In order to understand Simulism, we first have to discuss a few aspects about simulations in general. On this page, I've coined a few terms and concepts related to simulations, that I use throughout the site. Reading these might increase your understanding of Simulism. There is a separate article 'What is Simulation?' which discusses the nature of simulations as they currently exist.
When you are in a simulation, you are either aware of it being a simulation, or unaware. It is important to distinguish awareness and unawareness, as Simulism deals for a large part with trying to create awareness of the possibility of living inside a simulation.
Here are some examples to clarify this concept. When you play The Sims, you know that the game is not real, and that your characters are controled by you within the boundaries of the simulations. The Sims, from your point of view, therefore counts as 'awareness'. In The Truman Show, Truman is unaware of the fact that his world is a simulation, but gradually he becomes aware of this. Something similar occurs in The Matrix.
Three degrees of simulation
After pondering the concept of simulations for a while, I came up with a division of simulations into three categories. I've named them 'first degree' to 'third degree' simulations, as I think this reflects a level, or how 'deep' one can be considered to be in a simulation.
Third Degree Simulation
A third degree simulation is a simulation where people undergoing the simulation are physically embedded in the simulation. In other words, where the surroundings have been physically altered to create a simulation. Role Playing Games are an example of this type of simulation. The movie 'The Truman Show' is another example.
The people in this type of simulation are usually aware of the simulation, although in The Truman Show, this is at first not the case.
This youtube movie is a funny example of how a person is placed in a third degree simulation, while he is completely unaware of the fact that he is in a simulation:
Second Degree Simulation
A second degree simulation is a simulation where the subject of the simulation is located outside the simulation, and is only 'virtually' immersed. Usually this means controlling a character in a simulated environment. Examples of second degree simulations are The Matrix, where subjects are plugged into a virtual environment, but also games like The Sims, Second Life or first person shooters. Virtual Reality games are also examples of second degree simulations.
People in second degree simulations are usually aware of the simulation, with the exception of the vast number of people in The Matrix.
(The youtube video example of a third degree simulation above actually starts out as a second degree simulation, where the main character plays a first person shooter initially.)
The Brain in a Vat theory is also an example of a second degree simulation.
First Degree Simulation
A first degree simulation is a 'complete' simulation. There is no 'real' person controlling the simulated character. The character exists only in the simulation. Depending on the simulation, the character may or may not have its own will. Note that the same simulation can be both a first and second degree simulation, depending on your viewpoint. If you play The Sims, you/the character you control are experiencing a second degree simulation. All computer-operated characters however, are experiencing a first degree simulation.
It should be noted that there is a much deeper level of simulation, in which the simulation is not necessarily designed to explore or to support conscious entities, but in which consciousness, and life itself arises naturally out of the complexity generated by the simulation scenario.
Cellular automata or artificial life scenarios, can be shown to support or at least mimic simple rule-based computational devices, such as binary logic mechanisms. To build a general-purpose computational device from these would only be a matter of time, effort and capacity. For cellular automata to support the type of simulations described above, the computational complexity and memory capacity required from a host computer would need to be increased by several orders of magnitude. However, in the scheme of things, that is not impossible, and the possibility that our existence rests on an unimaginably complex n-dimensional k-state computer grid with rules governing the transition from one state to another remains an intriguing possibility.
The Purposes of Simulation
Simulations have an important history which pre-date the computer era. Role-Playing, Wargames, and even the Big Brother House can all be considered to be types of simulation. However, it was with the advent of computers, especially when computing power increased dramatically in the 70s and 80s that large scale simulations of global events (e.g. climate change, macroeconomic forecasting, etc.) and gaming scenarios (e.g. Sim City, Populus) that the term 'simulation' began to take on its current meaning as a computer 'model' of some aspect of real life.
Computer simulations are normally used where deterministic solutions are impossible or intractable. Such uses can range from simple Monte-Carlo methods of integrating mathematical functions, to modelling bird migration behaviour. Such simulations normally have stochastic features built into their models; this is normally to mimic the 'random' events which occur from time to time.
Traditionally, simulations are said to be discrete- or continuous-time based. However, because a computer is a finite state machine, all computer simulations are in essence based on discrete units of time, and therefore simulated time by default must be quantized.
Simulations can be grouped together in terms of their purposes. This categorization 'cuts across' the three degrees of simulation described in this Wiki. What follows is not meant to be an exhaustive or mutually exclusive set of categories, as it is quite clear that some simulations would fit into one or more sections.
Simulations of this type would include workflow management models, traffic models, and utility capacity and usage models, all designed to run different type of scenario, on a 'what would happen if' basis. The main purpose of these is to determine the effects of policy changes or how external events might affect a current or future situation. Many of these simulations are highly sophisticated, and the 'butterfly effect' noted in the literature on chaos theory can be observed in many of these simulations. Normally the user in these contexts is not part of the simulation, and is simply an external observer, or even a controller. Because the simulation is normally designed to model the real world closely, belief in these simulations tends to be quite high.
Simulations of this type offer a user an environment where situations which are difficult, dangerous or unlikely, can be experienced prior to them being exposed to the real-life version. Flight simulators and surgical procedure simulators allow mistakes to be made without endangering life. The main purpose of these is to allow acquisition of experience. Normally the user is immersed in the simulation to the extent that for a while, they may actually believe that the simulation is real.
These simulations are very familiar: they range from simple games such as Pac-Man, through sporting simulations to fantasy and role-playing games. In each case they offer the user a model of an alternative reality, either which does not actually exist, or one in which the user's skills are enhanced. The main purpose of these is for fun & enjoyment. User involvement in the simulation is usually quite high, but the 'belief' factor in the viability of the simulation as an 'alternative reality' can vary considerably.
Exploratory simulations are those which have no pre-defined outcome, or answer which is being sought. Included in this category would be historical or evolutionary simulations, or model worlds where users create and let loose creatures to evolve, change live and die. Cyberpets might be regarded as a simulation of this type. The purpose of this is simply knowledge-gathering, to see how a simulated world might change over time. User involvement in these simulations is normally low; belief in them however can be quite high. Cyberpet owners can become very attached to their charges, and become emotional when they die.
These simulations would be designed to provide a user with such immersion in the simulation that the user actually believes (even if for a short time) that the simulation is a viable alternative reality. The main purpose would be to release the user from their daily confines and provide an almost total level of immersion. Many on-line gamers report the addictive nature of games which provide such alternative realities. This in part may be due to the belief while playing them, that a player's life within the game is preferable to their life outside it. Currently there are few purely 'escapist' simulations; many might have started out as games or training simulations, and have naturally grown. Undoubtedly in the future purpose-built escapist simulations will become more prevalent. Holodecks on Star Trek, or 'Better than Life' in Red Dwarf offer a vision of these.
For What Purposes might we use simulations in the future?
Jain (1999) discusses the purposes to which we are currently putting simulation, and speculates how simulations might be used in the near future. Two main uses are identified: firstly, simulation will be used to evaluate decisions in all aspects of business operations, extending the use of simulations from manufacturing and production processes to sales and training; secondly, simulation models will likely grow in scope and size, and will be come more fully integrated, so as to more closely model reality, and will be used to validate processes and activities, prior to the construction of plant and the installation of machinery.
Jenkins (2006) specifies four distinct reasons why we might actually wish to run 'historical simulations'. The first is for nostalgic reasons, following the logic that as currently society is interested in the past, often the recent past there is little to assume that any futuire society would be any different in this regard. The second reason offered by Jenkins is that of testing Artifical Intelligence. Simulations would offer the opportunity of a relatively safe environment where machine intelligences could be examined, and whether their programming conformed to legal, ethical and moral expectations. The third category offered by Jenkins is that of Social and Economic Experiments, citing work by Castronova (2001) which explores how future generations of social scientists may investigate policy changes by running experiments on computer-simulated societies. Finally Jenkins forsees a possible use for simulations in the case of an Apocalyptic scenario, where populations may wish to migrate into simulated worlds in the event of a global catastrophe.
It is clear that even though Jenkins' paper is speculative, the notion of Social and Economic experiments are not that far away from Jain's notion of process validation. Such uses (for example Global Warming simulations) are in current use, and it seems highly likely that these will continue to develop and become ever more sophisticated. The notion of testing AI is an important one, and should not be underestimated; the legal and ethical problems in creating AI should not be underestimated, and there may well be legal requirements in the future to 'prove' safety (as in the case of GM Products and drug-testing) before release of AI intelligences were allowed. Jenkins rightly notes that future societies may well be different from ours, and may not have the same 'nostalgia' for past times. What we need to remember here is the time scale. If we are imagine societies in the far future, thay may be so advanced that their interest in running a simulation of the 20th Century may well be equivalent to our interest in running a simulation of the Australopithecus era; it might be interesting to visit for a while, but you certainly wouldn't want to live there. Jenkins final category is totally speculative. The migration of minds into machines might be the stuff of science fiction, but there is no current mechanism that could be suggested whereby this feat could be achieved. The notion presupposes that the brain's software could in principle be detached from its hardware. Many authors question whether or not such a feat is possible, even in theory.
Jain, S., 1999, Simulation in the next Millennium, Proceedings of the 1999 Winter Simulation Conference
Jenkins, Peter S., Historical Simulations - Motivational, Ethical and Legal Issues . Journal of Futures Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 23-42, August 2006