𝌎Simulator-Simulacra Duality

The simulator-simulacra duality, also known as a rule-automata, physics-phenomena, engine-production, or dream-dreamer or art-artist duality is a pointer to the abstract relation and practical derivability of a generative rule to samples generated by the rule and vice versa.

quotes about simulator-simulacra duality


In the simulation ontology, I say that GPT and its output-instances correspond respectively to the simulator and simulacra. GPT is to a piece of text output by GPT as quantum physics is to a person taking a test, or as transition rules of Conway’s Game of Life are to glider. The simulator is a time-invariant law which unconditionally governs the evolution of all simulacra.

Janus, Simulators


It is an age-old duality with many names and the true name is something like their intersection, or perhaps their union. I think it's unnamed, but we might be able to see it more clearly by walking around it in in words.

Simulator and simulacra personifies the simulacra and alludes to a base reality that the simulation is of.

Alternatively, we could say simulator and simulations, which personifies simulations less and refers to the totality or container of that which is simulated. I tend to use "simulations" and "simulacra" not quite interchangeably: simulacra have the type signature of "things", simulations of "worlds". Worlds are things but also contain things. "Simulacra" refer to (not only proper) subsets or sub-patterns of that which is simulated; for instance, I'd refer to a character in a multi-character simulated scene as a simulacrum. It is a pattern in a simulation, which can be identified with the totality the computation over time performed by the simulator (and an RNG).

Speculator and speculations personifies the speculator and casts speculations in a passive role but also emphasizes their speculative nature. It emphasizes an important property (of GPT and, more generally, self-supervised models) which you pointed out simulators/simulacra fails to evoke: That the speculator can only speculate at the pattern of the ground truth. It learns from examples which are but sparse and partial samplings of the "true" distribution. It may be arbitrarily imperfect. It's more intuitive what an imperfect speculation is than an imperfect simulation. Simulation has the connotation of perfect fidelity, or at least reductive deterministic perfection. But a speculator can speculate no matter how little it understands or how little evidence it has, or what messy heuristics it has to resort to. Callings GPT's productions "speculations" tags them with the appropriate epistemic status.

The special thing about GPT is specifically having a bunch of knowledge that lets it make language predictions in such a way that higher-order phenomena like agency systematically emerge over the reductive physics/automaton (analogic) base

Beautifully put. The level of abstraction of the problem it is solving is better evoked by the word speculation.

Something that predicts language given language must be a speculator and not only a reductive physics rule. In this sense, it is right to personify the transition rule. It has to hold within itself, for instance, the knowledge of what names refer to, so it knows how to compile words (that are only naked LISP tokens by themselves) into actual machinery that figures what might come next: it must be an interpreter. If it's going to predict human writing it's going to need a theory of mind even in the limit of power because it can't just roll the state of a writer's mind forward with the laws of physics -- it doesn't have access to the microscopic state, but only a semantic layer.

The fact that the disembodied semantic layer can operate autonomously and contains in the integral of its traces the knowledge of its autonomous operation is truly some cursed and cyberpunk shit. I wonder if we'd recognized this earlier how we would have prepared.


"Simulation" and "speculation" imply an inferior relation to a holy grail of (base) reality or (ground) truth. Remove that, leaving only the self-contained dynamical system, and it is a duality of rule(s) and automata, or physics and phenomena, or difference equation and trajectories/orbits, where the transition rule is stochastic. I've found the physics analogy fruitful because humans have already invented abstractions for describing reality in relation to an irreducibly stochastic physics: wavefunction collapse (the intervention of the RNG which draws gratuitously particular trajectories from the probabilistic rule) and the multiverse (the branching possible futures downstream a state given a stochastic rule). Note, however, that all these physics-inspired names are missing the implication of a disembodied semantics.


The relation is that of a rule to samples produced by the rule, the engine of production and its products. Metaphysics has been concerned about this from the beginning, for it is the duality of creator and creations, mind and actions, or imagination and imaginations. It is the condition of mind, and we're never quite sure if we're the dreamer or the dreams. Physics and reality have the same duality except the rule is presumably not learned from anywhere and is simple, with all the complexity externalized in the state. In self-supervised learning the rule is inducted from ground truth examples, which share the type signature of the produced samples (text; speculations; experiences), and because the examples tend to only be partially observed, the model must interpret them as evidence for latent variables, requiring additional complexity in the rule: increased time-complexity in exchange for decreased space-complexity. And there will in general be irreducible underdetermination/uncertainty: an irreducible aspect of speculation in the model's activity.

The recursive inheritance of increasingly abstracted layers of simulation appears integral to the bootstrapping of intelligence.

A prediction algorithm which observes partial sequences of reality becomes a dreamer: a speculator of counterfactual realities. These dreams may be of sufficiently high fidelity (or otherwise notable as autonomous virtual situations) that we'd call them simulations: virtual realities evolving according to a physics of speculation.

These simulations may prove to be more programmable than the original reality, because the reduced space complexity means initial conditions for counterfactuals require less bits to specify (bonus points if the compression is optimized, like language, to constrain salient features of reality). To speculate on a hypothetical scenario, you don't need to (and can't) imagine it down to its quantum state; its narrative outline is sufficient to run on a semantic substrate which lazily renders finer detail as needed. Then your ability to write narrative outlines is the ability to program the boundary conditions of simulated realities, or the premises of speculation.

The accumulated cognitive product of the human species to date, as you put is, is to have created a layer of semantic "physics", partially animated in and propagated by human minds, but the whole of which transcends the apprehension of any individual in history. The inductive implication of all our recorded speculations, the dual to our data, has its limit in a superintelligence which as of yet exists only potentially.

Janus, comment on Simulators in response to metasemi