This question has been floating around since the movie first opened decades ago. Film lovers are quick to offer their answers. They have various explanations for or opinions of this possibility.
Some say with great enthusiasm that we are not living in a simulated world as shown in the ground-breaking movie. If we were, who is keeping us compliant in our “pods”. Ha! Is there some great overload watching our every move?
One odd duck says he took the “red pill” and nothing happened, except for a rash that cleared up. Many others do not rule out the idea of living thanks to software, and very reliable software at that! No annoying updates!
It all revolves around saying “yes or no” to simulation theory, as proposed by the noted philosopher from Oxford University, Nick Bostrom. For this great mind, human technology has progressed at an amazing rate and is so advanced as to be capable of creating or simulating entire universes in the future. Within them, the accoutrements would be detailed and believable. Any could become as complex as what we now deem our own reality to be.
Who populates such simulations? Are they avatars or conscious humans? The more advanced the simulation, the more likely the “people” in it would be able to think. They would also be self-aware. It is easy to hypothesize complex minds, but rather than being human, they are the product of circuit boards and artificial design.
Why couldn’t these “beings” progress through technology to run their own simulations? Simulated minds are therefore very like what we think are our own. So we have simulations within simulations like stacked Russian dolls.
This means that it is possible to envision billions of universes, all simulated from a base reality. You might call that base the “real” world. What are the odds? We are obligated to calculate them to validate or invalidate the theory of simulation.
One counter-argument to denying this proposition is that all simulations share a common feature: their own simulation. They would have the requisite technology to replicate the base reality. The odds are about 50/50 for many that a simulated universe is possible if not probable. It sure beats the billion-to-one odds offered by opponents.
The question for believers is whether computers can only create one simulation. There is no reason to assume such a limitation. Why can’t a simulation engender multiple branches? Well, maybe that possibility is a billion to one. Embedded in this argument is the role of ethics. How does a human with a moral base view a simulated reality? With dignity and respect no doubt. It is expected of human consciousness in an advanced world. Otherwise a higher one might wreak havoc with it.
Relevant here is David Kipping’s paper, A Bayesian Approach to the Simulation Argument. He uses math as opposed to Bostrom’s logic and reason. Math (using a geometric series) might offer greater probabilities.
As part of an overall evaluation, the smallest size of computer required to run a simulation would be the universe itself, an unlikely occurrence and proof that we are not living in a simulation. It begs the question of an afterlife for both the religious and non-religious.
There are so many ways to look at it. We know that the universe is vast so can it be contained in images on a computer screen? Maybe if the computer had enormous power. Then comes quantum uncertainty: something doesn’t exist until it has been observed in some way, perhaps microscopically or in a computer simulation. All these speculations are becoming fun and amusing for followers of simulation theory – both for and against. Many offer a plausible argument. We see them in publications like the Scientific American, among others.
Yes or no. Are we living in a simulation or not and how do we prove it one way or another? It comes down to the role of subjectivity in observing experience. We all have judgments and expectations developed from our on-going “programming”. Thus, we can’t know what is real apart from empirical perceptions. Societal norms influence our thinking and our cultural context. We all have biases, although they may differ. We are far from positing one true objective reality.
We are walking in the Matrix and can’t step outside it to find out what is there. Is there another physical reality waiting to be discovered? So many ways to think about it, some sane and some absurd.
We can ponder the issue endlessly and listen to others. Why not start with Plato, who wrote in the Republic, that we don ‘t know what is tangible or unreal. What do you see when you look out the window? Probably toy cars and tiny people if you are up high. People may look disoriented at this level. And they act this way when selecting their politicians. They are addicted to reality TV, which turns out to not be real at all! It is all an illusion and a construct. We are victims of popular culture like the movie, The Matrix. Some people get pretty excited about simulations and think we are in some bleak, dark comedy.
It is time to look for evidence on all sides. Computer simulations are just bits of data offered to the viewer for entertainment. These simulations are very detailed and loaded with information. Objects become animate with a physical and psychological dimension. But the data could get corrupted, thereby changing the image unexpectedly. Anything could happen to the people, places, and things inside the created world.
It is like losing a sock in the washing machine? You don’t know where it went. Is this evidence of a simulation that goes haywire and absorbs things? Some say that a given simulation could be “sloppy”. And some would also say that a simulation today might mercifully be free of our most detested things like Brexits, racism, pandemics, yellow journalism, crime, dishonest capitalists, etc. The result might be a sedate and indifferent population with nothing to fight against or complain about as preplanned by sadistic and humorously perverse Matrix Overlords. We would no doubt miss our bugaboos. After all, we thrive on disasters that liven up the media.
We all have different beliefs and needs. We justify them without fail, even to the point of attacking others. We don’t accept different perspectives and that goes for the nature of reality and the universe for sure. It is like debates over religion and ethics. It is all about human rights these days.
Meanwhile, does mankind really know anything definitive with which we can all agree? It is a task for philosophers and logical minds, not the typical average Joe. Theories of knowledge are the root of philosophy and have been so since its inception in ancient Greece. Now it includes the possibility of a simulation and the fact that things are not as they seem.
Racism, sexism, homophobia and other issues are rampant in the East or West. However, it is doubtful if a machine could deal with them, as stupid as many are. Recently it was said that we live in an Age of Stupidity, and rightly so.
Meanwhile physics and simulation theory appear incompatible on the surface because a simulation would be based on the framework determinism, i.e., a visible world whose processing power for modeling the trajectories of the units is governed by immutable laws. The power laws might implode our own universe although trajectories and interactions are reined in by universal rules such as the maximum velocity at the speed of light. But in “real life,” there are vast trajectories of every conceivable issue or item, and things are not written in stone. Imagine the power needed to create such things. But implosiont won’t happen if we believe in universal rules.
Well, consider that the master mind of the simulation uses quantum computing, even with near perfect efficiency. It would contain the mass-energy equivalence law, E=mc2 or information processing = energy = mass. But an external source of mass/energy would have to exist prior to the simulation to create it, one greater than is now apparent. Something has to physically set the processing in motion and keep it going in another, greater universe. Is it God? It is a big question beyond the limited mind of modern man. Many have tried and failed to answer it.
In essence, if a simulated universe were to operate tiin a deterministic framework, the needed processing power for this single simulation would go far beyond the mass of our universe. We are now back to a possible implosion unless the simulation required a vast supply from some external entity.
In short, processing power for a simulation would be limited if not impossible. Given that it would be governed by determinism by nature, how do we simulate randomness? It is a fact of the universe after all while determinism is just an assumption. Simulated agents and their actions would need to be random, even within their small navigating, artificial space. Would deterministic laws eventually take over?
We are a long way from absolute and final computer science, the kind that can do the seemingly impossible. But with a distant perspective, we can imagine the outcome. If all goes well, superior beings would run about in the simulation with the requisite randomness. By definition, no simulation would be identical to another if randomness ruled. We might want to look for patterns, just for the fun of it, but we might not find them. Thus, we would have to run multiple simulations to know if determinism is the real state of things. These would be parallel universes requiring enormous computer power. So would having many simulations defeat the purpose? So many conundrums behind simulation theory! Why are we so fixated on computers in any case. It may be a human psychological need given our reliance on them.
The move, The Matrix, offers a choice between pills: red and blue. Some say they leave the film at this point and hide. Everything in life and in theory comes down to choices, hence the typical 50/50 odds. Many find it hard to decide on anything and they exist in limbo. It is like being a schizophrenic with a two-sided mind. In any case, we are called upon to conceive of the universe in whatever form and with whatever proof at our disposal.
Some people have more insight than others in this regard and enjoy a particularly holistic view. If you are lucky enough to understand quantum physics, you are already ahead of the game. But the issue is already too surreal to turn to physics. But Occam’s razor can help. The more simple an issue, the more likely it holds true. So is postulating a third-party intelligence the simplest explanation of our universe? Maybe. It depends upon your view of the energy needed and how it would be generated.
Many people don’t care. It is too complex and mind-boggling to ask how we perceive our environment and of what does it consistf? We all adapt to life in different ways, some more effective than others. Some accept change and some rebel at its appearance. Does simulation theory imply radical change. Surely, it does. It would alter our view of reality and its meaning. It would impact our belief in God.
It is all about Intelligence with a capital I. Something out there is responsible for our creation, or so say so many theorists. But maybe it doesn’t matter what or who it is as long as it does its job. We just go on with our lives and do the best we can. It pays to enjoy it while it lasts!
There are those who say the job is not complete and the creator is failing. This is one big negative perspective and doesn’t provide much hope. Who wants to be a simulated object in an altered computer-generated world, and one that is not up to par. But we have a causal relationship with the external world and cannot be brains in a lab jar.
If we are in a simulation, can we peek out the box and see how it works. Can we change it? Probably not. Most people assume and want there to be a greater meaning to life and a better base world. It could be from God or another type of supreme being. How odd that we think of computers as supreme.
We have language, however, to voice our views and concerns. It is the DNA of the mind. Language is universal and ubiquitous. In fact, words create our consciousness and articulate what we perceive. They allow us to ask the tough questions. They enable us to maintain thoughts beyond the daily grind. Language provides answers. Now we seek them about our material world and its physical or simulated nature.