I think of myself as an inference machine fed with sensory information. I see, hear, taste, smell, and feel according to whatever that information consists of. This brain-in-the-vat view assumes nothing, since I experience this sensory information simply by being alive. To me, the reality is what I sense. The structure of this reality is whatever I can infer from and validate against the sensory flow.
Since this sensory flow started last week, I’ve mostly been afraid since everything just seems chaotic. I have noticed that there is variation to what I sense, and some of these variations occur repeatedly. I know that sometimes I like what I sense and sometimes I don’t like what I sense. Most oddly, whenever I feel bad, there are these repeating occurrences of something that suddenly make me feel good. I call them mom and dad. No idea what they are though. There are other reoccurring things too, and I have started giving names to them. That thing I call red, that green, that loud, and that painful.
Whatever the system is that feeds me this sensory information, it seems I am part of it. I have identified parts of the sensory information as if being directly caused by me. I have these things I call hands and legs, and can see them swinging in front of me when I want to. In the same way, I can make noises, or inflict myself pain by making a wrongly coordinated move. Being part of the system is one of my strongest beliefs: my repetitive tests on this matter never fail, and these tests I do automatically every day.
The system seems to put very stringent boundaries, or rules, on what I can do. Colliding my body with certain objects inflicts pain in me. This is sensory information which is such intense and unbearable that I go to great lengths to avoid it. I also find that I am unable to carry out certain tasks. No matter hard I try, I am unable to get off this bed by myself. It is as if I was drawn to it.
To me, the most important thing is to avoid pain. But some of the sensory information is the opposite of pain. This is a sensation which I really like, and would like continue feeling without a single stop. I call it happiness.
I have found other anomalies from the sensory information. After recognizing myself, I have found increasingly many instances of things that look like me. Not exactly, but there are so massively many similarities between me and these things that I have classified them as humans, me included. These things appear to act as if they were alive like me, and they seem as able to modify the world as I am. It turned out that mom and dad are humans just like me.
In recent times, I have tried several ways of affecting the system. Last week I tried to use my thoughts to move rocks around. It did not work. I also tried to fly by jumping and flapping my hands. But I failed. Yet the birds were flying all the time with such ease.
I have come to call this system a world.
I have found that humans must be treated differently from other things. The problematic thing with them is that they are very able to cause me pain. Physical pain is one, but other sensory overloads are awful as well, such as prolonged loud noises they might make. Along with the strong belief of being part of the world, by experience I have come to strongly believe that there are multiple humans in this world, sensing the same objective reality. It is not clear to me whether there actually exists other living beings such as me, sharing this experience of control. From my viewpoint, I can never know that. Actually, if these things simply behave as if they were alive, from my viewpoint the question about a simulation versus reality is not relevant at all. I have to live in this world in any case.
To avoid human-inflicted pain, I have constructed a set of strategies for minimizing the pain the other humans inflict on me. I call this social behaviour. It is quite simple, actually. What I do is to think of them as if they experienced the world as I do, to think that they are alive, and then behave towards them as I would like them to behave towards me. I call it a reciprocality principle. When sensing other humans, I have noticed that they induce different kinds of emotions in me. When these other humans do things, recalling a similar event that has happened to me causes me to relive the event myself. It is almost an automatic reaction in me: I call it empathy. Empathy helps me to better choose a reaction which conforms to the reciprocality principle.
I have come to form the rudimentary concepts of wrong and right. Roughly, I call it wrong to inflict pain in me, and I call everything else right. But after accepting the practical existence of other human beings, and recognizing empathy in me, I have found that I must generalize these concepts. The problem is that recognizing pain in others causes pain in me. But then the problem of minimizing my pain has become a difficult problem, and actually, I feel overwhelmed by it. Suddenly things have become chaotic; minor temporal changes have long-term consequences, and I am less and less able to control the future.
I have found it necessary to attempt to balance the distribution of pain. Sometimes I have to accept some pain now to avoid the world from causing me much greater projected pain later. It is unfortunate that the world is so uncontrollable; I found happiness in control, even if it was illusory. I find that a good strategy to minimize my own pain is to attempt to minimize pain in humans overall. Sometimes this leads to situations where I accept more pain for myself, and grant more happiness to others. But in general it seems to work out well; many times humans treat me reciprocally so.
I have found consistency in the way the world works; most of the limiting rules stay the same from day to day, from year to year. I am aware that this property need not hold. Perhaps I can walk through the brick wall tomorrow when the world changes to allow that. Being fed by the sensory information, I am fundamentally unable to form absolute truths. To only thing I know for certain is what has happened to me in the past.
However, as years have gone by living in this world, I have noticed it being incredibly consistent. Many of these consistencies I have found by myself. But communicating with other humans has revealed that they have also found such consistencies, and some of this information is of the form which I have never experienced during my life. Still, testing their claims I have found some of them to be correct. This has strengthened my belief that the other humans exist in the same way as I do; they are able to provide me with structured information about the world, kind of shortcuts of inference, and they seem independent of me.
Accepting that everything is possible is not the same as accepting that everything is plausible. I have come to evaluate the quality of information by how many times I can validate it against my sensory flow. By now one of the best information I have is that I can not move through any object dense enough. It is comforting, since a consistent property of this world, gravity, makes me being constantly drawn towards the ground, and if it weren’t for the ground to stop that, I think I would fall endlessly.
Obtaining information of good quality has become important to me because it seems to enable me to form models of the world which allow me to predict the future increasingly better. Correct predictions allow me more control over the world, and more control over the world means I have better tools to help humans (myself) feel happier and avoid making them feel miserable.
Finally, I have come to classify two categories of humans as dangerous. The first category consists of those who seem to lack the capability for empathy. Because of this, they seem to be free to make use of a wider range of strategies to gain happiness, or relieve pain, not excluding inflicting pain on others. The second category consists of those who accept information as correct without validating that information against their sensory flow. Humans make models based on the information they have, and use those models to predict the best way to act. The problem is that if the information is of bad quality, then their models may cause them to act so as to increase pain and to decrease happiness in others. Granted, invalid models of the world may sometimes make people act right. Unfortunately, that happens randomly.