the brain in infinite jars

I’ve heard of a theory which sprang up in response to the invention of virtual reality, which posits that since simulating worlds has turned out to be both possible and agreeable to intelligent life, it’s overwhelmingly probable that the world in which we live is also a computer simulation. I suspect that this theory underestimates the needlessness of our own system of reasoning on the scale of all possible universes, but for the moment let’s imagine that it has shown everything it ever hoped to show: its logic is undeniable and the probability of this world being real, while not zero, has been proven to be so arbitrarily close to zero as to make no difference. It is a near certainty that the number of simulated universes within simulated universes is nearly infinite.
We now have absolutely no idea what the ultimate consequences of our actions are, and therefore no way of calculating utility. Maybe the gods aren’t watching us. They started the simulation and then walked away, or died, never to respond to its outcome in any way, never even to see it. And so nothing that we do matters in any ultimate sense. Maybe this world is where the consciousness’ of beings from the world above it go when they dream, and upon waking they’ll have to pay double in suffering for any happiness they experienced during the night, and will be paid double in happiness for any suffering they took on, their participation in a bank of cosmic capitalism. And maybe, unknown to these beings, the level above theirs operates on the same arrangement. Where does it leave us if we are they, given what little we know in this life?
It leaves us precisely where we started. Any universe which is simulated, and not real, has no way of determining what is in the universe above it, and therefore no chance of determining what is ultimately useful. Only a universe which is real contains the necessary conditions to calculate benefit and detriment. (Every universe may contain these conditions, but only in a real universe do they imply anything predictable about what is ultimately true.) So a nearly infinite number of zeroes adds up to zero, and a single nonzero positive, even if arbitrarily small, remains greater. In spite of everything, the most rational course of action is still to seek our own happiness; still to assume that the universe is real even though we know that the probability of it being real is nearly zero- and even to do it just in case the universe is real. What we know is that one particular universe (the real universe) relates to ultimate benefit and detriment in a particular way (happiness is happiness, suffering is suffering, ect.), and every other universe relates to ultimate benefit and detriment in an unknown way. We know what one universe contains, but not whether it is the real universe, or some other universe. Since we can extrapolate nothing from the other cases, the only sane course of action is to assume that what the one universe we know of contains is related to ultimate reality in the way that the real universe is.
Why do I bring this up? Because that emotion, which you feel when you think about assuming that the universe is real (which of course will ultimately entail believing that it’s real), solely on the basis of the remote chance at benefit which this assumption affords you and in the face of a nearly infinite improbability; that emotion is the object of philosophy. The more total your commitment to the move, the better its expression, It is the anti-nihilism, the leap of faith, and you can build to it from nearly any starting point, if only you have the will to enact it.


Talk back, yo. :)

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