Philosophy is a vital study for the human race - from the ancient Greeks to the modern day, some of the finest thinkers have examined the human condition and produced valuable insights and conclusions on what it means "to be." Unfortunately much of the other work in the field is dubious, including a recent paper which argues that we're all living in a vast computer simulation. Yes, it WAS written after the first Matrix film but before the sequels. Funny that.
Unfortunately this isn't a fanfic: it's a refereed paper published in the Philosophical Quarterly, which must have been hurting for content. It was written by, Nick Bostrom, the Director of the "Future of Humanity Institute" at Oxford University, the sort of person we'd generally assume to be above such things. But we suppose that even those pondering the fate of the species need publicity and funding too - probably more than most people, in fact.
The most egregious flaw is the use of a form of the fantastically annoying Bayesian argument: the idea that if we suppose there far more B-type of people than A, then we're more likely to be born as a B than A. It's been which has been used to argue everything from the imminent end of the species to this simulation silliness despite:
a) assuming that we're all somehow stacked up waiting to exist like capsule toys in a spiritual vending machine.
b) Statistics Error No 1: confusing probability with actual fact, and arguing that nothing but the most common option should exist. For example, by the Bayesian argument you and everyone you know is Asian.
c) It's been an equally (in)valid at every stage in human history since we first dropped out of the trees, and was wrong then too.
Other warning signs:
- The "I'm right whatever happens" opener of this paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true:....(1) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (2) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation."
For those of you unwilling to dig through philosophical page-filler, this states "Either a) future people won't run simulations or b) they will".
- The "even if you disagree with this, the methods used are interesting" statement in the introduction. If you can't even open the paper without admitting it's probably garbage that's a bad sign, and if your methods were that good you wouldn't need to point it out.
- The use of hideously underdeveloped math to make your wordswordswords look more scientific, combined with the "make this number very large" style of extrapolation. Which works in some situations, which this isn't any of.
The main weakness of the paper is the usual "You can't prove if it isn't" argument, the same one that's been used for religion since forever. But in cases like this it's not the skeptic's job to logically disprove an argument that has never been logically proved. If we state "The Earth, below a depth of ten miles, is composed entirely of pink candyfloss", you don't have to hire a drilling rig and a rogue team of lovable geologists to venture into the planets core to disprove us.
Likewise, if we say "We are living on Earth" and somebody else says "We (are part of a vast future simulation that goes to enormous trouble to make it seem like we are) living on Earth", you don't exactly need Occam's Razor to cut away the unsupported dross from that statement. Occam's blunt butter knife is more than sufficient.
The Daily Daily from a remote arm of the Milky Way.