Are we living in a simulation?

In the 1999 film The Matrix, the humdrum life of the central character Neo is revealed to be an illusion. His green-tinted reality is actually a digital simulation created by connecting human brains to a computer. When Neo swallows the red pill offered to him by Morpheus, his body is disconnected from the computer system and he is plunged into a new and frightening reality: for the first time he experiences the physical world.

Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy by David Chalmers points out, how does Neo know that this new reality is not just another convincing simulation? Or, as the Professor Cornel West (who played Councillor West of Zion in The Matrix Reloaded) puts it: “It’s illusions all the way down.” This is the mind-boggling philosophical rabbit hole into which Chalmers invites his reader to dive headlong: is this – to paraphrase Bohemian Rhapsody – the real world, or is it just fantasy?

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The pandemic’s true death toll

Last year’s Day of the Dead marked a grim milestone. On 1 November, the global death toll from the Covid-19 pandemic passed 5 million, official data suggested. It has now reached 5.5 million. But that figure is a significant underestimate. Records of excess mortality – a metric that involves comparing all deaths recorded with those expected to occur – show many more people than this have died in the pandemic.

Working out how many more is a complex research challenge, writes David Adams in Nature. It is not as simple as just counting up each country’s excess mortality figures. Some official data in this regard are flawed, scientists have found. And more than 100 countries do not collect reliable statistics on expected or actual deaths at all, or do not release them in a timely manner.

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Crypto and the politics of money

If we depart from such functionalist accounts of money and stress instead the role of money in constituting community, founding polities, etc., then crypto has clearly gained purchase in certain communities and helped to configure and constitute them.

The question then is, how stable, robust, and widespread are these social groupings that have organised themselves around this money and/or how powerful are their opponents, says Adam Tooze on his blog.

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Testing the Hindu rashtra

If the Bharatiya Janata Party is defeated in the upcoming elections in Uttar Pradesh, it would represent the first electoral defeat of Hindu rashtra, writes Asim Ali in the Telegraph. Of course, the BJP has been defeated many times before in the polls. But this election has been set up, both by the BJP and its principal challenger, the Samajwadi Party, as a referendum on the kind of State the Yogi Adityanath regime has methodically constructed over the last five years.

The model Hindu rashtra of Uttar Pradesh is now being put to the vote. Led by a saffron-clad monk as chief minister, Uttar Pradesh has been at the forefront of enforcing Hindu supremacy through the persecution of Muslims, much of it as a matter of explicit and formal policy.

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