Friday, October 07, 2016

Billionaires are trying to escape the demiurgic world

GNOSTICISM WATCH: Tech billionaires convinced we live in the Matrix are secretly funding scientists to help break us out of it. Many of the world's richest and most powerful people, including Elon Musk and Bank of America, think that we live in a simulation of the real world (Andrew Griffin, The Independent).
Some of the world’s richest and most powerful people are convinced that we are living in a computer simulation. And now they’re trying to do something about it.

At least two of Silicon Valley’s tech billionaires are pouring money into efforts to break humans out of the simulation that they believe that it is living in, according to a new report.

Philosophers have long been concerned about how we can know that our world isn’t just a very believable simulation of a real one. But concern about that has become ever more active in recent years, as computers and artificial intelligence have advanced.

That has led some tech billionaires to speculate that the chances we are not living in such a simulation is “billions to one”. Even Bank of America analysts wrote last month that the chances we are living in a Matrix-style fictional world is as high as 50 per cent.

And now at least two billionaires are funding scientists in an effort to try and break us out of that simulation. It isn’t clear what form that work is taking.

Perhaps surprisingly, the simulation argument is a serious proposal that has support from some philosophers and scientists, but this is taking it to a new level. I have discussed the simulation argument many times at PaleoJudaica: see here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I understand the argument that the odds in favor of us being in a simulation are "billions to one," but I'm not convinced by it. It assumes that we know what consciousness is, and I don't think we actually have any useful explanation of it. See the last link in the previous sentence for a more detailed discussion. That said, I do think that the simulation argument is a real possibility that has some explanatory value for what we see around us.

But the main reason I bring the idea up at PaleoJudaica is that it adds up to a modern, somewhat philosophically and scientifically grounded, version of Gnosticism, complete with a demiurge who created an imperfect world, inhabitants of that world who retain a spark of light and can acquire gnosis that tells them the truth about their reality, and now even gnostic savior figures who aim to release us from the demiurgic world and return us to the pleroma. Whatever the merits of the theory and the responses to it, this is sociologically very interesting.

Whether breaking out of the simulation is a good idea is another matter. If we're really in a simulation, which I can't rule out, we don't know what's on the outside. We also don't know what the demiurgic programmer would think of the idea. Perhaps we're in a video game and escape is the object and how we win. But if not, the programmer may just decide the program has been corrupted and shut us down.

Have a nice weekend.