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My Matrix Answer
TLDR. It's God.
I’ve made light of conversations that entertain the possibility that we exist in a simulation, but I want to be a bit more serious for a moment and explain why I think that way and what might make me change my mind.
The quickest description of my answer is that you are living in your own private Idaho. For those of you unfamiliar with the B-52s I offer you this gift from the 80s. The metaphor works because the only perception you have of the universe comes through your limited senses. Your brain is not getting any other interpretable signals. Not from background radiation, from dark matter, space aliens or supernatural beings. You can only smell, taste, feel, hear and see. You can also imagine and dream, but these are internal creations, not signals from the real world. You easily imagine or dream up a green sky but you cannot change the wiring between your eyes and your brain to actually see a green sky. Nevertheless there is some communications interface between your eyeballs and the part of your brain that processes vision that tells you the sky is blue. But this is not reality. It is a simulation of reality that works for humans. Yes. The simulation is inside your head. In other words you are the space alien sending you messages from outer space but they’re actually from inside your own head. You are god.
This implicates a great deal. The first implication is moral, but before we daydream about those interesting implications, let’s cut to the chase.
Your ability to imagine and dream is limited only by your brain’s throughput capacity. But that limit is real. That is to say the actual kind of Matrix experience that Neo received by plugging him into Dozer’s insta-learning 8 track tape is impossible. You can’t master kung-fu or learn how to pilot a helicopter in a few moments. We simply don’t have the material bandwidth in our brain hardware to make sense of it. We know this because we watch movies at 24 frames per second, and it sustains the illusion of images moving. We listen to MP3s that are downsampled to 128 kilobits per second and it sustains the illusion of instruments playing music. It makes no sense that our brains are capable of processing more data than our senses can provide. They evolved at the same time in cooperation with each other. Speed up the film and its images become a blur. Speed up the tape and its music and speech sounds like gibberish. Past a certain rate they become imperceptible. We cannot hear sounds above 20 kilohertz. We cannot perceive electromagnetic radiation above or below visible light.
Now as our scientific research expands, I expect it to recognize hallucinations as a specie of interesting knots, loops, kinks, filters, transcriptions and shortcuts in the sensory interfaces with our brain. Or maybe the brain literally gets ‘baked’ a little. I understand that Jordan Peterson is quite familiar with the neural pathways of alcohol, but that’s not a simulation either.
The Baseball Analogy
I’m onto a conjecture I first learned this year about how we think. It’s something called Hebbian Theory. Crazy details below. Here’s the analogy explaining out what I’ve been saying above. Your senses are a bottom up phenomenon, always on and always sending signals to your brain. Your mind, the organization of your brain, is a top down phenomenon, always on and always receiving and interpreting signals from your senses and thus giving them meaning. Now analogize those signals as pitches from the mound. Your senses are the pitcher and your mind is behind home plate. There is a sort of coordination between the pitcher and catcher. The catcher, your mind, is telling your senses, the pitcher, what it expects to receive. Most of the time the catcher anticipates correctly, and catches whatever the pitcher throws without getting out of position. But sometimes there’s a wild pitch that is not only not in the strike zone of meaning but impossible for the catcher to put a glove on. When you have a mental disorder it might be a top down disorder. Your mind is catching things that the pitcher hasn’t thrown, you’re delusional. I’m sure the analogy breaks somewhere around here, but there are some wonderful details here, you can make up your own analogies.
Backpropagation & Hebbian Theory
The Paper (https://arxiv.org/pdf/2006.04182.pdf)
Surfing Uncertainty (https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/09/05/book-review-surfing-uncertainty/)
Internal or External Gods
My point here is that these systems of sense and cognition evolved in a very specific way simultaneously, and it’s rather miraculous that we perceive and interpret anything correctly. So what are the chances that every single human born is having their fastballs intercepted by mysterious external forces between the pitcher’s mound and home plate? Well the chances are high if that ‘external force’ is actually an internal matter between our senses and the parts of the brain that do the jiggering such that movies look and sound real. So we are god.
Some say that our physical reality itself is simulated. Like the desk in front of me didn’t get here by the moving men from Living Spaces, and the credit card debt I’ve been working off is only part of a simulated economy. Well that would mean the Sun is itself a simulation. That would be awfully expensive considering we don’t do anything worth that kind of effort. Or maybe we’re all a creation of a godlike civilization for whom Sun creation is a trivial thing done for the amusement of its children. Thus everything we do is ‘for the children’, just not our own. So they are god.
If they are god, then perhaps Xixin Liu is the prophet and his prophesy is in the trilogy of The Remembrance of Earth’s Past series. Then again, Liu has just imagined that universe up, and you’ll have to subject yourself to the time it takes for you to read through the implications of that fiction to work through the dramatic exposition of the Dark Forest Theory. (Nicely explained here for those with an aversion to book trilogies). Reading and understanding this theory is either what they want us to do or what we are merely imagining.
As you come to understand the nature of the Dark Forest Theory, the problem of space/time raises its supermassive head. And it is this that underscores my reason why we are not in a simulation. Any godlike entity that has the power to control the speed of light and causality in a way completely imperceptible to all of our instruments that actually let us perceive and create x-rays must be expending massive amounts of energy and patience and meticulousness to allow us (or make us) to think what we think and do what we do. Well, that’s a logical way to describe god or God or gods and the matter of free will. So why bother with a simulation if it’s actually God?
If it’s actually God, as we Christians, Jews and Muslims understand The Monotheistic I Am, or what polytheists, pagans, animists, Buddhists, and all other wise mystics understand, then you’re going to have to ingest all of their respective prophets and prophesies and make sense of and reconcile them. I happen to believe that has already been done at least once.
Thou Art That
In his lovely, dated and complicated book, The Perennial Philosophy, Aldous Huxley makes short work of wide breadth of mystical traditions and boils those spiritual oceans down to a singular epithet; ‘thou art that’. I say this book is required reading for anyone with the nerve to claim to be climbing the mountain towards wisdom. I have that nerve and I can’t take you with me except to the extent that you let my Stoic Observations infiltrate your dreams and imagination. You still have to reconcile all this with your own neural pathways because I sure as hell ain’t trying to be your god. Therein lies the great mystery. You are your own god. You, the entire metaphorical baseball game, must call the balls, strikes, outs and innings of your own senses, game after game, season after season. If you cannot or will not do so, the mystery of life remains unsolved, except for those of us human beings who have been inspired to do the work of discovery and unraveling. As problems go, I’d say it’s a rabbit hole, but even rabbit holes are finite and we can use the scaffolding of the prior generations. Huxley does nicely. I fall on Huxley’s side and say that we are the creators of meaning. Yet it takes a lot of work to discover how thou are that. No shortcuts.
So we are not in any simulation outside that of our own creation. Thus we are challenged with the task of reconciling that with the universe, or at the very least, the desk in front of us. We can play imaginary catch when we dream. But speaking of rabbit holes, even dogs do that.
Oh by the way, what could make me change my mind? Only I could make me change my mind, because by my logic, I am the god of my own simulation. If I’m not, I will still believe that I am.