We Do Not Live in a Simulation
I want to be resolutely clear about this: I do not believe we live in a simulation. But I am endlessly fascinated by people who believe we do.
For those of you who don’t spend too high a percentage of your life online — which, these days, is pretty much no one — simulation theory is the postulate that we are not flesh-and-blood human beings but are, in fact, bits of code, mere programming living out a simulated reality in some sort of higher being’s version of The Sims. The logic behind this has a certain mad, bottom-line common sense to it. The writer and philosopher Nick Bostrum popularized the idea a decade-and-a-half ago with a simple construction:
Many works of science fiction as well as some forecasts by serious technologists and futurologists predict that enormous amounts of computing power will be available in the future. Let us suppose for a moment that these predictions are correct. One thing that later generations might do with their super-powerful computers is run detailed simulations of their forebears or of people like their forebears. Because their computers would be so powerful, they could run a great many such simulations. Suppose that these simulated people are conscious (as they would be if the simulations were sufficiently fine-grained and if a certain quite widely accepted position in the philosophy of mind is correct). Then it could be the case that the vast majority of minds like ours do not belong to the original race but rather to people simulated by the advanced descendants of an original race. … It is then possible to argue that, if this were the case, we would be rational to think that we are likely among the simulated minds rather than among the original biological ones.
That’s to say: If it’s possible for technology to someday exist that allows these complex simulations — and it is widely assumed that it will — then it’s more likely that we are one of those simulations rather than the original, flesh-and-blood article. In the words of Keanu, whoa.
That sort of dismissiveness I just did there, the introduction of a Keanu Reeves joke into a discussion of a profound philosophical premise, is exactly the sort of thing the subjects of the new documentary A…