Le Malin génie

A reminder of Cogito Ergo Sum:

Descartes’ evil genius responsible for the simulation of our “reality” has a modern descendant: Bostrom’s Simulation Argument. If you do not believe that humans will one day go extinct, and if you do not think humans would ever run simulations of human life, then you must conclude that “you are almost certainly living in a computer simulation that was created by some advanced civilisation.”

Question: is there a Mormon epistemology capable of determining that we are not part of a computer simulation?


  1. MikeInWeHo says:

    Maybe ‘computer simulation’ is just a secular description of Mormon epistemology.

  2. John Mansfield says:

    Is there anyone who ever constructed a simulation who had any trouble distinguishing his abstract model from the real thing? Could even a simulated Slinky stand up to twenty seconds’ scrutiny? How many times in our lives have we confused a face on the television for a person in the room with us?

  3. Nature at its base is discrete, not continuous. Its building blocks are quanta, like bits in a computer. The universe could be thought of as a huge computer that the laws of physics are implemented on. The laws themselves are perfect, mathematical, without any mechanical underpinnings, they’re simply equations that describe how things happen. It’s as though this ‘reality’ around us is just some huge software implementation. In studying physics, cosmology, neurology, etc. to try to come to an understanding of what things are, what existence is, I’ve seen nothing at all that’s inconsistent with us being a huge simulation running on God’s computer. So I’m totally down with this post and with my man Descartes. But I agree with Mike that Mormon doctrine is a good description of such a universe couched in the language of 19th century understanding.

  4. Do you think there’s a random number generator thrown in for good measure?

  5. Forty-two.

  6. >Mormon doctrine is a good description of such a universe couched in the language of 19th century understanding.

    Explain further, Tatiana.

  7. John Mansfield says:

    Tatiana, for what it’s worth, I once sat in an auditorium at Los Alamos listening to Wheeler expound on It from Bit.

  8. John Mansfield says:

    Ronan, try this recent Physics Today article. Scroll two-thirds down to the heading “Everything is information.”

  9. Maybe we are all just brains in vats … NOT! Just because we recognize the utility of thought experiments for shedding a little light on human existence doesn’t mean we have to go through life with the naivite of a college sophomore taking her second philosophy class. We aren’t just computer programs and the Universe is more than just pixels. I think that is a thoroughly Mormon response very much in line with the down-to-earth rejection of theological speculation displayed by both Joseph and Brigham.

  10. #5 — ha!

  11. RJH Says:
    “Explain further, Tatiana.”

    I’ll try to write something up and post it as a guest post or something. My explanation is getting too big for a comment.

  12. Michael, that is the answer. We are in the simulation created by Deep Thought to come up with ultimate question… of life, the universe, and everything.

  13. “Question: is there a Mormon epistemology capable of determining that we are not part of a computer simulation?”

    No. Not one that assumes the Cartesian project. But I think that is the epistemic problem. His project was to find a ground for certainty, one that eventually ends in the only cogito as its end. But, I’m sitting here and my feet are burning without cause (they just do at night, I don’t know why). That is because in part because I am an embodied being that is more than just a consciousness connected to neural inputs (brain in a wet humany vat). My neurology is part of my consciousness in a way that is unseparable from what it means to be a ‘being.’ I am a brain and a vat together. I think this is the strength of Mormonism in that God is embodied too. Our linkages to the world are not just links to a thing called mind we are intertwined things where body and mind and indeed universe are all part of a deeper connection. Descartes separated mind stuff and physical stuff but I think that was the mistake. When we buy into that separation and make our project that kind of undoubtable certainty then we fall pray to thinking there is mind and a body when in reality they are connected into a single thing. I think that is why bodies matter in our theology. Spirt and body are linked in a way that goes beyond just physical data input from spirit to body (like the brain in the vat) we are one thing now. So to find some undoubtable certainty that we are not a simulation? No, not if that is the goal, but I think that is the wrong project.

  14. The New God Argument begins with secular assumptions, including the Simulation Argument, to conclude that we should trust that our world was created by begins that may qualify as gods, particularly from a Mormon perspective.

    Here’s an outline of the argument:


    Here’s a video presentation of the argument:


  15. Nature at its base is discrete, not continuous

    Quanta aside, last I heard a free photon could have any wavelength in a continuous, real valued spectrum. Such a number in general requires an infinite number of bits to represent. Makes computer simulation quite of a problem when just one particle takes an an infinite number of bits to represent correctly.

    The general problem here is that the universe does not contain enough matter to build a computer big enough to accurately simulate the universe. The best simulator of the universe is the universe itself. So one might imagine that a believable real world computer simulation would have to make up things as it went along.

  16. Do you think there’s a random number generator thrown in for good measure?

    That is another interesting problem – if the universe is not intrinsically random, it is impossible to build a real random number generator. As John von Neumann said:

    Anyone who considers arithmetical methods of producing random digits is, of course, in the state of sin

  17. Just another approach to Bishop Berkley’s thesis … ;)

  18. SteveP–a quite reasonable response.

  19. My mother warned me about this. It’s what comes of associating with the wrong crowd. First you just hang out with them, then you start dressing and talking like them.


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