Are we living in a simulation?

When reality just doesn’t cut it

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The reality that you and I perceive to be real may not be real at all. The roaring waves crashing on the beach, even the phone in your pocket could be Matrix-like computer-generated forces.

The prospect of an artificial universe is thought-provoking and has enthralled humans for years. What is the world around us? How did we get here? I believe it is highly likely that we are living in an artificial universe created by a post-human civilization.

Consider all the technological advancements in the past 50 years: We have iPhones, Smart Homes, advanced our graphics and special effects, etc. The 1985 “Cray-2” supercomputer had 244 megahertz (MHz) of CPU speed, while an iPhone X has 2100 MHz. This exponential growth of computing power in only the past 35 years bodes well for the simulation theory.

If technology continues to progress at this rate, it is quite probable that in the relative future we could create a simulation in which the characters (beings like us, perhaps our ancestors) possess free will. These characters could conceivably create their own simulation where their characters will have free will. This cycle would continue infinitely, resulting in trillions of simulations. The likelihood of our universe being the “base reality” is one in trillions.

The entire universe wouldn’t even need to be simulated, only what we as humans can perceive. Take Plato’s allegory of the cave from “The Republic:” Prisoners sit staring at shadows that are cast upon a wall. They know nothing of the world outside these shadows and deem them to be reality. Much like Plato’s allegory, the simulation would only have to generate the “shadows” of our world. Distant galaxies would be unnecessary for the simulation to render in because we would never see them.

The room around you may just be a facade until you interact with it, then it is “rendered in” by the simulation.

Then, just as we start answering some questions, another one arises: Who created our simulation?

I believe the most likely scenario is that there has been a post-human civilization that became interested in running simulations on their ancestors. Or, we eventually got so bored that we just decided “Why not?” This would make us characters that our post-human relatives are observing thousands of years in the future. This concept is known as the “Ancestor Simulation Theory.”

Philosopher Nick Bostrom from the University of Oxford made the theory popular after writing extensively on the topic. Bostrom argued that at least one of the following statements is true: “[One,] the fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage is very close to zero. [Two,] the fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero. [Three,] the fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.”

In this trilemma, options one and two are unlikely, meaning that it is probable we are living in a simulated universe.

A common misconception is that in order to believe we are living in a simulation, you must be an existential nihilist. This notion is fundamentally false.

Even if we are all just ones and zeros, we most certainly can all feel pain and have legitimate emotions. With this mindset, life still has meaning, because at the very least humans still have perceived feelings (that matter just as much as ‘real’ ones).

I believe society must begin to at least accept, if not adopt, new ideas regarding consciousness, such as the simulation hypothesis. This is vital to civilization. Ideas around consciousness are the foundation of all other thought. Almost all peoples’ values are influenced by religion (which has heavy ties to consciousness), or lack thereof, in one way or another. Thus, humans ought to consider different ideas concerning consciousness.

Many high-profile figures have adopted the “Simulation Hypothesis.” Astrophysicist Neil Tyson has said it is “better than 50-50 odds” that we are living in a simulation, while Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that there is “a billion to one chance we’re living in base reality.”

However, with the philosophy gaining traction, the simulation is the future, and quite likely, our present.

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