Hey Bill Nye! Is "We Are Living in a Computer Simulation" a Testable Hypothesis?
When we asked Bill Nye the Science Guy if he thinks we are living in a computer-generated simulation, he turned to some basic scientific principles to justify his answer.
Bill Nye: So are we living in a videogame? Are we actually part of a giant simulation? I don’t think you can know. I think you can argue that whoever has written the simulation, whatever super entity has written the simulation could make it so sophisticated that even your memories are a result of this being programmed by the simulator or simulatrix. So the question is at some level irrelevant but another level I think we would have to agree it’s unknowable. You can just presume any level of sophistication that makes it undetectable to us. With that said there have been a lot of science fiction stories where people discover that they’re living in a dome or inside a hollow world or underground and the metaphors for this are from our everyday experience. You hear about kids who have been kidnapped and kept in a room until they’re 14 and they know nothing of the world outside. And the human mind apparently at some level is uncapable of detecting that outside world unless something goes wrong. For me as a philosopher to prove that we’re living in a videogame is an extraordinary level of effort. But if you can do it bring it on. But it seems to me it’s a hard question to resolve because it’s easy to imagine a game designer, a simulation designer making it so sophisticated that you can’t tell. Good luck out there.
Are we living in a holographic simulation created by a supercomputer beyond our comprehension? That question occurs again and again in science fiction, perhaps most notably in The Matrix, a film in which unreality is so pristine that no one notices the truth. That we are all actually, truly living in such a matrix seems laughable until you consider the advances made by video games in the last few decades.
Not long ago, all we had was pong: two rectangles and a circle. Today we have virtual reality consoles which are edging toward an experience indistinguishable from reality, or at least what we think of as reality. Elon Musk, Tesla and SpaceX cofounder, was recently asked this question: Is it possible that the world as we know it is just a simulation made by someone else?
His response is perhaps startling, saying that the chances of this reality being a "base" reality are "one in billions." To make matters even more confusing, humans are increasingly turning to virtual reality devices to escape this "reality." Thorsten Wiedemann, for example, spent forty-eight hours wearing his Oculus Rift device, proving it is possible to live within a virtual reality at least for a short time.
When we asked Bill Nye the Science Guy if he thinks we are living in a computer-generated simulation, he turned to some basic scientific principles to justify his answer. Science ultimately demands testable, repeatable hypotheses to proceed, but how do you test whether we are living in a computer simulation or not? There just doesn't seem to be a way.
There is every possibility that this is a hyper-real version of The Sims, and we wouldn’t know. If we had never seen the outside world, there’s no reason we would know it exists, that we’re missing it. So if we as a people had only ever existed in this hyper real video game, we wouldn’t know it was all just a game.
That is why it is "unknowable," according to Bill Nye. If we were in a video game, human minds would not be able to detect the outside world until "something goes wrong," i.e. a glitch in the matrix. Still, Nye wishes luck to anyone wanting to design such an experiment. It might take some time, but perhaps could be done...
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Best case: redrawing borders leads to peace, prosperity and EU membership. But there's also a worst case
- The Yugoslav Wars started in 1991, but never really ended
- Kosovo and Serbia are still enemies, and they're getting worse
- A proposed land swap could create peace - or reignite the conflict
The death of Old Yugoslavia
Image: public domain
United Yugoslavia on a CIA map from 1990.
Wars are harder to finish than to start. Take for instance the Yugoslav Wars, which raged through most of the 1990s.
The first shot was fired at 2.30 pm on June 27th, 1991, when an officer in the Yugoslav People's Army took aim at Slovenian separatists. When the YPA retreated on July 7th, Slovenia was the first of Yugoslavia's republics to have won its independence.
After the wars
Image: Ijanderson977, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons
Map of former Yugoslavia in 2008, when Kosovo declared its independence. The geopolitical situation remains the same today.
The Ten-Day War cost less than 100 casualties. The other wars – in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo (1) – lasted much longer and were a lot bloodier. By early 1999, when NATO had forced Serbia to concede defeat in Kosovo, close to 140,000 people had been killed and four million civilians displaced.
So when was the last shot fired? Perhaps it wasn't: it's debatable whether the Yugoslav Wars are actually over. That's because Kosovo is a special case. Although inhabited by an overwhelming ethnic-Albanian majority, Serbians are historically very attached to it. More importantly, from a legalistic point of view: Kosovo was never a separate republic within Yugoslavia but rather a (nominally) autonomous province within Serbia.
Kosovo divides the world
Image: public domain
In red: states that recognise the independence of Kosovo (most EU member states – with the notable exceptions of Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia; and the U.S., Japan, Turkey and Egypt, among many others). In blue: states that recognise Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo (most notably Russia and China, but also other major countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Iran).
The government of Serbia has made its peace and established diplomatic relations with all other former Yugoslav countries, but not with Kosovo. In Serbian eyes, Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 was a unilateral and therefore legally invalid change of state borders. Belgrade officially still considers Kosovo a 'renegade province', and it actually has a lot of international support for that position (2).
The irony is that on the longer term, both Kosovo and Serbia want the same thing: EU membership. Ironically, that wish could lead to Yugoslav reunification some years down the road – within the EU. Slovenia and Croatia have already joined, and all other ex-Yugoslav states would like to follow their example. Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have already submitted an official application. The EU considers Bosnia and Kosovo 'potential candidates'.
Kosovo is the main stumbling block on Serbia's road to EU membership. Even after the end of hostilities, skirmishes continued, between the ethnically Albanian majority and the ethnically Serbian minority within Kosovo, and vice versa in Serbian territories directly adjacent. Tensions are dormant at best. A renewed outbreak of armed conflict is not unthinkable.
Land for peace?
Mitrovica isn't the only area majority-Serb area in Kosovo, but the others are enclaved and fear being abandoned in a land swap.
In fact, relations between Kosovo and Serbia have deteriorated spectacularly in the past few months. At the end of November, Kosovo was refused membership of Interpol, mainly on the insistence of Serbia. In retaliation, Kosovo imposed a 100% tariff on all imports from Serbia. After which Serbia's prime minister Ana Brnabic refused to exclude her country's "option" to intervene militarily in Kosovo. Upon which Kosovo's government decided to start setting up its own army – despite its prohibition to do so as one of the conditions of its continued NATO-protected independence.
The protracted death of Yugoslavia will be over only when this conflict is finally resolved. The best way to do that, politicians on both sides have suggested, is for the borders reflect the ethnic makeup of the frontier between Kosovo and Serbia.
The biggest and most obvious pieces of the puzzle are the Serbian-majority district of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, and the Albanian-majority Presevo Valley, in southwestern Serbia. That land swap was suggested previous summer by Hashim Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic, presidents of Kosovo and Serbia respectively. Best-case scenario: that would eliminate the main obstacle to mutual recognition, joint EU membership and future prosperity.
If others can do it...
Image: Ruland Kolen
Belgium and the Netherlands recently adjusted out their common border to conform to the straightened Meuse River.
Sceptics and not a few locals warn that there also is a worst-case scenario: the swap could rekindle animosities and restart the war. A deal along those lines would almost certainly exclude six Serbian-majority municipalities enclaved deep within Kosovo. While Serbian Mitrovica, which borders Serbia proper, is home to some 40,000 inhabitants, those enclaves represent a further 80,000 ethnic Serbs – who fear being totally abandoned in a land swap, and eventually forced out of their homes.
Western powers, which sponsored Kosovar independence, are divided over the plan. U.S. officials back the idea, as do some within the EU. But the Germans are against – they are concerned about the plan's potential to fire up regional tensions rather than eliminate them.
In principle, countries consider their borders inviolate and unchanging, but land swaps are not unheard of. Quite recently, Belgium and the Netherlands exchanged territories so their joint border would again match up with the straightened course of the Meuse river (3). But those bits of land were tiny, and uninhabited. And as the past has amply shown, borders carry a lot more weight in the Balkans.
The controversy around the Torah codes gets a new life.
- Mathematicians claim to see a predictive pattern in the ancient Torah texts.
- The code is revealed by a method found with special computer software.
- Some events described by reading the code took place after the code was written.
- Facebook and Google began as companies with supposedly noble purposes.
- Creating a more connected world and indexing the world's information: what could be better than that?
- But pressure to return value to shareholders came at the expense of their own users.
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