Do We Live in a Simulation?

To find out if life as we know it is virtual, we must look for bugs in the very fabric of reality.

A. S. Deller
Jun 19 · 4 min read

Is life real?

This is one of many questions that has plagued philosophers for thousands of years.

In his 2003 paper Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?, the Swedish philosopher, futurist, Oxford professor and Director of the Future of Humanity Institute and Governance of AI Program Nick Bostrom covers several topics that underlay the possibility that life as we experience may indeed be “fake news”:

Substrate-Independence — Consciousness is not necessarily a property born of biology and could be formed from other materials or even energy.

Technological Limits of Computation — Given our current rate of progress in computational power, memory storage and AI, it may be only a matter of decades before true artificial consciousness is created, leading to the era of “posthumanity”.

He writes:

…a posthuman simulator would have enough computing power to keep track of the detailed belief‐states in all human brains at all times. Therefore, when it saw that a human was about to make an observation of the microscopic world, it could fill in sufficient detail in the simulation in the appropriate domain on an as‐needed basis.

The Ancestor Simulation — A posthuman civilization’s emulation of the “entire mental history” of humanity, including every detail down to thought-level.

Nick asks:

If there were a substantial chance that our civilization will ever get to the posthuman stage and run many ancestor‐simulations, then how come you are not living in such a simulation?

His logical argument states that at least one of the three following conditions must be true: A) Either the fraction of all human‐level technological civilizations that survive to reach a posthuman stage is 0; B) the fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor‐simulations is 0; or C) the fraction of all observers with human‐type experiences that live in simulations is 1.

If A is true, that would most likely mean bad news for humanity, or at least for continued technological progress.

B seems unlikely to be true. We run simulations for myriad reasons currently, from science applications to entertainment purposes in the form of games like Sim City.

And if C is true, and we are all part of virtual reality, we may never know it.

Aside from the philosophical argument offered by Nick, there are readily apparent signs all around us that point to the distinct probability that we may be living in such a simulation. Aside from the reality-bending occurrences in the world of U.S. politics since the last presidential election, some of these are:

One

AI, machine learning, virtual reality and video games have taken huge leaps forward in the past twenty years.

Two

We know subatomic particles must exist, but we still can’t come close to actually seeing them, and no one has the faintest idea how we might ever do that.

Three

Conversely to point two, the farther we look into the universe, the larger the universe seems to be.

Four

Our odds of ever existing in the first place verge on the incalculably small: the tiniest variations in any physical constant or in Earth’s material make-up and position in the Solar System would have prevented life from evolving.

Five

The Fermi Paradox. Our Milky Way galaxy alone, not counting the billions of other galaxies out there, may have hundreds of thousands or even millions of life-harboring planets, thousands of which may have evolved intelligent, technological life. Why is there no evidence of them?

In the above video hosted on Vimeo, educated people like theoretical physicist James Gates, engineer, and entrepreneur Elon Musk, and cosmologist Max Tegmark weigh in on this idea. Some of the discussion revolves around the mathematical complexity of the universe, but in searching for mathematical answers and similarities we are bound to find them. Ultimately, whether reality is actually built on code that we can see to some degree via mathematics, or whether we are merely describing reality in the only way we can may not really matter.

Lisa Randall, a Harvard physicist, believes that even considering the idea that life is a simulation is essentially pointless. No matter what life is or how it began, we will never know all of the facts and never be able to bookend the story of creation: Humanity was neither here at the very beginning of things and will certainly not be around (at least not in its current form) at the end of time.

Ultimately, there may be only 4 possible “end states”:

— Humanity reaches a level of technology that lets us control the simulation (as in The Matrix)

— The creators of our simulation “reboot” it just before we reach the above state.

— We’ve already been rebooted.

— The creators of our simulation are ALSO a simulation.

It may be best for us all to heed the advice at the end of the video — Impress who-or-whatever is watching the possible simulation by living interesting lives so that we are not relegated to NPC status.

Thank you for reading and sharing!

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A. S. Deller

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Startup product manager. Sci fi, Fantasy and Science writer. https://t.co/6Eny0CBdBD https://channillo.com/user/29057 https://twitter.com/deller_a

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