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Further thoughts on the universe as simulation

What follows is part of an email exchange with a person named Hanspeter that I am sharing with permission. The full identity of my correspondent shall not be revealed.

This discussion started as a comment on my previous publication About the world as simulation (2022-03-06) which itself was an aside on my presentation about Cosmos, Logos, and the living universe (2022-02-05).

This publication consists of three parts, which reflect the flow of the correspondence.


Part one with the answer I provided

In this article of yours https://protesilaos.com/commentary/2022-03-06-cosmos-simulation/ you write:

“We lack the capacity to verify whether this world is a simulation or not because we cannot think beyond what the universe renders possible.”

In my humble opinion,

this assumes, that an assumtive “simulation master” - as you call him/her/it - did not want, that we were able to think / comprehend outside our ‘box’ (our universe) and thus he/she/it did create our universe in such a way, making it impossible for us to ‘understand’ or ‘proof’ that we would live inside the simulation.

However, what if the “simulation master” has built our universe with the required feature(s), allowing us to understand and proof, that we actually live inside a simulation.

In that case, we could mentally (and perhaps even ‘physically’ in a weird kind of way) jump outside, no?

I see your point and agree with it. We would just need to discern those patterns—follow the hints, as it were—and reach the appropriate conclusion. The implication is that this simulated world could contain the relevant pointers on whether it is a simulation inside a simulation, so we could “escape” recursively. If we could not escape recursively, then we would not be able to identify these “required feature(s)” that you mention and our endeavour would be left incomplete.

Shall I then add to your view this recursive aspect? Or am I misunderstanding it and going in the wrong direction?

Assuming I can work with this hypothesis, at some point we will be out of the simulation. For now let’s limit this exit to the realm of the thinkable (a physical escape is an interesting concept as well, but I think we would need to consider a plausible mechanism that would transfer us “there”—we can discuss this, though I am just noting it here without further comments).

Once we are outside the simulation (or simulation of simulations) we are present in the same plane of existence as the simulation master. Put differently, we are in the locus where the simulation runs in. In my article I referred to this place as “originary plane of reality” though we can describe it using different terms, if you want.

So far everything falls within our means of comprehension, which can be applied recursively to all planes of reality. Which brings me back to the question that prompted my publication (which was in response to my presentation on Cosmos, Logos, and the living universe):

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the Cosmos. […] Have you heard about the theory that the universe may be a simulation? How would that affect your ideas?

The terms “cosmos” or “universe” may be causing confusion here because of how they are used in other contexts. If so, I apologise for not being clear. For example, we have the notion of a “parallel universe”, hence a plurality of universes. What is implied in my publications though, is that even this potential multitude forms part of a greater whole, else a totality of actual and potential states. In Greek the word for universe is “synpan” (or “symban”). The terms “syn” and “pan” mean all (pan) together or combined (syn). The original meaning of “universe” is similar: “[all] turned into one”. Again, we have a totality.

We thus have this greater whole which encompasses the simulation and the originary plane of reality where the simulation runs in. This totality, I claim, still has structure, pattern, order, and hence reason and language (i.e. Logos). We can understand as much even if we have physically not been “there”. In other words, all this falls within our means of comprehension by virtue of that recursive capacity I outlined.

I then use this comment to draw a parallel with theology and argue against a view that theologians in my part of the world hold where God is supposed to be beyond our comprehension (a monk told me as much a while ago). They only invoke this point when they are pressed to provide answers to difficult questions. Taking it at face value, I must then say that if God is truly beyond our comprehension, then it means that our comprehension has a robust terminus. And if such a terminus exists, whatever revelation by God will necessarily have to fall inside those boundaries. Otherwise we cannot make sense of it: we cannot see or hear it, so to speak (though please take this as a metaphor and not tell me that we could just use some specialised equipment—the use of equipment still falls within our means of comprehension). In other words, God would not be able to (i) keep us in our current condition and (ii) also reveal to us something about His true nature which is beyond our comprehension: either the revelation would be about something we could ultimately discover ourselves, or it would be decisively unintelligible or incomprehensible for us and hence would constitute no revelation whatsoever.

The world-as-simulation is a proxy in this regard. The simulation master has a presence outside or beyond the simulation. If that reality is comprehensible, then we can understand everything about the simulation master by tracing those patterns, as you hinted at. If, however, the simulation master has an aspect to their being which we cannot grasp, then we would be unable to prove their claims that they genuinely have a presence beyond our comprehension.

If God is beyond our comprehension and God reveals Himself to us in His incomprehensible dimension, we will simply not notice that which is being revealed. If, however, the theologians are wrong and God is comprehensible throughout, then revelations are mere shortcuts. In this latter case, whether we live in a simulation or not changes nothing in the grand scheme of things, because we can recursively “get out” of it and still grasp the same features of the immanent Logos.

To conclude, I think your suggestion is consistent with my thinking. My idea is that God is comprehensible, that a recursive escape from a potential simulation is possible, and that such an escape does not change my view that Logos is everywhere in the totality (in the Cosmos). I am, however, sceptical of the significations and narratives associated with the term “revelation” due to what I wrote above: if God is comprehensible, then the revelation is a mere shortcut, kind of how we get the answers to an exam, but if the revelation is supposed to reveal something beyond our comprehension, then it is futile.

Part two with the answer I received

I see your point and agree with it. We would just need to discern those patterns—follow the hints, as it were—and reach the appropriate conclusion. The implication is that this simulated world could contain the relevant pointers on whether it is a simulation inside a simulation, so we could “escape” recursively. If we could not escape recursively, then we would not be able to identify these “required feature(s)” that you mention and our endeavour would be left incomplete.

Shall I then add to your view this recursive aspect? Or am I misunderstanding it and going in the wrong direction?

  • I think, a ‘universal’ capability to ‘step out’ recursively of ‘all’ simulations can not be inferred from a potential possibility, that this would be the case for our direct simulation ancestors.

    What I mean is this: On a higher level plane of reality/simulation (outside our ‘simulation’), the afore mentioned ‘features’ rendering it possible to proof our reality being a simulation (and perhaps making it even possible to step out of it somehow) needn’t necessarly exist, even if our direct ‘outsides’ (ancestor simulations) provide those features.

    I.e. recursion is not transitive in such a situation; it is transitive fully back to the ‘root’ plane only, if ‘every’ simulation contains these required ‘features’.

  • the question whether we can expect or even reason that we would finally have to find proof that we live inside some simulation - if this really was the case perhaps may be anwered quite simply?

    If there really exists some ‘simulation master’ on a higher plane und creating us by its simulation, then there has to be a ‘connection’ between the masters reality and our own. Because some kind of connection (channel) is always required to transfer matter, energy, information or even some higher order construct. Without such a connection, the whole simulation would make no sense, as the simulation itself (and the results provided by it) would be perdu to the simulation master. So from this point of view, perhaps, we can infere, that, IF we actually live(d) inside a simulation and there actually IS some kind of connection to the simulation master, THEN it MUST be possible, to get proof for it, no?

Assuming I can work with this hypothesis, at some point we will be out of the simulation. For now let’s limit this exit to the realm of the thinkable (a physical escape is an interesting concept as well, but I think we would need to consider a plausible mechanism that would transfer us “there”—we can discuss this, though I am just noting it here without further comments).

  • I think an actual phyiscal transfer of ourselves to some meta simulation / reality would require that such a one would feature the very same physical laws as our reality - this would imply the ‘simulation master’ inhabits some parallel / peer universe of ours and not some meta universe.

    In the case of the meta universe variant, I would assume that the physical laws have to be different to ours and thus a physical exit from our reality to this meta reality would not be feasible. Some kind of mental transfer of ourselves into some kind of meta-avatar - however - would seem feasible.

Once we are outside the simulation (or simulation of simulations) we are present in the same plane of existence as the simulation master. Put differently, we are in the locus where the simulation runs in. In my article I referred to this place as “originary plane of reality” though we can describe it using different terms, if you want.

So far everything falls within our means of comprehension, which can be applied recursively to all planes of reality. Which brings me back to the question that prompted my publication (which was in response to my presentation on Cosmos, Logos, and the living universe[0]):

[0] https://protesilaos.com/books/2022-02-05-cosmos-logos-living-universe/

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the Cosmos. [...] Have you
heard about the theory that the universe may be a simulation?  How
would that affect your ideas?

The terms “cosmos” or “universe” may be causing confusion here because of how they are used in other contexts. If so, I apologise for not being clear. For example, we have the notion of a “parallel universe”, hence a plurality of universes. What is implied in my publications though, is that even this potential multitude forms part of a greater whole, else a totality of actual and potential states. In Greek the word for universe is “synpan” (or “symban”). The terms “syn” and “pan” mean all (pan) together or combined (syn). The original meaning of “universe” is similar: “[all] turned into one”.[1] Again, we have a totality.

[1] https://www.etymonline.com/word/universe

We thus have this greater whole which encompasses the simulation and the originary plane of reality where the simulation runs in. This totality, I claim, still has structure, pattern, order, and hence reason and language (i.e. Logos). We can understand as much even if we have physically not been “there”. In other words, all this falls within our means of comprehension by virtue of that recursive capacity I outlined.

  • I fully agree

I then use this comment to draw a parallel with theology and argue against a view that theologians in my part of the world hold where God is supposed to be beyond our comprehension (a monk told me as much a while ago). They only invoke this point when they are pressed to provide answers to difficult questions. Taking it at face value, I must then say that if God is truly beyond our comprehension, then it means that our comprehension has a robust terminus. And if such a terminus exists, whatever revelation by God will necessarily have to fall inside those boundaries. Otherwise we cannot make sense of it: we cannot see or hear it, so to speak (though please take this as a metaphor and not tell me that we could just use some specialised equipment—the use of equipment still falls within our means of comprehension). In other words, God would not be able to (i) keep us in our current condition and (ii) also reveal to us something about His true nature which is beyond our comprehension: either the revelation would be about something we could ultimately discover ourselves, or it would be decisively unintelligible or incomprehensible for us and hence would constitute no revelation whatsoever.

  • I agree fully with you: God being beyond our comprehension is an admission for our failing to understand and grasp him.

  • What motivation would God have to set such a terminus (as you call it) on our capabilities? This makes no sense for a ‘true’ God. A true God does not have to fear anything (e.g. us understanding him) and he would not want to cripple our capabilities; because he would want that everything ‘grows’.

The world-as-simulation is a proxy in this regard. The simulation master has a presence outside or beyond the simulation. If that reality is comprehensible, then we can understand everything about the simulation master by tracing those patterns, as you hinted at. If, however, the simulation master has an aspect to their being which we cannot grasp, then we would be unable to prove their claims that they genuinely have a presence beyond our comprehension.

  • I think this comprehension beyond the simulation (of the things outside the simulation) requires some connection between the outside and the inside of the simulation. Such a connection would be bidirectional; as the simulation master (the simulation’s inhabitants God?), interacts with the simulation’s content, i.e. he feeds information into it and gets information out of it. Because this is the case, this would have to allow also the simulation’s inhabitants (us) to reach outside and thus to ‘experience’ God. (see above)

If God is beyond our comprehension and God reveals Himself to us in His incomprehensible dimension, we will simply not notice that which is being revealed. If, however, the theologians are wrong and God is comprehensible throughout, then revelations are mere shortcuts. In this latter case, whether we live in a simulation or not changes nothing in the grand scheme of things, because we can recursively “get out” of it and still grasp the same features of the immanent Logos.

To conclude, I think your suggestion is consistent with my thinking. My idea is that God is comprehensible, that a recursive escape from a potential simulation is possible, and that such an escape does not change my view that Logos is everywhere in the totality (in the Cosmos). I am, however, sceptical of the significations and narratives associated with the term “revelation” due to what I wrote above: if God is comprehensible, then the revelation is a mere shortcut, kind of how we get the answers to an exam, but if the revelation is supposed to reveal something beyond our comprehension, then it is futile.

  • nicely put - yes, I agree.

Part three with my reply to part two

  • I think, a ‘universal’ capability to ‘step out’ recursively of ‘all’ simulations can not be inferred from a potential possibility, that this would be the case for our direct simulation ancestors.

What I mean is this: On a higher level plane of reality/simulation (outside our ‘simulation’), the afore mentioned ‘features’ rendering it possible to proof our reality being a simulation (and perhaps making it even possible to step out of it somehow) needn’t necessarly exist, even if our direct ‘outsides’ (ancestor simulations) provide those features.

I.e. recursion is not transitive in such a situation; it is transitive fully back to the ‘root’ plane only, if ‘every’ simulation contains these required ‘features’.

Indeed. I was getting ahead of myself. Though keep a mental note about this point as I connect it with the following one to explain why I did so.

  • the question whether we can expect or even reason that we would finally have to find proof that we live inside some simulation - if this really was the case perhaps may be anwered quite simply?

If there really exists some ‘simulation master’ on a higher plane und creating us by its simulation, then there has to be a ‘connection’ between the masters reality and our own. Because some kind of connection (channel) is always required to transfer matter, energy, information or even some higher order construct. Without such a connection, the whole simulation would make no sense, as the simulation itself (and the results provided by it) would be perdu to the simulation master. So from this point of view, perhaps, we can infere, that, IF we actually live(d) inside a simulation and there actually IS some kind of connection to the simulation master, THEN it MUST be possible, to get proof for it, no?

[Prot edit: I bring a later the following paragraph in this context as it is related]

  • I think this comprehension beyond the simulation (of the things outside the simulation) requires some connection between the outside and the inside of the simulation. Such a connection would be bidirectional; as the simulation master (the simulation’s inhabitants God?), interacts with the simulation’s content, i.e. he feeds information into it and gets information out of it. Because this is the case, this would have to allow also the simulation’s inhabitants (us) to reach outside and thus to ‘experience’ God. (see above)

The reason I jumped to the early conclusion of the recursive capacity to discern an “exit” to the simulation is what you describe here. Again, this reflects how I think of “universe” in its original sense of all-as-one and not in the sense of “our plane of existence” with its potential parallels or supersets. As such, I was thinking that there eventually has to be a connection between all these planes of existence which I consider it to be the immanence of pattern, structure, ratio, reason (as causality and logic) and language (i.e. Logos). The reason I have to assume Logos as ubiquitous or ever-present is because the human condition renders it impossible to consider its alternative, which is Chaos: the absolute lack of pattern, structure, order.

When it comes to absolutes such as Chaos or Nothingness (Non-Being), we can only describe them in negative terms, as the opposite of that which we can comprehend. We cannot grasp them directly. The very moment we reason about Nothingness and describe it in some way, we are inevitably substantiating it as Somethingness. Same for Chaos which, once reasoned about, is rendered as non-Chaos for it mentally acquires some structure (by describing it, we necessarily discern a pattern in it).

[ Hopefully this makes sense and I don’t sound confusing. ]

You are nonetheless correct that insofar as the simulation is concerned, the aforementioned recursion is not necessary. For it to be so, the simulation of simulations would have to be complete to the point where it would not be distinguishable in terms of its inner features from the reality it simulates. In the case of incompleteness, there exists the possibility that the simulation lacks the capabilities we covered earlier about us having the potential to recognise it as a simulation or the ability to do so recursively.

If we assume completeness, as I did, then we do not have to trust the word of the simulation master at face value: we can ultimately verify it ourselves and continue with our inquiry into the world from there.

If, however, the simulation is incomplete, then we might have to believe the simulation master’s (this simulation’s or its parent simulation and so on) claims without having the means to establish them as facts. In this regard, I would reach the same conclusion I did in my original publication, namely that we can only do so by performing a leap of faith as we reach a terminus or by remaining sceptical (further below I comment on the concept of a terminus).

Generalising this further: in the case of completeness, then yes we can experience God directly. I even think that all forms of being in the universe (in the all-as-one sense) are consubstantial in that they all partake in the Logos. There are differences of degree, not substance, meaning that there can be no forms which are non-Logos as a form presupposes pattern, structure, et cetera. This, however, means that God cannot be exocosmic, outside this totality I mentioned, but simply cosmic or else part and parcel of the Cosmos (the all-as-one totality), ultimately as its underlying structure. Though this view of the divine differs from that of the simulation master, because the latter is external to the simulation, whereas the deity here is inseparable from the totality.

  • I agree fully with you: God being beyond our comprehension is an admission for our failing to understand and grasp him.

  • What motivation would God have to set such a terminus (as you call it) on our capabilities? This makes no sense for a ‘true’ God. A true God does not have to fear anything (e.g. us understanding him) and he would not want to cripple our capabilities; because he would want that everything ‘grows’.

The terminus makes sense in the case of incompleteness that I outlined earlier. It is built-in and inescapable.

The term could also be used as a means of describing our current potential. Though it would be inaccurate. What I mean is that the “terminus” can refer to our present condition as one of those “differences of degree” that I noted in the previous paragraph: it is not that we cannot understand the Logos in all of its emanations, but that we remain in a process of continuous research, discovery, thinking, or evolution more broadly. As such, the “terminus” is but an intermediate state of affairs and must thus not be understood as a terminus: I would prefer to use a different word.

Finally, the terminus can mean the outer boundaries of the universe (all-as-one) once we factor in its ultimate potential. Though here we have an interesting problem. Does the universe have boundaries and, if it does, how can it possibly be this “totality” I have been mentioning? And if it has boundaries, what is that which borders or encompasses it? Whatever it is, it must still be part of a set and the set of all sets is that which is the totality. Which brings us back to the original meaning of the universe which implies it is boundless (whether our universe qua plane of existence has boundaries is entirely possible, as it might exist in some relation with other such planes, yet they too must all form a totality).

This brings me back to how this exchange started with the first publication I posted on my website and you quoting this part from it:

We lack the capacity to verify whether this world is a simulation or not because we cannot think beyond what the universe renders possible.

That is an excerpt of my view where I entertain the hypothesis that God is incomprehensible in some ways and how such a thesis works against those who propound it (as I noted earlier about revelations).

Here I expand on what I think without doing it in a roundabout way: a continuation of my presentation on Cosmos/Logos.