“If we are living in a simulation, then the cosmos that we are observing is just a tiny piece of the totality of physical existence… While the world we see is in some sense ‘real,’ it is not located at the fundamental level of reality.” — Nick Bostrom
What if you were told that you were a part of a computer game? What if you were told that the life you are living is not real and with the flick of a button, you’ll stop existing? This precisely is what the simulation hypothesis is all about. However, at this point, it is just a hypothesis rather than being a theory.
The simulation hypothesis essentially is a hypothesis that all of reality, including the Earth and the rest of the universe, could in fact be an artificial simulation. It is also said that everything may be a simulated reality, a proposed technology that would be able to convince its inhabitants that the simulation was “real”.
While various angles of the hypothesis have been iterated since decades, the concept of simulation hypothesis was popularized by philosopher Nick Bostrom. He says that it could be that in future, the advancements in technology proliferated and the future generations decide to recreate the past through simulations to see how the previous generations lived. We, in this case, are the previous generations and we are currently living in the simulation.
As frightening as it sounds, this is highly unlikely considering that if this were the case, we shouldn’t have been able to believe that ‘we will have descendants who will run lots of such simulations of their forebears’.
In 2003, Nick Bostrom proposed a trilemma and presented his argument that one of the three unlikely propositions is almost certainly true –
- “The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage (that is, one capable of running high-fidelity ancestor simulations) is very close to zero”, or
- “The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running simulations of their evolutionary history, or variations thereof, is very close to zero”, or
- “The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.”
When put in simple words, the first point means that the probability of conducting such advanced simulations is close to zero because it is difficult and highly improbable to conquer such advancements in technology. In the second point, it is said that even if they are able to conduct such simulations, the future generations would not really be interested in creating ancestor simulations, i.e., to see how their previous generations lived. The third point simply means that there is a possibility that we are living in a simulation.
In his research paper, he iterated that even though the possibilities of these being true is astronomically small, it isn’t zero as a result of which we must consider the rational possibilities which include a simulated reality. However, this simulation argument (the trilemma) has been criticized and supported by many scholars and the results of the same are inconclusive which is why it still remains a hypothesis.
For the past many years, scientists have been trying to discover a lot of methods to test the simulation hypothesis. Just like bugs being present in every program, there must be some flaws in the simulated reality as well and this is what physicists and scientists have put their mind to uncover. Silas Beane, a nuclear physicist at the University of Washington, proposes that it may be possible to unearth previously overlooked flaws by uncovering the mathematical structure used to build our simulated reality. However, in 2019, philosopher Preston Greene suggested that it may be best to find out if we’re living in a simulation since, if it were found to be true, discovering it may end the simulation.
While watching fictional movies, we don’t ponder upon the themes that they are based on and surprisingly, a lot of movies have been based on the simulation hypothesis such as The Matrix, Ready Player One, Ship in a Bottle (an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation), World on a Wire and many more.
To some, the concept of simulation hypothesis might sound a bit depressing but to others, such as Scott Aaronson, a computer scientist from the university of Texas, it is a new way to contemplate the “the ancient mysteries of where our universe comes from, who or what created it, and why.”
A lot of people, at this point, would be thinking why does any of this matter? What is the purpose of proving or disproving that life as we know it is merely a simulation that is being run by future generations and is an immensely complex experiment to determine the past? Rizwan Virk, a tech entrepreneur stated that the main motive of science is to pursue truth. More specifically, in this case, our truth.
If we do in fact exist inside a video game that requires our characters (i.e. us) to perform certain quests and achievements in order to progress (“level up”), would it not be useful to know what kind of game we’re in so as to increase our chances of surviving and thriving? His answer, not surprisingly, is an unqualified yes.
“I think it would make all the difference in the world.”
Whatever type of world it is.
-This article has been written by Nishka Ganeriwala, currently pursuing B.com (Hons.) at SRCC.