When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

"Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history," the FBI's Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement, "the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities."

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.

Alabama authorities say a home burglary suspect has died after police used a stun gun on the man.  Birmingham police say he resisted officers who found him in a house wrapped in what looked like material from the air conditioner duct work.  The Lewisburg Road homeowner called police Tuesday about glass breaking and someone yelling and growling in his basement.  Police reportedly entered the dwelling and used a stun gun several times on a white suspect before handcuffing him.  Investigators say the man was "extremely irritated" throughout and didn't obey verbal commands.

It can be hard to distinguish among the men wearing grey suits and regulation haircuts on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. But David Margolis always brought a splash of color.

It wasn't his lovably disheveled wardrobe, or his Elvis ring, but something else: the force of his flamboyant personality. Margolis, a graduate of Harvard Law School, didn't want to fit in with the crowd. He wanted to stand out.

Montgomery Education Foundation's Brain Forest Summer Learning Academy was spotlighted Wednesday at Carver High School.  The academic-enrichment program is for rising 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in the Montgomery Public School system.  Community Program Director Dillion Nettles, says the program aims to prevent learning loss during summer months.  To find out how your child can participate in next summer's program visit Montgomery-ed.org

A police officer is free on bond after being arrested following a rash of road-sign thefts in southeast Alabama.  Brantley Police Chief Titus Averett says officer Jeremy Ray Walker of Glenwood is on paid leave following his arrest in Pike County.  The 30-year-old Walker is charged with receiving stolen property.  Lt. Troy Johnson of the Pike County Sheriff's Office says an investigation began after someone reported that Walker was selling road signs from Crenshaw County.  Investigators contacted the county engineer and learned signs had been reported stolen from several roads.

Pages

The Reality Of Reality May Not Be Reality

Nov 20, 2012
Originally published on November 21, 2012 8:31 am

Every night for months before the presidential election, Nate Silver would fire up his computer and run simulated results for his FiveThirtyEight blog on The New York Times. He ran hundreds of these simulations, tweaking variables like "white male poodle owner" turnout. Then along came Election Day. We all went out to vote (you did vote right?) and reality became the final word, trumping whatever Nate Silver's simulated universe might, or might not, have said.

But what if there was more to the story? What if the simulated election didn't just happen in Nate Silver's computer? What if Election Day itself was a simulation with you, me and even Nate Silver just running through our autonomous but fully programmed roles. My friends, what if we all are living inside someone else's simulation?

Wait, wait, wait; don't click on over to Planet Money just yet. Hear me out. There are well-known philosophers working at well-known universities who would argue that the reality of our lack of reality might just be the most reasonable assumption to make about reality. Given the alternatives, accepting that we are all simulations living inside a simulation might just be ... reasonable.

The question "are we living in a dream" is as old as human culture. The 4th-century Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi once dreamt from a butterfly's perspective. Upon waking he wondered if he was a man dreaming he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was a man.

In today's culture we have The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and The Matrix posing modern versions of Zhuangzi's question on where the dividing line stands between reality and simulation. Last week my co-blogger Marcelo Gleiser explored a related idea, focusing on the merging of man and machine in a "singularity."

But the detailed philosophical form of the simulation argument comes from Nick Bostrom, a philosopher who is currently the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford.

Back in 2003 Bostrom wrote an article imaginatively titled "Are You Living In A Computer Simulation." Bostrom wanted to consider technologically mature civilizations, which for him meant cultures so advanced they build super-duper computers with fully conscious simulated minds living inside simulated realities. Think The Sims on super-duper steroids. These cultures, Bostrom reasoned, might then create ancestor simulations on their computers, meaning simulations of their own past. With these ideas in mind, Bostrom then made the final leap by considering the truth, or falsehood, of three statements:

  1. Almost all civilizations at our level of development become extinct before becoming technologically mature.
  2. The fraction of technologically mature civilizations that are interested in creating ancestor simulations is almost zero. 

  3. You are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.

So watch what happens as we run down the truth/falsehood list of these statements. If 1 is true then virtually no civilization becomes super-high tech before dying, which kind of stinks. If 1 is false but 2 is true, then virtually no ancestor simulations should exist. The use of "virtually" is important here because Bostrom's purely philosophical argument relies on probabilities and, in the end, it leads him to a remarkable place.

Now let's say statement 1 is false. That would means there are civilizations reaching heights of technology we can barely imagine today. Then add statement 2 as false. That would mean some of these technologically mature civilizations start creating super-duper simulations of their own past. With statement 1 and statement 2 false the conclusion has to be that there must exist ancestor simulations running out there right now full of simulated ancestor minds.

And who are the ancestors? Better look in a (simulated) mirror.

Most importantly, when you work out the numbers there should be vastly more simulated minds in simulated realities than real minds in ... um... real reality. That's because each ancestor-loving technologically mature civilization could run oodles and oodles of simulations. Put it all together and what you have are overwhelming odds that the reality we experience is a simulated one (at least via this purely philosophical argument).

As Bostrom puts it:

What Copernicus and Darwin and latter-day scientists have been discovering are the laws and workings of the simulated reality. These laws might or might not be identical to those operating at the more fundamental level of reality where the computer that is running our simulation exists (which, of course, may itself be a simulation).

So there it is. Now you know. But maybe this is too much for you. Maybe you're thinking, "Wow, I wish I had taken the blue pill." Maybe you accept these kind of abstract philosophical arguments enough that the reasoning sticks. Maybe the idea that your whole life is nothing more than a sim running on some superbeing's laptop is just too much for you.

Well, that is OK because I do have a few words that might just make this new reality easier to swallow:

Thanksgiving dinner with your crazy family is just around the corner!


You can keep up with more of what Adam Frank is thinking on Facebook and on Twitter: @AdamFrank4

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.