Evil Demons and Simulations: How Can We Know What is Real?

Gerald R. Baron
12 min readNov 16, 2023
Image: Dall e 2

This is the first in a series exploring David Chalmers’ 2022 book Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy. It might be considered, in light of the previous series on Schrödinger, Decoding Chalmers’ Metaphysics.

David Chalmers, the Australian-born philosopher of consciousness, is justifiably famous for his significant contributions to our understanding (or lack of it) of consciousness. As we saw earlier, he won a 25 year long bet with neuroscientist Christof Koch because he did not agree with Koch that within that timespan science would discover how the brain produces consciousness. He also introduced the term “the hard problem” which, in his own words, was just a recognition of the state of affairs that most philosophers considered well before he introduced this term.

Reality+ is causing a bit of a stir. It is a far reaching and wide-ranging book focused on what he calls “simulation realism,” the idea that it is at least possible, and reasonably likely, that we are living in a digital simulation. He argues for the rationality of the simulation hypothesis, but goes far beyond that to consider the philosophical, and even theological, implications of that possibility. The existence of God, the nature of evil, ethics, morals, values and other major topics of philosophy and religion are explored from the perspective of virtual reality and simulations.

Can we know anything for sure?

The first big question he deals with is, to me, perhaps the most important and interesting. How do we know what is real? Or, is anything really real? If so, how would we know it and know that we are not being deceived? The big takeaway here is that when you take the possibility of virtual worlds and simulations seriously, it helps clarify the questions –– if not provide more promising answers to the big questions that have confounded thinkers since at least Descartes.

Our first thought and natural instinct is to think that a virtual world, such as created by video games, is an illusion whereas we live in a real world. Chalmers thoroughly challenges that intuitive response. He shows that the question of what is real is as old as thinking humans. He illustrates this from the butterfly parable of Zhuangzi in about 300…

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Gerald R. Baron

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