Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Games, Simulation and Religion

Sean J. Vaughan headshot by Sean J. Vaughan

Tonight while putting my son to bed I shared some thoughts I have from time to time in terms he could understand...

Virtual Reality

It seems that games will be able to get as realistic as our everyday perceptions. A joint effort between MIT and Harvard has produced rudimentary, synthetic eye interfacing optic nerves with external cameras on eye-glasses. There are several other projects that are working on brain implants for other human-aiding tasks such as allowing quadriplegics to work with a computer. While actual working systems are rudimentary, there don't seem to be any insurmountable physical or technical barriers to interfacing our perceptive organs to synthetic systems.

sketch of Sean J. Vaughan and his son

Using our current perception interfacing agents, joysticks, keyboards, and mice, many people choose to inhabit rich synthetic universes. These universes include Everquest, The Sims, Star Wars Galaxies, Second Life, etc. There are many more.

It is thus easy to imagine a future where we can choose to inhabit a synthetic universe.

From my training in acting and zen, I've found there is a difference to what we think of as acting and what it is to be. One of the main acting guys basically said [good] acting is accepting imaginary circumstance as real and then simply being human.

In zen, we practice kung-ans (Japanese: koans). In a simple sense, these are mind puzzles; for example, one of the most common is, "What is the sound of one hand clapping." These are the lessons taught and learned in Zen. More deeply, these are gates for your self (or soul) to pass through that must be experienced to be answered. There is no room for hesitation, irrelevant thought or acting.

Be it the attainment of life lessons or otherwise, it is easy to imagine a person choosing to embed themselves fully into a simulated universe leaving memories of the real universe behind. Furthermore, for the secret of the real universe to be kept, this simulated universe must only contain others who have fully embedded themselves (i. e., w/o memories of the "real" universe).

At this point, assuming our senses are interfaced and input simulated perfectly and the other players in the synthetic universe are likewise, the synthetic universe is indistinguishable from our own real universe. Also, assuming the rest of our bodies can be simulated (or left behind), that doesn't leave much cause for keeping it around in the real universe.

Astonishingly, if civilization progresses and is able to support a synthetic universe as I've described above, we are likely simulations in a game now.

Ok, so now we have "The Matrix": big deal.

Getting back to my son, he had no response to this. It didn't seem to upset him but I think I succeeded in giving him his first mind fu"¦, er, twist. He was thoughtful about it but didn't have much to say. I may have added to his families' current and future therapy bills but hopefully it's for the good

What my mind's been playing with that I haven't shared with my son (for good reason!) is how religion makes a hell of a lot more sense when given we are living in a simulation. God? He's the fella that created our simulation. Jesus? He used the real universe's Instant Messaging system; yup he was able to get a direct account from here. He's like the first guy that got a gmail account and started inviting the rest of us into the system. Buddha? Whether you're synthetic or not doesn't really change what you are: apples are sweet.

References:

Papers collected under "The Simulation Argument: Are You Living In a Computer Simulation?" Nick Bostrom, PhD; Philosophy Faculty, Oxford University.

General simulated reality info from wikipedia including quality external links.

The Boston Retinal Implant Project.

Everquest.

Star Wars Galaxies.

The Sims.

Second Life.