Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What would it take for you to change one of your fundamental beliefs?

I previously posted about the possibility that we’re living in a hologram universe. Today, I encountered more articles about it. It seems that its picking up speed- more experiments are already being done, more theories are already being tested- and we should have a better idea as to whether or not its true in the next few years.

The idea could revolutionize physics. It could provide the key to a unified field theory. It could also mean that we live in two dimensions despite experiencing three. I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around that. It so utterly challenges one of my fundamental beliefs about the universe to the extent that there’s a chance I may just reject it on some level… because not doing so would mean I’d have to seriously consider Nick ‘Nancy Boy’ Bostrom’s simulation argument. (Bostrom, to his credit, doesn't believe the affirmative of all of his arguments.)

My beef with Bostrom:

I haven’t read him as extensively as I should considering how respected he is among futurists. I really should read him, but I have trouble getting passed what I see as weird leaps in logic that he makes. For starters he seems incapable of making any sort of prediction that doesn’t center around a base of, ‘either the universe is nothing like we think, or all intelligent species destroy themselves!’ This in turn is based off of very little. Further, he uses Beysian reasoning a lot which always sets off my bullshit detector.

More to the point, the simulation argument is one of those things people discuss that can’t can neither be proven nor disproven and also provides us with no new information. Another example of this kind of thing- ‘This rock isn’t really a rock, it’s a hyper-intelligent being that has disguised itself as a rock. So intelligent is this hyper-intelligent being that it is now in all ways indistinguishable from a rock.’ Or as Nick Bostrom would put it, ‘Given that there is virtually an infinite number of stars in the universe, and that some percentage of these stars would have planets that could support life, and that some percentage of those planets would produce intelligent life, and that some percentage of those intelligent life forms would enjoy nothing more than traveling across the universe to disguise themselves perfectly as rocks, then we are forced to conclude that either some percentage of the rocks on our planet are actually super intelligent beings disguised as rocks, or that all intelligent life destroys itself before its able to achieve its deepest desire (of traveling across the cosmos and perfecting its rock related camouflage). We must hope that some percentage of our rocks are hyper intelligent aliens or it would not bode well for our future.’ Yeah, thanks Nick.

Still, if it turns out we’re living in a holographic universe than that seems, at least to me, that I need to take the simulation argument slightly more seriously. And this in turn raises the question, what would it take to convince you to change your position on one of your fundamental beliefs? From Atheist to Theist (or Deist)? From Christian to Atheist? From Democrat to Republican? From Libertarian to Socialist? What would it take?


  1. It's a bit of a leap from the holographic universe hypothesis to simulation bunk. Let's say we do live in two dimensions with only the illusion of a third. That doesn't mean the universe is a holodeck. Or that the universe is printed on a credit card in another universe. It's simply a means by which we can conceptualize the argument.

  2. I know and I agree- still though the leap's a a bit closer in my eyes than it was a year ago.

  3. I think it's closer for purely linguistic reasons. You say "holographic universe" and it brings to mind the Matrix or the holodeck. We could just as easily call this the Beach Ball Principle (a beach ball's surface is only two dimensions, and every point within the three dimensions of its shape can be expressed as a function of points on the surface), but that doesn't mean we're any closer to having our universe hit by a gigantic cosmic crowd of fans at a sporting event.