Experiment: Reality As Simulation

Background: What question or issue motivates this experiment?

PietHut - 27 May 2005
We normally don't deal with the world as it really is (presented to us) but rather as we imagine it to be. In order to become more aware of the filters we put on top of reality, it is instructive to put yet another filter on top. In other words, we effectively simulate the world, according to our own understanding. And if we then play as if yet another simulation is going on, within our habitual simulation, we may be more likely to become aware of the conventional ongoing simulation in which we are already caught.

Description: What should experimenters do?

Imagine that we were immersed in a virtual world, right here and now, and that everything we see and hear and feel with all our senses is part of a simulation. The instruction is simply to look around and sense how far such an orientation changes the way we view ourselves and the world we live in.

Lab reports

What was striking about this experiment was that thinking that it was a simulation suddenly made me pay attention to things in a way that I normally don't. One of the first things I noticed was that the trees were all different - some had flowers, for instance. The ones across the street had very red flowers. The tree diagonally to my left was large and voluminous and the main branches with the leaves swayed from time to time. Also, different trees had leaves with different shades of green - some a deep bottle green and some light green. I think I started noticing these things when you pointed out that the table (even though a simulation) actually reflected your hand, and what trouble the simulator must have gone to, to ensure that level of detail. And I tend to pay close attention to the simulations I run - so, at that point, I started to pay attention.

Also, there was a painting in front of me (though above me, so it was not directly in my field of view) that I noticed - first through the impression of the vivid green color - and then that it was a painting. I'd missed it entirely before. I also noticed the flies that would perch on the windowsill, somewhat below me. These are a couple of instances of things that I noticed - even though they were somewhat outside the field of view - in each case, I was drawn to them through either an impression of color or motion. And then I realized what it was.

The other thing that was interesting was the people who were walking down the street - they looked so encased - inside their own world. And you can see that they're really concentrating, really thinking about some problem.

After I left the cafe, I went to do some grocery shopping. While walking there, I again noticed the diversity of the plant life. Some of the trees had long, collimated, shiny leaves. Some had short curled up leaves. There was one tree in particular which had very dense green foliage - with two shades of deep green - so dense that you could almost see the texture of the color. And some of the really large trees have branches that curl azimuthally.

I stopped to get a snack (at Vik's actually). It was almost closing time for them, so there were very few customers. I was sitting just across from a family. I happened to glance at one of the people at the table - and it was obvious to me that this person was very proud. I didn't think this like a judgment, i.e., that it was either good or bad to be proud - but just an observation.

When I tried to think that I was also a simulation, like the simulation I was looking at - the main thing I noticed was that the little cluster of leaves on the tree directly in front of me on the sidewalk did not seem very fragile anymore.

Those are most of my impressions that I can remember. It was interesting that the first time I did this - it was very vivid, and I was quite surprised by it. The second time, however, I was sort of prepared for it, and it was not so striking or perhaps so surprising, but I think I noticed more details eventually. It was very illuminating and surprising. I'll try it again soon.

-- SC - 27 May 2005

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