Simulations, Dreams, Reality, God? What’s it all about?

My friend Lance introduced a lot of topics in the comment stream under my article Debunking Myself: What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been so I moved it here to create a fresh thread. He introduced five topics which I will in answer in order of appearance:

I am quite interested in what you think we can know, if anything, about reality (whatever that is). Having studied physics you will have a better understanding than I do regarding our current theoretical understanding of the material universe. 1) It may be that we are all in a simulation created by a more technologically advanced “species” and that we don’t really exist in the way we feel we do. If we believe that then it’s sort of the end of the discussion as there really is no you and me in the way we ordinarily think about our existence.

The hypothesis that we are living in a simulation has gained a lot of attention recently. It’s been the focus of books, articles, Ted talks, podcasts, etc. I’ve always liked movies that question the nature of reality such as The Matrix and Vanilla Sky which are just technological variations on the ancient story of Chang Tzu who woke from dreaming he was a butterfly, only to wonder if he was actually a butterfly dreaming he was a man. No matter what the source of our apparent existence, I can think of no way to prove it is not a dream or a simulation. When I was a Christian, I always thought of reality as a “Dream in the Mind of God” and for most of my life have tended towards philosophical Idealism. It made more sense to me to see Consciousness as fundamental, since I could easily understand how object could arise from consciousness, but not the reverse.

But I’m evenly split on this question now, because I see how my mind is made of matter, and if I make a little change to that matter, such as ingesting a hundred millionths of a gram of LSD, my conscious radically changes. How can ingesting matter cause such a profound change if my consciousness is truly independent of my brain? And if my consciousness is a product of a physical thing like my brain, I see no reason it could not be the product of an artificial brain, a simulation.

With that introduction, maybe I can answer your point that “there really is no you and me” if we exist in a simulation. I don’t see how that follows. If Buddhists (and many neuroscientists like Sam Harris) are correct, there is no “real you and me” regardless of the nature of the reality we perceive. It sounds like you are importing the concept of an “immortal soul” – a spiritual entity that continues to exist after the death of the body. That would be a great topic of conversation, but I think it’s entirely separate from whether or not we are living in a dream, simulation, or ontologically fundamental “real world.” And this leads to another rabbit hole. It reminds me of C. S. Lewis’s book The Great Divide in which heaven was the REALITY and this world a mere shadow. So much to discuss! So my final answer to your first point is: Even if we live in a simulation, it’s no dead end! We could easily spend the rest of our lives discussing the ramifications, how it would relate to ultimate reality, God, the existence of selves and souls, etc., etc., etc. And most significantly, we could explore the possibility of escaping the Matrix and becoming REAL like the Velveteen Rabbit or Pinocchio. So now we are back to children’s tales. Maybe we do live in a simulation and it is a nursery for the creation new souls! There never will be an end to Fantasia, so long as we we know how to stop the Nothing.

2) The postmodern “idea” that everything is narrative and that there is no objective “truth” or “reality” that can be known is, again, a dead end. If we believe there is no reality outside of ourselves that can be objectively known (to some degree of accuracy or predictability) then what more is there to say. Personally, I find the whole postmodern, deconstructionist “philosophy” repugnant and deeply anti-human. Of course subjectivity, belief systems etc. act as lenses through which we “know” and “think” – but to deny that one cannot know some things objectively (to some or other degree of accuracy) is self-refuting.

I agree that postmodernism has taken a “repugnant and anti-human” turn. But that’s not how it started. It contains a lot of useful insights that are worthy of study. It is a correction to the over-confidence created by “grand narratives” that trapped people in an ideology. But now it has morphed into it’s opposite and is itself an anti-intellectual ideology used by authoritarian leftists to dominate and shut-down open discourse which I find altogether repulsive, destructive, and dangerous. If anything contains the “seeds of it’s own destruction” it is Postmodern Philosophy!

I agree that it is absurd to deny the ability to “know” anything, but on the other hand, there is almost nothing that we know in an “absolute” sense. And everyone seems terribly confused about the meaning of “Objectivity.” This is particularly obvious when it comes to Christian theologians who argue for “objective morality” and then fail to define what they mean. I talk about this in my old article The Logic of Love: A Natural Theory of Morality (and many other articles).

3) My “belief” is that there is something really real that can be observed or theorised about and which has an objective reality independent of our thoughts and theories. If every human dies this instant the Universe would not cease to exist.

I agree there is something really real, but what that is remains a mystery. It could be the world in which I’m a butterfly dreaming I’m a man. It could be the world in which the simulation is being run. It could be the “Mind of God.” It could be One Universal Consciousness that is “dreaming the world.” It could be an ever-expanding multiverse of elementary particles blindly evolving according to fundamental laws.

4) Our current theories about the physical nature of the Universe allow us, in many cases, to make stunningly accurate predictions about how that Universe operates. However, we cannot say that they are a complete or even accurate description of the Universe. We don’t really know how this Universe came to be; our theories break down at the very beginning, we have theories about quantum fluctuations in a vacuum (ie “nothing” but not really nothing), we don’t really have a theory of quantum gravity, we aren’t really sure what dark energy and matter is (and if it even exists) etc. etc. What I am saying is that, despite the incredible advances we have made in understanding the Universe and despite the stunning accuracy of our theories, they are incomplete and it’s epistemic arrogance to say that we “know” how this Universe came to be, operates and will end. I am not making an argument for a “God of the gaps”. Many scientists don’t like admitting the limitations of their knowledge as they fear it will give ammunition to, for example, creationists. What I am saying is that the material Universe is probably still a lot stranger (and more wonderful) than we currently understand.

I doubt many, if any, scientists would have trouble agreeing with your assessment of the limitations of our knowledge. It’s also unlikely that they would fear giving “ammunition” to creationists since they probably don’t even cross their mind. Of course, “creationist” is too broad a term, since there are a great variety spanning everything from serious scientists to cranks and cons. There are Young Earth Creationists, Flat Earth Creationists, Old Earth Creationists, Evolutionary Creationists, etc., etc., etc. (Gotta love the King and I!)

I agree that the material Universe is probably “a lot stranger (and more wonderful) than we currently understand. But I strike the word “material” because I doubt “matter” is the fundamental reality. Einstein taught us that matter and energy are really the same thing (E = mc2 ) and we don’t know what either “really” are and if everything really is just an “object of consciousness (Idealism) then there is no “matter” at all. I tend towards philosophic monism (ultimate reality is one kind of thing) so there’s no “natural” vs. “supernatural. I just call myself a “naturalist.”

5) In summary, my first presupposition is that we are, if nothing else, real “beings” in a real Universe about which we can, through reasoning, obtain knowledge that exits independently of us and our thoughts. I am not, at this stage anyway, making any argument for some kind of non-energy/matter reality at this stage (ie no spiritual/supernatural realm). What do you believe with regard to the reality of the Universe and what we can and do know about it? I am genuinely interested.

I agree that we are “real” even if we don’t exist as a “self” (in which case “I” is just a handy way to refer to the entity others recognize when they look at my body). And we are “real” even if the apparent reality we find ourselves in is not the “ultimate” reality. It doesn’t matter if it is a simulation, a dream, an ex-nihilo creation by a God, or whatever. But I am very excited to explore these possiblities with you, and any friends who’d like to join in.

Great questions Lance! Really glad you took the time to discuss them with me.

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10 comments on “Simulations, Dreams, Reality, God? What’s it all about?
  1. Mansour says:

    greeting . firstly i am sorry for bad translation by google (from arabic)
    I am interested in numbers in the Qur’an and have noticed many numerical equations
    I think you can never never refute it
    Example 1: In the Qur’an, the name (Muhammad) appears 4 times
    The first appearance of (Muhammad) was the word number 8498
    The second appearance of (Muhammad) was the word number 54451
    The third appearance of (Muhammad) was the word number 65347
    The fourth appearance of (Muhammad) was the word number 66376
    Total sum word positions = 194672
    It is strange that:
    194672 = (cube 92) / 4
    Where: 92 = Gematria(“Muhammad”) محمد and 4 is repetition of the word “Muhammad” in the Qur’an
    There is also a chapter in the Qur’an called (Muhammad) محمد … before it there 46 chapters
    46 cubic + 46 cubic = 194672
    Total sites of the word (Muhammad) in the Qur’an
    I can give you a many of examples every day
    And you can check by yourself the accuracy of the numbers provided via this link:
    use filterin word (muhammad) محمد
    all regards

  2. Hello Mansour,

    I can see why you would be impressed by that coincidence. But would you be impressed by similar coincidences that Christians think prove Christianity? If not, then you need to ask yourself why you believe one coincidence but not another. The most obvious reason is called “confirmation bias.” People tend to believe things that confirm what they already believe.

    Have you ever asked yourself how to tell if a coincidence is “proof” of anything? Many people are convinced that numerology proves their religion, and we know they can’t all be right. So how do you tell which is right and which is wrong?

  3. Mansour says:

    Thanks for your quick response
    I am interested in comparing religions
    Also interested in numerology studies
    I focus a lot on the statistical side
    In fact, I have a glimpse of a numerology of Bible , but I found them very, very weak
    Please let me know if there are Christian-like notes available
    Provided that my probability status is equal to what I presented in my previous comment
    What is the probability of this coincidence achieved:
    Cube the value of the name of the Prophet on its frequency = sum of its locations = 192672
    We are facing a number of 6 boxes
    If you know a note about Christianity that has this degree of accuracy, see me
    you must know that Muslims believe in Christ, love Him, and believe in the Torah and the Gospel, even if they think these books was subjected to human distortion.
    i will give u another example :
    The name of the Prophet (Job) appeared in the Qur’an 4 times
    Gematria(Job) = 19 (Arabic but the same as Hebrew)
    The sum of the location of the name of the Prophet (Job) in the Qur’an = 13093
    Total = 131598
    It is strange that:
    131598 =
    4 + (19 ^ 4) + 19P19
    Where 4 repetition of the word Job
    And 19 sentences of the word Job
    and 19p19 = 19*(prime 19th =67 ) = 1273
    Is this also another coincidence?
    Look at the six digits of the number
    I am ready to send you a thousand similar examples
    For accuracy, see the link in the previous comment
    all regards .

  4. Mansour says:

    hello mr Richard
    An example of something that you will not see outside the Qur’an

    Schwarzschild radius of the sun .. in the Qur’an (part 1)
    The Schwarzschild radius is the limit that causes the body to turn into a black hole, then no escaping from gravity , and it appeared as an application of Einstein’s general relativity in 1916.
    Schwarzschild radius with respect to the sun’s mass = 2953 meters
    the observation is: the number of Qur’an words before verse 2953 is exactly 47250 words
    47250 is Tenfold 4725
    The abundant number 4725 is 19072
    It is strange that 19072 is the Gematria of the chapter in quran named (the sun) >> and mor about that in next comment
    Comprehensive Qur’an Statistics -2018

    Lists of numbers and their arrangement…/1vx9_Xd6Poa8jkPXCG8P303s4b9Ln64hp

  5. Hi Monsour,

    You reject the patterns in the Bible as “very, very weak” and Christian numerologists reject your patterns for the same reason. For example, there are Christian numerologists who find the values of e (Euler’s number) and pi in the first verse. They think that is prove that God designed it. Would you think this was significant if you found it in the Qur’an?

    So the most important question is this: By what principle do you judge a pattern to be “weak” or “strong”? Is it an objective principle that you can apply to any text? If so, then we can test your claims. It should be interesting.

  6. Mansour says:

    Hi Mr Richard
    No one – if he has mathematical logic – no one can tell about my examples that I have presented (very weak)
    The reason is that it deals with large numbers that drive out chance.
    What defines what is (weak) and what is (strong)?
    The answer is possibilities
    If you provide a small 3-digit number then this is weak
    I challenge anyone with a mathematical background to dispute the strength of the relationship in my first comment (which links the Gematria cube to the word Muhammad to its location and distributes it in the Qur’an)
    No numerologist (christian or an atheist or muslim) will be able to debunk it…. and the next is stronger
    Think of the two examples above and I’ll give you a third example soon
    With all regards

  7. Mansour says:

    sorry for bad translation …
    I intended to say:
    What determines what is strong and what is weak is probability
    Not religion and beliefs
    If the numbers are large and far from chance, it is (strong) often
    If it is small (like 3 digits) it is often weak

  8. Mansour says:

    hi Mr Richard
    Schwarzschild’s diameter of the sun … in the Qur’an (Part 2)
    The diameter of Schwarzschild in relation to the mass of the Sun = 5906 meters
    Note: the word “sun” has been repeated 33 times in the Qur’an
    The 33 th prime is 137
    5906 + 137 = 6043
    The strange thing is that 6043 is the number of verses before(chapter “the sun” ) Surat Al-Shams in quran
    and remember :
    Schwarzschild ((radius)) with respect to the sun’s mass = 2953 meters
    the observation is: the number of Qur’an words before verse 2953 is exactly 47250 words
    47250 is Tenfold 4725
    The abundant number 4725 is 19072
    It is strange that 19072 is the Gematria of the chapter in quran named (the sun)

    Comprehensive Qur’an Statistics -2018

    Lists of numbers and their arrangement…/1vx9_Xd6Poa8jkPXCG8P303s4b9Ln64hp

  9. Hi Monsour,

    I understand your claims, but you have not given any “probability calculations” to show that they are meaningful. The coincidences you have collected look random to me. They follow no fixed rules or coherent set of principles. They look exactly like the kinds of coincidences Christian numerologists have presented over the years to prove the Bible. If you want to convince people that the coincidences you found are meaningful, you need to state what PRINCIPLES you are following so I can see if there is any consistency in the patterns. This is the fundamental error all numerologists make. They “cherry pick” from an ocean of random coincidences and present a few lucky hits as “proof” when in fact we can find random coincidences in any text.

    But after you explain your principles, you still have to explain why anyone would think a low probability would prove anything. Almost any meaningless random event will have a low probability. For example, toss a coin 100 times and note the exact sequence of heads and tails. Whatever pattern you find will have a probability of one in 2^100 (which is an extremely tiny number). Does that prove that the exact sequence of coin tosses was “designed” by God? Of course not. We get the same probability for every possible sequence of 100 tosses.

    So before giving any more examples, you need to 1) explain the fundamental principles of your study, and 2) explain why a low probability would prove it is not a meaningless random coincidence.


  10. Lance says:

    Hi Richard

    Just an apology for not replying yet – I started a law degree (no idea why at my age)and have been busy with exams. Will reply shortly.

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