Are we or aren’t we living in a simulation? The answer could go either way. Imagine being computer-generated living from strings of 0 and 1. It is all a fantastic video game.
Is simulation the same as reality?
Let’s consider the “simulation argument”. A look back at video games from fifty years ago might help. You might not even recognize something as a video game, given what they are like today. Take Pong, a table tennis-themed activity for two players. If your opponent fails to hit the ball back, you win points. It is quite simple. Not much was on the screen and no visual appeal.
Now we are in the 21st century and games are much more sophisticated with hyper-realistic graphics that dazzle the eye. You can play them in endless ways and enter multiple worlds along with hundreds of others. It is all up to you with maximum flexibility.
The new augmented reality we are playing with is phenomenal. The result of breakthrough technologies like AI is the evidence The line is indeed blurred between virtual and “real” spheres. Just glance at Assassin’s Creed Valhalla for one. Time has gone by in a flash, but it is a millionth of a nanosecond compared to the full length of human existence to date. In fact, our universe is about 13.8 billion years old.
Even in this context, the rate of technological innovation is mind boggling. It is an omen of what is to come: a simulated universe completely indistinguishable from what we think is reality. It seems inevitable, but it is there, even a few hundred years out. The odds may be as high as 90%, all things considered. It comes down to this: coding a simulation of reality is entirely achievable, maybe within our lifetime. What’s two or three hundred years – a drop in the bucket of endless time.
But will it happen? If we can do it, no doubt we will. Some disagree for various reasons, called the “simulation argument”. To begin with, many expect civilization and mankind to disappear, whether we deserve it or not. This has long been long foretold. No one knows when, but it has been predicted.
According to the simulation argument proposed by Nick Bostrom, one of three “propositions” holds true. The first is that we are all doomed to extinction and will never reach the goal of a true simulation. The end will come from the “great filter” whatever you think it is. Our current climate crisis may be the beginning – or the end. The coronavirus and genetically engineered superbugs are icing on the cake of doom. It is a bitter pill to swallow to use another analogy. What if any one thing had a 50% mortality rate. It could be a nuclear war or a devastating asteroid. Even a murky science experiment gone awry, getting swallowed up by a black hole, or hit by an asteroid. You name the catastrophic event, and there are many possibilities!
The second proposition is that we will gain the ability to find the necessary advanced technology, but with indifference, we will not act on it. Perhaps it is because of ethics. We can scan history, recent of course, and see how global consciousness has formulated fearful technological advancements, mandating abandonment for those ethical enough to do something about it.
Most would be too dangerous for mankind to adopt, lest we find ourselves embroiled in a devastating nuclear war. Countries may be loath to do it, but they are denuclearizing given the envisioned consequences. Pile drug addiction on top of too much technology and you have a recipe for disaster. It seems that civilization is in decline, what with all the bioweapons and chemical arms. In any case, final annihilation will stop all the conjectures. One catastrophic event, and we are done!
Can we stop ourselves from finding out how much technology can do? It is tempting to push it to the max despite the many ethical issues raised. Is potential human suffering worth the effort? More and more, people and governments are asking these questions and searching for answers. Decisions are being made. They find that they are required to take action now in the interest of the future.
We might finally reach a consensus while we are able to do so, although it may be in the nick of time. Do we want to see a simulated universe with all its possible threats to humanity? Life has been tough enough, so why make it worse?
The third possibility as proposed by Nick Bostrom is that we move forward and achieve simulation after all. In other words, if we can do it, we would.
It is a moot question if we are already living in a simulation, the third proposition to consider. There was no calamitous end to mankind. Maybe we got through the ethics part of it and pushed our knowledge as far as we could and got over any indifference. It just had to be and now we are already there. In fact, there could have been millions of simulations up to this point and a multitude of universes to live in, given the vast number of likely game players.
Simulation one, then two, then…..on and on. Each journey is likely to be unique. But it is so hard to imagine even one million universes like our own – all extremely technologically advanced. What if each one created amazing feats of change. Even if 10,000 out of the million keep on creating new universes, imagine the implications. Some will become extinct, but some will surely live on. It is a self-propagating endeavor.
Some additional thoughts
There is no reason not to believe we can do it, given that we can conceive it so well. Maybe some simulations become extinct while others thrive, for a time. With so many at stake, the sky’s the limit in terms of possibilities.
Imagine a white board in a meeting room in your office. You are asked to aim a dart at a diagram on it while blindfolded. Then imagine the odds of hitting any one area of this diagram. It is just like the original universe versus the simulated versions. You are most likely to hit a simulated world, right?
Where will you end up in this strange panoply of theoretic options about simulation? It seems improbable that you would land on just the right one (the original, for example); the odds are one in billions. Do you care to wager? I wouldn’t. It is not something for speculation; it requires some pretty hard evidence to satisfy the need for scientific facts.
We are logical people who listen to science, right? We don’t take things for granted and prefer the tangibility of hard evidence like the would-be scientists we are. Instead of mere conjecture, we tend to listen to authorities like celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. We follow brilliant entrepreneurs like Elon Musk. We take the advice of Sam Altman, the founder of Y Combinator and current CEO of OpenAl.
A wide range of respected mathematicians, physicists, and scientists give simulation theory their support. Think of the Oxford genius, Nick Bostrom. His accomplishments are legion. Then there is Brian Greene, a noted theoretical physicist who is also a string theorist and mathematician. He is no slouch to discredit. Why not follow George Smoot. He has two bachelor’s and a PhD from MIT. As an astrophysicist and cosmologist, he became a Nobel laureate.
Apparently, great minds are working on simulation theory. Inquiring minds want to know if it is viable. What will happen when we find out? Will life go on as usual in any case?