It has been postulated that our reality might in fact be a virtual reality. That is, some unknown agency, "The Others", have created a computer simulation and we 'exist' as part of that overall simulation. One objection to that scenario is that in order to exactly simulate our Cosmos (including ourselves) we would require a computer the size of our Cosmos with the sort of crunch power that could duplicate our Cosmos on a one-to-one basis, which is absurd. The flaw is that realistic simulations can be made without resorting to a one-on-one correlation.
WHY ARE WE A SIMULATION?
Here's another thought on the Simulation Hypothesis which postulates that we 'exist' as a configuration of bits and bytes, not as quarks and electrons. We are virtual reality - simulated beings. Here is the "why" of things.
Really real worlds (which we presume ours to be) are simulating virtual reality worlds - lots and lots and lots of them - so the ratio of virtual reality worlds to really real worlds is lots, and lots and lots to one. That's the main reason why we shouldn't presume that ours is a really real world! If one postulates "The Other", where "The Other" might be technologically advanced extraterrestrials creating their version of video games, or even the human species, the real human species from what we'd call the far future doing ancestor simulations, the odds are our really real world is actually a really real virtual reality world inhabited by simulated earthlings (like us).
Now an interesting aside is that we tend to assume that "The Other" are biological entities (human or extraterrestrial) who like to play "what if" games using computer hardware and software. Of course "The Other" could actually be highly advanced A.I. (artificial intelligence) with consciousness playing "what if" scenarios.
SIMULATIONS AND THE NEED FOR COMPUTER CRUNCH POWER
Anyway, each individual simulated world requires just so many units of crunch power. We humans have thousands of video games each ONE requiring a certain amount of computing crunch power. There may be in total is an awful lot of computing crunch power going on when it comes to these video games collectively, but what counts is the number of video games divided by the number of computers playing them. Not all video games are being played on just one computer at the same time. If you have a ten-fold increase in video games, and a ten-fold increase in the number of computers they are played on, there's no need for ever increasing crunch power unless the nature of the game itself demands it. Video games today probably demand more crunch power than video games from twenty years ago, but we've to date met that requirement.
Now if a really real world created thousands of video games, and the characters in each and every one of those video games created thousands of video games and the characters in those video games created thousands of their video games, okay, then ever increasing crunch power within that original really real world is in demand. That's not to say that that ever increasing need for crunch can't be met however. But that's NOT the general scenario that's being advocated. For the immediate here and now, let's just stick with one really real world creating thousands of uniquely individual simulated virtual reality worlds (i.e. - video games). Ockham's Razor suggests that one not overly complicate things unnecessarily.
That said, a variation on Murphy's Law might be: The ways and means to use computing crunch power expands to meet the crunch power available and is readily on tap.
Sceptics seem to be assuming here that if you can simulate something, then ultimately you will pour more and more and more and more crunch power (as it becomes available) into that which you are simulating. I fail to see how that follows of necessity. If you want to create and sell a video game, if you put X crunch power into it you will get Y returns in sales, etc. If you put 10X crunch power into it, you might only get 2Y returns in sales. There is a counterbalance - the law of diminishing returns.
Video gamers may always want more, but when the crunch power of the computer and the software it can carry and process exceeds the crunch power of the human gamer (chess programs / software anyone), then there's no point in wanting even more. A human gamer might be able to photon-torpedo a Klingon Battlecruiser going at One-Quarter Impulse Power, but a massive fleet of them at Warp Ten might be a different starship scenario entirely. Gamers play to win, not to be universally frustrated and always out performed by their game.
It makes no economic sense at all to buy and get a monthly bill for 1000 computer crunch units and only need and use 10.
But the bottom line is that computer crunch power is available for simulation exercises as we have done. Anything else is just a matter of degree. If us; them; them of course being "The Other" or The Simulators.
LIMITS TO GROWTH
Are there limits to crunch power? Well before I get to agreeing to that, which I ultimately do, are opponents assuming that crunch power won't take quantum leaps, perhaps even undreamed of quantum leaps in the generations to come? I assume for starters that we in the early 21st Century don't have enough computing power to simulate the Cosmos at a one-to-one scale. Would quantum computers alter this analysis? I'm no expert in quantum computers - I've just heard the hype. Still, are available crunch power sceptics' game to predict what might or might not be possible in a 100 years; in a 1000 years? Still, the ability to increase computing crunch power could go on for a while yet. Isn't the next innovation going from a 2-D chip to a 3-D chip?
Still, Moore's Law (computing crunch power doubles every 18 to 24 months) can't go on indefinitely and I wasn't aware that I.T. people have postulated that Moore's Law could go on "forever". That's a bit of a stretch.
Okay, even if we accept that fact that we're all greedy and want more, more, more and even more crunch power - and ditto by implication our simulators - then there will ultimately be limits. There might be engineering limits like dealing with heat production. There may be resolution limits. There may be technological limits as in maybe quantum computing isn't really feasible or even possible. There will be economic limits as in you may want to upgrade your PC but your budget doesn't allow for it; you ask for a new research grant to buy a new supercomputer and get turned down, and so on.
Perhaps our highly advanced simulators have hit the ultimate computer crunch power wall and that's all she wrote; she could write no more. There's probably a 'speed of light' barrier equivalent limiting computer crunch power. Then too, our simulators have competing priorities and have to divide the economic / research pie.
I've never read or heard about any argument that the Simulation Hypothesis assumes ever and ever and ever increasing crunch power. It assumes that the computer / software programmer has sufficient crunch power to achieve their objective, no more, no less.
In other words, the computer / software simulator is going to be as economical with the bits and bytes as is as possible to achieve that's still compatible with the degree of realism desired. That makes sense.
The bottom line is that our simulated reality just has to be good enough to fool us. In fact, if we 'exist' as a simulation, then from the get-go you have experienced nothing but a simulated 'reality' and thus you wouldn't be able to recognize really real reality even if it clobbered you over the head!
THE ONE-TO-ONE FALLACY
There's one obvious objection to those who propose that there's not enough computer power to create 100% realistic simulations. Here realistic means a one-to-one relationship. But such a degree of realism isn't necessary and we might not even not even be able to conceive of our simulator's really real reality since we've known no other reality other than the one we exist in right now. We have no other reality to compare ours to other than other realities (i.e. - simulations of our reality) that we create, which of course includes our dreams and say films.
The degree of realism now possible with CGI is in fact equal to the actual degree of realism we experience in our everyday world; with everyday experiences. I'm sure you must have seen over the last five years movies that had loads of CGI embedded in them, and even while knowing that what you were seeing was CGI, you couldn't actually detect apart the simulation (say the dinosaurs in "Jurassic World") from what was actually real (like the actors). Still, you have little trouble telling the difference between film action, even 3-D film action, and live action.
Maybe in this reality you can tell the difference between a film and live action, but what if that live action was as simulated as the film? If you have spent your entire existence as live action virtual reality (without knowing it of course) and now and again watching virtual reality film which you can distinguish from your live action virtual reality, then you can have absolutely no idea of the nature of the really real reality where our simulators reside and of the simulators themselves (although it might be a best guess to speculate that there will be a lot of similarities) and how much crunch power they have devoted to their hobby / gaming / research (we could be a grand "what if" sociological experiment). Maybe their Moore's Law gives them in theory 1000 units of crunch power, but they only need or can afford 100 units. Just because you might be able to afford a fleet of sports cars, several yachts, a 28 bedroom mansion, a half-dozen holiday homes and a half-yearly round-the-world holiday and can buy all of the women you might want doesn't of necessity mean you will spend that money.
Anyway, my objection to the one-on-one objection is that in a simulation, not everything has to be simulated to an exacting standard. The computing power required to make our immediate environment seem really real is vastly different than what is required to make the Universe outside of our immediate environment seem really real. I mean a planetarium does a great job of simulating all the sorts of things a planetarium simulates, but you wouldn't claim that a planetarium requires the same amount of bits and bytes to simulate that which are required for the really real object it is simulating. Two really real galaxies in collision would be composed of way more bits and bytes than required by astronomers simulating two galaxies in collision on their PC. The astronomers don't need that extra crunch power. So, perhaps 90% of our simulator's computer power is devoted to making our immediate neighbourhood (i.e. - the solar system) seem really realistic, and the other 10% simulates everything external to our immediate neighbourhood. Further, even within our solar system you don't have to simulate each and every particle, atom and molecule that would - in a really real solar system - reside inside say the Sun or Jupiter or even the Earth. Things that you may think need to be computed may in fact not need to be computed in order to achieve the goal of making things seem really real to us.
In our 'reality', when any scientist postulates some theory or hypothesis or other, they ignore many possible variables. A biologist doing "what if" evolution scenarios probably doesn't concern himself with each and every possible astronomical scenario that may impact on evolution at each and every possible moment. You gotta draw the line somewhere.
The only one-on-one simulation I can think of that we do would be in the realm of particle and quantum physics. Simulating two protons smashing together is about as one-on-one as you can get.
THE HOLODECK AND THE SIMULATION HYPOTHESIS
To date, when talking about our virtual reality, the Simulation Hypothesis, I've pretty much had in mind the idea that our programmers, The Others otherwise known as The Simulators, were monitoring us pretty much like we monitor our simulations - from a distance on a monitor. But what if The Simulators actually walk among us? That is, their simulation is more akin to a Star Trek holodeck than a standard video game.
We have always tended to immerse ourselves in virtual reality, sometimes involuntarily as in our dreams and dream-worlds, but more often as not voluntarily, from telling ghost stories around the camp-fire; to reading novels; to watching soap, horse or space operas; even just by daydreaming. In more recent times that immersion has extended to video and computer games, but usually from the outside looking in at a monitor while fiddling with a mouse or a joystick or other controls. You sometimes quasi-immerse yourself inside virtual reality as in creating an avatar hence creating a virtual copy of yourself (or make-believe copy of yourself) and interacting with other virtual people via their avatars on-line, as in "Second Life". But what we really desire, truth be known, is to actually immerse our real selves into virtual reality scenarios.
KEEP THINGS SIMPLE, STUPID
A training simulation needs to be only as realistic as is required to train the trainee into perfecting whatever skills are required. Take a driver training simulation package. Apart from the fact that the simulation can be almost of average animation standard, the images constantly shift - the turnpike software retreats into the background as one turns off onto a country road and new software is now to the fore. The image constantly changes and so does the software required for that image. The computer only has to crunch a fraction of the overall software at any one time.
Taking Planet Earth, the number of particles, atoms, molecules, etc. requiring simulation hasn't changed very much over geological time. For example, there's no need any more to simulate dinosaurs or trilobites so those bits and bytes are now freed up for other and newer species. If you have simulated Planet Earth, you haven't needed to pour more and more and more crunch power resources into the simulation since you're dealing with a finite object that is ever recycling those particles, atoms and molecules.
The simulators do not have to simulate each and every elementary particle in their simulation just in case one day their virtual beings (that's us) decide to interact with elementary particles that should be there but aren't. Their simulation software could be tweaked / upgraded as necessary as their simulation virtual reality scenario unfolds. Take Mars. Our simulators could for the longest time just use software that simulated a moving reddish dot in the sky that made strange retrograde motions (loop-the-loops) from time to time. Then the telescope scenario came to pass and the software was upgraded to show features - polar caps, areas of apparent 'vegetation', two moons, dust storms and of course 'canals'. Then came Mariner 4, 6 & 7 and 9 and the simulator's software had to be upgraded again to show close-up features from those fly-by Mariners and Mariner 9 that went into orbit. Then of course came the landers like Viking, and kin and another tweak was required. It's all too easy.
Software past its use-by date can just be deleted - no memory required. If it is ever needed again, well that's just another tweak or upgrade. Your memory has deleted lots of events in your life, but coming across an old letter, photograph, diary, etc. can restore what your brain didn't feel it needed to store any more.
LET'S SIMULATE ROB!
If I put a character, let's call him Rob, into a video game and Rob gets zapped, no guts will appear because I didn't program them in. If we are on the other hand the simulation; characters in the video game not of our making, our guts are there but will appear if and only if the unfolding scenario requires it. The bottom line remains that not all software is front-and-centre at the same time. Further, software can be tweaked as the simulation scenario unfolds, just like we get upgrades to our software on our PC's.
As for having to simulate each and every thing that is required, like Rob's heart, lungs, liver, etc., in any simulation only a part of the whole is active and 'in your face' at any one time. When the scenario demands that something else now has to be 'in your face' instead, well that software is available, but other software now retires to the background until and if it is needed again. In other words, not 100% of the software that comprises the entire simulation is actually front-and-centre at any one time so the computer's ability to cope isn't taxed beyond its means.
I've said above that you do NOT have to do a one-on-one correlation between what is being simulated and the simulation. If I simulate Rob as a character in a video game I don't have to also simulate his heart, lungs, liver, and all of his other internals. That's a big savings in bits and bytes. So the simulated Rob is indeed simpler than any really real Rob, but the simulated Rob does the job as far as video gamers are concerned.
A COSMIC SIMULATION
It's been oft noted that if one is going to simulate one's entire Cosmos in exacting one-on-one detail, then one would need a computer that's as large as the Cosmos that one is trying to simulate in the first place, which is ridiculous. The fallacy lies in the phrase "in exactly one-on-one detail". A simulation doesn't require that amount of exacting detail in order to be realistic. There's many a slight-of-hand short-cut that can be entered into when simulating an entire Cosmos, as in a planetarium for instance. No matter how you slice and dice things, planetariums do an excellent job of simulating the Cosmos.
Still, a Doubting Thomas keeps assuming that to simulate the Cosmos you need a one-to-one correlation, that each and every last fundamental particle in the Cosmos has to be accounted for and simulated in order to have a simulation of the Cosmos. That's not the purpose of simulations. When cosmologists simulate the Cosmos, they are interested in the broad-brush picture. They don't need to know about each and every fundamental particle within the Cosmos in order to understand the broad-brush picture. A simulation is NOT trying to recreate 100% of reality but only those bits and pieces that are of interest. Thus, the bits and bytes required to simulate the Cosmos as required by cosmologists need only be a tiny, tiny fraction of the bits and bytes needed to simulate 100% of the entirety of the Cosmos.
Despite any sceptical position to the contrary, our cosmologists have done simulations of our Cosmos without having to resort to simulating the Cosmos down to dotting the very last 'I' and crossing the very last 'T'.
If scientists want to simulate two galaxies colliding but their research grant doesn't give them unlimited funds for crunch power, then they make do with what their budget allows. In the case of our simulators, maybe they have maxed out their bits and bytes; maybe their expenditure has been minimal - on a shoestring budget. We don't know. We can't know.
I would argue that astronomers / cosmologists have not only simulated possible planetary worlds and whole virtual solar systems but the entire Universe from the Big Bang event on up the line. Of course those simulations are vastly simpler than what they are simulating but they do the job that requires doing.
Extrapolating one level up, if some agency is simulating our Cosmos, or what we perceive as our Cosmos, then that simulation is NOT meant to be a one-on-one replica of their Cosmos. To those entities, that agency, what they have simulated (our Cosmos) is easily achievable because it is NOT a one-to-one representation of their Cosmos, any more than our cosmologists try to simulate one-on-one what they believe is our Cosmos. We think our virtual reality Cosmos is the be-all-and-end-all of all there is when it's just a tiny fraction of really real reality - our simulator's Cosmos.
Of course in one sense we, even as simulations, are a part of The Simulators Cosmos in the same way as our simulations, our virtual realities are part of our Cosmos. We might be the same 'stuff' as in we are a part of The Simulators Cosmos too, which let us say is the Full Monty of all things A to Z. But when The Simulators simulated or built or crafted us (yes, you too), they simplified things and say left out all of the vowels. So yes, we 'exist' in their Cosmos, but in a simplified virtual reality simulation of their Cosmos. In other words, there's no one-on-one correlation.
THE FREE WILL OBJECTION
Now to my mind the only valid objection against the Simulation Hypothesis is that one has absolute free will. That argument absolutely undermines the Simulation Hypothesis. The fly in the ointment is that all anyone need to do is prove to the satisfaction of the rest of the world that they actually have free will, and therefore by extension all humans have free will. Then various web sites and publishing houses can delete free will from their inventory and thus free up a massive amount of data storage space for other topics. Meantime, I can put my time, efforts and energy to better use that pondering over our possible virtual reality.
In conclusion, once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away, well let's just say there existed this technologically advanced civilization who I shall call The Simulators! Let's also say that for The Simulators to simulate one-on-one their own Big Cosmos would require 100,000 units of computing crunch power. Alas, The Simulators only have 100 units of computing crunch power on tap, so obviously they don't try to simulate their own Big Cosmos on a one-to-one basis - in its entirety. However, they do simulate a 100 unit computing crunch power mini-Cosmos. That's us, that's our mini-Cosmos by the way. So we 'exist' in a simulated 100 units of computer crunch power mini-Cosmos. We can in turn maybe manage 1 (one) unit of simulation (within the simulation that we already 'exist' in) computing crunch power. We can no more simulate our simulated mini-Cosmos one-on-one than The Simulators can simulate their Big Cosmos one-on-one. And that's where it all ends, at least for now. Our mini-Cosmos is a simulated mini-Cosmos, simulated by The Simulators in their Big Cosmos. There's no one-on-one identity correlation anywhere to be had, in any Cosmos. Is everything crystal clear now?
Science librarian; retired.
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