The Virtual Reality Theory of Dualism

Link to the Wikipedia article “Mind-body dualism”

Link to the Wikipedia article “Mind-body dualism”

In “On Being a Copy of Someone's Mind” I argued as follows:

… my problem with hardcore dualism is this:

  1. If a spirit or soul influences any of my decisions, then it has enough effect on particles in the brain that it should be detectable by physics with the sensitivity of instruments we have now.

  2. If a spirit or soul is affected by the body but does not itself have any effect on the body (Epiphenomenalism), then it is not through any causality from that spirit or soul the spirit or soul that we talk about because it has no causal pathway to move our mouths. God might make our bodies so they talk about our epiphenominal spirits or souls. But our spirits or souls in this case are not talking about themselves on their own behalf.

However, since then, I have been thinking of a type of dualism that is not particularly unlikely: the idea that the world I and others see all around us is a virtual reality videogame—except that this game involves all of our senses and a clouded memory of our lives outside of the videogame. In such a case, it might be that our avatars (which we think of as our whole selves) do a lot of the routine thinking, but the minds of our true selves who entered the videogame are instantiated in substrates beyond and outside of the familiar quarks, leptons, force particles and Higgs bosons that are part of the warp and woof of the programming of the videogame.

If we are indeed in a suped-up virtual reality videogame, our true selves might only intervene in what our avatars are doing once every few seconds, once every few minutes, once every few ours, or even only once every few days if we choose to mostly go along for the ride, treating the videogame as if it were a movie.

These interventions would, indeed, violate the laws of physics, but it could be relatively hard to set up instruments to successfully detect them. Let me assume for the moment that it is seen as making a more fun virtual reality videogame if it is possible to detect that one is inside a videogame. That is, let me suppose that the videogame isn’t set up to hide from a determined experimenter the fact that one is in a videogame. Still, it would require finding a small (but serious) localized violation of the laws of physics we know (which are the default of the videogame we are in), in a hard-to-predict microscopic location in the brain. That is, supposed that someplace in the brain, every minute or so, as our true selves make a choice about what general direction to go in the game, there is a violation of the laws of physics we know.

There might be a moral dimension to you and I being in a virtual reality videogame. One can just play the game for fun, or one can play the game as a character-building exercise. Having fun during the game might feel good afterward and having tried hard to do good during the game might feel very rewarding once the game is over.

Discussing this, I notice an oddity: many accounts of dualism have one’s spirit or soul that “inside” one’s body. Why can’t one’s spirit or soul be outside the universe, as it is if I and others are in a virtual reality videogame?

One possibly pernicious aspect of the idea that you and I are in a virtuality reality videogame is that we might make a mistake thinking someone is a computer-generated character who is a real person, and fail to treat them with the care they deserve. On the other hand, someone who seems of low status within the videogame might be a very high status real person outside the videogame; that is a reason to treat everyone well—a little like the way the Greeks said gods would come in disguise to test out people’s hospitality.

One thing I want to insist on is that, although some other versions of duality are more traditional, that carefully considered, any type of duality is at least as odd as the idea that we are inside of a virtual reality videogame.

Related Posts: