Whether or not we are living in a computer simulation is a legitimate scientific hypothesis. Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the American Museum of Natural Histories Hayden Planetarium, put the odds at 50-50 that our entire existence is a program on someone else’s computer hard drive.
A popular argument for the simulation hypothesis came from University of Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrum in 2003 when he suggested that members of an advanced civilization with enormous computing power might decide to run simulations of their ancestors. They would probably have the ability to run many, many such simulations, to the point where the vast majority of minds would actually be artificial ones within such simulations, rather than the original ancestral minds.
So simple statistics suggest it is much more likely that we are among the simulated minds. Bostrum also points out that at our current stage of technological development, we have neither sufficiently powerful hardware nor the requisite software to create conscious minds in computers. But persuasive arguments have been given to the effect that if technological progress continues unabated then these shortcomings will eventually be overcome.
And the statistical argument that most minds in the future will turn out to be artificial rather than biological is also not a given, said Lisa Randall, a theoretical physicist at Harvard University. “It’s just not based on well-defined probabilities. The argument says you’d have lots of things that want to simulate us.
I actually have a problem with that. We mostly are interested in ourselves. I don’t know why this higher species would want to simulate us.” Such existential-sounding hypotheses often tend to be essentially untestable, but some researchers think they could find experimental evidence that we are living in a computer game. One idea is that the programmers might cut corners to make the simulation easier to run.
“If there is an underlying simulation of the universe that has the problem of finite computational resources, just as we do, then the laws of physics have to be put on a finite set of points in a finite volume,” said Zohreh Davoudi, a physicist at MIT. “Then we go back and see what kind of signatures we find that tell us we started from non-continuous spacetime.”
“The odds that we are in base reality is one in billions,” says famed inventor Elon Musk. A base reality is an idea that there are multiple layers of reality, that progressively go deeper until you get what reality actually is. He reasons that if humans continue the current trend of technological advancement, we’ll develop the ability to simulate a universe inside a computer, and perhaps we are all inside one today. A recent NBC News poll reported that 56% of respondents believed it was likely we are in a simulated universe.
From a purely empirical standpoint, the answer seems obvious. Reality is anything we can perceive using one or more of the five senses: taste, smell, touch, hearing, and sight. But some outside-the-box thinkers, including philosophers and physicists, contend that’s not necessarily the case.
It is possible, they theorize, that reality is merely an ultra-high-tech computer simulation in which we sim-live, sim-work, sim-laugh, and sim-love.
The theory also builds on the argument philosophers have been having for centuries, which is that we can never know if what we’re seeing is “real.” “Simply because we perceive the world as ‘real’ and ‘material’ doesn’t mean that it is so,” said Rizwan Virk the author of The Simulation Hypothesis.
He is a successful entrepreneur, investor, futurist, bestselling author, video game industry pioneer, and indie film producer. Riz received a B.S. in Computer Science from MIT and an M.S. in Management from Stanford’s GSB. He is currently working on a Ph.D. at ASU’s College of Global Futures, researching metaverse and virtual worlds. “In fact, the findings of quantum physics may shed some doubt on the fact that the material universe is real. The more that scientists look for the ‘material’ in the material world, the more they find that it doesn’t exist.”