Life as a Simulation: A Theory from… Antiquity?
Do you ever question your existence in this created reality that we call life? Do these thoughts come into your head right after watching one too many science fiction action films like, for example, the popular 1999 Wachowski-brothers directed The Matrix? If you’re just like me and wanted to dive deeper into this theorized world of events and whether such a theory could be plausible, then our paths have crossed… and is that in itself evidence that the simulation wanted us to? Mind puzzling, indeed. But is there a possibility that we live in a simulation instead of in a truly existing world, or can you completely rule this possibility out? Ask yourself this question: if we live in a simulation, will it have consequences for how we live our lives? In 2016, Elon Musk was among a line of celebrities that considered such a possibility, but what did he really base this assumption on? Was it based on new research or on the wise considerations of our forefathers in antiquity?
Let’s start by firstly examining the Simulation Hypothesis.
The theory is based on statistical probability, assuming its assumption that computer technology will continue to develop. It is believed that the technological development of artificial intelligence (AI) in the future may lead to computer simulations that are so real that the simulations themselves think they are real. In 2003, Swedish-British philosopher Nick Bostrom presented a featured academic text, “Are you living in a computer simulation?”. The conclusion was shaking: It may be that (i) civilizations are almost always wiped out before they can create a convincing virtual reality. It may also be that (ii) technically advanced civilizations of unknown reason choose not to create a reality for us. But if neither hypothesis (i) nor (ii) is true, Bostrom believes that the probability is very high that you live in a simulated reality right now. We are far from the technical opportunities today, but what about in a hundred, thousand or a million years, assuming that we live that long? Let’s examine his assumptions:
The first option entails that humanity dies before we develop the opportunity to simulate human consciousness. In such a scenario, no simulation will happen.
The second option means that the technology can be developed, but it will never be tested for moral or legal reasons. This option is the least likely because if such a technique would be possible to create, then its interest and application would be useful for humanity. But it is a possibility, after all.
The third option means that the technology will be developed and actually used. The number of simulated worlds is likely to be great, did not you be tempted to run a simulation on your computer and see how the “people” evolve and justify the mysteries of life?
Bostrom’s argument is based on the fact that in the future we will have enough computing power to simulate many worlds with people like you and me who want experiences, thoughts and senses.
And since there can only be one original world, it is purely statistically more likely that we are in a simulation. Bostrom believes a future artificial intelligence will be interested in running simulations of previous civilizations. Since Bostrom wrote his essay, as is known, much happened. With the recently released Gear VR, Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard and HTC Vive, ours has gone from fiction to reality. We are now living at a time when pragmatic economists write articles arguing for the fact that we must take virtual worlds seriously and that “more equal access to virtual reality” can soon be more crucial than economic allocation policy in the physical world.
Climbing into virtual reality for the first time is overwhelming. Not because it’s strange to suddenly move to a completely different place, but because it feels so natural. Today’s VR technology is primitive – it only manipulates visual and hearing impressions – but the experience is strong. Purely intellectually, you know that everything is fake, yet you know something completely different.
Back in reality, it looks different. Blurred in the contours. Why is the resolution so bad I can not see what’s on the sign over there? Why is my field of vision so limited? The biological constraints suddenly seem difficult to distinguish from technical. The world simply feels less natural after staying in a synthetic environment.
But this futuristic approach is already based on ideas from antiquity. Plato, the Greek philosopher, was interested in how our sense of mind corresponds to the “reality”. In the 17th century, René Descartes found that he could not possibly know what he experienced was the reality or just a dream created by an evil spirit. And in the movie The Matrix as I mentioned in the beginning, how a clerk in a world like ours discovered that he and the rest of humanity live in a simulation created by artificial intelligence. The argument, from the part of Descartes, was more from the part of a “dream argument” which supposes that reality is indistinguishable from a dream. One can look at this from the point of view of the movie Inception and the concept of a “dream within a dream” which is an endless cycle that could be used as a counter-addition to Descartes theory.
We have taken great steps towards creating the reality strain for only the last few years, and according to Bostrom’s logic, the odds that we already live in a virtual world have fallen sharply. May I guess I think it’s a subconscious feeling of the insight that plays on the lips of those who test the technology for the first time. My main concern with this argument is going back to the fundamental question; were the first simulators of the simulation, also… simulated? Mind puzzling, indeed.
Evolvera – always changing, always evolving.