The reverse Westworld argument
Chances are high that we are living in a simulation, the purpose of which is serve as a source of humanity.
It’s marvellously easy to get our minds around the concept of multiverse. Maybe it’s universe bubbles boiling in nothing, all with differing physical constants, usually hostile to all existence. Or a multiverse shed by the rainbow of choices of a unicorn universe. Or an array of finely tuned, almost identical universes, like eggs in a bucket. Boggles the mind, yet it does not.
Strangely enough it’s not hard to imagine all this at all. Previously I stated that the emergence of the human brain is a cosmological event, as long as we seem to be alone or as long as the Fermi-paradox is alive. The human brain running consciousness is oddly good at navigating various realities. It does so from very early childhood. Language itself seems to be really applicable to this function of creating and transmitting differing constructions of realities efficiently.
Our lives suspended in the soup of culture moves in the converging realities of fiction, history, songs, memes and dreams, scientific narratives, propaganda, dogma, superstition, law, abstraction and compassion.
In Plato’s allegory of the cave, the cave dweller who is freed, can easily accommodate the reality hidden from him up to that point. What’s more: he betrays that reality by returning to the cave. The same happens in the movie The Matrix: a character called Cypher also betrays the painfully grim reality to return to the simulation. Since the allegory itself is pointing towards building the knowledge of the one true reality through learning, leaving the cave is a general human experience or mission if you will. Those who turn their back on that and choose a trusty and comfy single universe are the ones failing the first filter.
The one true reality is drab, brutish and yucky, still all things surviving gravitate towards its surface, there’s just one narrative hovering above the waters: simulation.
Since as a species we ended up with such freely moving minds let us now face the argument that we are quite seriously might be living in a simulation. Proposed by philosopher Nick Bostrom in 2003, it goes something like: either we may never go posthuman, or we may go posthuman and not have simulations, or we go posthuman with simulations. Therefore: we are either in a simulation or going to go extinct soon, and also: we may go posthuman and find simulation to be a complete waste of time just like today’s computer games. This last one would mean extinction of humanity by becoming a soulless posthuman grey goo.
An ancestor simulation would be this actual reality, a simulation that resembles an actual reality in a sufficiently advanced way, so that a consciousness would experience it to be real. Why would anybody need an ancestor simulation? Future people will be so smart, we wouldn’t understand their stuff, that’s why.
Quickest association: it would serve a scientific purpose. As one would surmise from the name, it’s a thing in a museum, probably a handful of competing representations of actual events, not much variation, and a whole lot of stuff nobody would like to experience ever again. Well, why not, that could be useful too.
However it could be more than science. Here goes the trilemma: why do we live in a simulation?
1. We went posthuman. There was just no other way. Capitalism didn’t make it: couldn’t build megastructures, couldn’t lift the biosphere off the planet, couldn’t go faster than light, and that super treasure asteroid was not enough, for space is where profit dies. Yes, gravity and lightspeed did it to free market liberal democracy. We went posthuman because mind uploading was the only viable way of going interstellar. As of this scenario we could be in time not too far: only a couple of centuries or a millennium after the period we simulate. What happened?
2. Artificial intelligence and uploaded minds converged. Our contemporary worries of overlords programmed by us would go away, since we would become equal and one. Mind uploading is not exclusively a scientific achievement, it has spiritual consequences. Leading us to the actual purpose of our simulated reality:
3. We use the simulation to teach people — real or artificial — about being human, it’s for training and upbringing. This is a piece of portable ancestor reality that serves as the source of humanity of our civilization. Since our descendants will not be able to carry with them holy places, shrines, lands, churches, or anything that has been created throughout history, or their biological bodies for that matter, ancestor simulations will be pretty holy things as you can imagine.
This kind of fake reality would also have one profound psychological and philosophical consequence: ideologies/religions/notions that move humans away from base reality and the consequences of one’s actions would historically be exploited to dehumanize a person and used to facilitate murder on a massive scale. It is Cypher’s vulnerability.
In this case however, in this not so real reality, your only mission is to be human. We now seem to have navigated around a hidden trap. Even if it’s not real, your mission is to see it as real. It’s a reverse Westworld: people are real, visitors are artificial, and they are not here to be entertained, but to learn. Respect the simulation.
4. We need many simulations, therefore our reality is gutted. Physics finds neat order, and some nasty paradoxes. No superfluous stuff to divide attention: Fermi-paradox. Just as the chair we see is a virtual asset is empty inside, in which atoms only reveal only upon close inspection, our world is simplified: not that humans are not real, that’s not the case at all, since there are more humans to teach than simulated worlds, it’s the Earth and it’s past that has undergone some simplification and rationalization. The eraser would go here and there and so yes: in a sense the simulated Earth would come out a bit flattened.
Behold: this could be our ancestor simulation and our way, our holodeck, our cave, our circus, our game, our matrix, our life. Should we want to build AI overlords that seek to understand our humanity, we should head to start building such training simulations. Haven’t we done that, already?