3 Simulism


Simulism [The term in the usage in which it appears here seems to have been coined by [http://www.jansch.nl/tag/simulism/ Ivo Jansch] in September 2006. His [http://www.simulism.org Simulism Wiki] is an exploration of Simulism, which invites contributions, essays, comments and discussions.] is a skeptical hypothesis concerned with the idea that reality as we perceive it is an illusion, and the world as we know it could be a simulation — possibly a computer simulation — to a degree indistinguishable from 'true' reality.

While this may be dismissed as a crank notion or a conspiracy theory, in fact there is a long history to the underlying thesis. In Western thought it can be dated back to Plato, arguably underpins the Mind-Body Dualism of Descartes, and is closely related to phenomenalism, a stance briefly adopted by Bertrand Russell. In Eastern thought it follows aspects of the Advaita Vedanta concept of Maya, (as well as the later Buddhist concepts of Bodhi and Dzogchen). In its narrower sense it has become an important theme in science fiction, and recently has become a serious topic of study for futurology, in particular for transhumanism through the work of Nick Bostrom.

Origins of simulism

In its current form, the Simulation Argument began in 2003 with the publication of a paper by Nick Bostrom.Bostrom, N., 2003, [http://www.simulation-argument.com/simulation.html Are You Living in a Simulation?] , Philosophical Quarterly (2003), Vol. 53, No. 211, pp. 243-255.] Interest in the paper was high because the idea that reality might be a computer simulation was the central thesis of The Matrix Trilogy (1999-2003). However, many earlier science fiction plot lines have incorporated variants this theme and its associated elements such as artificial intelligence, and the idea that reality may be a fiction dates back to the time of Plato in the West.

Precedents in popular culture

The idea that reality is an illusion can be traced back to early Greece, and it can be argued that several of the themes of "The Matrix" - fate versus choice, the existence of beings external to the world of humans who control and intervene - occur in early Greek literature and drama, particularly in "Oedipus" and the "Iliad" respectively. In the 20th Century both drama and film have repeatedly explored alternative realities, such as the Theatre of the Absurd, and cropping up unexpectedly in films such as "It's a Wonderful Life", and the 1960s television series "The Prisoner". The blurring of boundaries that has occurred between fiction, reality and alternative realities has led to many different elements within popular culture; soap operas which appear to portray real life, but are in fact fictional, reality TV shows which claim to feature 'real' people in 'ordinary' situations, and docudramas which intermingle fact and fiction. "The Truman Show" (1998) was a fictional example showing the logical extension of this trend, in which the central character is trapped within a physical simulation. In the past twenty years, the science fiction genre has risen to the forefront of popular culture, highlighting themes such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence and computer gaming, all relevant to Simulism.

RolePlaying and wargaming

Roleplaying simulations have a long history stretching back to ancient times, and have been used extensively in vocation-oriented higher-education courses (e.g. Law, Medicine, Economics) as well as politics and international relations contexts. [ See for example, SimSoc a "game" used to teach various aspects of sociology, political science, and communications skills, originally created by William A. Gamson in 1966, and currently in its fifth edition.] Roleplay simulations can be described as "multi-agenda social-process simulations". In such simulations, "participants assume individual roles in a hypothesised social group and experience the complexity of establishing and implementing particular goals within the fabric established by the system". . [Gredler, M. (1992), "Designing and Evaluating Games and Simulations: A Process Approach", Kogan Page, London] Simulations involving role-play also have therapeutic uses within psychotherapy, in the form of psychodrama, developed by Jacob L. Moreno in the 1920s. Later on in the 20th Century this was termed play therapy.

Role-play is also an important part of military training. The Prussian term for live-action military training exercises is "kriegspiel" or wargames, and are used for training and evaluation purposes. A similar use of role-playing is an essential feature of the Incident Command System (ICS), widely used by emergency response agencies to manage and evaluate responses to large and/or complex incidents. Battle and other historical reenactments also involve roleplay, and have been practised for millennia, but with entertainment appearing to be the primary purpose, rather than training or system evaluation.

The history of role-playing games begins with the earlier tradition of role-playing, which combined with the rulesets of fantasy wargames gives rise to the modern role-playing game. This can take a variety of forms: live action role-playing games, theatre-style live action role-playing, freeform role-playing games, indie role-playing games, storytelling games, are all games in which the participants assume the roles of characters and collaboratively create stories using a role-playing game system. Such games may require the players to remain in character or to allow players to comment on action by stepping out of character. The participants do not all need to be present: play by mail and play-by-post games both allow for asynchronous and distance game-playing. A computer version of play by mail (Yahoo! Role-Playing) became popular in the 1990s.

The GNS theory, originally developed by Ron Edwards, is an attempt to document how role-playing games work. The theory divides participants into three categories: gamists (who are concerned with competition and challenge), narrativists (who are concerned with story and theme) and simulationists (who are concerned with the gaming experience and exploration). [ http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/3/ GNS and Other Matters of Role-Playing Theory, Chapter 2] ]

Computer games and simulations

Computer gaming has a long history, originating in the late 1940s , [A patent application was filed on January 25, 1947 and US Patent|2455992 was issued on December 14, 1948 to Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann ] when Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann, were granted a patent for what was, to all intents and purposes, a video game. During the 1950s and the 1960s various such games were developed , [ For example, "Tennis for Two" by William Higinbotham (1958), and "Spacewar!" (1962); the latter probably being the first computer video game, having been created a year earlier by Martin Graetz, Alan Kotok and Stephen Russell on a PDP-1] and by the early 1970s such games were becoming commercially viable. [In 1971 Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney created "Computer Space", the first commercial coin-operated video game.] The first generation of personal computer games were often text adventures or interactive fiction, [The first text-adventure, Adventure, was developed for the PDP-11 by Will Crowther in 1976, and expanded by Don Woods in 1977.cite web|url=http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/001/2/000009.html |year=2007 | title=Somewhere Nearby is Colossal Cave: Examining Will Crowther's Original 'Adventure' in Code and in Kentucky |accessdate=2007-09-29|author= Jerz, Dennis | work = Digital Humanities Quarterly] in which the player communicated with the computer by entering commands through a keyboard. By the mid-1970s, games were being developed and distributed through magazines, such as "Creative Computing" and "Computer Gaming World" [These magazines published reader-produced game code to be typed into a computer and played, and running software competitions. cite news |title=Computer Gaming World's RobotWar Tournament |url=http://static.filefront.com/cgw/1981_1112_issue1.pdf |format=PDF |work=Computer Gaming World |page=17 | date=October, 1982 | accessdate= 2006-10-22]

The development of computer role-playing games began in the mid 1970's, when stand-alone computer role-playing games were being developed as an offshoot of mainframe text-based role-playing games on PDP-10 and Unix-based computers. Amongst the first of these were pedit5 and dnd , [dnd (1974) was written in the TUTOR programming language for the PLATO System by Gary Whisenhunt and Ray Wood at Southern Illinois University ; enhancements were made by Dirk and Flint Pellett during the late '70's and early '80's.] whose name derives from an abbreviation of "Dungeons & Dragons" (D 'n' D), the original role-playing game which had been published earlier in 1974. This gave rise to a whole genre of dungeon crawl games. In 1980, probably the most seminal of this genre, "Rogue" was released, inspiring a host of roguelike clones . [One of the most notable of these was the 1987 update, "NetHack"] Two notable examples of these were Ultima (1980) [" (1980), created by Richard Garriott. The series has had many updates which are still being published. see: [http://www.uo.com/archive/ The official Ultima WWW Archive] for information and files concerning the entire saga] and Wizardry (1981). [, the first of 8 titles published by Sir-Tech between 1981 and 2001.The game began life as a dungeon crawl written by Andrew C. Greenberg and Robert Woodhead, when they were students at Cornell University.]

Innovations in these games eventually became standards of almost all console role-playing games and Role-playing video games produced for the personal computer market. Later games such as "Dungeon Master" (1987) introduced realtime gameplay and several user-interface innovations, for example, direct manipulation of objects and the environment with the mouse. Later developments in this genre have tended to involve on-line interaction with other players (see below), rather than played on stand-alone machines. One variant, computer-assisted gaming, is still very much alive ; [see, for example [http://www.chorewars.com/ Chore Wars] , launched in July 2007, which offers a new slant on the entire RPG genre – housework!] here the games are only partially computerized, but actively regulated by a human referee. [see: [http://www.insidemacgames.com/features/view.php?ID=342&Page=1 Mac-Assisted Role-Playing] , for example.] It is claimed that there are Cultural differences in computer and console role-playing games between Eastern and Western versions . [ see: [http://www.gamespy.com/articles/489/489047p1.html Spy/Counterspy Case File 07: RPGs - East vs. West] , [http://www.1up.com/do/feature?pager.offset=0&cId=3148996 The Oblivion of Western RPGs: Can Oblivion save a genre it helped bury] , and [http://armchairarcade.com/neo/node/733 Kawaisa! A Naive Glance at Western and Eastern RPGs] ]

Online gaming and virtual worlds

The origins of today's virtual worlds and virtual communities lie in the interactive fiction and adventure games of the 1970s. The first text-based computer-based interactive fiction was Colossal Cave Adventure created by Will Crowther in 1975 (later extended by Don Woods). In 1976, Dungeon was a version of Dungeons & Dragons, a role-playing game based on a medieval fantasy scenario. This was followed in 1978 by Multi-User Dungeon, a text-based multi-player on-line role playing game. However it took the advent of Usenet in 1980 as a distributed community, to allow the idea to develop effectively. From these early beginnings came several variants on the gaming theme: MUCK, MUSH and MOO (collectively MU* ), all developed out of TinyMUD (1989) a social game variant of the original MUD. In the early 1990s these became more sophisticated and found uses outside gaming, particularly in education. [ For example, LinguaMOO is an educational MOO, created in 1995 by Cynthia Haynes of the University of Texas at Dallas and Jan Rune Holmevik of the University of Bergen. see http://lingua.utdallas.edu:7000/] In 1985 the Whole Earth eLectronic Link was founded as a virtual community. This was one of the precursors to the Internet. Initially online games were primarily text-based; however, in 1994 WebWorlds (later called ActiveWorlds) was created as the first on-line 3D virtual reality platform. This was quickly followed in 1996 by The Palace, which provided graphical chat rooms with a flexible avatar system. The 1980s and 1990s also saw the development of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, growing out of initial offerings such as MUD (1978) which were text-based, but then developed through "Rogue" (1980) and other similar games, such as Islands of Kesmai (1984), to using ASCII graphics. In the 1990s, games such as Neverwinter Nights (1991) and the later Ultima Online (1997) were primarily visual-graphics based.

Since 2000, Massively Multiplayer On-line Gaming has developed in various directions. Computer simulations such as VATSIM and IVAO offer the user the ability to fly virtual planes in a world wide air traffic control simulation. Virtual communities such as MySpace (2003) use social software to facilitate social interaction and networking. Massively Multiplayer Online Social Games such as The Sims Online (2002), There (2003) and Second Life (2003) which are virtual reality environments where the user is represented by an avatar have developed from earlier offerings such as Habbo Hotel (2000). These focus on socialization instead of objective-based gameplay, and might best be described as Multi-User Virtual Environments. MMORPGs, such as World of WarCraft (2004) have also become interactive communities but based more on fantasy worlds rather than real-world scenarios. Such communities are sometimes called metaverses, a term taken from the 1992 novel "Snow Crash" by Neal Stephenson.

cience fiction themes

One of the first references to simulations occurred in the 1959 novel "Time out of Joint" by Philip K. Dick. In this the central character is trapped in a "bubble" of 1950s small town America. "Simulacron-3" (1964) by Daniel F. Galouye (alternative title: "Counterfeit World") tells the story of a virtual city developed as a computer simulation for market research purposes, in which the simulated inhabitants possess consciousness; all but one of the inhabitants are unaware of the true nature of their world.

"Permutation City" (1994) by Greg Egan explores quantum ontology via the various philosophical aspects of artificial life and simulations of intelligence. Other Egan novels, such as "Diaspora" (1997) and "Schild's Ladder" (2002) also involve simulated consciousness.

Recent feature films whose plot lines have explicitly involved the simulism hypothesis:
* Dark City (1998)
* The Thirteenth Floor (1999)
* eXistenZ (1999)
* The Matrix Trilogy (1999-2003)

Cellular automata and digital physics

Artificial intelligence & virtual reality

Although the idea of an automaton has been in existence since the time of the ancient Greeks, both in fact and fiction, the first use of the term robot was in 1921, derived from the title of a play by Karel Čapek called "R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots)". While Capek's creatures have intelligence, they are biological rather than mechanical, similar to the replicants in "Blade Runner".

Types of reality simulation

Simulation of reality is currently a fictional technology, and non-fictional examples are limited to reality TV or computer simulations of specific events and situations. Current technology in the form of virtual, augmented or mixed reality is very limited in comparison to what would be needed to achieve a convincing simulation of reality. The following typology of the different forms of reality simulation is drawn from examples from both science fiction and futurology. One may usefully distinguish between two types of simulation: in an extrinsic simulation, the consciousness is external to the simulation, whereas in an intrinsic simulation the consciousness is entirely contained within it and has no presence in the external reality.

Extrinsic consciousness simulations

Physical simulation

Here, the body and functions of participants remain intact, entering into a simulation and participating using their normal physical body. Examples range from Reality TV shows such as The Big Brother House which are social simulations, through online social network services such as Second Life and Massively On-Line Role Playing Games to fictional simulations such as the Star Trek Holodeck. In the extreme case as fictionally portrayed in the original episode The Menagerie, participant's minds were convinced not only of a simulated reality, but also that their physical bodies had been transformed.

Brain-computer interface

In a brain-computer interface simulation, participants enter the simulation from outside, directly connecting their brain to the simulation computer, but normally keeping their physical form intact. The computer transfers sensory data to them and reads their desires and actions back; in this manner they interact with the simulated world and receive feedback from it. The participant may even receive adjustment in order to temporarily forget that they are inside a virtual realm, sometimes called [http://www.theveil.net/ "passing through the veil"] , a term borrowed from Christianity, which describes the supposed passage of a soul from an earthly body to an afterlife. While inside the simulation, the participant can be represented by an avatar, which could look very different from the participant's actual appearance. The Cyberpunk genre of fiction contains many examples of brain-computer interface simulated reality; most notably, this type of simulation was featured in The Matrix trilogy.


in popular science fiction.


In an emigration simulation, the participant would enter the simulation from an outer reality, via a brain-computer interface, but to a much greater degree. On entry, the participant is subject to mind transfer which temporarily "relocates" their mental processing into a virtual-person which holds their consciousness. Their outside-world presence remains in stasis during the simulation. After the simulation is over, the participant's mind is transferred back into their outer-reality body, along with all new memories and experiences gained. Mind transfer is portrayed in Science Fiction novels such as "Mindswap" (1966) by Robert Sheckley and the TV series Quantum Leap; most notably, mind transfer was the primary mechanism by which consciousness was transferred in The Thirteenth Floor (1999).

Intrinsic consciousness simulations

Virtual world simulation

In a virtual world simulation, every inhabitant is a native of the simulated world. They do not have a 'real' body in the 'outside' reality. Rather, each is a fully simulated entity, possessing an appropriate level of consciousness that is implemented using the simulation's own logic (i.e. using its own physics). Typical of such a simulation at one extreme with no level of consciousness would be an artificial life simulation such as The Sims computer game. In many computer games, inhabitants lacking consciousness are referred to as NPCs ("Non-Player Characters"), or bots (see also Philosophical zombies). Where virtual entities achieve the level of artificial consciousness, they could be downloaded from one simulation to another, or even archived and resurrected at a later date. It is also possible that a simulated entity could be moved out of the simulation entirely by means of mind transfer into a synthetic body. "Ancestor simulations" as described by Nick Bostrom would fall into this category.

Virtual solipsistic simulation

In this type of simulation, an artificial consciousness is created; the "world" participants perceive exists only within their minds. There are two possible variants of this: in the first, there is only a single solipsistic conscious entity in existence, and is the sole focus of the simulation; in the second, there are multiple conscious entities, but each receives a separate but globally consistent version of the simulation . This scenario is a counterpart of social constructivism which concerns the ways in which groups participate in the creation of their perceived reality.

Intermingled simulations

An intermingled simulation would support both extrinsic and intrinsic types of consciousness: beings from an outer reality visiting or emigrating, and virtual-people who are natives of the simulation both artificial consciousnesses or bots, lacking any physical body in the outer reality. Sometimes this is termed a metaverse. The Matrix trilogy features an intermingled type of simulation: it contains not only human minds, but also the 'agents', who are sovereign software programs indigenous to the computed realm, and NPCs.

Philosophical background

The idea that the world is an illusory computer simulation, is on the surface a modern example of a skeptical hypothesis, a hypothetical situation posed in order to raise doubts which challenge epistemological theories. However, Nick Bostrom argues that the purpose of [http://www.simulation-argument.com/ The Simulation Argument] goes beyond such skepticism, claiming that "...we have interesting empirical reasons to believe that a certain disjunctive claim about the world is true", one of the disjunctive propositions being that we are almost certainly living in a simulation.. [ This is a clarification by Nick Bostrom on [http://www.simulation-argument.com/faq.html The Simulation Argument Website] ; see FAQ 3] Taking this position, one might view the simulation hypothesis as a logically possible world, which, according to the modal realism of David Lewis would be as valid as this world.

Chalmers, in "The Matrix as Metaphysics" agrees that this is not a skeptical hypothesis but rather a Metaphysical Hypothesis. .Davis J. Chalmers [http://consc.net/papers/matrix.html The Matrix as Metaphysics] Dept of Philosophy, U. o Arizona; paper written for the philosophy section of "The Matrix" website. ] Chalmers goes on to identify three separate hypotheses, which, when combined gives what he terms the "Matrix Hypothesis"; the notion that reality is but a computer simulation:
* The Creation Hypothesis, that "Physical space-time and its contents were created by beings outside physical space-time" b]
* The Computational Hypothesis, that "Microphysical processes throughout space-time are constituted by underlying computational processes"c]
* The Mind-Body Hypothesis, that "mind is constituted by processes outside physical space-time, and receives its perceptual inputs from and sends its outputs to processes in physical space-time".d]

Historical precedents

The roots of skepticism can be traced back to the early 5th Century BC, in Parmenides' work "The Way of Truth", in which he argued that the every-day perception of reality of the physical world is mistaken, and that the reality of the world is an unchanging, ungenerated, indestructible whole. [ [http://www.formalontology.it/parmenides.htm Parminedes' "Way of Truth": The First Enquiry in Being] ]


Zeno of Elea, (c. 490 BC ) put forward three paradoxes concerning the nature of motion, and questioning the reality of what we see around us. In the final "Paradox of the Arrow", he suggests:

If everything when it occupies an equal space is at rest, and if that which is in locomotion is always occupying such a space at any moment, the flying arrow is therefore motionless. [Aristotle|"Physics" VI:9, 239b5]
The paradoxes taken together appear to support Parmenides' doctrine that "all is one" and that contrary to the evidence of our senses, motion is nothing but an illusion. The challenges offered by the paradoxes can be dealt with through the use of calculus; however, even as recently as the 1950s variants of these paradoxes were still causing puzzlement. (see for example, Thomson's lamp a paradox proposed by J.F.Thomson [Tasks and Super-TasksJ.F.Thomson, (1954), Analysis, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Oct., 1954), pp. 1-13doi:10.2307/3326643]


is thus understood to be "intellectual" illumination,

The prisoner's stages of understanding correlate with the levels on the so-called divided line, which is divided into the visible and intelligible worlds, with the divider being the Sun. In the cave, he is in the visible realm, receiving no sunlight and outside he is in the intelligible realm.

There are clear parallels here with the plot line of The Matrix, in which Neo initially thinks that he is living in the real world, but then is freed by Morpheus, who gives him understanding that what he took to be reality was in fact a computer simulation.

Hindu & Buddhist philosophy

In Advaita Vedanta a branch of Hindu philosophy, the 'reality' which our everyday consciousness experiences is the result of Maya, a complex illusionary power, disguising the real nature of Brahman, the true, unitary self & cosmic spirit. Maya has two main functions — one is to 'veil' Brahman from the human minds, and the other is to present the material world in its stead. Maya is believed to be a temporary state and is destroyed with 'true knowledge or by the 'lifting of the veil'. The concept of Maya is expounded in the Upanishads (Hindu Scriptures); see, for example the Bhagavad Gita 7.14 .

A related concept, Bodhi is found in Buddhism. Bodhi is the awakening experience attained by Gautama Buddha, the awareness of the true nature of the universe. After attainment, it is believed one is freed from the cycle of Samsara, that of birth, suffering, death and rebirth to reach nirvana. The Nirvana Sutra teaches that:

"The attributes of Nirvana are eightfold. What are these eight? Cessation (nirodha), Wholesomeness / Loveliness (shubha), Truth (satya), Reality (bhuta) / (tattva), Eternity (nitya), Bliss (sukha), Self (atman), and Purity (parishuddhi): that is Nirvana." [Translation on [http://www.nirvanasutra.org.uk/selectedextracts2.htm The "Nirvana Sutra"] , a website devoted to the "Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra" - the sutra specialising in the Buddha's "Buddha-dhatu" ("Buddha Nature") / "Tathagatagarbha" ("Buddha-Matrix") and "True Self" teachings; quotaion is from the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra, translated into English by Kosho Yamamoto, edited and revised by Page, T. (2000), Nirvana Publications, London.] .


Descartes (1596-1650) is one of the first 'modern' thinkers to attempt to provide a philosophical framework of mind and the world we perceive around us, seeking a fundamental set of truths. In his writings, Descartes employs a version of methodological skepticism, the first precept of which he states is "never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such". [ Descartes, René, 1596-1650, Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences ]

. [Kim, J. (1995). in Honderich, Ted: Problems in the Philosophy of Mind. Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ] Descartes also discussed the existence of the external world, arguing that sensory perceptions are involuntary, and are not consciously directed, and as such are evidence of a world external to the mind, since God has given him the "propensity" to believe that such ideas are caused by material things.c]

Later critics responded to Descartes's 'proof' for the external world with the brain in a vat thought experiment, suggesting in that Descartes' brain might be connected up to a machine which simulates all of these perceptions. However, the vat and the machine exist in an external world, so one form of external world is simply replaced by another.

Later thinkers

David Hume

Hume (1711-1776) argued for two kinds of reasoning: probable and demonstrative (Hume's fork), and applied these to the skeptical argument that reality is but an illusion. He concludes that neither of these two forms of reasoning can lead us to belief in the continued existence of an external world. Demonstration by itself cannot establish the uniformity of nature (as laid out by scientific laws and principles), and reason alone cannot establish that the future will resemble the past (e.g. that the sun will rise tomorrow), Probable reasoning, which aims to take us from the observed to the unobserved, cannot do this either, as it also depends on the uniformity of nature, and cannot be proved without circularity by any appeal to uniformity. Hume concludes that there is no solution to the skeptical argument except, to ignore it. [(Hume, D. 1777, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, XII, Part 2, p.128)]

Immanuel Kant

Kant (1724-1804) was an advocate of Transcendental Idealism, that there are limits on what can be understood, and what we see as reality is merely how things appear to us, not how those things are in and of themselves. In his Critique of Pure Reason he notes:

"Everything intuited or perceived in space and time, and therefore all objects of a possible experience, are nothing but phenomenal appearances, that is, mere representations [and] have no independent, self-subsistent existence apart from our thoughts". Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. and ed. by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988,]
An important theme in Kant's work is that there are fundamental features of reality that escape our direct knowledge because of the natural limits of our senses and faculties.b]

Hegel, Husserl & Heidegger

These three philospohers form the core of Phenomenological thought.

Hegel ( 1770-1831) proposed a conception of knowledge, mind and reality in which the mind itself creates external forms and objects that stand outside of it or opposed to it. The mind recognizes itself in these external forms, so that they become simultaneously 'mind' and 'other-than-mind'. [ G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, translated by A.V. Miller with analysis of the text and foreword by J. N. Findlay (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977) ISBN 0-19-824597-1.]

Husserl (1859-1938) observed that the 'natural standpoint' of our perception of the world and its objects is characterized by a belief that the objects exist and possess properties. Husserl proposed a way of looking at objects by examining how we "constitute" them as (seemingly) real objects, rather than simply figments of our imagination. In this Phenomenological standpoint, the object ceases to be "external", with mere indicators about its nature, its essence arising from the relationship between the object and the perceiver. [Woodruff Smith, D. (2007). Husserl. Routledge]

Heidegger (1889-1976) in "Being and Time" questions of the meaning of Being, and distinguishes it from any specific thing "'Being' is not something like a being". [Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. by Joan Stambaugh (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996)] According to Heidegger, this sense of being precedes any notions of which beings exist, as it is a primary construct.


Phenomenalism is the view that physical objects do not exist as things in themselves but only as perceptions or sensory stimuli (e.g. redness, hardness, softness, sweetness, etc.) situated in time and in space. In particular, phenomenalism reduces talk about physical objects in the external world to talk about bundles of sense-data. For a brief period, Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) held the view that all that we could be aware of was this sense data; everything else, including physical objects which generated the sense data, could only known by description, and not known directly. [ Ayer, A.J., Russell, 1972, Fontana, London ISBN 0-00-632965-9.]

Contemporary philosophy

Modal realism

Modal realism asserts that all possible worlds are as valid as this world. A "possible world" is a term devised by Leibniz to enable logical analysis of propositions. The idea was first proposed in papers by David Lewis in the late 1960s, [ There are three separate papers where the theory of modal realism is suggestd: Lewis, K.D., (1968),"Counterpart Theory and Quantified Modal Logic", Lewis, K.D. (1970), 'Anselm and Actuality', and Lewis, K.D.,(1971), 'Counterparts of Persons and their Bodies' ] but elaborated upon in "Counterfactuals" (1973) . [ Lewis, K.D, (1973)"Counterfactuals" ] This latter work contained an analysis of counterfactual conditionals in terms of the theory of possible worlds and modelled counterfactuals using the possible world semantics of modal logic. In On the Plurality of Worlds, (1991), Lewis argues that "the thesis that the world we are part of is but one of a plurality of worlds, ... and that we who inhabit this world are only a few out of all the inhabitants of all the worlds."

C. S. Lewis, author of "The Chronicles of Narnia" regarded possible worlds as a way of thinking about possibility and necessity. In the Chronicles, C. S. Lewis uses possible worlds in the form of a parallel universes to discuss various Christian themes. He says, in a 1958 letter: "What might Christ become like if there really were a world like Narnia?" [ Martindale, Wayne & Root (1990), The Quotable Lewis, Tyndale House, ISBN 0-8423-5115-9 ] An interesting parallel here is the notion of pantheistic solipsism put forward by the Science Fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein in novels such as "The Number of the Beast". [ Heinlein, R.A. "The Number of the Beast (novel)", 1980, ISBN 0-449-13070-3]


Ernst von Glasersfeld is a proponent of Radical Constructivism, which claims that knowledge is the result of a self-organizing cognitive process of the human brain. The process of constructing knowledge regulates itself, whereby knowledge is constructed rather than compiled from empirical data. It is therefore impossible "in principle" to know the extent to which knowledge reflects an external reality."The function of cognition is adaptive and serves the organisation of the experiential world, not the discovery of ontological reality" [ Glasersfeld, E. von, 1989, Constructivism in Education, in Husen & Postlethwaite (eds), The International Encyclopaedia of Education Supplementary Volume, Oxford, Pergamon Press :p182)]

Social constructivism is a sociological theory of knowledge which rose to prominence in 1966 with the publication of The Social Construction of Reality . [ Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality : A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (Anchor, 1967; ISBN 0-385-05898-5)] Social constructivism (or constructionism) attempts to uncover how individuals and groups participate and negotiate their perceived reality, and shared understanding; in this way reality is socially constructed. Paul Ernest (1991) summarises the main foundations of social constructivism as follows:

"Knowledge is not passively received but actively built up by the cognizing subject. The personal theories which result from the organization of the experiential world must fit the constraints imposed by physical and social reality. This is achieved by a cycle of theory - prediction - test - failure - accommodation - new theory. This gives rise to socially agreed theories of the world." [Ernest, Paul; The Philosophy of Mathematics Education; London: RoutledgeFalmer, (1991)]


Computationalism claims that cognition is a form of computation, and underpins much of the work in Artificial Intelligence. It is related to Functionalism, a philosophy of mind put forth by Hilary Putnam in 1960, inspired by the analogies between the mind and the theoretical Turing Machines, which according to the Church-Turing Thesis are capable of processing any given algorithm which is computable. Computationalism rests on two theses: (i) "Computational Sufficiency", that an appropriate computational structure suffices for the possession of mind, and (ii) "Computational Explanation", that computation provides a framework for the explanation of cognitive processes.. [ [http://consc.net/papers/computation.html A Computational Foundation for Study of Cognition] , Chalmers, D.J. University of Arizona]

Computationalism assumes the possibility of Strong AI, which would be required in order to establish even a theoretical possibility of a simulated reality. However, the relationship between cognition and phenomenal consciousness is disputed by Searle in an argument known as the Chinese Room. [ [http://members.aol.com/NeoNoetics/MindsBrainsPrograms.html Minds, Brains, and Programs] John R. Searle, 1980, from The Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 3.] Further critics have argued that it is possible that consciousness requires a substrate of "real" physics, and simulated people, while behaving appropriately, would be philosophical zombies. [ Fetzer, J. (1996) ``Minds Are Not Computers: (Most) Thought Processes Are Not Computational", paper presented at the annual meeting of the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology, Nashville, April 5.]


The first known use of the term "Transhumanism" was by Julian Huxley in 1957. During the 1980s a group of scientists, artists, and futurists began to organize into the transhumanist movement. Transhumanist thinkers postulate that human beings will eventually be transformed into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label "posthuman".cite paper| author = Bostrom, Nick| title = A history of transhumanist thought| date = 2005 | url = http://www.nickbostrom.com/papers/history.pdf] Proponents draw on future studies and various fields of ethics such as bioethics, infoethics, nanoethics, neuroethics, roboethics, and technoethics, and are predominantly secular posthumanist and politically liberal.

Nick Bostrom, in "A History of Transhumanist Thought" (2005) b ] locates transhumanism's roots in Renaissance humanism and the Enlightenment. Transhumanism can be defined as:
* The improvement of the human condition through applied reason, and technology to eliminate aging and greatly enhance human capacities.
* The study of the technologies that will enable us to overcome fundamental human limitations, and the ethical issues involved in their use.cite paper| author = World Transhumanist Association| title = The transhumanist FAQ| date = 2002-2005 | url = http://www.transhumanism.org/resources/FAQv21.pdf]

The "Simulation Argument" is part of the Transhumanist debate, located within Digital Philosophy.


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