Are YOU a simulation? (with Benny Hendel)

Uploaded 8/30/2022, approx. 17 minute read

I think we'll start with a simple question, and the question is turned towards Elvis, behind the camera.

On this shape, how many sides do you see? Zero. And how many edges do you see? Two edges. And zero sides? You don't see two sides?

No, no, no, no. Sides.

Like inside and outside?

Inside, outside.

Two sides, okay.

Now, I asked Elvis, and not you, because you know too much.

I'm not innocent.

You're not innocent. This is a tabat mebius in Hebrew, it's called tabat mebius, and it's called mebius or mobius strip, created by August Ferdinand Mebius, a mathematician of the 19th century, he was born in the 18th.

And he tries to show all kinds of things, but we're not delving into this. I simply wanted to show this shape, which seemingly has two sides, and seemingly has two edges, but actually, if you follow my finger, you'll see that it has only one side here, see, where it comes in, and goes out, and then it comes in again. It has no inside and no outside. It has no, and it has only one edge, because this upper edge at a certain stage becomes the nether edge, and the nether edge ultimately gets to be the upper edge.

This is the intro to a discussion on are simulations as real, as real reality, and is reality a simulation? I thought I would do this because it's hard to find your, as we say in Hebrew, to find our legs and our hands with this terminology.

What is real, and what is really real, and if a simulation is good, then it probably simulates reality.

Yes, this is exactly what David Chalmers says. David Chalmers is a philosopher of consciousness, probably the leading philosopher of consciousness.

Of today?

And Chalmers says, what is this conversation? Why are we having this conversation? The simulation is as real as reality. Simulation is another reality. It's a form of reality.

So why are we making this artificial distinction?

The simulation, for instance, Richard III.

All simulations, he said, are real, otherwise we would not have access to them, and they would have no effect on us. They are as real as this room, as Elvis.

We cry in movies, and we laugh.

Simulations. And if we create a simulation on our computer and we enter this simulation with our minds, for example, there is something called second life, which is a simulation of first life, of real life, and people play this simulation.

Now we have the metaverse coming, which we will discuss separately, where people will wear certain gears, certain devices, which will deceive them into thinking that they are inside the computer, etc.

So why are we wasting time on this totally artificial and meaningless distinction between reality and simulation?

He said, simulation is reality, and he said even more, if you take into account that intelligent creatures like to simulate, they love to simulate, they simulate all the time.

And we realize that the universe is flooded with intelligent creatures, all of them simulating. He said it's very likely that what we call reality, this room and Elvis and the cameras and so on, is someone's simulation.

He said he thinks there's a teenage alien who is simulating us, simulating us. We are simulating.

He said statistically, and this is right, statistically we are far more likely to be someone's simulation than to be a reality.

Or like the figment of one's dream.

Yes. Of course, this leads immediately to God, you know, God as the simulator.

God as the simulator, and the world as his or her dream.

The Count's evil demon, the Japanese story about, are you dreaming that you are a butterfly, or are you a butterfly dreaming that you are you, etc.

All this, it's nothing new. This strand of thinking is nothing new. It permeates Eastern and Western thinking for millennia.

We have difficulty to tell apart, for example, dream states from reality. When we are in a dream state, we believe we're there. It's real to you. It can even have a physiological effect. You can die in a dream if it's very...

I can turn off dreams, can you?

Well, I can't, but there is something called lucid dreaming, which is control of the contents of your dreams and when you start and finish them.

When a dream becomes too menacing, I simply say, I don't want this dream. I probably know that it's a dream by then.

And I say, no, I don't want this dream and I turn it off.

That's a blessing. And you know very well that most people cannot do that. So most people are immersed in the dream and they believe it's real to you.

I believe in myself.

Well, you see, it ties into another conversation.

It might come as a surprise. I don't fully agree with Chalmers on several grounds.

First of all, I think we should distinguish between reality and simulations because simulations require a trigger. Reality doesn't.

When you're born into reality as a baby, you don't have to do anything to be in reality.

No, reality is...

Immediately accessible to you.

Reality is...

Exactly. And in this is-ness, it is immediately accessible to you. You don't have to adopt, you don't have to wear any equipment, you don't have to make any decision, you don't have to exercise your will.

Because let's go with Chalmers. Let's go with Chalmers.

But before we go with Chalmers, what I'm saying actually is that we do have a preferred state.

It's not true that all our experiences are of equal status, which is what Chalmers is saying. Chalmers is saying it doesn't matter if you're in reality. Your experiences, there's no privileged experience. All your experiences are of equal status.

I vehemently disagree with this. I don't think it's true.

Because simulation requires an act of will of some kind. Some kind.


So even to...

Suspending disbelief, it's called.

Suspending disbelief, act of will, act of will means to do something. Even if in the future all you will have to do is say, simulation please.

Yes, and in turn...

But still, there will be this.


Yes, there will be the sesame opening. There's always.

So I do think there's a state of things, I will not call it reality. There's a state of things to which we have immediate access, unmediated, unmediated by anything, not by technology and not by anything. And this makes it privileged.

And we compare actually all simulations to this privileged state. That's why we call them simulations.

And this is why we call a piece of art which simulates reality well, that it has very similitude. That its simulation is veritable.

Or the concepts of Simulacum, etc. It all contains the hidden assumption that there is a privileged frame of reference to which you are comparing things.

That's my first disagreement with him.

Second disagreement. Let's go with Chalmers. Let's go where he is leading.

In the future, we will embed computers in the brain. We will not have them. They will not be external. It will just be a tiny chip.

The moment your brain, they will inject it through your ear or through your nose, into your brain, it will embed itself in your brain.

And as your brain evolves, it will tap. It will access this chip. That's already in the works.


Yes, people are already thinking about it.

And what is the benefit of it?

Well, you will have only the Encyclopedia Britannica at your disposal. You will have internet in your head. And most importantly, you willable to simulate. You will have access to simulations.

You will know how to speak Tagalog and French and Inuit. Everything will be on the chip.

And you will not.

In other words, this will eliminate learning, essentially, and education.

So let's assume we have a chip like this in the brain. So Chalmers, had you been Chalmers? Chalmers could have told me we have a privileged frame of reference because the simulations are still external to our brains.

But when we bring the simulation into our brains via this chip, we will not be able to tell the difference between a privileged frame and our internal frames. We will just wake up in the morning and we will find ourselves in some environment. And we will not be able to tell if this environment emanates from inside our minds through the chip or is outside our minds. We will not be able to tell this difference.

So that's a very strong argument. But still, I think he is wrong. Had he made this argument, I still think he would be wrong. Even if the simulation is embedded in the brain, I don't believe we will ever invent technology that blurs the lines to this extent.

I believe even the most advanced technology ever, like 100,000 years from now, will require a conscious act of will to switch between states.

I don't believe anyone will create a chip that denies you the power to switch.

You think nobody will want to create a chip to create a golem that would enslave its maker?


If I am betting in your mind the chip that takes over and then you wake up in the morning and you don't know if it's the chip which is in control or you are in control.

Because if you are in control, you are in reality. You're in the privileged state.

If the chip is in control, the chip creates a simulation and you are in the chips.

But all these people with intentions like the one who created Frankenstein and the golem, they are sick minds. They want to clone soldiers to conquer hills and bastions.

But that's why at least two Chinese scientists are in prison. That's why laws and regulations are formed.

If you are asking if it is technically possible, of course it is. Is it likely?

We shouldn't. Not only we shouldn't. I don't believe it will ever be done.

I'm glad.

So why discuss something the likelihood of which is vanishingly low?

I mean we can discuss many, many such things.

But philosophy should be grounded in what is actual, not in, you know, even there I disagree with him.

I think yes. I think we will have chips in our minds. And I do think we will be able to switch from reality to a simulation.

For example, I believe there will be a chip that will allow you to have sex. So instead of having when you're in reality, you wake up in the morning, you're horny, you switch on the chip and you have a simulation of sex with a gorgeous girl.

But willingly and knowingly. And knowingly.

It will be a conscious act of will. Volition will never disappear.

And the minute there is volition, there's something that tells you the difference between a privileged frame and a simulation.

This is what Chalmers is missing in all his discourse, the volition, the consciousness.

He considers human beings as totally passive objects that find themselves in a simulation.

But human beings don't find themselves in a simulation. Human beings decide to be in a simulation.

I'm thinking of being like 50 years younger and taking out a young girl to see a movie and holding hands, possibly.

And seeing the movie, I wouldn't mix the movie with what happens in the whole.

And if the movie took place in your head because you have an embedded chip, you would tell the girl you're with, do you mind if we both switch our chips on and we go into the movie, we become status in the movie, you know, observe us inside the movie and she will say, yeah, it's a great idea, let's switch it on.

I don't believe there will be a situation where we will both be sitting in a movie theater and the chip will take over and just fling you into the movie despite your will.

And even if there will be an evil genius who will design such a chip, and the chip does take over, and the chip does confuse you and does create a simulation, it will definitely be despite your will.

So even on the negative side, if you are being kidnapped by the chip, it's kidnapping. It's despite your will. The will is there.

So this is what rules and regulations are for?

So that's what Chalmers is wrong in my book. He forgets the will.

And another is another issue that is wrong, but we can just before we go on, how do you spell his name?

It's Chalmers. C-H-A-L-M-S.

OK, for the viewers to look him up.

David Chalmers. This is his first mistake, I think.

First mistake is to say, well, we have reality, we have simulations and people will switch seamlessly between them. No, they will not switch seamlessly. There will be an interface where they will have to make a conscious choice and a decision of some kind.

OK, that's cogent.

That's one.

Second mistake I think he makes.

He says even what we call reality, this privileged frame of reference, is a simulation.

It's a somewhat simulation, an alien teenager.

And he says, well...

Does he say this, does he really mean it or is it just a joke?

No, he says, and he's right, by the way, I agree with that.

He says statistically what we call reality is someone's simulation.

I happen to agree with him on statistical grounds. I think what we call reality is there's an extremely high likelihood that it is someone's simulation.

But here's a mistake. Here's his mistake in my view.

These are two separate issues.

Our reality may be a simulation, but he is talking about simulations within this reality.


In other words, reality is an inescapable frame of reference. You can't escape reality. Whatever you create, if I create a simulation right now and deceive you into thinking that it's reality, it would still be a simulation within reality.

We can't escape reality. It's our only frame of reference.

It's possible that our frame of reference is a simulation.

But then this alien teenager who is simulating Benny Handel and Sam Vaknin and Elvis, this teenager, is also embedded in her frame of reference. And her simulation of us is in her reality, which could be someone else's simulation.

But this is a supposition anyway.

It's anyhow untestable and unfalsifiable.

But the philosophical mistake that he is making, the fact that our reality is simulation, doesn't mean that it's not a privileged frame of reference. The fact that our reality may be a simulation doesn't mean it's not the only framework we have.

We cannot exit this simulation anyhow.

We can exit by having booze or by drinking by drugs.

No, you are drinking and having drugs inside.

There's no way to escape it.

In your mind, you're in delirium, say.

Yes, but this delirium is embedded in reality.

No, even in your delirium, you don't assume that you are exiting reality. You're creating simulations which somehow borrow elements from your reality.

These elements are, of course, combined wrongly, but they're still elements of reality.

There's no way to exit reality. It's nonsensical even to say this.

The sentence exiting reality is nonsensical.

Reality is everything, end of story.

Even your simulations are part of reality.

It's the privileged frame of reference.

And it's immaterial and irrelevant if this reality is real or a teenager's simulation, or an older person's simulation. Or an older person's simulation.

It's immaterial. It's a totally irrelevant question.

Because whether it's real, whether it's simulation which is also real, I cannot exit it.

I don't have any observe.

So what Chalmers is doing is committing the classical.

He is adopting the classical stance of observer and observed system.

It's as if we can stand aside from reality and look and say, okay, this is reality and this is simulation which is indistinguishable from reality.

It's as though we can't observe from outside reality.

Even our physical experiments are an integral part of reality.

There's no way for us to exit reality and observe it.

So it's...

To be able to say that simulation is the same as reality.

You need to observe them from outside.

He has to have a meta reality.

He needs to have a vantage point.

He needs an Archimedean point.

He needs a vantage point where he can see both the simulation and reality, where he can see both of them.

And then he can say, yes, they're the same.

But then he needs to be outside both of them.

How can he say they're the same if he's not outside both of them?

Is there anything else that you hold against him?

The shocking thing for me is that I'm an admirer of David Chalmers.

I truly admire his work.

But these are rookie, novice mistakes.

These are mistakes I would have expected from first-year philosophy students.

And you rest your case?

Just rest my case and I'm disappointed.

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