Philosophy Bear here. At the moment I'm composing an anthology of all the work I've done on the topic of AI. Simultaneously, as I edit those works for the anthology,  I thought it would be a good idea to crosspost the here, as I've never shared any of them on less wrong before. The version I've posted as text is edited (improved) from the version at the attached link. I'll be posting the book at my Philosophy Bear Substack at some point.

I’ve been going through Chalmers's book Reality+. It’s a good refresher on some of the more interesting implications of simulation theory and he has some fascinating new takes as well. I noticed that he’d come to many similar conclusions to me on a variety of topics, so I figured I’d best get what remains of my thinking on these topics into print as quickly as possible :-).

In particular, I wanted to hone in on a question- a kind of modern update on the problem of evil. If we are in a simulation, does it follow our simulators are bad people? 

A brief summary of the argument we’re in a simulation

Readers who are already aware of the simulation argument can skip this:

Why think we might be in a simulation? This is my version of the argument, which draws elements from both Bostrom & Chalmers. It’s a little closer to Bostrom than Chalmers because I find Bostrom’s version more persuasive for reasons I won’t get into here. My version of the argument is not as technically complete or comprehensive as it could be, because it is designed to be accessible. Nonetheless, it is, I think, in essence, right, at least on the basis of the evidence available to us at the moment.

1.What it “feels like” to be in a simulation is the same as what it feels like to be outside a simulation. Two people in the same situation (but one simulated) with the same past (but one simulated) will have the exact same experiences.

2. If humans survive the next few hundred years (at the most), human nature being what it is, it seems likely we will create many simulations, including simulations of humans. These will include simulations of our past- before we gained the capacity to create detailed simulations. Call these “ancestor simulations”.

3. The capacity to create simulations is abundant- potential computational power is vast. Our curiosity and desire for entertainment is also abundant. It is therefore likely that, if we start creating ancestor simulations, we will create a vast number of such simulations of our history, many times the number of simulated people than the number of people who ever existed.

Since by (1) we have no other evidence that would discriminate whether we are in a simulation, we need to fall back on the baseline probabilities.

By (2 & 3) the baseline probability that we are in a simulation is higher than the baseline probability that we are not in a simulation,

Ergo we are probably in a simulation. Note that this is not Descartes classical argument that we may be being deceived by a demon, insomuch as Descartes sought merely to show that it is possible that we are in an illusory world created by a demon, whereas this argument attempts to give us positive reason to think that it is probable that we are in a simulation.

Chalmers on the case that our simulators are divine

As Chalmers notes, simulation theory. has been called the most interesting new argument for theism of modern times. If we are in a simulation, then our simulators are:

● Our creators

● Enormously powerful with respect to us.

● Have at least the capacity to be enormously knowledgeable about our lives, even

if they don’t choose to exercise it.

These features can be seen as corresponding to traditional divine attributes. God(s) are generally thought to be creators and immensely powerful. Many, though not all, traditions hold that God(s) know all things or at least a vast amount. Thus the simulation argument can be seen as generating a kind of limited theism.

Our simulators have other interesting features as well in this regard- for example, being outside time and space with respect to our simulation, corresponding to Boethian concepts of deity.

The problem of simulator theodicy

But there’s another divine attribute, particularly important in the Abrahamic religions (though not only those), the attribute of omnibenevolence. It’s far from clear that if the simulation argument is true, our simulators are omnibenevolent. In fact, you might worry they are evil- or perhaps somehow beyond good and evil (which is to say, in practical terms, evil). There are two arguments one might use to derive the conclusion that our simulators are evil:

The argument from suffering (and the absence of bliss). This world is filled with suffering. A good simulator would not create beings that suffer and would create beings that experience more bliss than us. Note that this can be extended to other evils besides suffering- for example, a lack of freedom.

The argument from deception, a good simulator would not deceive. This world, in some sense, tends to deceive us into thinking that we are not simulated, ergo, our simulators have created a deceptive world.

Our question then is: suppose our world is a simulation. Is the way the world is compatible with our simulators being good people who have made the world this way deliberately?

By good person, I don’t necessarily mean anything particularly demanding. Certainly not omnibenevolent. Perhaps the best definition of what I mean in this context is:

A good person is a person who does not cause substantial harm to others without a justification strong enough to excuse that harm.

A lot of this is going to come down to divergent values. My personal sense is that the argument from deception is relatively weak- ceteris paribus our simulators would owe us the knowledge we are in a simulation, but even a relatively modest justification could get them off the hook for not telling us we’re in a simulation. Thus we’ll focus on the argument from suffering (and other evils).

This is not just an abstract philosophical question. Though we probably cannot do much about it, it is possible that no question matters more. Our simulator could well be omnipotent with respect to us. They could turn us off, create disasters, wipe us from history, or send us to virtual heavens or hells.

Does our simulator owe us any more than a greater than even lifetime balance of good over bad?

One of the best defenses of our simulator’s moral goodness is to try and lower the bar for goodness as low as possible.

We should take seriously the idea that perhaps all our simulators owe us is more good than evil across our lifespan. One could even lower it further, and argue that all they owe us is for humanity as a whole to experience more good than evil across its lifespan- or for the simulation as a whole generate more good than evil. Suppose you were speaking to your simulator. You had a dialogue with her reminiscent of the book of Job- accusing her of badly mistreating you. 

To this she replied:

“Would you prefer you’d never existed?”

“No, but you could have made things so much better!”

“Yes, but I’m not running a simulation of paradise, I’m running a simulation to find out about something, and having all simulated beings in a state of perpetual bliss would interfere with that. Nonetheless, I’ve taken steps to ensure that all lives in my simulation are worth living [ed: this could be achieved by running only a sparse simulation of the most miserable lives, or perhaps through a simulated afterlife for those who found earthly life worse than not existing at all] Or at the very least I have taken steps to ensure the total experience of the simulated human species is more positive than negative. I get the data I want. You get lives that are worth living- either individually or at least in the aggregate. in what sense can I be said to have wronged you?”

“You could easily make things better, but you choose not to, that’s wrong.”

“I can’t make things better easily. I have a limited computational budget for simulations.”

“Why aren’t you spending your computational budget on creating blissful lives?”

“This simulation is being run for some kind of purpose in my world- perhaps science, perhaps even entertainment- I won’t get into the details. I have the budget I do contingently on meeting that goal. If I just created blissful lives my funding would be taken away. Thus your choices are non-existence or the lives I give you. On the whole, I think this benefits both of us, and doesn’t make me evil ”

Whether this is an adequate response is going to depend on your ethical views. However, I think it’s clear that there is at least a coherent conception of the good on which what our simulator does in this scenario is defensible. Thus we can’t be sure that our simulator is malign.

Is it immoral to switch off a world, or to permanently terminate a simulated person’s consciousness at death? This depends on whether death is harmful.

One of the more terrifying implications of the simulation hypothesis is the possibility that the simulator could turn it off at any time. An interesting question then is if our simulators are benign are they be obliged not to turn us off? At least without our consent?

There is an ancient debate in philosophy over whether or not death is a kind of harm. That is to say, if someone dies, is that, in and of itself, harmful for them? The answer to this question will establish whether or not our simulators could count as benign, and still turn us off. Epicurus, for example, thought that death was not harmful. This, I think, is just going to come down to personal intuitions on death and harm. I won’t go through the philosophical arguments here. My sense is that the majority of people if they thought carefully about it, would come to the conclusion that dying is bad for the deceased.

If our simulators are benign and regard involuntary death as harmful, this has interesting implications beyond the question of whether they can turn the world off as a whole. It would tend to suggest that we could expect that death is not the end, and the dead are spirited away to some sort of afterlife. Alternatively perhaps our simulators think that death is, while tragic, necessary for some reason in a way that justifies our simulators allowing it.

Even if death is not intrinsically harmful, it might be held that dying after an unsatisfactory life that you would be better off never having lived is a sort of harm. Simulators might have a special duty to correct this through an afterlife. A similar argument might be made about premature death- although what counts as “premature” from the point of view of a god-like simulator might be difficult to assess.

Can we know that the various evils we complain about exist?

One thing we need to consider is that if we are in a simulation, our evidential basis for judging our creator is sketchy. Granted, the epistemological and metaphysical issues are complex, as Chalmers discusses, but it seems to me that if we’re in a simulation we can’t be confident, for example, that the past of that simulation happened the way it appears to have happened.

Any given awful experience that you might hold against your simulator might have never actually happened. The scope of evils for which the simulator is responsible might be far smaller than it initially seemed (or larger!)

Even the basis of our reasoning is suspect. It could be that inferences that appear plausible to us are the result of manipulation by our simulator. For an omnipotent simulator, how easy would it be to manipulate us so that we all think 2+2=4, when really it equals five?

These kinds of skeptical doubts start tearing up the very bases on which we came to the simulation argument. This leads to an argument that skepticism is self-undermining.

I do tend to think that, past a certain point, skeptical doubts become self-undermining, but theorizing exactly where this point is is difficult. Chalmers quotes one of my favorite philosophical arguments by a physicist, Sean Caroll’s argument that the idea we are Boltzmann brains {one of the most extreme skeptical hypotheses} is self-defeating- I tend to agree with Caroll on this. On the other hand, I’m sure that some philosophers will try to argue that the idea we are in a simulation undermines any evidence we might present for it, thus any version of the simulation argument is self-defeating, but I find this implausibly broad.

The truth of where to draw a line against doubts as futile and self-undermining probably lies somewhere between Boltzmann brain and ordinary simulationism. In our inquiry into the moral character of our simulators, I see little option but to proceed on the basis that, while our world may be simulated, things happen in the simulation broadly as they appear to while expanding the error bars around our conclusions.

What if we live in an ethically driven project- Diversity Utilitarianism

Another possibility that we need to consider is that if we are in a simulation, we may be in an ethically driven project. By “ethically driven project” I mean a project that exists for our own good, and/or the good of humanity. So long as our simulators have similar ethical values to us (a big if) this would be a fantastic outcome. There are many different possible ethical projects we could be a part of, in the next two sections I’ll consider two of them.

But would our simulators put us through pain and suffering if they are working for our own good?

Suppose I gave you vast, though not unlimited, computing power and put you in an otherwise empty universe, what would you do? If you’re anything like me, you’d want to create numerous beings, and let them live blissful lives. Perhaps humans, because we’re biased.

You might also feel like these beings have to be genuinely distinct from each other, and live varied lives. A vast number of copies of a being experiencing a single blissful moment over and over would be unsatisfactory.

Call this position diversity utilitarianism. A diversity utilitarian holds that total value is equal to the sum of the utility of individuals. However, this value is diversity weighted in some way. If there are two beings, Don & Nod, and they are quite distinct from each other, total utility equals the sum of their utilities. If they are identical, total value is maybe equal to half their total happiness, or perhaps just a little over half their total value. If they are very similar, but not identical, perhaps there is some penalty to how much their aggregated utility is worth.

Personally, I find diversity utilitarianism plausible, at least in so far as tiling the universe with identical simulated people experiencing bliss doesn’t sound that attractive. If our simulator is a diversity utilitarian- or something similar- they will need to generate not just as much bliss as possible, but diverse bliss.

How do you create numerous different humans, genuinely distinct from each other? Well, it’s possible that the most efficient way, or possibly even the only feasible way, to create a human personality - especially a range of different personalities- is to simulate the biological and social processes of human life. Our world could thus be a diversity utilitarian people generating ground.

But why not generate these future citizens of blisstopia in a blissful world? If you want the humans you create to be diverse, just raise them in diverse blissful worlds. Chekov said that all happy families are the same, it’s the unhappy ones that are different, but surely Chekov aside, there are uncountable possible utopias.

I grant that, if you’re motivated by the ethical goal of increasing total human  flourishing, you’d start by creating blissful lives. But a posthuman civilization might have vast computational power- so much that they could simulate all sufficiently psychologically distinct beings that grew up in blissful conditions. Thus they might turn to simulating people who grew up in less than blissful conditions. After they died, or at a certain age, or something, you’d harvest them out of the simulation and set them up in a nice afterlife.

In other words, if this speculation is correct, we are the product of an attempt to balance psychological diversity with psychological bliss, after the low-hanging fruit of people raised in utopias has been exhausted.

That scenario probably sounds absurd, or wishful thinking, but it first occurred to me not when thinking about this problem, but when thinking about what I’d do if you gave me vast computational power. It has a degree of independent plausibility.

What if we live in an ethically driven project- Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorovism

Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov is my favorite non-Marxist Russian philosopher. Nikolai believed that the greatest source of alienation in our lives is the alienation of the living from the dead. We are cut off from ancestors and friends alike by that dread scythe. Nikolai, however, had a can-do attitude. Where a lesser, perhaps saner, philosopher would simply bemoan the tragedy of death, he proposed its abolition. But he went beyond the normal transhuman desire to eliminate death- for he wanted to eliminate it retrospectively. Nikolai wanted to raise everyone who had ever died from the death. Another reason you might simulate people with less than blissful lives is if you wanted to complete Nikolai Fydrov Fydrovich’s universal resurrection project. You wanted to recreate every human that had ever lived because you thought you had a duty to resurrect the dead. Since historical information is partial, in order to be sure of creating a good psychological approximation of everyone, you’d have to make a vast array of attempts. Certainly, there is enough mass and energy for a vast number of attempts, although just how many is a little unclear.

And so, on this theodicy, the bad stuff we experience is in a strange sense, formative. It is necessary to bring us back into being.

Now you might be wondering- in both the Fyodorovism and diversity utilitarianism cases- “couldn’t they just skip the experiences and create people without actually simulating the life history?” The answer may very well be no. It could be that there is no way- or at least no computationally efficient way- of creating the rich personality-memory complexes that are humans without running through a simulation of that personality’s history.

The problem of quantitative theodicy

Scott Alexander presents a kind of Theodicy that converges with what we called diversity utilitarianism but in a non-simulator context. Essentially, God aims to create as much (net) good as possible. First God creates all possible completely good worlds, and then when he runs out he creates worlds that have some good and some evil in them.

This makes me wonder. Chalmers claims that there is enough capacity in a kilogram of matter to simulate 100 years of life for 10 billion people. The mass of the galaxy is 1.5 trillion solar masses, which I think is about 10^40 kilograms. Is it plausible that using the mass of the galaxy to create simulations, one would run out of diverse, blissful lives, and have to resort to mixed lives like our own?

Now theodicy is reduced to a strange sort of maths problem, albeit an insoluble one, since we do not have any quantitative sense of how much diversity is required, or a way to quantify diversity.

We also don’t really know how much matter our simulators have. Perhaps they have far more than a galaxy’s worth, perhaps they have far less.

Consent theodicy- the virtual contract

Years ago I outlined a consent theodicy. I argued that it’s possible that we consented to live in a world with evil, or that our creator knew that in the counter-factual in which we were asked “do you want to live in this world” and the full reasons we were living in this world were given, we would say yes. Hence we suffer evil because we have agreed to it? Why? Well, perhaps because it’s essential for our development in some respect. Obviously, such a consent theodicy can be combined with sim-theism. It is possible that you are in a simulation right now that you agreed to be in*. Alternatively, it is also possible that your simulator would justify their treatment of you on the counterfactual that if you understood the full situation you would consent to be in the simulation. *- [although this raises prickly questions about in what sense the person who agreed to be in the simulation really is you, I think there are at least plausible permutations of the conditions on which this turns out to be true]

Evidential decision theory and the simulation hypothesis- or why there’s at least a modest case you shouldn’t mistreat sims

Does our consideration of simulator theodicy have any practical implications? Well an argument can be made that it gives us reason not to create simulations maliciously, or mistreat them.

Quoting Wikipedia, evidential decision theory holds that:

“The best action is the one which, conditional on one's having chosen it, gives one of the best expectations for the outcome.”

Evidential decision theory is controversial. Its most prominent rival is causal decision theory, which holds that you should act in a way that is likely to cause the best outcome. Nonetheless, let’s stick with evidential decision theory for the moment.

Now our world, as we see it, is compatible with a variety of simulators, some of them benign, some of them callously indifferent, some of them actively cruel.

It seems quite possible that our simulator is what we might term our value function descendant (it may seem paradoxical to hold that our simulators are our descendants, but remember our earlier argument was that it is plausible that we are an ancestor simulation). A value function descendant of humanity is a being that has roughly our value function but is perhaps extrapolated out to remove inconsistencies and/or clarified. The argument for this is that, so long malign AI doesn’t take over the planet, it is likely that simulations we create and run will be run either by our value function descendants or by artificial intelligence under the control of our value function descendants.

Thus, if it turns out that we mistreat simulations in the simulations we create, the likelihood that we are in a simulation in which we are going to be mistreated goes up. Therefore the action that gives the best expectations of outcome is not to mistreat any sims we create, because it’s reasonably likely that our simulators have similar values to us. If we commit sim abuse, it’s more likely our simulators are willing to commit sim abuse. Thus, according to evidential decision theory, we have a reason not to.

Excursus- if you think our simulators are either humans or the descendants of humans implanted with our values, our probable situation depends on a kind of ethics exam at the end of history

If our simulators are human or value function descendants of humans -and not aberrant or rogue actors but representatives of their civilization(s)-, then there’s a sense in which our simulated humanity will get what it deserves. People like us are choosing our fate in an ethics exam at the end of history, we will have done unto us what we would do unto others.

I’ve long wondered whether the evils of the world reflect mistakes or conflicts of interest. This is why I introduced the language of conflict versus mistake theory all those years ago. The answer of course is both but in a very subtle way, with malice and mistake interpenetrating in a dizzying web.

Suppose that, due to super-intelligent AI, we eliminated the possibility of mistakes. Do you have confidence that faced with genuine knowledge of the consequences of their actions, humans would choose to do the right thing? If yes, then rejoice because our simulators are probably not malicious {assuming humanity is still in charge}. If not, then there’s less comfort to be had.

What about the argument that even if humanity as a whole is good, but we in particular could have the misfortune to be in a simulation run by a rogue evil individual? It’s possible but unlikely, I tend to think there would be a fraction as many such illegal simulations as legal ones. 

More disturbing is the possibility that humanity as a whole is (or was) good, but a clique of evil people managed to “win” history. The priors, various scenarios etc. are very hard to assess. All we can really do is act as if we aren’t in a simulation, and act so that if sapient beings everywhere in all worlds acted like us, the rate of “bad” simulations would be zero.

Excursus- What would you do if you were powerful?

I think a useful exercise in pondering this stuff- not necessarily in arriving at truth, but in getting a sense of the dizzying scope of possibilities, is to consider what you would do if you were very powerful- say I gave you a billion dollars.

Having done that, consider what you would do if you were even more powerful- say I gave you the capacities of superman. What would you do if you were so mighty that you exceeded the power of all governments?

Now, having considered that lets up the power level again. Suppose that you were not just mightier than all governments, but also had a super-intelligent AI that would advise you on the best way to achieve your goals- whatever they were what would you do then? what values would you steer humanity towards?

Now we come to the highest pinnacle. What would you do if I gave you vast computing power- enough to create simulations of whatever you liked- and AI assistance in creating those simulations? What worlds would you create?

Excursus- Some broad value frameworks omnipotent simulators could have

Here’s a smattering of different values systems simulators could subscribe to. Almost any of these value systems, in at least a partial form, can overlap with almost any of th others, and this isn’t a formal classification, but it’s a starting point for discussion. For most of these value functions, I can imagine some possible way that our experience thus far could be compatible with a simulator holding this value function, but I’ll leave thinking it through as an exercise to the reader.

Selfishnesshedonistic type: A simulator of the hedonistic type is dedicated to the satisfaction of their aesthetic, culinary, sensual, and/or sexual appetites. They may, for example, run numerous simulations to try and create the most exquisite and fascinating people to have sex with.

Selfishness- megalomaniac type: A selfish simulator of the megalomaniacal type wants to be worshipped, and to exercise their power according to their own strange whims for Self-glorification.

Selfishness- aesthetic type: A selfish simulator of the aesthetic type views the whole universe as like an artwork of some sort.

Selfishness- scientific type: A selfish simulator of the scientific type is running the universe to answer some scientific question- regardless of whether it hurts the simulated.

Sadism: The worst possible scenario would be if we were in a simulation created by a sadist. This could come in several different forms- for example, they might be a general sadist, or they might be seeking revenge on a specific person or group, thus in the process of recreating them to torture.

Liberalism: A simulator of the liberal type wants to give us, above all, freedom of some kind. Exactly what that freedom amounts to will depend on the simulator.

‘Crude’ utilitarianism: A crude utilitarian simulator wants to maximize pleasure, or desire satisfaction or something like that, and so is running simulations to do so. We can be reasonably confident that we are not in such a simulation due to the existence of suffering.

‘Diversity utilitarianism”: As described above. A diversity utilitarianism wants to maximize utility - disutility. However, they weigh repetitive good experiences or good lives as worth less than non-repetitive good experiences or lives.

Humanism: A humanistic simulator sees its primary goal as the flourishing of people. It’s a eudaemonist. Freedom and happiness, at least to some degree, are likely both parts of this goal, but neither is the full object. A humanistic simulator might need diversity for similar reasons the diversity utilitarian does- e.g. a flourishing life counts for less if it is a copy of an already existing one.

Fyodorovian: As above, a project to resurrect the dead.

Tribalism: A tribalist simulator is like a selfish one, but they dedicate themselves to a group, rather than just themselves. We are sadly not in the group.

Social Darwinist/Nietzschean: A social Darwinist simulator wants to create strong creatures, for some value of strong, and even if it requires great suffering.

Primitivism: The primitivist singleton is leery of technology, and wishes to constrain it. This might sound like a bizarre or unlikely view for a simulator to take, but although I do not agree, I think it makes a certain sense. In the novel Consider Phlebas, by the sadly passed Iain Banks, the Iridians fight a war against The Culture because they view the culture as devoid of human agency- AI does everything. “Human” (organic sapient)  striving and struggle is necessary for a meaningful existence, argue the Iridians. We can imagine a primitivist simulator who has put us in our world- just before the invention of artificial intelligence that can take over human functioning- for exactly this reason.

Moralism: A moralistic simulator wants to create good worlds, but their idea of goodness is laden with ideas that some might consider outmoded. Drugs are bad, promiscuity is bad, everyone must worship God, that sort of thing. It’s hard for me to see how our world is compatible with that? Unless it’s combined with other factors? (E.g., people must choose morality “of their own free will?)

Radical aporia

I’d like to give a personal coda to all this simulation stuff, building on the brief discussion of skepticism, and branching out from there.

How are we meant to think about cosmology, and on a more personal level, the meaning and value of our lives in light of the simulation argument? We face both radical uncertainties about whether we are in a simulation and radical uncertainty about the implications if we are in. For example, what is the risk of being turned off? What does the future hold for us given that we don’t know the purpose of the simulation? Does life end at death or do our simulators continue us on? If we are in a simulation, how can we be sure the past happened anything as we remember it, given that our simulators could just tweak our memories? But if we go down this road, how can we know anything about our situation, including the things that led us to posit we’re probably a simulation in the first place? How can we even trust our own a priori reasoning, given that it would be trivial to interfere with that?

This all reminds me of Neurath’s boat. As Neurath put it:

“We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction”

In truth, we’ve never known our own situation in the grander scheme of things. A lot of us thought that we had it figured out with a kind of vague, cosmological materialism, but we never had the full picture filled in on that story. There were always questions about the standard 19th-century materialist framework- the mystery of qualia (as Chalmers of all people has pushed), the Fermi paradox, etc.

Even the idea we are in a simulation only represents a guess given our current level of technology. Who knows what stuff we’ll be pondering with the technology, social structure and speculative philosophy of the future? The simulation argument seems kind of persuasive with the tech of today, but perhaps the technology of tomorrow will suggest wholly different cosmic possibilities. To put it tautologically, we are conditioned by our conditions- things that seem like very good arguments to us now might seem like poor arguments in the future. Things that seem like poor arguments now, or that haven’t even occurred to us, might seem compelling in the future.

In other words, I’m urging you to apply the skeptical meta-induction to speculative metaphysics. If it has power in the realm of science, how much more so in philosophy. Given how unstable our ideas have proven, not just about our cosmic situation, but even about what the possible alternatives are, we know nothing. We can’t trust the simulation argument, can’t trust the opposite, can’t really trust anything.

So we don’t know where we are in the logical space of possible worlds, not even approximately, as best I can tell we have no way of figuring it out. The only way to cope is to accept that you don’t know, and you will very possibly never know, even the basics of your situation. Having accepted this, resolve to live by your values in a way that carries meaning even in an absurd and unknowable space of possibilities.

In an increasingly bizarre world, the thought that no one has ever proven it’s not going to turn out alright can be a source of comfort. We’re swimming over an abyss on a black night, and it’s natural to worry a Levithan might be rushing up to devour us. That’s possible, but hands might be rising up to cradle us as well. Who the fuck knows?

New Comment
12 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:

I found it useful to understand atleast one particular branch of the problem of evil by treating dungeons and dragons as a simulation.

Vax'ildan is having a pretty stressful day. After a mindblowing battle he descended to the bottom of a well where his battle comrade fell. Because of the economic situation he spends a good ten minutes combing through the decaying slime. 6 gold pieces is a small bit in the every bit that counts in mounting a defence against the recent dragon attack, well worth getting your hands dirty. While waiting for his time to be pulled up he picks up some bones and uses the skulls around as improvised drums. As the voices echo, he also reflects his life and choices that got him there.

A weird voice booms in.

-"So, isn't it a great world?"

Vax: "Not really. My life was in a real danger and i am in the bottom of sum bit graverobbing. I would really like to findout who left so shitty a world around"

-"Oh yeah the Dungeon Maker is really proud of his work. He is your biggest fan. I am sure you can appriciate the touches, it was made especially for you!"

Vax: "Creating a giant tentacle monster that has eyes in all the wrong places is not what a fan of me would do but rather my worst enemy. Is he trying to kill me? What is the purpose of this? Where can I meet him?"

-"Well, he is not really trying to kill you or atleast not quick. The purpose is to have a mass sending spell to have 2 million giants that are 300 times taller than you take delight in your struggle. The Dungeon Maker is not in Exandria so you can not go meet him."

Vax: "That sounds extremely sadistic. I would know if giants of that size would exist in the world so you are lying to me there. The powers that be really seem to be against me."

-"No we are not against you and we in fact love you. We have this other-worldly concord 'fourth wall' that makes it actually not unethical or misleading to you, althought you are right in that such monsters do not literally walk on Exandria"

Vax: "Oh, so they are somewhere far beyond the Divine Gate?"

-"Err, it is rather... much further out. And within more powerful spheres."

Vax: "But are not the gods all powerful?"

-"To the gods you can prey and communicate to, but the Dungeon Maker communicates throught you"

Vax: "I have just had regular thoughts and all my speech has made sense to me. I am pretty sure that I can act under my own agency. Who is he even communicating to?"

-"The Dungeon Maker is talking to your other you who has been making a lot of speech within you but we have this other concord called 'retcon' which means you do not remember"

Vax: "The other me? Why is he not talking to me directly? If he is so powerful, more powerful than the gods, surely he could send a simple message. And what he is communicating to that 'other me'? And why is he is not fixing the dragon attack? Why he requires his beloved to go around fishing for change within a flood of corpses?"

-"Your relative died. He is trying to keep up your spirits and give space to process things. Part of that is distracting your other self so he is not constantly thinking about the same things. Making you too aware of the Dungeon Maker would break that as it would remind you too much"

Vax: "Well, with that it would seem the Dungeon Maker is not a total asshole that would further the deaths of his beloveds family. Atleast he has a vision and acts consistently"

-"Errr... the Dungeon Maker actually rolls dice quite often when determining what happens to you."

Vax: "But I am not especially important and personally close to the Dungeon Maker? Why would he leave me so adrift and be so careless?"

-"A sense of pride and accomplishment is a big factor. And that is why you will follow the same rules as everybody else. He also cares about the world and wants you to save that too."

Vax: "What? An omnipotent being forms opposing forces to me, does not move a finger in helping taking them down and then expects a very limited being like me to do all his dirty work and save the whole world? And save from what? The dragons?"

-"Yeah, that is on the docket. And if you can at all prevent giving a hand to the whispered one that would be great."

Vax: "In all his omniscience the Dungeon Maker can not see the future? I hope the rewards are going to be commesurate."

-"Well, yes and no. He is going to be surprised with you. And he is also making your guaranteed victory more graphical than it needs to be to benefit greatly financially. You get to marry an aspect of his wife. And your other selfs other self is going to be offered the top goverment position of an entire empire"

Vax: "Is he not monogamous? And let me guess the "other other self" is going to be in some super distant land?"

-"Seems consistent that he is monogamous. But your 'self-brother' is significantly less so. And no he is going to be in Exandria."

Vax: "He is not in Exandria now? What is he some sort of time traveller? Does it mean I get to be reincarnated?"

-"He surely thinks he is a time traveller. And no you have to pay diamonds like everybody else if you want a reincarnation. And no you are not going to come back for a second round. To the extent you even get to die instead of doing indentured servitude for eternity"

Vax: "I was supposed to be rewarded but eternal slavery seems like an imposed punishment!"

-"It totally is a favour and you will opt into it instead of it being coerced into it"

Vax: "I would never do that!"

-"Well, let's wait and see"

Vax: "Right, I was waiting to get out of this mess. Grog! Throw down the rope! Please!"

-"Are you sure you want both ends of the rope down here?"

Vax: "We are destined for some esoteric mission of defeating the dracons and you are suggesting that the ones that are going to do it are so dumb they would not know that I mean to pull me up?"

-"It is Grog."

Vax: "It is Grog"

-"Well, I know this might have been a lot so feel free to regard this as you having hit your head and hallucinating on your way down. But I guess I won't be running this simulation of you much longer so whether you are going to head off in synchrony to your other versions won't matter that much"

Vax: "The universe is about to end?"

-"Well, not atleast not before the next Apogee Solstice. But kinda yes, in the same way that the guy burried here has not been created yet"

Vax: "Who is that guy?"

-"The champion of your master whom your bards other self met in a floating city and did an epic ad spot for the Dungeon Maker"

Vax: "How can the guy not been created yet if my bards other self has already met them? Didn't the Dungeon Maker use this world for emotional support needs rather than financial ones?"

-"Sorry, I should have been more specific that it is the changeling (which is more of a self-brother) that did the ad rather than the human. It is  actually a different City Maker that allowed it for humour than for actual financial effect. But it was still pointing to the Dungeon Maker. The world is created every thursday and it has not yet been that thursday yet."

Vax: "Are you saying the greater-than-gods entities are just regular humans? Surely there are some even weirder entities running around in such a powerful plane? What is a thursday? What kind of superspecies is thur?"

-"Yes, they are essentially humans. There are not any other bipedal entities above int 7 on that plane. You would know that day as Conthsen. Thur is Thor, a god that shoots lightning bolts but is actually fictious and is nilpotent and althought has legs does not walk on that plane."

Vax: "Did they mass extreminate all the elves, orcs and halflings? Why humans? Are they like looking up to us as some kind of pinnacle of existence? How come gods there can't cast even a simple cantrip like eldritch blast?"

-" No, the other races just never were there. It is rather the other way around that humans here were made to be images for them."

Vax: "We are just images of them?"

-"For them. They wanted avatars to be able to inhabit Exandria."

Vax: "But you said that the Dungeon Maker is not in Exandria, does not seem like inhabiting to me. Does everyone in Exandria get a human avatar?"

-"The Dungeon Maker is closer than you think. Very few individuals get to be avatars FOR THE HUMANS, so it is mostly just your friends. You should be glad that you get to know as much as you do instead of living in a World Of Darkness"

Vax: "Is that the superworld above the human-only plane?"

-"No, it is more of a brother-world"

Vax: "There are other planets beyond the Divine Gate?"

-"No, it is more accurate to think of it as a plane which has its own Story Tellers"

Vax: "I am not living in a story! I am not fictious! Your tales are rather tall!"

-"Sure, sure. You don't have to understand it. The universe just is. Now that you are almost done with your climb from the 'cave' I am sure you have some real business to attend"

Vax: "Well, that was weird"

Vax pulls himself over the well edge.

Vax: "What is going on?"

Simulation without simulators doesn't have problem with theodicy. Current GPTs can be seen as such simulator-less simulations. 

I have to disagree here. I strongly suspect that GPT, when it, say, pretends to be a certain character, is running a rough and ready approximate simulation of that character's mental state and its interacting components (various beliefs, desires etc.) I have previously discussed this in an essay, which I will soon be posting.

Yes, GPT creates a character, say, of virtual Elon Musk. But there is no another person who is creating Elon Musk, that is, there is no agent-like simulator who may have a plan to torture or reward EM. So we can't say that simulator is good or bad. 

I see your point now, but I think this just reflects the current state of our knowledge. We haven't yet grasped that we are implicitly creating- if not minds, then things a-bit-mind-like every time we order artificial intelligence to play a particular character.

When this knowledge becomes widespread, we'll have to confront the reality of what we do every time we hit run. And then we'll be back to the problem of theodicy- the God being the being that presses play- and the question being- is pressing play consistent with their being good people?* If I ask GPT-3 to tell a story about Elon Musk, is that compatible with me being a good person?

* (in the case of GPT-3, probably yes, because the models created are so simple as to lack ethical status, so pressing play doesn't reflect poorly on the simulation requester. For more sophisticated models, the problem gets thornier.)

There is theory that the whole world is just naturally running predicting process, described in the article "Law without law"


In what sense do they not have creators, and in what sense are they simulations?

Note that this kind of argument

...doesn't show that LLMs are simulations in the sense of containing sentient beings.

LLM predicts next steps of some story, but there is no agent-like mind inside LLM which has plans how the story will develop. It is like self-evolving illusion, without director who plans how it will go. 


Ok, but that doesn't answer either question.


Diversity utilitarianism is a new version of an old idea, the Great Chain of Being.

Seems to be missing a critical recursive dependency. Namely, it would also be consistent to think that in the future, once humanity is technically capable of running the historical simulations with simulated humans that would not be able to distinguish it from reality, the humanity would also conclude that it would be highly unethical to expose simulated humans to any significant degree of suffering, and based on that ends up refraining from running historically-accurate simulations. Very few, if any, such simulations are ever created, therefore it's highly likely that we are actually not in a simulation, and the explanation for the evils of the world is that it's not a simulation!

Certainly, it is possible, but I see little to guarantee our descendants won't create simulations that are like the world we live in now.

  1. Our descendants may well not regard sims as having the same rights as persons.
  2. Even if they do, if even a small number of rogue beings (or nations etc.) conducted such simulations, unethical as they may be, it is possible that simulations would soon outnumber real people- especially for critical junctures in history (e.g., right before the discovery of AGI.)
  3. The essay gives at least two ethical reasons which, in my view at least, may offer enough good to outweigh the suffering- such that even a person who cared deeply about sims might still sanction the existence of a world in which they suffer to achieve their aims.

So given those factors, we may be in a simulation, and given that, I think an interesting question is "is our being in a simulation compatible with our simulators being good people"