Elon Musk is considered by many to be one of the smartest humans walking around on the planet. He has a very impressive resume. He is one of the founders of PayPal which is the super successful online platform for sending money to other people by email address. He is also CEO of SpaceX where the mission is to reinvent space travel by lowering the costs and commercializing the process (including colonizing Mars). Finally he is the CEO of Tesla Motors which is in business to advance the electric car (and has done so quite successfully). Elon Musk is an intelligent man.
Which is why I was so intrigued by his recent answer to a philosophical question proposed at a conference questioning whether our existence is essentially “The Matrix”. Also I am very intrigued by his shocking answer that indeed we are living in a Matrix and the odds that we are not living in a Matrix is so concrete that it is “1 in billions” that we are not in a video game.
First and foremost I actually appreciate the fact that Elon Musk thinks about philosophy and metaphysics (where metaphysics is the the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space). I am not too impressed with his “1 in billions” conclusion though.
Here is the interview …
Here is the transcript from the interview …
“The strongest argument for us being in a simulation – probably, being in a simulation, is the following. Forty years ago we had pong. Two rectangles and a dot. That was what games were. Now forty years later we have photo realistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and its getting better every year. Soon we will have virtual reality, augmented reality, etc. If you assume any rate of improvement at all then the games will become indistinguishable from reality. Just instinctual. Even if that rate of advancement drops by 1000 from what it is right now. Then you just say ok lets imagine what it is 10000 years into the future – which is nothing on the evolutionary scale. So clearly we are on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality and those games could be played on any set top box or a PC or whatever and they would probably be billions of such computers or set top boxes it would seem to follow that the odds that we are in base reality is 1 in billions”. – Elon Musk
He then asks “tell me what is wrong with that argument”. I respect Elon for asking what is wrong with his argument. I will now attempt to answer in better fashion than the man put on the spot at the conference who was clearly in over his head.
The first problem with the computer simulation argument is just assuming evolution is unequivocally factual. The media would have us believe you are amongst the craziest of the crazy if you believe the universe is not billions and billions of years old. I am reminded of Stephen Hawking’s goldfish bowl allegory. Stephen Hawking argues that a genius goldfish could tell us some things about the world outside the fish bowl – even though it lives in the fish bowl. Wishful thinking. Even a goldfish in a bowl on the summit of a grandiose mountain could only deduce the physical world for a few visible miles on the horizon and a few visible miles into the sky. A speck of the earth and a speck of the sky would be the observable world of the most privileged goldfish.
So how did the brilliant humans deduce that the universe is billions of years old? Mostly reliance on carbon dating. Let us examine carbon dating briefly just to hammer home a point. Did you know carbon dating relies on an assumption?
A critical assumption used in carbon-14 dating has to do with this ratio. It is assumed that the ratio of 14C to 12C in the atmosphere has always been the same as it is today (1 to 1 trillion). If this assumption is true, then the AMS 14C dating method is valid up to about 80,000 years. Beyond this number, the instruments scientists use would not be able to detect enough remaining 14C to be useful in age estimates. This is a critical assumption in the dating process. If this assumption is not true, then the method will give incorrect dates. – Mike Riddle – https://answersingenesis.org/geology/carbon-14/doesnt-carbon-14-dating-disprove-the-bible/
Scientifically we are no better at understanding our entire universe than the most genius goldfish understanding the entire earth. Would you entertain a brilliant goldfish whom has never left its bowl to tell you about the jungles of Brazil? Would you entertain the wise goldfish on escaping natural predators in the saltwater Pacific Ocean if he has never left its humble 1 gallon of fresh water? Of course not. In another galaxy beyond the Milky Way carbon may decay in 2 minutes compared to 80000 years. Who knows? The Creator knows. We do not. And so this is my first point in weakening the case that there are 1 in billion odds we are not living in a computer simulation. Our understanding of evolution itself relies on assumption.
My second rebuttal is essentially the existence of errors in our world. As one of the original Founders of PayPal Mr. Musk knows a thing or two about artificial intelligence and coding itself. He knows the preciseness of executed code. There are no “errors” in a computer’s decision making. There are errors introduced by humans into code. It is not rare for a human programmer to get an error message when executing code. But it is not the code’s fault. Humans introduce errors into the code. How could that be if we are nothing but code on our own?
Here are some common coding errors a human programmer might run into …
1) Divide by 0 error
2) Array index out of bounds error
3) Variable not defined error
4) Missing an opening / closing bracket
5) Missing a semicolon closing statement
So very simply I ask why are any of us making any errors if our reality is a computer simulation? How do any humans around us make any “mistakes” or “regret” anything in their life? The human condition is full of experiences like “mistakes”, “forgetting”, “regret”, “misinterpretations”, “misunderstandings”, “miscommunications”, “miseducation”, “confusion”, etc. This is a tremendous thing for our computer simulation to be so full of error.
I have one final question. Is the “I” and the “we” and the “you” and the “us” computer simulations as well? Am I to understand that humans are nothing more than soulless lines of the code? Or are we “plugged in” more like the traditional Matrix indicates? Elon did not make that clear to me as a viewer. I would like to hear more about that before I comment further. I just wanted to explain indeed there are a few things that drastically reduce odds from 1 to a billion that we are not living in a video game.
I wrote this post because it is diametrically opposed to my God Math post. And I feel the God Math post has more substance for odds of God existing than a computer simulated video game reality. But I will let the reader decide.