The moral dimension of simulation

From: David Nyman <>
Date: Sun, 06 Aug 2006 18:43:24 -0000

I don't know whether these issues have been given an airing here, but
I have a couple of thoughts about whether we're really 'in the
Matrix', a la Nick Bostrom.

Firstly, a moral issue. At least at the level of public debate, in our
(apparent?) reality there is considerable sensitivity to interfering
with fundamental issues of human freedom and dignity, and of avoiding
where possible the infliction of unnecessary suffering, either to
humans or other sentient organisms. It seems to me that if we are to
take seriously the idea that significant numbers of advanced
civilisations would 'simulate' us in the 'feelingful' way we
(or at least I) experience, that significant moral issues are raised.
These are not dissimilar to the paradoxes raised by the juxtaposition
of an all-loving and omnipotent God. None of this is to claim a
knock-down argument, but nevertheless it places a constraint on the
kind of 'civilisation' that might undertake such an exercise,
especially in those scenarios that take it to be some sort of game or

Secondly, what sort of role are 'we' supposed to playing? On the
one hand, we may simply be required to play a part 'intelligently',
or at least predictably, for the benefit of the 'real' players. In
this case, would they need to go to the trouble of making us
'sentient'? Or can we take this as evidence that the complexity
required for 'intelligence' simply gives rise to such sentience?

Thirdly, is part of the point that 'they' share 'our'
experiences? If so, what does this say about the supposedly privileged
relation between an individual and her experience? Or is it just that
they get a third-party 'read-out' of our experiences? Well, again,
would it then be necessary for us to go through the whole messy
business 'consciously' for such reporting to occur?

It seems to me that the above, and similar, considerations may act to
constrain the likelihood of there being such simulations, their nature,
or our 'actually' being in one, but I'm unable to say to what degree.

Any thoughts?


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Received on Sun Aug 06 2006 - 14:45:25 PDT

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