Are We Living in a Virtual Simulation? (The Matrix, a Video Game, a Computer Program, etc?)
Nick Bostrom – Simulations – Three Possibilities.
The Basics of the Simulation Argument
The basic concept of the simulation argument is that if a computer simulation can be run to simulate reality, then whoever ran the simulation would have run so many instances that there is a slim chance that anyone considering the argument is in “a base reality”. This is where the argument starts, but it doesn’t end there.
The argument is based on statistical probabilities that attempt to show there are three possibilities for advanced civilizations:
- Civilizations go extinct before they can make simulations.
- Civilizations quickly lose interest in creating computer simulations so there aren’t any or many.
- We are almost certainly living in a simulation.
Learn more at Are You Living In a Computer Simulation? by the creator of the argument Nick Bostrom.
Further Justification for the Simulation Hypothesis – Can We Prove We Aren’t in a Simulation?
There are many signs that suggest we can’t prove we aren’t in a simulation. Our universe is based on rigid mathematical rule-sets, and (the specifics of the standard model aside) everything is essentially made of electromagnetic mass-energy (roughly light and electricity). We know a few simple rules create evolving complex systems (such as the binary code running the computer you are reading this on), and we can use modern physics and mathematics to calculate and predict a lot of complex phenomena with accuracy.
From fractal geometry to Euclidean space, to relative time and the constant speed of light, nothing around us suggests we aren’t “living in a computer simulation” (although, to be clear, nothing proves we are either).
Below we explore the different simulation arguments and ponder the viability of those theories.
Is Anything Real?. We really do have more than 5 senses like Vsauce says. This video shows other reasons to question reality.
Scientists Have Seriously Considered The Simulation Argument
The simulation argument (the idea we could be “in the Matrix) isn’t just a fun factoid, this is legitimately the conclusion of a scientific inquiry, and it has been discussed by many respectable thinkers (see an article about actual scientists discussing “the simulation argument” in 2016).
To clarify the above, one version of the simulation argument says: 1. we are made out of the same “star stuff” a computer program is (the only stuff everything is made out of, “mass-energy“) 2. if an advanced race could run a computer simulation that mimicked life they could run so many instances of that simulation that it would make it statistically probable we were a simulation (this is why for example Elon Musk thinks there is about a on in a billion chance we are in “a base reality”).
Is life a video game? | Elon Musk | Code Conference 2016
The exact arguments surrounding the above concept are complex, and the conversations are often had by conspiracy theorists than rational minds. Yet, people with rational minds do talk about this, and related science-backed theories include the well-worn Holographic Universe theory.
Is The Universe A Hologram?. Is reality a 2-dimensional surface, and our 3D reality just a projection? The question sounds silly until you consider quantum and classical physics and the science of black holes. Leonard Susskind explains. The holographic universe theory isn’t the same as the simulation argument, but it is reality in that it questions the basis of reality.
The Simulation Argument – Science Versus Metaphysics
The simulation argument is rooted in science but is a metaphysical argument. Specifically a cosmological argument. See “the difference between physics and metaphysics,” and “the branches of philosophy,” for more clarification on how to understand cosmological theories like, “the simulation argument”.
TIP: You can ask “are we real”, and “how do we know” all day. These are metaphysical and epistemological questions. Therefore, to be clear, this page asks a serious question and presents real science as evidence, but ultimately leads to philosophical questions rather than answers. Learn more about the branches of philosophy.
Electrostatics – A Yale Course on the Mechanics, Relativity, and Thermodynamics. This helps explain how similar photons are to binary bits in a computer.
If We are in the Matrix, What are the Implications?
“Being in the matrix” (a virtual simulation) can mean a few different things. This includes, but isn’t limited to scenarios where:
- We are randomly in the matrix with no one driving the ship.
- We are in a matrix within a matrix.
- We are being tested, examined, or watched.
- We are one of many simulations being run by some other type of being.
- We are being used as a power source of some kind by mechanical Octopi… (OK, probably not that).
Nick Bostrom – The Simulation Argument (Full).
TIP: On the off chance that we are being tested, if say that test is to see if we can be “good,” then we are arguably not succeeding. I will now direct you to our page on morality and the meaning of life.
TIP: The “Let there be light” meme is a joke in this instance. Maxwell’s equations describe electromagnetic fields, and light is a form of electromagnetic radiation, so Maxwell’s equations can be used to describe light.
Arguments Against Living in the Matrix
The best argument against us living in a virtual simulation is that we are by no means living in a utopia. Unless the world around us, me and you the reader, is fake (and thus there isn’t the suffering we know there is), then we aren’t being placated. This argument draws into question a benevolent simulation, but doesn’t draw into question the idea that we are being tested or that the simulation isn’t being guided by anything more than basic rules.
The Simulation Hypothesis – FULL PROGRAM. A historic look at the simulation argument.
A Simple Algorithm that Could Create the Universe
There are only a few constants in the universe. To create a universe you would need to define the constants and the equation for how electromagnetic energy behaved. We have already figured out most of these equations, and while we don’t know everything yet, we could base an algorithm on simple steps like:
- Define the behavior of electromagnetic energy including how negative and positive charges attract, max speed, min speed, and constant gravitational force.
- Define the dimensions, and other limits.
- Define the amount of electromagnetic energy in the system and the bounds of the system.
- Define other potential unknowns regarding spacetime; it’s geometry, the cosmological constant, and dark energy etc.
Obviously, the specifics would be more complicated, but complexity science tells us that just a few simple rules can create a complex system. It’s not that this is likely, it is that we simply can’t prove we aren’t in the matrix.
Are you living in a simulation? – Silas Beane (SETI Talks).