meaning of Being, and distinguishes it from any specific thing "'Being' is not something like a being". [15] According to Heidegger, this sense of being precedes any notions of which beings exist, as it is a primary construct.


Phenomenalism is the view that physical objects do not exist as things in themselves but only as perceptions or sensory stimuli (e.g. redness, hardness, softness, sweetness, etc.) situated in time and in space. In particular, phenomenalism reduces talk about physical objects in the external world to talk about bundles of sense-data. For a brief period, Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) held the view that all that we could be aware of was this sense data; everything else, including physical objects which generated the sense data, could only known by description, and not known directly.[16]

Contemporary Philosophy[edit]


Ernst von Glasersfeld is a proponent of Radical Constructivism, which claims that knowledge is the result of a self-organizing cognitive process of the human brain. The process of constructing knowledge regulates itself, whereby knowledge is constructed rather than compiled from empirical data. It is therefore impossible in principle to know the extent to which knowledge reflects an external reality. “The function of cognition is adaptive and serves the organisation of the experiential world, not the discovery of ontological reality" [17]

Social constructivism is a sociological theory of knowledge which rose to prominence in 1966 with the publication of The Social Construction of Reality [18]. Social constructivism (or constructionism) attempts to uncover how individuals and groups participate and negotiate their perceived reality, and shared understanding; in this way reality is socially constructed. Paul Ernest (1991) summarises the main foundations of social constructivism as follows:

"Knowledge is not passively received but actively built up by the cognizing subject. The personal theories which result from the organization of the experiential world must fit the constraints imposed by physical and social reality. This is achieved by a cycle of theory - prediction - test - failure - accommodation - new theory. This gives rise to socially agreed theories of the world." [19]


A Turing Machine consisting of an infinite tape and a tape reader.

Computationalism claims that cognition is a form of computation, and underpins much of the work in Artificial Intelligence. It is related to Functionalism, a philosophy of mind put forth by Hilary Putnam in 1960, inspired by the analogies between the mind and the theoretical Turing Machines, which according to the Church-Turing Thesis are capable of processing any given algorithm which is computable. Computationalism rests on two theses: (i) Computational Sufficiency, that an appropriate computational structure suffices for the possession of mind, and (ii) Computational Explanation, that computation provides a framework for the explanation of cognitive processes.[20].

Computationalism asserts the validity of Strong Artifical Intelligence, which would be required in order to establish even a theoretical possibility of a simulated reality. However, the relationship between cognition and phenomenal consciousness is disputed by Searle in an argument known as the Chinese Room[21]. Further critics have argued that it is possible that consciousness requires a substrate of "real" physics, and simulated people, while behaving appropriately, would be philosophical zombies[22].


Converging Technologies, (2002) explores the potential for technological improvments to human performance.

Thw first known use of the term "Transhumanism" was by Julian Huxley in 1957. During the 1980'a group of scientists, artists, and futurists began to organize into the transhumanist movement. Transhumanist thinkers postulate that human beings will eventually be transformed into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label "posthuman".[23] Proponents draw on future studies and various fields of ethics such as bioethics, infoethics, nanoethics, neuroethics, roboethics, and technoethics, and are predominantly secular posthumanist and politically liberal.

Nick Bostrom, in A History of Transhumanist Thought (2005) [23] locates transhumanism's roots in Renaissance humanism and the Enlightenment. Transhumanism can be defined as:

  • The improvemnt of the human condition through applied reason, and technology to eliminate aging and greatly enhance human capacities.
  • The study of the technologies that will enable us to overcome fundamental human limitations, and the ethical issues involved in their use.[24]

The Simulation Argument [25] is part of the Transhumanist debate, located within Digital Philosophy.

The Simulation Argument and its Counter Arguments[edit]

Suggestions: here can be explored all of the stuff which currently is littered throughout the exisitng Simulated Reality article and cluttering it up. It should start with Bostrom, and go into refutations, as well as including stuff about digital physics, e.g. QM as software glitches(paper by Ross Rhodes -, and discuss moral & ethical objections

Proposed New Structure:

Statement of Bostrom's Simulation Argument[edit]

Refutations Concerned with the Substance and Structure of the Argument[edit]

Logical Fallacy Objections[edit]

Discussion on whether Bostrom's argument has a valid logical structure.

Flaws in the Assumptions[edit]

Discussions about his calculations of computing power, and his assumptions about motivation.

Mis-Representations or Mis-Interpretations[edit]

Other Objections[edit]

Contextualising the Argument[edit]

Here will be aired all of the views, comments, objections, issues, refutations and counter-refutations that have been made subsequnt to the publication of the argument.

The Scientific Context[edit]

This will look at

Scientific Issues[edit]

Suggestions: much is already in the original article about Quantum mechanics, relativity. Here can be discussed stuff about digital physics, computationalism etc. It might also include stuff on current simulations such as biological and cosmological simulations, as well as celluar automata, and whether ot not such things are capable of supporting intelligence.

Cosmological & Biological Simulations[edit]

What is currently being done; what is possible

Quantum Mechanics and Digital Physics[edit]
Evolution versus Creationism[edit]

Computational Issues[edit]

Moores Law Predictions[edit]
Artifical Intelligence[edit]

cellular automata; artifical life; artifical consciousness

Simulation Verification & Validation Issues[edit]

(debugging); glitches in the software.

The Limits to Computability[edit]

Suggestions: This should discuss the curent state of AI, computational requirement needed to run simulated reality, Moores Law, and predictions of how close we are to doing it. In addition it would need to

The Philosophical Context[edit]

Issues of Mind and Consciousness[edit]

Computationalism: discuss the relationship between consciouness and Turing computability Mind Transfer Theories

Ethical and Moral Implications[edit]

Religious & Theological Debates[edit]

The Limits to Knowledge[edit]

The Social and Psychological Context[edit]

Motivational Issues[edit]

Legal Issues[edit]

suggestions: Peter Jenkins' article (Journal of Futures Studies 11(1)) would make a good starting point.

The Simulism Debate[edit]

Empirical Arguments[edit]

Scientific Arguments[edit]

Ethical Arguments[edit]

Logical & Philosophical Arguments[edit]

Religious and Theological Arguments[edit]

Simulated Reality in Fiction[edit]

Suggestions: Lots of stuff in the original, but what is needed is a quick summary of the different types. I have a feeling this should go to a separate article.


  1. ^ The term in the usage in which it appears here seems to have been coined by Ivo Jansch in September 2006. His Simulism Wiki is an exploration of Simulism, which invites contributions, essays, comments and discussions.
  2. ^ This is a clarification by Nick Bostrom on The Simulation Argument Website; see FAQ 3
  3. ^ a b c d Davis J. Chalmers The Matrix as Metaphysics Dept of Philosophy, U. o Arizona; paper written for the philosophy section of The Matrix website. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "M@M" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "M@M" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "M@M" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  4. ^ Parminedes' Way of Truth: The First Enquiry in Being
  5. ^ Aristotle|Physics VI:9, 239b5}}
  6. ^ Tasks and Super-Tasks J.F.Thomson, (1954), Analysis, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Oct., 1954), pp. 1-13 doi:10.2307/3326643
  7. ^ Translation on The "Nirvana Sutra" , a website devoted to the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra" - the sutra specialising in the Buddha's "Buddha-dhatu" ("Buddha Nature") / "Tathagatagarbha" ("Buddha-Matrix") and "True Self" teachings; quotaion is from the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, translated into English by Kosho Yamamoto, edited and revised by Page,T. (2000), Nirvana Publications, London.
  8. ^ Descartes, René, 1596-1650, Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences
  9. ^ a b c d Descartes, R. (1641) Meditations on First Philosophy, in The Philosophical Writings of René Descartes, trans. by J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff and D. Murdoch, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984, vol. 2, 1-62. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Des" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Des" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page). Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Des" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  10. ^ Kim, J. (1995). in Honderich, Ted: Problems in the Philosophy of Mind. Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  11. ^ (Hume, D. 1777, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, XII, Part 2, p.128)
  12. ^ a b Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. and ed. by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988, Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Kant" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  13. ^ G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, translated by A.V. Miller with analysis of the text and foreword by J. N. Findlay (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977) ISBN 0-19-824597-1.
  14. ^ Woodruff Smith, D. (2007). Husserl. Routledge
  15. ^ Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. by Joan Stambaugh (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996)
  16. ^ Ayer, A.J., Russell, 1972, Fontana, London ISBN 0-00-632965-9.
  17. ^ Glasersfeld, E. von, 1989, Constructivism in Education, in Husen & Postlethwaite (eds), The International Encyclopaedia of Education Supplementary Volume, Oxford, Pergamon Press :p182)
  18. ^ Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality : A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (Anchor, 1967; ISBN 0-385-05898-5)
  19. ^ Ernest, Paul; The Philosophy of Mathematics Education; London: RoutledgeFalmer, (1991)
  20. ^ A Computational Foundation for Study of Cognition, Chalmers, D.J. University of Arizona
  21. ^ Minds, Brains, and Programs John R. Searle, 1980, from The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 3.
  22. ^ Fetzer, J. (1996) ``Minds Are Not Computers: (Most) Thought Processes Are Not Computational," paper presented at the annual meeting of the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology, Nashville, April 5.
  23. ^ a b Bostrom, Nick (2005). "A history of transhumanist thought" (PDF).  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Bostrom 2005" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  24. ^ World Transhumanist Association (2002–2005). "The transhumanist FAQ" (PDF). 
  25. ^ Bostrom, N. , 2003, Are You Living in a Simulation?, Philosophical Quarterly (2003), Vol. 53, No. 211, pp. 243-255.