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Simulation Theory as Persuasion

Simulation Theory as Persuasion

I have previously written about belief in the simulation theory as a symptom of internet-use-based depersonalization and derealization syndrome. But I thought that Scott Adams might have been some kind of exception, given his lifestyle and personality.

I now have a new hypothesis:

Scott Adams persuades towards adoption of the simulation hypothesis because people who believe we are living in a simulation will be easier to persuade.

I am skeptical that Scott is a true believer in the simulation hypothesis for two reasons.

First, Scott states that he believes the true nature of reality is unknowable, and so any explanatory metaphysical theory would be held with default skepticism in his worldview.

Second, Nick Bostrom–the author of the simulation argument, whom Scott has briefly mentioned–himself does not believe the simulation hypothesis is the most likely scenario in his Simulation Argument (he assigns roughly equal likelihoods to the possibilities that a.) all civilizations go extinct before reaching technological maturity, b.) civilizations lose interest in generating ancestor simulations after a certain point, or c.) we are living inside an ancestor simulation). For these two reasons, Scott’s hypnosis background inclines me to believe that he will consistently mention little confirmation-bias stories about the simulation in order to push the world toward belief in the simulation.

People would be easier to persuade if they believed we live in a simulation because our natural relationship with coding — as it exists in our experience — would incline us to believe in all kinds of “bugs,” imperfections, or alterations (“miracles”), at least as possible, whereas a “true” physical world would not allow such things. But we’ve all used “cheat codes,” mods, or otherwise hacked video games to manipulate reality itself in a way that would be inexplicable (albeit often unnoticed) to the NPCs who occupy the game. If our world were believed to be a simulation, our association would incline us to believe that all kinds of things to be possible, even likely, which before we would have dismissed as ridiculous.

But would Scott do such a thing?

He has repeated many times that his two-check test for a worldview is whether it predicts and whether it makes you happy. The simulation hypothesis offers no intrinsic predictive value, because the odds that our simulation is in any way comparable to the primitive simulations we currently have is basically zero. We don’t know what sorts of things the simulation would predict. But! If wide numbers of people could be persuaded to believe the simulation hypothesis, then persuasion becomes easier, and it is easier to predict events which you have persuasive influence over.

Presumably, this would make Scott happy as well.

I don’t mean this as a criticism of Scott. There are many reasons not to trust any given internet personality, but I’m not aware of any instance of Scott actually lying. He’s also unusually willing to change his mind. In the cases where he is manipulating the public, he is overt and open about his intentions and methods. If my reading of Scott is correct, one could present him with this hypothesis and trust that his “yes” or “no” would, in fact, be accurate.

Not least because it would test his own worldview, which would hold that people understanding the hypnosis trick being used on them would have little to no effect on its effectiveness.

For all I know, Scott is trying to persuade people to adopt the simulation hypothesis as an experiment, purely to see if it would change how persuadable they are. Or if he can even do it.

If this is Scott’s intention (this is only a hypothesis), then it’s fairly unethical, but also pretty brilliant. And while the idea of someone persuading you to be more persuadable feels a little creepy, it’s also probably a pretty common phenomenon in history. Simulation Theory would just be a new medium to leverage one’s rhetorical influence, presumably towards a future full of less anxious people… because if you live in a simulation, why not go all out and do the things you would otherwise be too afraid to do?

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