I’m sure most of us have played The Sims or seen The Matrix and therefore have at least a little understanding of the idea of a simulation: where the reality is nothing more than a computer generated world and those who dwell within it are completely unaware of this fact. I can’t claim to have any in-depth knowledge regarding simulation theory but this post is going to cover what I know so far and why I wouldn’t completely rule out the idea that we are in fact living in a simulated reality. I’ll also look at some potential uses these simulations would have.
It would be illogical to begin this post without first mentioning the famous philosopher Nick Bostrom, who is responsible for the simulation argument in the form of his trilemma:
1-The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage (that is, one capable of running high-fidelity ancestor simulations) is very close to zero;
2-The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero;
3-The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.
This essentially proposes that the chances of us reaching a post-human stage and running ancestor simulations is unlikely, unless we are already living in a simulation. (At least that’s my understanding of it). When I initially encountered the idea of simulation theory, it was presented to me in the form of a series of questions meant as a thought experiment:
-Do you believe that at some point in humanity’s future we will have advanced to such a technological level that we are able to create or at least imitate consciousness?
-Do you believe that if we can create consciousness, we will be able to run simulations in order to see how people are likely to behave under certain situations?
-Do you believe that some of these simulations may aim to recreate human history, possibly from start to finish (or until the present day from their point of view) as well as creating simulations of worlds very similar to ours but with slight differences (e.g. JFK not getting assassinated)?
-If we have then created many, many simulations that are identical or very similar to that reality and we have made them as real as possible, spanning for thousands of years (within the simulation) with each individual within these simulations believing they are conscious beings, what is more likely: that you are one of many generated simulations or that you are living within the one true world?
The way I look at it is like this: what if in the future these computer generated realities or simulations are not only used for scientific purposes but also as a source of entertainment? For example, when people play video games, you know that characters are programmed to act a specific way e.g. they have limited chat options, they won’t leave their designated route or path within the game, some characters you can’t kill because it will impact the storyline. Even when you play online games with other real people, it isn’t realistic because the motives of people are based on the idea that it is just a game. So imagine the enjoyment of entering a realistic simulation where say Nazi Germany conquered the world and you are part of a small group trying to revolt against the Nazi regime. These people aren’t simply characters that will behave a certain way, they are instead generated consciousness that behave certain ways based on their life experiences, biological and chemical reactions inside their body (if you could call it that), they react differently to drugs and they experience the full array of human emotion. To these “characters”, you aren’t a player within a game, you are one of their comrades who has been with them since the beginning (you’d probably start this game at a young age). If you die in this game, that’s you done, game over. Would this be the end of the game? Not at all. Since it is a simulation, you could load it back to a previous point like any other game (whether this creates an identical “reality” or carries on the same one is a whole other question). If you made a decision you didn’t like then you could go back to that point and choose a different option. Not to mention that your actions would have the most realistic outcomes possible. I mean as someone who enjoys games where choices impact the world around you, I can only imagine the excitement of making decisions that have an infinite number of possible outcomes.
Along with being able to change the actual history of our world, we could change the physics, the technology, the species, the layout of the universe, anything. I read somewhere online during my initial discovery of the simulation theory, that someone had proposed the idea of religions being involved in the process. Imagine that you wanted to prove that religion was based on nothing but the lies of man. You could load up a simulation and produce a holy book. Perhaps we live in a simulation where the bible has been created to see what people do with such knowledge. Do they love and care for each other or do they create violence and hatred? I’ll leave you to come to your own conclusion on that one…but this could be taken a step further: you could create worlds where God(s) did exist. Imagine a world where the ancient Egyptian gods existed exactly how they are described. At the end of your “game” you die and get taken forth for judgement where you are deemed worthy or unworthy and advance accordingly depending on whether your heart is lighter than a feather or not. Maybe in a reality where the Judeo-Christian faith is accurate you basically get bonus levels: if the choices you made during the simulation where along the guidelines laid out by the bible then you’d go to the heaven level where you can bounce on clouds or whatever. If you lived a less-bible-like life then you’d be sent to hell where you would have to endure the tortures of hell.
This is all on the basis that it was in fact humans who initially ran these simulations but what if it wasn’t? What if homo sapien sapiens have literally just come into existence and there is a far more advanced alien species watching us, the same way we might watch sea-monkeys or ants. Perhaps this simulation technology is as basic as the wheel is to us now or shoes and they want to see how our species is likely to develop. Of course it wouldn’t be a way of predicting the future because there would be individual consciousness that would appear and alter things dramatically. It could, however, give you a basic idea of whether we would destroy ourselves or not as I’d imagine that all intelligent lifeforms go through similar stages of discovery. Perhaps it is simply a test to see whether our species is worthy or not. In a matter of minutes this alien species could run thousands of simulations, changing certain variables in an attempt to see how we act in any given situation.
This simulation idea can also be viewed from a completely different angle: what if everyone else within this world is merely a computer generated consciousness and you are the only “real” person. You’ve become far too lost in your game and rather than take a break or leave, you’ve become trapped, living the entire life of the character you’ve created, eventually convincing yourself that this is in fact the real world. I mean it has to be, right? The difficulty is that we can never confirm that anyone else is real, that they are aware of themselves or actually have consciousness. For all we know, they’ve been programmed to act a certain way or even worse, they are simply a computer generated consciousness that believes it is real. If we were to accept the fact that we were in a simulation, would we kill ourselves to get out? Of course not. We may be one of the computer generated minds and this could be the extent of our reality. Not to mention that films like Inception, The Matrix, even Wreck-It Ralph have warned us against dying in a dream/simulation/game. Could these be warning messages that appear in the form of films? A game such as this wouldn’t have a pause menu in which to read instructions or change settings. That doesn’t mean that information couldn’t be passed on through some form of media though.
This doesn’t even take into consideration a fairly recent discovery that physicist James Gate and his team made: that deep down within the mathematical equations of super symmetry were 1’s and 0’s i.e. binary code. I wish I knew more about this topic so that I could explain it more in-depth but I will post a link to a video where he discusses the discovery. From my brief reading on the topic, it seems that the binary code that was discovered isn’t just random but in fact relates to “Block Linear Self Dual Error Correcting Codes” which in essence are necessary for the correct exchange of code and information.
This leads to the next questions: If we were to work out that we’re nothing more than a computer simulated reality, what next? How would this alter our views of the world and the universe? Personally, I can’t say I’d mind too much. I mean on the one hand, at least if we’re simply computer generated then the survival of the human race and planet Earth doesn’t depend on us. We haven’t exactly been doing a stellar job so far. It would however raise some annoyingly impossible questions. Firstly, I’d want to know what the real world was like and what the species that created the simulation was. Would it be possible for us to communicate with this super-race? Maybe crop circles are messages from them that we haven’t been able to decipher as of yet. Secondly, I’d want to know the purpose of our simulation: was it there just to observe or were we a test for a specific variable? How many other simulations are there like ours? What happens when the simulation has ran its course and the questions have been answered, do we just get shut down? I can only begin to imagine what the answers to these questions would be. The impact it would have on us would be insane though. Ethics would have to be completely re-examined. I can only assume that all mainstream religions would suddenly change their tune to “We were right all along, God created this simulation for us to live in as a test”. What about our rights as simulations? I’m not a huge fan of this film but for those of you who have seen Source Code, you may have an idea of what I’m talking about. Perhaps this race of intelligent beings who create these simulations think that they are simply imitating consciousness and that we are nothing more than computer simulations. They could be completely ignorant to the fact that they are creating any number of new realities that exist within their own. Would we have some variation of the Turing Test that would compare our answers to specific questions to that of a “real” being? Does it make us any less real if we are in a machine but to us it’s an entire universe with life and memories and emotions? Is murder still murder if we aren’t actually living?
What if one day you were playing The Sims and your characters started doing things entirely on their own, carrying out tasks or actions that hadn’t existed in the game before. How would you act? Initially you’d probably ignore it and view it as a joke or some update that you’d missed. How would you act if your sims carry on their lives even when you’re not watching or you return and there is a war going on? Let’s take it one step further: how would you act if one day you watched as your sims drew illustrations of simulation theory? You perhaps would be unable to understand their languages but a diagram could be quite clear. I’m not sure any of us would pay much attention to it and I’m sure we wouldn’t actually believe that these characters had become self-aware. Perhaps God is merely a teenage alien who created this planet and then got bored; left his game running, completely unaware of what has gone on in his absence.
If you guys seem to enjoy this post then i’ll come back and add a bit more where I can discuss the idea of the world or universe only rendering when the key character is nearby. I’ll also discuss the idea that certain drugs could let us see past the basic layout of this universe into what goes on behind the code. As well as how this simulation idea could fit in with the many worlds interpretation and the multiverse.
Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgSZA3NPpBs&list=WL&index=96