Jason wrote:
I assumed bounded memory due to the limited amount of matter and energy
available to build the computer.  For instance I've seen it said that the
total information content of this universe is about 10^90 bits.  If a
civilization gathered all the mass and energy available in their universe to
build a computer, they could only accurately simulate universes with an
information content less than or equal to that of their host universe.


But as I said, limited amount of matter and energy only implies limited memory if space is also bounded. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bekenstein_bound. By spreading the energy over an ever increasing volume of space, we can obtain unbounded memory. This is essentially the same principle as get an unlimited number of computational steps from finite energy by continually slowing down the rate of computation. So again I don't know why you assume one thing but not the other.

Perhaps a more general form of your argument (which doesn't depend on the above assumption) is that any kind of computational limits we see today (in practice, not just in theory) could be taken as evidence that we're in a simulated universe, since simulated universes are likely to have fewer computational resources than base universes. The fact that we can theoretically obtain unbounded memory or number of computational steps would be irrelevant to this argument since the simulation could end before we have the technology to do so.

An alternative explanation that I favor for the presence of computational limits is that they are necessary for the evolution of sentience. Without computational limits, an organism can respond to its environment in an apparently intelligent manner by using brute force algorithms, therefore sentience would have little evolutionary advantage. If this explanation is correct, then all civilizations have to go through a early phase where they are computational constrained, and the presence of computational limits is no longer an additional argument for being in a simulation. ("Additional" here means additional to the fact that we seem to be living in an early phase of a civilization, which I think is the evidence of the original simulation argument.)

As for the simulation argument itself, I've suggested previously that instead of thinking "which kind of universe am I likely to be in", it makes more sense to consider myself as being "simultaneously" in all universes that contain me, and to decide my actions based on their effects on the overall multiverse. Given this kind of philosophy, we can see that while there may be many many simulated universes that contain us, the effects of our actions on a single base universe (which may be computationally unlimited once we move beyond this early phase) can easily outweigh the effects on all of the simulated universes. Therefore it doesn't make sense to place more consideration on the simulated universes when we reason or make choices.



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