Are simulated beings conscious?

Gerald R. Baron
17 min readNov 23, 2023
Tekken video game character images: Wikipedia

The third in a series on David Chalmers’ 2022 book Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy. The famous philosopher of consciousness attempts to defeat Descartes’ idea of global skepticism by developing the idea that it is very possible we live in a virtual world. But do his own thoughts on consciousness undermine his argument?

After finishing David Chalmers’ 2022 book Reality+, it is now clear that his purpose is not so much to convince readers that we really are living in a virtual world, but to use the idea that we may be in one to argue against the philosophical concept of global skepticism.

Global skepticism is the idea that we can’t really know anything for certain, at least not about the external world we think we live in. There are a few different forms of global skepticism including what’s called Pyrrhonian after Pyrrho of Elis. But Rene Descartes is most associated with global skepticism, famously in his “evil demon” or “evil genius” thought experiment.

Chalmers’ work explores a whole range of major topics in philosophy and even theology from the perspective of the possibility or likelihood of virtual realities or simulations. But in Chapter 24 near the end of the book he reveals that his primary interest is in addressing the topic of global skepticism: (p. 444)

“My primary aim in this book is to argue against global skepticism about the external world…”

Does he succeed? Does the idea that we could be living in simulation “prove” or provide sufficient evidence that the external world we experience is real? My own sense is that Chalmers has walked out onto a tight rope consisting of a number of intertwined arguments, but the farther he goes along, the thinner the rope becomes. I find many reasons to question his arguments against global skepticism. I find myself much preferring Descartes’ ultimate rejection of the potent question he raises. We’ll deal with Chalmers’ concluding arguments later, but now we look at the foundation.

Why the simulation hypothesis is necessary

Chalmers’ tidily summarizes the question raised by Descartes:

“A Cartesian argument takes a scenario and says the following. First, it says no to the Knowledge Question: We…

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Gerald R. Baron

Dawdling at the intersection of faith, science, philosophy and theology.