Frankenstein vs The Matrix

Monsters and simulations

RNfinity | 16-04-2023

The notion that our world is a computer simulated reality has gained some attention in recent years. Elon Musk in 2016, stated that he felt that it was far more likely that we were living in a simulated reality rather then a ‘base reality’. The film, the Matrix perhaps first popularized the notion of a virtual reality.

Nick Bostrom in 2003 wrote a paper postulating the simulated reality argument which has stimulated many scientists and philosophers to contemplate this as a physical cosmological explanation. Some, such as astronomer David Kipling, have devoted efforts to calculating the probability of our reality being the result of a simulation, whilst others scientists including Houman Owhadi, have proposed lines of investigation, that may detect signs or glitches in the physical universe, that could betray its true nature as a simulation. This is based on the conjecture that the simulation would be created through finite computing power, and thereby might be using shortcuts to create a reality which minimised the demand on this computing power.

A matrix could be multiparous, meaning that those in within a simulation may develop the ability to create their own simulations. This process could continue indefinitely. One of the problems with the idea is that it may be an untestable notion. No one can be sure whether they are living in a simulation or not, even the originators living in the base reality.

There are fundamental rules which govern our reality, such as the laws of physics and the conservation of energy, whereas there are many arbitrary rules which we have created which influence our behaviour such as government laws and currency. In a game world, the laws of physics are also arbitrary and no more fundamental than a currency, from which they may become indistinguishable. In fact some game currencies may derive a real monetary value in our world. A simulation would not have the same direct energy constraints that we experience in our own world, though some activities in a simulation may require more computation and could consume more energy in the parent world.

Physics has become ever stranger and more mysterious and the fundamentals of small particles at the quantum level seem so far removed from our everyday experiences, and some laws of physics, such as the absolute limit of the speed of light as a barrier to information transfer may seem arbitrary. If the laws of physics seem arbitrary or elusive, then it may seem attractive to turn to the simulated reality conjecture. However, the idea of a simulation is largely giving up on the belief in our ability to understand the nature of reality, and replaces science with an untestable concept, and a world created by intelligent design. This is just another way of invoking a deity or saying that the universe was created by God. The simulation is a philosophical or theological construct, albeit a modern one served up by Silicon Valley computerphiles, but no different from countless others before. The simulation theory is a scientific cop out, as any observation that contradicts our theories could just be deemed to be a ‘glitch in the simulation’, rather than a sign of the inadequacy of our own theories as the simulation hypothesis is compatible with all observations. Whilst this might be philosophically interesting, it is contradictory to a scientific approach, and limits our own sense of enquiry and drive for universal theories. Calling something a glitch is an admission of failure to understand and to ever understand the world.

The simulation is a self-centred view of the universe; the universe or the simulation was created for us, the prime, if not sole beneficiaries of the simulation. Whilst this might seem to place us in a position of importance; it greatly diminishes our self-determinism as well our ability to comprehend our world.

Moving from one dystopia to another we turn to the Frankenstein allegory which could be the antithesis to the simulation model of the universe. Frankenstein is the creator of a monster that kills its creator, and an idea which has resurfaced in the artificial intelligence debate when considering ,the recent, well-publicised progress of Chat GPT, and the fear that we might be putting the nails in our own coffin through potentially creating an intelligence which is different and superior to our own. In a Frankenstein universe, there is one observable universe, but each creator is usurped by their own creations. Like the simulation it relies on the concept of creating artificial or new intelligence, but unlike the simulation Frankenstein’s monster displaces it creator and knows it ancestry, but the creator does not get to appreciate their creations.  By contrast, in the simulation the ancestors are nested in sequential simulations and do not know their creators, whilst the creator knows their progeny.

Traditional religions have a stable creator and creations who know each other.

Charles Darwin through proposing evolution, envisaged a process which did not require a creator, as progress could arise through random unguided changes. Whilst we see evolution in action in the adaptions of animal’s plants and bacteria, we don’t know if this is the only player in town. Aspects of the development of life, such as the generation of complex molecules, such as proteins, and the intracellular organisation of cells, seem difficult to be accounted for by random processes, even with the die being thrown so many times in so many places, especially when considering that these processes arise in the opposite direction to the prevailing thermodynamic tide, but perhaps our understanding and framing of these problems is incomplete and misguided.