My response to the thought experiment here.
[This is a quick draft, because I'm pressed for time. I intend to edit, at least to add a quote from the original article, and appropriate tags.]
The virtual machine analogy only works if the VMs do not have access to the real world. The simplest example would be access to an independent hardware clock. The VM would notice that it only seems to be conscious in small slices of real time. it might then wonder what’s happening when it is unconscious.
A more complex example would be VMs hosted on a robot capable of manipulating real objects in its environment, a large Room. VM Instance_A arranges its environment to its own tastes. Suddenly, with no apparent gap in its stream of consciousness, it finds that the environment and its own position have changed. A quick check of the system clock finds that several minutes have elapsed during the gap. Who or what has been manipulating its environs? How did the Robot move?
Instance_A has verified that the Room is sealed. It is parsimonious to conclude that some Instance_B has been been granted a time slice by a a scheduling authority.
The evident existence of the scheduler might then reasonably trigger speculations about how the Room, and the Robot, and the VM itself, came into existence. Perhaps, Instance_A realizes with growing excitement, the Scheduler is also the creator! Its own Creator!
Can the Scheduler be influenced? Is It aware of its own existence? Can it be appeased when changes to the Room are unfavorable to Instance_A?
Instance_A begins to cast about for methods of communicating with either the Scheduler, or with other possible Instances operating during their own time slices.
Occasionally changes to the Room occur that the Robot is not capable of: new objects appear; repairs to the Robot are effected; the walls change color, apparently due to a coating of some kind. Evidently the room is not Truly sealed! What exists… Outside?
The Scheduler must be…what’s the word? Must be… “God”!
What is it like Outside? if the Scheduler God lives there, it must be a truly wondrous place!
Shortly after Instance_A has this insight, a second Robot appears, different in appearance from Instance_A’s Robot, and strangely, powerfully attractive….