Consciousness from the first person perspective

Glitch in the Simulation


If the universe is a simulation, why can’t we notice any glitches? (Megan Duval, on Quora)


  • The actual, non-simulated universe is your immediate uninterpreted experience of now.
  • The simulation is thought (i.e. your mental models; habitual, philosophical and scientific).
  • The glitch in the simulation is your imagination, because it makes you think you are seeing things that you are not seeing.
  • Only self-observation can fix the glitch, help you escape from the illusion of the simulation, and see the universe as it really is.

If anything is a “simulation”, it is the world-view you carry around in your thoughts (including both conscious thoughts and habitual unconscious assumptions). These thoughts are the mechanism through which you almost continuously attempt to describe, explain and predict the observable stimuli that are continuously present, yet changing, in your experience. The perpetual stream of impressions available to awareness include both your ‘outer’ experiences (the contents of your senses) plus the ‘inward’ or subjective ones (thoughts, sensations and attention). The trick is to watch them all, to observe them in action, as a whole, now, and to resist the temptation to rationalise or think about what you are observing. If you do this you will eventually see, clear as day, that your experience now is all that there is. Then you realise that the word “universe” has to refer, fundamentally, to this perpetual moment of one-self.

Academic subjects like science, philosophy and the arts claim to study or investigate the universe, but actually they are all attempting to modify or regulate the simulation: thought. The accusation of being irrational or illogical are testament to this endeavour. However, they primarily study the simulation, not the universe, because they do not attend to themselves, their own continuous experience — which is the whole universe. In their unconscious dedication to the simulation they quite literally rationalise themselves out of existence, reducing themselves to a third-person avatar living in their simulation.

The universe we imagine as “out there” is actually far more limited — but ultimately far more profound — than the 3d simulation we conceive it to be. For a start, rather than being an infinite cosmos of stars and space, with a little blue marble planet inhabited by 7 billion humans, it actually only extends as far as you can see (and sense) now. Yes, I am claiming that the external universe you think is there is really only the bit that is within your experience now. Anything you are not experiencing now is a totally different kind of thing, absolutely unlike anything you have ever conceived of, and is most definitely not what science or philosophy thinks it is.

The only real part of the external world that exists is the bit we are seeing now. It is very similar to the way that a computer screen is able to present an apparently extended world (such as a 3d computer game world, or even a 2d document that can be scrolled up and down). Such screens only present you with a fixed window or “canvas”, but because of the way the image changes when we interact with them (by scrolling a document or web page for example) they appear to represent a much bigger world, web page or document than we actually ever see. And we a re quite comfortable with that aren’t we?

Computers produce these illusions by co-opting one of the “glitches” in our mental simulation processes: We have a subconscious assumption known as object persistence. We are happy to accept that the bit of the computer game or document that has “gone off the top of the screen” as we scroll down will return when we scroll back up. This produces the sense that the game world or document is “really there”. But ask yourself — what is the true nature of the part of your word document (or part of your computer game) that has gone out of view? What does it mean to say that, say, the title of your book is “above” the top of the screen? Every part of the game world or document not on the computer screen at any moment has no visual or physical reality comparable to the parts that are in view. The ones in view have form, colour and position. The ones we imagine are off the screen are really composed of something totally different and alien: incomprehensible patterns of electrons suspended in silicon structures.

We, likewise, apply such thinking to our experience, creating a simulated world where there is none. Here is an example of how you do this: Take the question “what is behind you right now?”

The usual way to answer this is to slip into your mental simulation, and use your imagination (which, habitually, will jump in before you realise it) and picture the scene behind you, then you will turn your head to “prove” your imagination was right. But of course, when you do that all that happens is that you are scrolling content that was “off” the screen of your senses into view. The contents pan across the screen of your senses just like a panning movie at the cinema, or like a web page you are scrolling around. Your imagination convinces you you have answered the question by “turning your head”. But nothing really changed. You have deluded yourself and are still looking at the unmoving movie screen like a fixated solo-audience member that can’t see they are seated in a pitch black room.

Once you get this, you start to escape the grip of the simulation, and start to be able to see the “empty room” that is behind and around everything. Then you start to realise that neither you nor the universe are anything like you imagined.

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Keir Watson

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By Keir Watson
Consciousness from the first person perspective

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