"Objective vs Social Reality" vs "Simulacra 1/3"

by Raemon1 min read17th Mar 20215 comments

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Simulacrum LevelsRationalityWorld Modeling
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Mild rant:

a) I think "Simulacrum Levels 1 - 4" are terrible names and we should be looking to replace them, generally.

b) usually, there's not really a good reason to bring "simulacrum" into it. The concept of simulacrum levels makes sense when you're talking about how how relations-to-reality change over time, or how people relate to it in different ways. But I don't think it makes sense to bring it up every time the distinction between physical/objective-level reality and social reality. Social Reality is a perfectly good name that I think is at least relatively transparent about what it means. 

This mild rant brought to you by this comment which was one-straw-too-many for me.

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So, I generally agree with (a); S1-S4 are indeed terrible names. But I do think "social reality" is missing some important connotations. At least for me, "simulacrum 3" implies some fairly specific game-theoretic dynamics, whereas "social reality" is more general and isn't really invoking a particular model. When I use "simulacrum 3", I want to imply things like:

  • There's some sort of coordination game
  • People are sending signals and receiving signals, both of which are related to physical reality only insofar as physical reality is used as a source of symbols
  • The signal-sender and signal-receiver are cooperative, in the sense that both want the message to be received as intended; there's no incentive for deceit or intentional misunderstanding of the intended message
  • Implication is the primary intended communication channel, not literal meaning

The phrase "social reality" doesn't necessarily point to these dynamics specifically.

I guess I'm not confident that saying "simulacrum level 3" even reliably implies all these things. I also expect people to be using it somewhat sloppily. 

(I haven't tracked your usage in particular. Obviously in your Simulacrum Level 3 as Stag Hunt Strategy post, you're trying to make a bunch of technical points where I think using a precise Jargon Term was appropriate. I'm more responding to people just offhandedly referring to SL3/4 when they aren't even making that precise a point)

I think I might call SL3 "Honest Social Reality" and SL4 is "Manipulative Social Reality". I think Honest Social Reality captures most of what you care about there for SL3, and has less jargon dependencies.

("Relating as subject/object" also works, although I think depends on someone already being oriented around X-as-subject/object, which is maybe worth making an explicit Jargon Dependency but I think on the margin it's better to minimize jargon dependencies)

(("Social Reality" conveys something less about the coordination game, but... a) not much, and b) I'm not sure Simulacrum 3 conveys it much more?))

This post was triggered by Jacobian saying:

Too meta for whom? Politicians care about being elected, so everything they say is by default simulacrum level 3 and up. Journalists care about controlling the narrative, so everything they say is by default simulacrum level 3 and up. They didn't aim at level 1 and miss, they only brush against level 1 on rare occasion, by accident.

What is meaningfully lost here if it turns into:

Too meta for whom? Politicians care about being elected, so everything they say by default is about social reality. Journalists care about controlling the narrative, so everything they say is by default about social reality. They didn't aim at "saying useful things about Objective reality and missing", they only brush against objective reality on rare occasion, by accident.

(no offense to Jacobian, who just happened to be the most recent person writing such a comment)

It's possible Jacobian had an explicit model wherein it was meaningful to distinguish those two paragraphs, but I'm guessing not.

Agreed!  I get hung up on the numbering of levels and the implication that they are exclusive and "better" or "worse".  Finding ways to talk about and model social expectations and interactions that don't have such biases is a pure good.

In a somewhat-more-recent-post, Benquo suggests some possible alternate names, although notes that they still aren't overwhelmingly great. This describes level 1 as "objective", which I think makes subtly-more-sense than "object-level", despite sharing a word-root.

Another way to think about it, is that in levels 1 and 3, speech patterns are authentically part of our subjectivity. Just as babies are confused if you show them something that violates their object permanence assumptions, and a good rationalist is more confused by falsehood than by truth, people operating at simulacrum level 3 are confused and disoriented if a load-bearing social identity or relationship is invalidated.

Likewise, levels 2 and 4 are similar in nature - they consist of nothing more than taking levels 1 and 3 respectively as object (i.e. something outside oneself to be manipulated) rather than as subject (part of one's own native machinery for understanding and navigating one's world). We might name the levels:

Simulacrum Level 1: Objectivity as Subject (objectivism, or epistemic consciousness)

Simulacrum Level 2: Objectivity as Object (lying)

Simulacrum Level 3: Relating as Subject (power relation, or ritual magic)

Simulacrum Level 4: Relating as Object (chaos magic, hedge magic, postmodernity)*

I'm not attached to these names and suspect we need better ones. But in any case this framework should make it clear that there are some domains where what we do with our communicative behavior is naturally "level 3" and not a degraded form of level 1, while in other domains level 3 behavior has to be a degenerate form of level 1.**

Much body language, for instance, doesn't have a plausibly objective interpretation, but is purely relational, even if evolutionary psychology can point to objective qualities we're sometimes thereby trying to signal. Sometimes we're just trying to stay in rhythm with each other, or project good vibes.

a) Yep!

b) "Physical" can be used to refer to a map or the territory, the study or the thing studied. I prefer "fundamental".