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Oct 06 2013

The Simulation Hypothesis and Religion: Part 1 – Animism

Earlier I explored some of the consequences of The Simulation Hypothesis. In that essay I quickly glossed over the possibility that our world’s religions might exist because we live in a simulation designed as a ‘God Game‘:

Think about it, much of mythology makes all of us out as NPCs (Non Player Characters) in a great godly game anyway; so what if that were actually the case? What if there used to be a whole bunch of players fooling with humanity like kids might poke an ant hill and now only one is still doing so seriously?

Here I’m going to take a deeper dive into the relationship between the Simulation Hypothesis and Religion and I am going to start with the most primitive religious belief of all – Animism; the belief that everything around you, from inanimate objects to plants and insects and other living things, has a spiritual essence.

It’s important to start out by repeating something else from my earlier essay:

. . . the realities of being in a simulation dictate that you should act as though the simulation is real or face negative consequences.

Consequences that include effectively being insane even if you are right about the facts. So a warning: do not take this essay as either an indication I believe any of this or a reason for you to do so. It is just me riffing on a cool idea. Got that? ‘Cuz if you aren’t clear about this, stop reading now.

Let’s start by briefly examining the features of Animism:

  1. Everything has a spirit; but not all spirits are the same
  2. This includes everything in the natural world, even things like thunder and lightning, and may include ‘made things’ as well
  3. Even words, ideas, metaphors and other meme-like constructs can have spirits
  4. Often these spirits are connected at a deep level; with the fortunes of one kind of thing affecting the fortunes of all things
  5. In some Animist traditions, such as Shinto, there are greater spirits that represent collections of all the local spirits of one kind of thing
  6. The spirits often exist in a separate realm with different rules, sometimes affecting the real world in ways that can be interpreted (signs and portents)
  7. Spirits can be good or bad and some are really good or really, really bad; thus demons
  8. If you know what the spirits want you can motivate them to help you or placate them when they are working against you
  9. Animism and Pantheism are compatible, but are not the same thing (I’ll take on Pantheism later)

In Object Oriented Programming (OOP) everything has an ‘instance’ that contains its local state. Considering that OOP is a particularly good way to represent every thing you are simulating (assuming your simulation is a fairly high-level implementation and not a low-level physical simulation starting from quarks or other quantum phenomena) then it is likely that features (1) and (2) are a result of an OOP implementation; whether as a side-effect or intended. In other words, the ‘spirit’ of a thing is its local and non-local state.

OOP software systems also lend themselves to hierarchies of object instances, where a greater object is actually a amalgamation of lesser objects. Furthermore, you would generally create multiple separate hierarchical collections of the same object instances, each with a different purpose in the simulation system. And, finally, you would allow those object instances to interact with each other’s states in complex ways via rules, not all of which might be obvious. Thus we have features (3), (4), and (5).

Some of those hierarchies might exist outside of the physical simulation rules and represent connections between objects not part of the normal sensory perceptions of the things being simulated; giving us features (5) and (6).

Whether intended, as a result of genetic programming, or simply as a bug; it is a possible not every object or collection of objects in the simulation is operating in a way humans would consider ‘good’. Some of those things might be the simulation equivalent of a computer virus or something even worse. This means feature (7) is on the table.

If object states can affect other object states via non-physical (supernatural) channels, then affecting the state of a local object can have non-local consequences; assuming you know how the connections work or else have developed rules of thumb that work even if you don’t understand the underlying system. Some of these methods for affecting local state to achieve a ‘supernatural’ result might appear entirely disconnected from that result. And so we have feature (8).

I’ll leave feature (9) for a future essay. But I do think I have shown here that a simulation designed using OOP principles could easily satisfy every major component of Animist belief. Thus, even if it wasn’t intended by the designer(s), it is very possible generations of humans living in such a simulation might eventually come to believe that is how the world works because, even though not all the state transitions are part of the ‘real’ world, the ‘supernatural’ connections and other features of the simulated things would expose themselves over time.

Of course none of this explains why, in our modern world, we have generally rejected Animist belief systems.

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  1. The Simulation Hypothesis and Religion: Part 2 – The God Module » Jack William Bell

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