Qualifying the Simulation Argument: Extra Possibilities

simulation argument

The “Simulation Argument” was first proposed by Nick Bostrom in his 2003 paper “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?“. While typically taken to argue that we are, in fact, living in a simulation, Bostrom’s argument actually argues that one of the following three possibilities obtains (quoting from Bostrom’s paper):

1 – “The human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a ‘posthuman’ stage.” (Elsewhere, Bostrom refers to the “posthuman stage” as “technological maturity”, which is the term I’ll use here.)

2 – “Any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof).” (Bostrom later refers to these as “ancestor-simulations”.)

3 – “We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.”

The three possibilities suggest the rough outline of the argument. If we don’t go extinct before reaching technological maturity (option 1), then we almost certainly will reach technological maturity (ie, a stage at which we’re able to run ancestor-simulations). At that point, it’s possible there’s some reason we likely won’t run these simulations despite being able to (option 2).

But if there isn’t, and there’s no reason to think it unlikely for a species like ours to reach this point, then we have to consider the possibility that this has happened before and that we’re a simulation. The remaining step is to realize that any given species might create thousands upon thousands of these ancestor-simulations and that each of those may create thousands of their own.…

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Against Rorty on the Usefulness of Ontological Debates

Rorty ontology
Richard Rorty, cover of Contingency, irony, and solidarity.

I’m a big fan of Richard Rorty. His book Contingency, irony, and solidarity (CIS) was one of the books that led me to inquire into philosophy more rigorously (ironically enough — sorry Dick!).

But there’s something that’s always bugged me about Rorty. He uses pragmatist insights to label entire subjects “not useful”. The following quote was recently brought to my attention:

The question that matters to us pragmatists is not whether a vocabulary possess meaning or not, whether it raises real or unreal problems, but whether the resolution of that debate will have an effect in practice, whether it will be useful. We ask whether the vocabulary shared by the debaters is likely to have practical value. For the fundamental thesis of pragmatism is William James’ assertion that if a debate has no *practical* significance, then it has no *philosophical* significance.

So my objection to the “realism versus anti-realism debate” is not that the debtors are employing sentences that are devoid of meaning, nor that they are using terms that do not designate substantial properties. Rather, that the resolution of these debates will have no bearing on practice. I view debates of this sort as examples of sterile scholasticism. I regret that such a large part of English-language philosophy in the twentieth century was devoted to questions of this type.

— What’s the Use of Truth? (Richard Rorty)

(An aside: for all his insistence on deflating these debates, Rorty’s not always consistent in whether his position is deflationary about the debate or withinthe debate.…

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Amie Thomasson: Objections to Easy Ontology | Who Shaves the Barber? #24

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Easy Ontology

Last weekAmie Thomasson explained “easy ontology”, her preferred approach to resolving the proliferation of ontological debates in recent decades. This week she addresses objections.

Perhaps most pressingly: is easy ontology too easy? There might be a feeling that this is all a linguistic trick that is sidestepping the real question of the actual existence of something. Another important objection is that this method grants existence to way too much. Do we really want to accept that “the sum of my nose and the Eiffel Tower” is a thing that really exists? And what about vagueness – doesn’t easy ontology fall prey to the sorites paradox? Professor Thomasson tackles these and other objections to her method. She concludes with a picture of what would be next for ontology if we accepted easy ontology as the solution to the metaontological debate.



Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.

Topics discussed

0:47 – Circularity objection
4:24 – Is any “linguistic approach” too easy?
14:40 – Easy ontology v. the “verbal disputes” view
22:28: What does “exists” actually mean?
25:45 – Is easy ontology bloated?
31:28 – Dropping causal power and mind-independence
34:30 – Vagueness and the sorites paradox
40:06 – What ontological questions are still hard?
45:44 – Conceptual engineering


Ontology Made Easy by Amie Thomasson
Ordinary Objects by Amie Thomasson
Metaphysical Disputes and Metalinguistic Negotiations” by Amie Thomasson…

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