Archive for March, 2010

Religion: Self Fulfilling Prophecy?

March 11, 2010

This is a continuation of this string of posts.

Consider this hypothetical story. Thousands of years ago, some guy writes a book from his imagination that starts a religion. He doesn’t have any reason to believe it’s anything more than a complete work of fiction, but he wants other people to believe it so he is careful to exclude any elements from his religion that would be falsifiable. Despite this, his religion catches on and spreads around the world. For thousands of years it is a popular belief, though it is merely a product of one man’s imagination. Eventually, we reach the posthuman age and some devout follower of this religion decides to create a large number of simulations where his religion is fact.

People who find themselves in a time period his simulations cover are likely in a simulation. Of course, they would not be aware that these simulations would be created so they wouldn’t know to follow the religion.

A long time ago Blaise Pascal argued that one should believe in God basically because it is a low risk high reward situation. The potential gains of correctly believing in God, even if it is vanishingly unlikely, would outweigh the losses of being wrong. Later thinkers argued that there are an infinite number of unfalsifiable potential deities so the probability of choosing the correct deity out of an infinite set was 0. Since an arbitrarily large payout earned with 0 probability has 0 expected value, this is more of a low risk no reward situation and it doesn’t make sense to believe in God. In fact, for every deity who would reward you for certain behavior, there exists an unfalsifiable potential deity in the infinite set that would punish you for that behavior so it makes even less sense to pick a random deity to believe in.

One of the problems with this reply to Pascal’s Wager is that it relies on the idea that all potential deities are equally likely since we have no evidence that favors any of them. From this we get the 0 probability. With this religious simulation idea we have a clear path to a situation where a given deity would exist. For example we would need the religion to stay popular until the posthuman age, for humans to reach the post human age, for simulations to be possible, and for many simulations to be made simulating my time. It’s not clear that any of these probabilities are 0 or can’t all happen, thus we should be able to assign a finite probability that we are in a simulation where god is real and Pascal’s Wager would be a good reason to believe in God (assuming the benefits were sufficiently large).

This general process of creating many simulations can be used by an individual to do a lot of stuff. I will write more about this another time.

Listening to: Crown of Love – The Arcade Fire

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Competing Churches

March 8, 2010

In my last post, I described this hypothetical organization called the Church of Bruce which I could use to extort people by making them unsure about which world they live in.  I just want to clarify one of my conclusions that was a bit off. Where I said you could conclude that you almost certainly live in one of the Church of Bruce (CoB) simulations, you really can only conclude that you almost certainly live in a simulation with a Church of Bruce in it. If there are other groups out there making simulations featuring Church of Bruce’s then you might be in one of theirs. And if they aren’t using the same criteria for rewarding people in the afterlife, then you would be less justified in donating to the Church of Bruce. This opens the door for competing churches.

Suppose you find yourself in a situation where there are several competing churches all promising to make as many simulations as they can in which they will reward followers of their church. In this case you are almost surely in some church’s simulation, but it is hard to tell whose. Although it is possible that you could hedge your bets by donating to all the churches, let’s assume each church stipulates that people in their simulations will only be saved if they worship their church exclusively. So you need to figure out which church (if any) offers you the best chance of salvation.

The likelihood that you are in a simulation by a specific church is the proportion of simulations (+ reality) consistent with your experiences that are made by that church. For example, if the Church of Bruce makes 75% of the simulations, then you have about a 75% chance of being in a CoB simulation and it probably makes sense to donate to them.

Intuitively, it seems like you should try to compare the current churches and try to gauge which is best poised to make the most simulations in the future. All else being equal, the bigger wealthier churches seem like the best candidates. But the problem with this logic is that if you are in a simulation, then you are observing the church in the simulation, not reality. It is possible that the situation in the simulation might correspond to the situation in reality, but is there any reason to believe this?

To think about the relationship between reality and the simulations you need to thing about the goals of the churches making these simulations. They are making the simulations to maximize people’s confidence that they are in a simulation where they should donate to the church. People can’t think they are in any simulations that are inconsistent with their experiences. So churches will want to make simulations as consistent with reality as possible and advertise their intentions of doing this in advance. So the Church of Bruce would advertise that at some point in the future it will make a ton of simulations that will be made as consistent as possible with reality up to that point.

Based on this principle that simulations should tend to be similar to reality, we can infer from our observation that a given church is powerful that it is likely powerful in reality and that we should donate to it. It isn’t necessarily true that simulations should look like reality because some of the churches might not design their simulations rationally. In general though we should expect all the churches to produce simulations that look pretty similar to reality.