Consciousness and the Different Types of Simulation
This article looks at the differing definitons of simulated reality, and argues that current definitions are speculative and confused. It offers two different types of simulism: Extrinsic, in which the simulated mind has some sort of external existence outside the simulation, and Intrinsic, in which the simulated mind is purely confined within the simulated environment and has no other existence.
Ivo Jansch in the article about simulations argues that there are three distinct degrees of simulation. A degree 3 simulation is characterised by an external entity with a viable existence outside the simulation immersing their physical presence inside the simulation. This might be typified by role-playing, or the Holodeck-type scenario portrayed in the Startrek movies. A Degree 2 simulation is where the entity has some sort of viable physical presence outside the simulation, but the immersion in the simulation is merely 'virtual'. This is typified by the Matrix movie scenario, but equally almost all other on-line role-playing games. A degree 1 simulation occurs where the entity has no physical or other presence whatsoever outside the simulation, and in that regard has total immersion in the simulation.
The Simulated RealityWikipedia Entry defines four separate types:
(a) Brain-Computer Interface, where each observer directly connects his/her brain to the computer, possibly (for the time of the simulation) obliterating any notion of an external reality.
(b) Virtual people, where every inhabitant is a native of the simulation, and has no external presence outside it. This is divided into two sub-types - Virtual people - virtual world, in which a simulated world is created, which houses artificial consciousnesses, and Solipsistic Simulation, in which consciousnesses are simulated, and the 'reality' is purely simulated within the minds of the simulees.
(c) Emigration in which a participant uses 'mind transfer' to relocate themselves within the simulated entity.
(d) Intermingled, which supports both players from an external reality or natives of the simulation who are simulated consciousnesses of one type or another.
It can be argued that the Wikipedia article would appear to be both deficient and confused, on the grounds that it is purely speculative, and it is by no means certain that any of the four types, could, in fact, be created in the way that they are defined. The notion of emigration, for example, is not based on any currently-understood scientific principle. In addition, category (d) adds nothing to the debate, as it merely merges elements from the other categories. Finally, the notion of 'solipsistic simulation' could equally apply to a 'brain-computer interface' or a 'virtual people' type simulation. When we take these factors into account, we are left with two distinct catgories, and these approximate roughly to Jansch's degrees 1 and 2, with Jansch further distinguishing between 'brain-computer interface' and 'physical presence', to achieve his degree 3 simulation. Although Jansch's definitions too are somewhat speculative, the examples provided do at least demonstrate an identifiable and currently-existing basis for the categorisations.
However, whether there is a real and distinguishable difference between Jansch's degree 3 and degree 2, and whether this is useful, is debatable. Under the definition above, the Big Brother house is clearly a degree 3 simulation. If we were to have a 'Big Brother' computer game, with all of the features of the original, then this would be classified as degree 2. The distinction occurs only as a result of the user's physical presence. However, imagine a future world where some of the Big Brother housemates were real, some were holograms; in a likewise manner, imagine that the environment might be a mixture of the two. The boundaries begin to blur and it becomes unclear as to whether this is degree 3 or 2; this is the 'intermingled' category from the Wikipedia definition.
I believe that it is far more useful to distinguish between those cases where a conscious entity within the simulation has no viable physical presence whatsoever outside the simulation (i.e if the simulation stopped working they would blink out of existence), and those in which a conscious entity has some external viable physical presence. This incorporates the 'brain-in-a-vat' scenario, because even if the simulation were to cease, the brain would not necessarily die. In this regard, 'brain-in-a-vat' is in fact no different to 'plug-and-play'. This focuses on the real issues, those of attempting to determine how an entity within a simulation can distinguish whether or not it is real, and the issue of what happens to the simulee when the simulation is ended, or they die within the simulation.
An entity which has some sort of viable external reality has a reference framework outside the simulation, whether thay are conscious of it or not. This might involve experiencing physical sensations, having mental sensations unconnected with the simulation, or just experiencing the passage of time in a different, possibly subjective manner. An entity which exists purely within a simulation potentially has none of these things. All of their sensations arise as a result of sensory inputs controlled by the simulation, their mental processes are purely confined within a simulated brain, and their experience of the passage of time is governed entirely by the simulation environment.
We might call the first type an 'extrinsic' consciousness simulation, in recognition that there is an external mind involved, and the second type an 'intrinsic' consciousness simulation, as in this case the mind emerges from programming. We might also note that in the case of extrinsic simulation, there may be differing degrees to which the participant is immersed, from simply using a viewscreen, to having their brain plugged directly into the computer, with all memory of an external reality erased. Similarly, with the intrinsic simulation, there may be different ways in which this can be achieved, such as creating an entire world, which contains conscious intelligences alongside inanimate objects and (possibly) other non-player characters which, while appearing to have some sort of intelligence do not actually achieve consciousness. It is possible to blur the boundaries between this situation and a 'solipsistic' simulation in which each mind is a 'simulation in itself', and the simulated reality is 'fed' to the minds, either simultaneously, or in some hugely complex asynchronous but interrelated manner. It would even be possible, for an 'intrinsic simulee' to be a simulated 'brain-in-a-vat', experiencing a second-level simulated world, which might then be classed as 'extrinsic' with relation to the simulated brain.
It should be noted that in comparison to an intrinsic simulation, an extrinsic one would need relatively low levels of computing power in order to achieve convincing results, because it potentially only needs to simulate an environment, and not the minds within it. In the case of an 'intrinsic' simulation, one interesting feature to note is that the operating system and the run-time environment would both have access to the same type of sophisticated programming used to create and support the 'minds' in the simulation. This is not necessarily therefore a reactive inanimate environment, but it could be proactive and intelligent. It might anticipate actions, deal with flaws in the programming, circumvent problems, create 'simulations on the fly', or invent new classes and objects when required. In other words, it too might be a conscious entity. This does not, of course, rule out the possibility that such an environment might also be available in the case of more sophisticated extrinsic simulations.
--TonyFleet 10:28, 18 February 2007 (CET)
Since writing this, I have attempted to do some more work on the different types of simulation. A new categorisation han be seen on the Wikipedia entry for Simulism, and some further work (in progress) can be found on on the discussion page for this article. --TonyFleet 18:34, 24 April 2007 (CEST)