A society on pillars

For a century, Dutch society consisted of identity groups based on religion or ideology. This division was called pillarisation. Religious and ideological groups encompassed several social classes. Social life usually was within your own pillar, and contacts with other people were limited. Each pillar had sports clubs, political parties, unions, newspapers, and broadcasters. Roman Catholics and Protestants also had their own schools and hospitals.

The pillars of Dutch society were Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Socialist, with each about 30% of the population. The Protestants themselves were further divided into smaller identity groups. The remaining 10% of the Dutch were liberal. The Dutch liberals were less organised and opposed pillarisation, but they too had their own political parties, newspapers and broadcasters.

Strong communities are close-knit, have shared norms and values based on ideology or religion, and come with social obligations. The pillar organisations focused exclusively on their own communities. This happened in other places in Europe too. Nowadays, similar models exist in Northern Ireland, Switzerland, Austria, Cyprus, Lebanon and Malaysia.

Nevertheless, the same laws applied to everyone. And the curricula of Protestant, Roman Catholic, and public schools were nearly the same as everyone was preparing for the same state exams.

To make pillarisation successful, the overarching identity, for instance, the nation, should be strong, and the intensity of the identity conflict should be low. Western Christianity, which includes both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, features a separation of worldly and religious affairs, so religious beliefs did not conflict with submission to a state.

The Dutch are famous for their tolerance, which was at times close to indifference. The identity groups accepted each other and minded their own affairs. After 1800, there was no civil war in the Netherlands, nor was it close at any time. Leadership was also important. The leaders of the pillars were willing to compromise, and the members merely followed their leaders.

Nevertheless, identity issues dominated Dutch politics from time to time. For instance, on 11 November 1925, the cabinet fell when the Catholic ministers resigned after Parliament accepted an amendment introduced by a small Protestant fraction to eliminate the funding for the Dutch envoy with the Vatican. A Protestant government fraction supported the amendment.

None of the identity groups on its own was able to dominate society. Instead, they had to make deals with each other. On religious issues, Roman Catholics and Protestants often found each other. For instance, they arranged that schools and hospitals could have a religious identity and that the state would fund them like public schools and hospitals. The Socialists were able to make deals on working conditions and social benefits.

Pillarisation in the Netherlands began to take shape at the close of the nineteenth century. One could say that Dutch society was built upon the pillars. They allowed groups with different worldviews to coexist peacefully and work on a common destiny, which was the future of the nation. From the 1960s onwards, the pillars began to lose their meaning.

Pillarisation can be helpful if people believe in a shared destiny, for instance, the nation-state, but do not share a common background. In that case, everyone can live and work together with the people they feel comfortable with. Cultural and religious differences may subside over time. But as long as these identities remain distinct, people can organise themselves accordingly via pillars, and in doing so, avoid conflict.

Fat cat

The mystery of being

Why do we exist? People have been pondering this question for ages. The findings from science suggest that life on this planet emerged without intent and serves no purpose. We are inclined to see ourselves as unique, so we might delude ourselves by thinking that this universe is there for us, and so it must have a purpose, and therefore, a creator. The odds appear stacked against us being here, so our existence might appear a miracle. But if humans had never arrived on the scene, all the other species would still have roamed the planet, and no cat or fern might ever have wondered why it is there.

Once you reverse the argument, it becomes clear what’s wrong with it. My existence depends on my parents having met each other. My parents had not lived if my grandparents had not married. They, in their turn, depend on the many generations before them. According to chaos theory, small changes in the initial conditions of complex systems can have a dramatic impact on future developments. For instance, a butterfly flapping its wings in Texas might cause a hurricane in China.

So, if one of my forebears had done only one small thing differently, for instance, getting up earlier on one day, I probably would not be here. The probability of my existence is so close to zero that I might consider it a miracle. Similarly, the odds of humans appearing when dinosaurs were still living, and living creatures on this planet appearing when the galaxy was emerging, were negligible.

In a similar vein, people argue that it is unlikely that this universe emerged by chance. The laws of physics and the values of physical constants are fine-tuned for life to exist. But if that hadn’t been the case, it would have been impossible to observe this. There could be an infinite number of universes or big bangs that failed to create universes with different laws and constants. This universe might be just right by accident.

Intelligent design proponents claim that undirected evolutionary processes cannot explain the living creatures on this planet. They believe that life on Earth requires a creator. Indeed, the odds for life to emerge in the way it did, were zero from the outset, and still, we are here. But evolution is an organising principle. Given ample time, the possibilities are endless, and anything could happen. Scientific findings indicate that life on this planet had four billion years to develop.

The mystery of being is not a mystery at all. So many things could have happened but didn’t, but something had to happen, and that’s what happened. That’s why the future is unpredictable. And there is not much more to it than that. Many people find it difficult to accept that their life has no purpose. And so religious people may contend that our existence is a miracle and proof of God. Their argument leaves open questions like why does God exist and how did God come into being? The simulation hypothesis does not come with these issues. It does not consider our existence as a miracle but as the product of advanced technology.

New Book: The Virtual Universe

Religions claim that a god or gods have created this universe. More recently, the simulation hypothesis allows us to explain how the gods might have done this. We could all be living inside a computer simulation run by an advanced post-human civilisation. But can we objectively establish that this is indeed the case?

There is sufficient evidence that we live inside a simulation, and this evidence allows us to establish the most likely purpose of our existence. This book is an exercise in applying logic to the evidence. It does not promote a specific religion. It goes along with science, but there are limits to what science can establish. God is beyond those limits.

This book addresses the following topics:

  • Why our existence is not a miracle that requires a creator.
  • How the possible motivations of post-humans can help us to establish that we live inside a simulation.
  • Why there is not proof in real life, not even in science.
  • Why the simulation hypothesis is not scientific.
  • How our minds can trick us how to avoid pitfalls in our observations and reasoning.
  • How the laws of reality can help us to ascertain that we do live in a simulation.
  • Why the evidence for the paranormal is not scientific but strong enough to count.
  • How to explain premonition, evidence suggesting reincarnation, ghosts, ufo’s, and meaningful coincidences.
  • How coincidences surrounding major historical events indicate that everything happens according to a script.
  • Why many people see 11:11 and other peculiar time prompts.
  • What predetermination tells us about our purpose.

By reading this book, you will discover that the world makes perfect sense if we assume it to be a simulation and that it does not make sense to presume that this world is real.

You can find it here:

Post-human motivations

We may find out that we live inside a simulation if we can notice that our reality is not realistic, at least in some aspects. To see why we can look at the possible motives for post-humans to run simulations of human civilisations. Even though it is not certain post-humans might have similar motivations as we have. Modern humans attach great value to their inner selves, so we may not change our human essence once we can. Hence, the motives of post-humans might well be similar to ours, and they might run simulations of human civilisations for research or entertainment.

Research could be about running what-if scenarios. So what if a giant meteor hits the surface of the planet? What if China never became unified? Alternatively, what if there never were religions such as Christianity and Islam? Or what if a deadly infectious disease breaks out? Countless scenarios are possible. Post-humans might be interested in running them to see how humanity will cope. These simulations are likely to be realistic.

Possible entertainment applications are games or dream worlds to make your imagination come true. Such a simulation may not be realistic in some aspects as it reflects the rules of a game or someone’s imagination. Chaos theory states that small changes in the initial conditions of complex systems can have a dramatic impact on future developments. For instance, a butterfly flapping its wings in Texas might cause a hurricane in China. And simulations of civilisations are complex, so to guarantee a particular outcome, you need control over everything that happens. This requirement does not apply to games. Unpredictable developments make games more interesting.

Our understanding of human nature suggests that the number of simulations for entertainment likely vastly outstrip those run for research, at least if sufficient resources are available. Hence, if we do live inside a simulation, we should expect it to be for entertainment. The owner or owners may use avatars and appear like ordinary human beings to us. If reality is unrealistic in some aspects, this suggests that our purpose is entertainment as a simulation run for research is more likely to be realistic. Furthermore, evidence of control further indicates that the purpose of this simulation is not a game but implementing someone’s imagination.

If the beings inside the simulation were sentient, that can raise ethical questions like whether or not they have rights the creators should respect. Considering how humans treat each other, it is not a given that these rights would be respected even when the creators acknowledge them. In a realistic simulation, bad things do happen to people all the time. And in the case of control, the beings inside the simulation are not sentient. They do not think and do not have a will of their own. Hence, we might have no intrinsic value to our creators.

Simulation argument II: adding information

Simulations could be realistic in many ways while not being realistic in some aspects. If that is somehow noticeable, then we might find out that we do live inside a simulation. Instead of speculating about us living in a simulation by guessing the probability of the existence of post-humans and their abilities, resources, and possible motivations, it seems more illuminating to look at the available information about our universe. Perhaps there is a more conclusive argument to be made. It may go like this:

  1. If this universe is genuine, we cannot be sure that it is. A simulation can be realistic and come with authentic laws of reality.
  2. This universe may have fake properties, but we cannot establish this because we do not know the properties of an authentic universe.
  3. Breaching the laws of reality is unrealistic in any case. If it happens, we may have evidence of this universe being virtual.

It follows from (1) and (2) that we cannot use the properties of this universe reflected in the laws of reality to determine whether this universe is real or a simulation. And it does not matter whether the laws of reality are genuine or not. If they are authentic and breached, this universe is a simulation. If they are fake, this universe is a simulation anyway. Science can establish laws of reality or properties of this universe, but science cannot determine whether they are real or fake.

According to science, this universe kicked off fourteen billion years ago with a big bang. Ten billion years later, life on this planet began to develop out of chemical processes. It took another four billion years for life on Earth to evolve into what it is today. According to science, there is no evidence of an intelligent creator, the laws of physics always apply, and we are biological organisms made out of carbon and water.

Hence, the following properties of our universe have been certified by science. They are among the established laws of our reality, reflecting what scientists believe to be realistic:

  • The laws of physics always apply inside their realm, for instance, Newton’s first law of motion, which states that a change in the speed or direction of the movement of a body requires a force.
  • The universe started with a big bang. Life on this planet emerged from chemical processes, and evolution shaped it. There is no evidence of a creator.
  • We are biological organisms, and our consciousnesses reside in our bodies. There is no spirit or soul.

Evidence to the contrary might indicate that we do live inside a simulation. Meaningful coincidences suggest there is an intelligent force directing events. The paranormal defies the laws of physics from time to time. Evidence for reincarnation indicates that we are not biological organisms. But meaningful coincidences can materialise by chance. And there may be laws of reality we do not know. And there is plenty of evidence of the consciousness residing in the body while only a few people remember a previous life. A convincing case for us living in a simulation requires clarification as to why it is the best explanation for our existence. The clarification might consist of the following parts:

  • Our existence is not a miracle that requires a creator, but this universe can be a simulation.
  • The possible motivations of post-humans may allow us to establish that we do live inside a simulation and what our purpose is.
  • Science cannot determine that his universe is a simulation as we do not know the properties of a real universe.
  • Alternative explanations for strange phenomena seem less plausible as they run into logical inconsistencies.
  • Evidence suggestive of reincarnation might suffice to conclude that our consciousnesses do not reside in our bodies.
  • Evidence suggestive of ghosts, premonitions, and alien abductions might suffice to conclude that the laws of physics do not always apply.
  • The distribution of meaningful coincidences could indicate that an intelligence coordinates events in this universe.

Establishing that the distribution of meaningful coincidences is not the outcome of chance requires information about probabilities. Meaningful coincidences can happen by accident, and it is impossible to determine the odds of them materialising. Still, there are arguments to be made to certify that mere accident is not so likely. For that, we may consider the following:

  • Some types of meaningful coincidences are less likely to occur than others. The more elaborate the scheme, the less likely it is the result of mere chance.
  • Mere chance is also unlikely when elaborate meaningful coincidences surround the most important historical events.
  • If meaningful coincides are not distributed evenly across people and time-frames, and some people are heavily affected, it suggests interference and perhaps even destiny for those involved.