Simulation Theory?

Simulation Theory?

Cory and Blake Ostler, in their “Exploring Mormon Thought” podcast 071-Knowledge is Being (Pt 1) – Vol 5 mention Lincoln Cannon, who is affiliated with the Mormon Transhumanist Association.  Lincoln Canon subsequently responded with a blog post titled I’M STILL INSANE, BLAKE OSTLER CONFIRMS, FOR BELIEVING IN THE SIMULATION HYPOTHESIS.

Each time these arguments resurface, people act as if it’s the first time this conversation has taken place. I want to find a way to bring this all together and give it some memory so we wouldn’t have to retread the same ground every time a new conversation starts. This is what is designed to do. We bring the collective memory and the wisdom of the crowd to every discussion, which allows us to build and track consensus, enabling everyone to speak concisely and quantitatively, moving forward, with no repetition.

With regard to theories of mind, most people think there is little, if any, consensus on anything.  At Canonizer, we’ve been able to falsify that view and build a near unanimous emerging expert consensus around what is now being called “Representational Qualia Theory”.  From what I heard about Blake’s “Theory of Emergent Mind” in the podcast, it is consistent with everything in the leading consensus Representational Qualia Theory.

A decade or so ago, Lincoln joined, and is still supporting, the “Functional Property Dualism” camp, as you can see in the camp support section.  I am in a competing “materialist” camp.  We’ve therefore avoided the kind of repeated back-and-forth no-progress discussion that is typical in these disagreements. When the subject arises, we only ever need to reference our corresponding camp statements, so everyone can see the latest, state-of-the-art concise descriptions of what everyone believes.  This has given our conversation a memory that has enabled us to avoid retreads and make progress. We only need to communicate when new arguments or scientific evidence show up. The quality of a new argument can be measured by how many people it converts.

The hierarchical camp structure allows us to keep the focus on the important things we agree on with regard to “Representational Qualia Theory”.  Less important disagreements are pushed down to lower-level supporting sub camps.  This is where they can be tracked until good arguments or experiments can falsify one or both of these not-yet-falsified sub camps.

Blake Ostler is clearly a knowledgeable Kantian scholar.  But one of the reasons we created Canonizer is that this kind of old phenomenal / noumena terminology is very hard to understand, and many of the ideas of these old scholars have long since been falsified and abandoned.  We wanted to focus on the latest state-of-the-art theories, using clear and concise, agreed-on modern terminology. This simplification process is another way the wisdom of the crowd can be amplified.

The expert consensus agreed-on terminology in Representational Qualia Theory, for me at least, seems to clear up many of the confusions Blake still struggles with when communicating using the old Kantian terminology.  It’s hard to understand what Blake is saying when he talks about the phenomenal becoming nominal. This modern camp just focuses on the fact that if we know something, there must be something physical that IS that knowledge.  This implies there are two physical properties that are important when it comes to knowing about and perceiving physical reality:

  1. The physical properties that are the target of our observation. These properties initiate the perception process, such as a strawberry reflecting red light.
  2. The physical properties within the brain that are the final results of the perception process. These properties comprise our conscious knowledge of a red strawberry. We experience this directly, as redness.


Blake mostly alludes to the fact that #2 is necessary and that we can’t doubt it or its qualitative nature. He points out that we don’t know the “facts of the matter” or at least the qualities of #1 and more or less said: “As soon as I try to tell you about my subjective experience, I can’t do it.  It’s like nailing Jello to a wall.” But with this model, if science is able to confirm its predictions, we will be able to do this kind of “effing of the ineffable” and reliably objectively observe and communicate spiritual experiences, at least on an elemental redness and greenness level to others.

The only reason it is like nailing Jello to the wall is because we don’t know how to interpret the abstract words we use, like red or redness.  In order to know what the word “red” means, you need to map it back to an actual set of physical qualities. We may naively interpret the word “red” back to some set of properties like the surface of a strawberry reflecting red light #1. But that’s not what “redness”, #2 is.  Misinterpreting things this way makes us blind to real physical qualities.

All information we have, and everything we get from perception, is information that is abstracted away from physics.  This includes all information in abstract computers and simulations, and all of our descriptions of the physical stuff in our brain.  Any distinguishable set of physics can represent a 1, but in order to get that one, you need an interpretation mechanism to get the 1, from that particular set of physics.  We, on the other hand, represent knowledge with actual physical qualities, like redness and greenness. Sure, you can simulate a redness physical quality with a word in a computer, like “red”.  But that is very different from the actual physical redness we experience. Not needing extra abstracting hardware makes computation directly on physical qualities more efficient.

In other words, the fact that the word “red” isn’t red falsifies any belief that we are in an abstract simulation like we have today.  Blake talks about our knowledge #2 being a “simulation”. But this kind of phenomenal simulation running directly on physical qualities representing what is out there is very different from an abstract simulation in a computer.

Simulation theory relies on the concept of a basement level of reality wherein we have created a first-level simulated world. In that first level simulation, the simulated people may end up creating a second-level simulation of their own, and that process could reiterate an infinite number of times.

In the podcast, it referenced the Cartesian “Brain in a Vat” idea. Then it referenced Lincoln’s belief that we exist in a simulation.  The only reason Descartes knew the brain in a vat idea worked is because the qualia are in the brain, in the vat on the basement level. When Cypher eats the steak in the movie “The Matrix.”, he says: “I know this steak isn’t real”.  But, given the above model, we know that isn’t completely true.  The #1 steak doesn’t exist, as it is all just computations abstractly “Telling my brain it is juicy.”  But the resulting qualitative interpretation of those abstract symbols, the phenomenal knowledge #2 of the juicy steak, most definitely does exist in the basement level vat, just waiting to be freed by Neo.

Even if the currently leading expert consensus view, which Lincoln supports, that function is primal (a slightly different functionalist camp that does not support the property dualism doctrine, for a total of 12 functionalists, compared to the 7 current materialists), and a particular quale “arises” from a particular function, this “arising” process must, itself, be considered a basement level physical reality which any higher level phenomenal simulation is merely harnessing.  It is not creating physical qualities ex nihilo.

The “Representational Qualia Theory” model describes a non-qualia-blind way to falsify the various competing theories predicting the true nature of qualia.  Not being qualia blind is just knowing which physical qualities correspond to abstract words like “red.” It is now just a matter of time before the experimentalists start using non-qualia-blind methods to discover the true nature of physical qualities, thereby forcing everyone into a scientific consensus camp.  Once we know which of our labels for stuff in the brain are labels for elemental physical qualities like redness and greenness, we will then be able to bridge Levin’s “explanatory gap”.  This will enable us to make  objectively justified effing of the ineffable statements like: “My redness is like your greenness”.

It is a possibility that science will prove that qualia are material and not functional.  For example, we may discover that redness isn’t possible without some basement level matter like the neurotransmitter glutamate.  If this turns out to be true, this will demonstrate that we, or at least all of our conscious knowledge, are necessarily composed of basement level physical qualities, like the qualities of glutamate.  It will prove that an abstract simulation that only operate with names of the physical qualities of glutamate are not conscious like those who use the real thing.

This is my point of view.  Let’s hammer out what we do and don’t agree on, canonize it, so we can all know, concisely and quantitatively, what everyone believes as we progress.