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Avatar or NPC? Options
Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2008 4:25:42 PM

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Hey Jim

Just listened to you on Live From Roswell from earlier this year, and your theories and hypotheses were very interesting to me, so I thought I would stop by. I have been writing a layman's guide to Bostrom's ancestor simulations on my blog (which I won't plug, as that's not polite on someone else's site!) but I was intrigued by the slightly different spin you put on the idea in your interview. Your theories gave a whole different angle to the idea which I had not considered before :)

I haven't had chance to propoerly read through your body of work yet, although I intend to, but if I may I would like to ask a question based solely on the radio interview?

One thing that struck me was the fact that throughout your discussion, you covered off many points that could be considered "absolute standards"for the "artificial reality" theory, but with one omission. You maintained a viewpoint that within the simulation, whatever its origin, we are active participants. By that, I mean that we are "jacked in" to the simulation, either willingly or unwillingly. Essentially, if I understand your ideas correctly, you suggest that perhaps either we are as we perceive ourselves to be, but our surroundings and perceived realities are programmed or artificial in nature (perhaps through direct brain stimulation or by use of external technology such as nano tech), or on the other hand, our "selves" are also artificial but that we have a corporeal self somewhere else, and that the universe we experience as well as our physical form is artificial (I have to say by the way that I hadn't considered the "quantisation" of reality and found that fascinating).

However, I feel there is another scenario that can't readily be dismissed, which is by chance more the focal point of Bostrom's work. That being, what if we are to consider the possibility that, as both of you have suggested, our universe is a simulation of one sort or another, but that we are not participants, but constituents of it? By that I mean that in your theory you lean towards the idea that we are "avatars" for real beings, whereas in Bostrom's theories we are what video game developers would call "NPC's" (non-player characters). Bots, if you will.

While I am not considering either his or your idea better than the other, I think it is fascinating that you have both approached the subject from two differing points, both of which may be combined together to create an even more compelling theory in of itself.

Now, apologies if you have actually covered this elsewhere - as I say, I have only heard the interview and have not yet had chance to read through your works, but I got all excited and wanted to ask :)

Simply, as you know, but for the benefit of any readers who perhaps do not, Bostrom posits that it is not impossible that a highly-advanced civilisation (assuming options one and two on his shopping list of possibilities have not come to pass) may create an ancestor simulation for one reason or another - the most likely being for historical or philanthropical study of their own past - and that within the abilities of their technology they create the active intelligence of the entire population of a civilisation at one point in time (he ackowledges that this is dependent on certain assumptions including non-dependence of the creation of consciousness on substrate, but that's a discussion for another time!). It seems that he is suggesting that as the probability of us living in such a simulation right now are pretty high, the chances are that we are not active participants in such a simulation, but rather parts of the simulation itself. Essentially, there is no "real outside reality me" experiencing my life, but just a species (post-human or otherwise) watching what the simulated me does (along with what everyone else in our perceived reality does). Effectively meaning that "I" do not actually exist anywhere, apart from perhaps as a memory of a past civilisation (or in the imagination of the programmer that made our civilisation up, if they are not human). That I am just a sentient (or pseudo-sentient) program within a program, although I know no better. The virtual version of Descartes' "Brain in a vat", if you will.

I think that his simulation is equally as possible as yours, and equally as compelling - albeit a whole mess more pessimistic - and I just wondered if you have considered this side of the theory alongside your more comforting image (that we are actually real folks, just "within" a program of our own creation) or have you steered away from this possibility deliberately? If so, what is your methodology behind that action?

I would just be interested to hear your thoughts on that particular side of the coin? And again, apologies if you have already explained this in the past :)

Many thanks!

When the dinosaur woke up, it was still there.
Posted: Sunday, August 24, 2008 8:12:07 PM

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Hi dogsounds,

Thanks again for taking the time to join the forum and to post such a thought-provoking topic.

I have considered much of what you have suggested (with an exception noted below) and I like to categorize it in the following way. There seem to be two main categories of programmed reality, each of which can be broken down into subtypes:

1. The Simulation Model - This is Bostrom's model and also "The Matrix" and other common alternative reality themes in popular culture. In this model, everything that we perceive is artificial and is driven by some computational mechanism. Our self-image is artificial as well (avatar), but behind it is a sentient consciousness that is experiencing the simulation. I believe that this is pretty much Bostrom's view, although you seem to imply that he sees us as outside participants observing the actions of our avatar. I suppose that might be semantics. Imagine a video game when you watch your avatar - this seems to be what you are describing. But many such games have "first person" mode where your view is now from the approximate position of where your avatars eyes are. Further imagine that the experiences that the avatar is having can be transferred to your consciousness, either by tactile transducers (e.g. a body glove) or via direct networking to the sensory centers of your brain. Wouldn't you then say that you are an active participant? The only question seems to be whether the other characters in the simulation are NPCs. In Bostrom's ancestor simulations, it seems as if they are. However, there is no reason which more than one player can't simultaneously experience the same simulated reality, a la The Matrix. In the book, I explore the ideas of lifelines that allow for all sorts of such possibilities.

2. The Physical Manifestation of Reality Model - In this case, we are like kids building sand castles. Our reality is made of a fabric that is programmatically generated - see molecular assemblers or utility fogs. Again, we are real sentient entities, but the source of our consciousness is probably not in our corporeal bodies.

How do I know that anyone else isn't an NPC? I don't, and can't figure out a way to really determine it. I do know that I am not an NPC. And the research heavily supports the idea that consciousness is separate from the body - scientific studies of OBEs are good enough proof for me.

Anyhow, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

An excerpt from my book:

Jim: If there is no soul, why am I not Fred over there?

Skeptic: Because you are your consciousness, which is a product of your senses and memories. You can’t be Fred because you are YOUR senses and memories.

Jim: What if Fred and I swapped brains. Where would “I” be? Wouldn’t I now feel like I was simply in Fred’s body?

Skeptic: Right, because your consciousness is more defined by your memories than your senses. You are the state of your brain.

Jim: Memories fade and more recent ones are stronger. So, after a while, my brain will be more defined by the memories of the experiences that come into Fred’s body than by the memories left over when I was in my body. In that case, hasn’t my brain become Fred’s brain? Kind of like loading a different operating system into your computer.

Skeptic: Yes, if you define Fred by how he looks, rather than his brain – what used to be Jim’s brain is now Fred’s brain, but with some of Jim’s memories.

Jim: So I have become Fred. And vice versa.

Skeptic: Your use of the word “I” is odd. Your consciousness, or brain state, is in Fred’s body.

Jim: Right. And so my consciousness is just as happy being in Fred’s body attached to Fred’s senses as it was in my body attached to my senses.

Skeptic: Exactly.

Jim: So it seems rather arbitrary where my consciousness is.

Skeptic: I suppose it does.

Jim: Then why wasn’t I Fred in the first place?
Posted: Friday, August 29, 2008 9:26:53 PM

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But what if reality is not something uniformly shared? Reality might be a personal and unique occurrence for each observer. When we interact our realities can be intertwined. These realities overlap much like the harmony of a major or minor chord played on a musical instrument. But also like two quantum particles, as soon as we are no longer entangled, our realities can once again diverge. Where I have typed these words and you are reading this webpage, the universe is a symphony of its elements so far as each molecule is in some form of harmony with all the others. The answer to Schrödinger's cat experiment is that the cat is the observer and not the other way around.

So, as to the Avatar or NPC theories?

I think I am neither, but as for you, you could be either.
If your reality is really different than mine, whose reality is this and how many more can we find?

The more we learn about miraculous things, the less supernatural they become.
It is a non-local projection; to whence it is from.

As observers in this world, our own reality is scripture.
Yet as soon as we observe something, our fringes are one picture.

...Through guidance Divine to make two worlds combine
And gather the seasons, which last for all time

Posted: Tuesday, September 2, 2008 9:39:53 PM

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wow, a new poetic side to jdlaw. i had no idea we had a budding lyricist in our midst. with all of these musicians on the forum, yours truly included, i would think we might be able to put together an interesting band. how about "fred and fantastic foglets?"

your thoughts are very similar to ones i explored in "the universe solved". an exerpt...

"There are two distinct categories of programs, each of which model the virtual reality games that we know and love. In one case, which I shall call the Solipsistic Program, I am the only person in the world with true consciousness. Everyone else is an NPC (non-player character), or a programmed entity. This, of course, perfectly matches the philosophy of solipsism, hence the name. It is really kind of pointless to discuss such a possibility because I would really only be writing this book for myself. I’d hate to think that nobody really bought and read this book even though my NPC publisher says it’s flying off the shelves. It is not pointless to consider it, however. Perhaps there are many of us simultaneously playing Solipsism games simultaneously. Maybe the games overlap, like lines that intersect in space. Imagine each line as the sequential states of a particular players program. And imagine the lines of two players. If their lines never intersect, then their players’ lives never occupy the same reality (see figure 9-1).

However, if they intersect for a moment, then they occupy the same reality for that moment only (figure 9-2). You’re in a meeting at work and Fred sitting across from you is just an NPC in your reality program. But Fred is based on a real Fred who is busy in his own reality program. For an instant Fred pops into your reality and you into his. Neither of you would notice anything because the only difference between NPC Fred and “real” Fred is free will or consciousness. So, for an instant Fred has free will in your program and then its gone. And vice versa for you in his program.

Or, the lifelines may merge for a while (days, years) and then split off (figure 9-3). The similarities between such a concept and the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics are strong.

The other type of reality game is the MMORPG, which allows for other players. In that case, who are the other players? Is every human a player? Or are there some soulless zombies at your work? (You probably know a few)..."

i think it might be interesting to add a poll to the site to see whether people favor one idea over the other.
Posted: Friday, September 5, 2008 7:15:00 AM
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hi guys---i am not so sure that being created [ourselves in whatever state] would b programmed--why take such an indirect route --for instance--having a meteor strike wipe out the dinosaurs so then mammals could develop into intellectual humans etc.-something else is going on here like out of control random chance--my feelings r that what we call the macro cosmos is actually a way the hell smaller micro cosmos within an organism so large and impossible to conceive or measure and in the big picture all "life events" within any "universe" that exists like ours is insignificant and meaningless except for our own egoconsumptive satisfaction---
Posted: Friday, September 5, 2008 8:48:11 AM
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As a person who has experienced an NDE and also many OBEs I would have to agree with the statement..."consciousness is separate from the body."
Posted: Friday, September 5, 2008 3:03:13 PM

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first of all, welcome Bev, to the forum. glad to have you with us. please feel free to share your OBE experiences if you wish. i, for one, am always fascinated with those, especially having failed to figure out how to induce them myself.

sambuca, i certainly appreciate your perspective and agree that we are often blinded by our limited experience. it is why we can't imagine much beyond 50 years into the future, why we can't conceive of lifeforms that don't resemble ones we are familiar with on earth, why we create video games that look so similar to our reality, why we thought we were the center of the universe until just a few hundred years ago, and so on.

i do, however, offer one simplifying consideration. what if the universe were really much smaller than we think it is, and much shorter in duration. maybe the program started a few years ago, or even a few minutes ago. no meteors, no dinosaurs, just artifacts of a program. what do you think?
Posted: Saturday, September 6, 2008 5:41:05 PM

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If we travel into the darkest cave on this earth and bring with us no candle, or at least having traveled into the cave with the candle and for a time we put the candle out once inside the cave, there will remain only darkness until someone or something will light the candle and/or bring light back into the cave. With this picture in mind, let us ask ourselves if we, like the candle, possess any power or means of the natural light required to cause ourselves to exist in this moment, and that same power to yet exist a moment afterward (relight the candle).

For what is something that has no moment and what is a moment with no prelude or persistence? In considering "causation" of the universe, the modern metaphysical theorists do not feel the need to look back so far in time and instead look to "causation" in every moment of time. Afterall, it is just as big of a miracle to have created the first moment of time as it is to have created each moment of time. Until we can understand how this moment came to be, can we then even begin to look to the first moment.

Jim, you have probably walked upon the way many times (EBE), but your own inner self (that which we call spiritual) simply does not remember ... and even if you did remember "upon the way," what you heard was usually not even in English and what you saw was an echo.

"Rahronkas enhskat" -- choose one
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