martes, diciembre 01, 2009

The Onion theory (II): which simulation are we in?

In looking at the first film of the Matrix trilogy, I am amazed by the influence that this film has exerted on modern culture. Specially taking into account the fact that the core idea of the film is not entirely new (actually the film could be called "Plato's Cave Myth revisited"). Most probably, the success of the film "The Matrix" resides in the way that the Greek philosopher's allegory is explained in a sci-fi context, with dazzling visual effects, ... It has to be admitted, nonetheless, that the "bullet time" effect deserves a special place in cinema history since the development of this effect is a beautiful exercise of pure scientific-technical research. But let's focus on the philosophic idea of the "The Matrix": We are living in a simulation created by someone (or something) else.

Have you seen the latest releases in videogames? I have to admit that I am absolutely impressed when I look at the hyper-realistic graphics that can render the current generation consoles (mainly Xbox 360 and Playstation3) combined with Full High Definition TVs. In some cases, at first sight is impossible to say if we are in front of a videogame or a film with flesh & blood actors.

The realism does not come from the graphics only but on more subtle aspects also. In older videogames, the player was forced to play in only certain locations of the "videogame domain". It's like being in the medieval world, when the Earth was thought to be flat and beyond the horizon there were only the stars and some animals holding the Earth disc. You simply could not go further. However, this does not seem to hold with the latest videogames that can be found in the market. Games like "Assassin's Creed" (, or now the second part) and "Grand Theft Auto IV" ( seem to represent a huge qualitative step. Forgetting about the moral content of these games, the reviews praise these videogames because of the fact that the player can really explore all the world as long as the physical laws allow to do that. The player is therefore immersed in a simulated world. Think also on the Microsoft Flight simulator series: the Earth is rendered in real time! As long as you have enough time (well, you can always flight in "accelerated mode"), you can go from New York to Tokyo and the program would show you London, Paris, Mongolia... if you pass over them. Isn't that amazing?

So, at the end, these videogames use Simulation. They simulate a world based on certain laws (usually physical, so the simulated world is realistic to the user). The character movement in modern games also behaves based on physical laws (see for instance the work done by Natural Motion).

Continuing with this idea of simulation, not long ago I came across a web page of a Japanese research group that is developing a global Earth simulator, which is used in climatological simulations and terretrial core convection. So Simulation is a tool that we commonly use in our day-to-day lifes (call it videogame, scientific tool, financial projections...). And in each of these simulations we transfer the physical laws of our world to these simulations.

So then comes the point where I want to arrive: could it be possible that we are actually a simulation of someone or somebody else? The most terrible thing is that we will never know it! As Plato said, we do not have means to answer this question because we have been always living in this (simulated?) world.

Ok, there is still one thing unsolved in the simulations that I showed above: the issue of conscience. In all the robots or videogames made so far, the characters have a dumb level Artifical Intelligence. But give the technology some more years. Someone will then discover how to effectively simulate conscience (and most important: creativity) and then the characters of the simulations that we, humans, do will start thinking if they are themselves a simulation of someone else. We would then enter again in an infinite loop, similar to the one I posted previously (see The Onion Theory (I) ). An additional though for those who read that post: the one who discovers how to simulate consciousness = the guy that discovers a new subatomic (or subquark) particle. (both guys discovered the next onion layer!).

If my theory is correct then, can someone answer to me in which simulation layer (or Onion layer if I may) are we in?

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