RE: The moral dimension of simulation

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Tue, 8 Aug 2006 16:49:52 +1000

David Nyman writes:

> Stathis Papaioannou wrote:
> > Perhaps it says something about the nature of the simulation's creators,
> > but I don't see that it says anything about the probability that we are
> > living in one.
> Do you mean that if we are living in one, then the moral standards of
> its creators are reprehensible (to our way of thinking) or at least
> opaque? Would you feel that our believing this puts us in a position
> in any way different from that of deists traditionally trying to fathom
> what the standards or motives of their gods might be? In either case do
> you have a view on how this could or should affect our own standards or
> conduct within the simulation?

I guess that our simulated universe's creators are deist deities if they are anything,
because there is no evidence that they interfere in our affairs once the simulation
is underway. If they did, then we might learn something about them, but as it is
their motives, moral standards and so on are unknowable. In any case, why would
near-omnipotent beings who cannot suffer (as you rise up the path towards
omnipotence, surely eliminating the possibility of unpleasant things happening to you or
your society would be a priority) have a sense of moral responsibility towards lesser
creatures? God's attitude towards us might be like our attitude towards bacteria. If we
discovered that bacteria did, after all, have a rudimentary sentience and at the very
least did not want to be killed, what would we do about it? What would we do if we
could do nothing about it, and understood that we commited mass murder every time
we boiled water? I think we would redefine "murder" so that it didn't apply to lesser
organisms, but only to our own exalted species. If we can justify killing or enslaving
humans with a different skin colour to our own, or other mammalian species, how much
easier would it be for near-omnipotent beings to be indifferent to the suffering of mere
computer software?

As for how knowledge of our creators should affect us, aside from the enormous scientific
interest it would create I don't see that it should make any difference to how we live our
lives. I think even those religious people who base their morality on laws they believe to
be handed down from God would continue, for the most part, living their lives the same
way if they realised that this was a fiction (although no doubt most of them would continue
with their previous faith no matter what evidence they were presented with).

Stathis Papaioannou

> > David Nyman writes:
> >
> > > 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
> > > entertainment.
> >
> > You're holding the beings running the simulation to awfully high standards.
> > Humans have always persecuted their own kind, let alone other species,
> > and have always managed to find rationalisations to explain why it isn't
> > really "bad". Even if technologically superior alien societies have similar
> > ethics to our own, by no means a given, what if our universe is being
> > simulated by their equivalent of a psychopath, or even a teenager in his
> > bedroom?
> >
> > > 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?
> >
> > I'd say that our sentience is a side-effect of our intelligence. Even if we
> > are part of the simulation, the simulation seems to consistently follow
> > evolutionary theory, and how or why would sentience develop if it were
> > possible to have the same behaviour without it? I think this is a convincing
> > argument against the existence of intelligent zombies.
> >
> > > 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?
> >
> > Another reason why it appears that consciousness is a necessary side-effect
> > of human level intelligent behaviour.
> >
> > > 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.
> >
> > Perhaps it says something about the nature of the simulation's creators,
> > but I don't see that it says anything about the probability that we are
> > living in one.
> >
> > Stathis Papaioannou
> > _________________________________________________________________
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Received on Tue Aug 08 2006 - 02:51:59 PDT

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