Imagine a post-apocalypse future where mankind has long ceased to exist. If an alien spaceship were to visit our empty, dead cities, they might be curious as to the people and culture of the previous inhabitants of this once thieving civilization. With their vast technological superiority, the aliens could create a computer simulation to observe how that now-dead people once grew and then finally died out. The simulation might be so perfect that the people in the simulation don’t even know that they are part of a simulation. Maybe we are the inhabitants of that simulated world. Maybe we are living in a world where everything really isn’t what it seems.
Photo credit: RichardjJones | videoblocks.com
Simulation Theory is the idea that we are living in a computer simulated world which is so lifelike that we believe we’re living in the base reality. This might sound totally crazy if you’re hearing about it for the first time, but consider how advanced our simulated video games are now and how quickly they have become more lifelike in such a short period of time compared to early arcade games such as Pong. If we continue to make even just small technological advances every year into the future, what will be possible in 1,000 years or even 100,000 years’ time. The possibilities are endless.
The philosopher Nick Bostrom has hypothesised that one of three scenarios must be true: 1, that advanced civilisations die out before reaching the technical ability to create such simulations; 2, that technically advanced civilisations decide not to run these simulations; or 3, that we ourselves are most likely living in a simulated world. Let’s consider each in turn. In the vastness of the universe it seems highly unlikely that we are the only advanced civilisation and that there are probably countless lifeforms which are far more technically advanced than us and who would be able to create such simulations. So why would they want to run a simulation? There’s the alien example which I’ve already described or maybe our future historians decide that they want to run an ancestral simulation to see what life used to be like. Or maybe our reality is just a future game of Sims being played by some spotty teenager in his parents’ basement. Finally that leaves the likelihood that we are indeed in a simulation, because once a simulation is created, then in that simulation another simulation is made when they become technically advanced and so on in a never ending cascade of simulations within simulation, making it billions to one that we are living in the base reality which first created a simulation.
You might think that to simulate the universe it would require a computer as large as the universe itself, but maybe, just like our current video games, the only world that needs to exist is what we can see around us. Atoms might suddenly appear only when someone is looking into an electron microscope. The debate about if a falling tree in a forest makes any sound if no one is there to hear it might be mute, because if no one is there then the tree might not exist at all.
The simulation theory isn’t just a wacky, fringe idea. There are some famous people who believe that we might be living in a simulation, such as Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson. So what do you think? Is this the base reality or are we living in a simulated world.