Could we be merely characters in a galactic video game?

Vygintas asked:

Please email me the answer since I actually want to know this.

If a video game character was conscious, how would he know that he is played by someone outside of the video game system?

If the character was as smart as human, he would deny that somebody is controlling him and the environment both at the same time, but that wouldn’t matter since the creator would know what’s true and what is not.

The question I want to ask how do I and the world know what to do, if we are free will and everything works on it’s own like in a video game? For example GTA5.

And if the character realized he was in a system, could he hack the system from the inside of the system?

Or is his consciousness and experience and intelligence and knowledge limited just to that system he lives in and there is no way he can get out, just to wonder why is he in the system at first?

I never was a god believer, but these kind of questions made me think otherwise. I’m not atheist, nor religious I’m just curious.

The second question arises from asking these is:

Why don’t people realize that they are ant like creatures and everyone pretends to be self sufficient individual, when it’s not that way? By saying ant like I mean living in the human system, within the god system.

And if this is true, then it means that there is no human without purpose to humanity, every one is made with a predetermined goal.

If I had free will, I could do whatever, but I can’t because it feels wrong.

I’m working on these answers and I have some, but I want something out of my head to help me out, so it would be fun and great if you could help me out :)

Answer by Geoffrey Klempner

This is a great question. I can’t do justice to all of the ideas you canvass but I will try to sketch a general strategy for a philosophical response, as opposed to empty speculation.

Who am I? That’s a good question. How do I know that I am me, myself, rather than some other being who (temporarily or permanently) is deluded or tricked into thinking that they are me? There are hints of Eastern philosophy here (the idea that the ultimate being or godhead forgets what ‘it’ is and pretends to be you, me and all the other people — a favourite theme of Alan Watts).

Let’s try to stay sane and keep our bearings.

First point: it is possible for a human being to be a different person from the one they think they are. For example, in the phenomenon known as amnesia. A related phenomenon is multiple personality disorder. Let’s say I wake up one morning realizing that I am not GK, the moderator for Ask a Philosopher but rather… someone else. Invent any story you like. There is some back story about how this other person, call him KG, went through some kind of trauma or brainwashing process to make him think that he is GK.

In the movie, ‘The Nines’ 2007 (spoiler alert!) a race of super-intelligent beings like to play their equivalent of video games, creating whole worlds and civilizations — like the place we know as ‘Earth’. The main character is a super-intelligent alien but doesn’t realize it. He has temporarily allowed himself to forget. He thinks he’s human. He holds the fate of all human beings in his hands (or head). But these other people, how ‘real’ are they? There are different possibilities, depending on exactly how you conceive of the ‘strings’ that control them.

A game is only interesting if you don’t fully know in advance how things will turn out. But who says the game has to be interesting? If I am moving these people around like puppets, then they become, in effect, the ‘limbs’ of my extended body. They are parts of me. Could they still ‘have their own consciousness’? That’s your idea. Well, if I am controlling them completely, then their consciousness must also be part of my consciousness — I must be able to track what they are thinking and feeling at every moment. Their eyes are my eyes, and so on.

So that’s one possibility we want to discount. The creator must exist at some logical distance from its creations, otherwise this is just a story about amnesia or multiple personality disorder.

In Unit 2 of the Pathways Metaphysics Program, I consider the possibility (similar in some respects to the plot of Sophie’s World) that I am a character in a novel in the process of being written who only thinks he is ‘real’. Leaving aside the problem of free will, there is a difficulty in principle about how we can concieve of this ‘reality’ as a target for true or false judgements. Here’s an extract:

If the novel and its author are merely figments of a bad continuing hallucination I am suffering from then, provided that I have not fallen into complete psychotic withdrawal, I am still capable of making judgements about the real world I inhabit. Then my reports of my hallucinations would have exactly the same status as the novelist’s account of her thoughts. The contents of my hallucinations, just like the contents of the novelist’s thoughts, are objective, datable events in the real world.

However, if things really are as we have described, then serious difficulties arise. Say, according to the novel I was drinking beer in the pub with Ian and Dave on [the night I first heard the novelist’s voice in my head]. Later, tossing and turning in my bed, I seem to remember that Sonya was there too. Is that a false belief? The problem is finding a way in which my belief could be corrigible. Suppose the woman’s voice tells me that Sonya wasn’t there: ‘You split up the day before, don’t you remember?’ — I refuse to believe a word of it. She was there, wearing a tartan skirt and the green mohair sweater I bought for her last Christmas. ‘She couldn’t have been wearing that, because she gave it to Oxfam after it shrunk in the wash.’ — Then it was another green mohair sweater. ‘Look, she was at her sister’s twenty-first birthday party. What’s more, you were supposed to go with her!’ — Sonya doesn’t have a sister, she never had a sister. — And so on.

The writer of the novel I am in is trying to tell me ‘what happened’ but what exactly is the basis for the authority of the female voice that I can hear in my head, commenting on all my actions? How can ‘she’ be right and I be wrong? The moral of this is that if you play fast and loose with ‘worlds’ and ‘realities’ in this way, there is a danger of losing the very thing that makes a world a world: the difference between appearance and reality. I call this (with a nudge to Freud) the ‘reality principle’ of metaphysics.

If determinism is true, then in some sense, our naive conception of what our ‘freedom’ consists in is compromised. Arguably, this isn’t fatal for human free will. More serious would by your idea that someone else, an actual individual, a super-intelligent alien or whatever, is making the decisions that I think I am making (at every moment, presumably, if this is going to work). Then they are me. I’ve just forgotten who I really am.

Alternatively, if we start from the inside and consider the existence of an individual allegedly ‘living inside’ a computer program or novel in the process of being written, we have not yet formed a coherent conception of a subject who makes judgements, true or false, or a world which those judgements are about.


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