The idea that we so-called humans are essentially not real but rather characters in an enormously sophisticated, superhumanly created computer simulation was developed in a seminal paper about 15 years ago by the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom, who now heads that university’s Institute on the Future of Humanity.
Bostrom is no eccentric academic crank working alone inside a ramshackle Oxfordshire farmhouse wearing a tea-stained pullover. He is a world-famous thinker whom the prestigious and decidedly mainstream journal Foreign Policy has chosen as one of the world’s top 100 global thinkers.
Important physicists also take his work seriously. Both Bill Gates and Tesla creator Elon Musk are big fans. (I have no trouble seeing Musk as part of an alternative reality.)
“For me,” Bostrom says about this idea, “it’s not just an intellectual game. It’s an attempt to orient myself in the world, as best I can understand it.”
Orienting ourselves toward the world — in Hawaii’s particular case, the world of our politicians.
“That is the universe I live with.” Ernest Nomura, Honolulu deputy corporation counsel
Here’s living proof that our political leaders inhabit that world. Not long ago, as Anita Hofschneider reported in Civil Beat, an arbitrator upbraided Honolulu city officials for failing to pay money the city owes United Public Workers as a result of losing a labor dispute.
Time and again, the city has been ordered to pay the money. Time and again, it simply has not done so, costing the taxpayers about $100,000 in fees and interest with the promise of much more to come.
The arbitrator said the city has “not offered any coherent explanation for their failure to comply with various arbitration decisions and court orders.” He called the city’s behavior “simply madness.”
No, it’s not madness, Ernest Nomura, the unlucky deputy corporation counsel who must have pissed somebody off royally to get stuck with this case, told the arbitrator.
Nomura said he could “fully appreciate” the arbitrator’s frustration, “but that is the universe I live with.”
So you got your theorists, gazillionaire technistos, and dyed in the wool Hawaii practitioners making the case. That should be good enough to rock your so-called world.
But why do those higher beings out there make our leaders do such dumb things?
The frustrating but true answer is we cannot know because we are not superhuman. All we can do is apply our primitive, earthling imagination. So here goes:
Maybe these simulation creators have a superhuman sense of irony.
Maybe they are sadists who delight in putting a concealed electric shock device on our hamster wheel.
Maybe, for reasons we can’t possibly understand, things also work this way in the unfathomable outer-world.
Or maybe as gamers, the superhumans don’t care about anything outside of their extraterrestrial parents’ couch.
During his 1992 presidential debate with George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the late Ross Perot, one of the most successful independent candidates for president in U.S. history, said this about the gridlock in Washington:
“It’s not the Republicans’ fault, of course, and it’s not the Democrats’ fault. Somewhere out there there’s an extraterrestrial that’s doing this to us, I guess.”
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Neal Milner is a former political science professor at the University of Hawaii where he taught for 40 years. He is a political analyst for KITV and is a regular contributor to Hawaii Public Radio's "The Conversation." His most recent book is The Gift of Underpants. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.