Drowning Your Sims
Last updated: Sep 14, 2020
I think we love this idea that everyone around us is an actor. It’s the premise of (among others) that Matt Damon movie The Bureau and more notably The Truman Show. There’s an oft-repeated (or reposted) anecdote about a man suffering from “Truman Show Delusion” who traveled to New York to see if the Twin Towers had really fallen on 9⁄11, having believed it to be part of his own storyline.
It captures our imaginations in fiction I think because it captures our imaginations in our everyday lives. Some comes from fear—that others are faking their attractions to us, that we are being manipulated—but I believe the rest comes from an insecurity about the quality or sincerity of our own performances:
- Am I doing a good job at work?
- Does X really believe I care about their trouble at home?
- Does Y still think about me sometimes?
And then there’s our tendency to think of ourselves as protagonists or narrativize our own lives, especially as it becomes important for job-seekers to be able to look at our resumes as plot summaries.
I’ve heard the simulation hypothesis framed before, usually with the kind of amusement that’s typical of a paradox (like maybe Roko’s Basilisk or the Ship of Theseus), but the component that really stuck with me this time is that f-sub-p value, “Fraction of all human‐level technological civilizations that survive to reach a posthuman stage.” At the moment, that seems like the limiting factor. It seems very obviously impossible for us (the humans) to reach a point where we could construct (collaboratively??) a planet-sized computer…
If I were to posit a kind of sub-argument about the simulation hypothesis, I might look at those variables about how likely a human society is to become posthuman or how likely a posthuman society is to run ancestor simulations and suggest an economic lens: is there a profit motive for a project like this? What government or corporation would fund it? Is a posthuman society necessarily a post-scarcity one? In some ways it’s easier to imagine substrate independent consciousness than it is to imagine the one hundred years that lead up to the first ancestor simulation. Is there someone’s name on the project? The people who staff the computer: How did they get there? Who are their heroes? What do they eat? (Where is that food grown? Do they get a lunch break to eat it?)
NB: The Girl Chewing Gum reminded me of William H. Whyte’s The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces which is a 1988 documentary with a less fanciful but very similar angle. Whyte’s film is an invitation to the viewer to observe how public spaces are used as well as an illustration of the collective nature of human movement as directed by personal whims and the environment.