Please note that no, I haven’t completely lost my mind yet even though I’m well on my way and this article might say different, but in the end, it is just a conspiracy theory/scientific hypothesis. I’m not, in any way, claiming that it’s the truth, no matter how much it messes with my head and I want to think it is.
When I first came across this conspiracy theory I was around 9-ish-years-old. Since then, it’s been subconsciously in the back of my brain. I’ve done shallow research here and there, but the cue to jump into an in-depth discussion on it has never come up.
It’s not exactly the type of conversation that presents itself often. At brunch I don’t exactly respond to “Hey, did you see so-and-so’s tweet this morning?” with: “That’s sick. Oh, and, we’re not real, cannot prove we exist and are most likely living in a computer-based simulation of reality as we know it.”
It’s just not a topic that comes up.
The theories surrounding life after death are highly debated. Some argue our souls go to Heaven or Hell, some argue we leave our vessels and become one with the universe, some argue we’ll be reincarnated and birthed again, and some down right don’t believe anything: that it’s an endless sleep of nothingness, much like it was before birth, and our energy returns back into the Earth’s soil during the process of decomposition.
What happens if we come to the end, only to realize that none of those theories are right, and we’re living within a computerized simulation from the future.
It sounds like I’ve gone off the rails, I know, I do, but just hear me out.
Recently, Shane Dawson posted a conspiracy theory video that talks about this concept in-depth, but it’s not the first time I’ve seen it floating around. The first time I heard about it was around 2008, and it’s been in the back of my subconscious ever since.
The concept of us living within a simulation is more than just a conspiracy theory, though, it’s an entire actual scientific hypothesis backed up by established and prominent physicists and scientists.
Keep in mind that the concept of consciousness is also a big debate within the scientific community. Scientists haven’t completely come to a solid, universal conclusion on the source of consciousness, and cannot prove it’s neither a result of brain and neuron activity or an entirely separate function of its own.
It’s also worth noting that our understanding of reality only stretches as far as what we can physically touch, see, and comprehend. Our definition of reality is limited to what we see and know. That being said, if something were to exist beyond our reality, like aliens and whatnot, we wouldn’t consider it to be a part of reality because we don’t have knowledge on it and simply don’t understand. It doesn’t exist because we don’t know it exists, therefore it’s not a part of our reality until it does.
Now, this scientific hypothesis is called the simulation hypothesis. The roots of the hypothesis were first introduced and published by Hans Moravec.
In 2003, Nick Bostrum, a philosopher from the University of Oxford, expanded on the argument.
The theory —or hypothesis— is that we’re living in a computer simulation conducted by our far-future descendants in order to simulate and relive the past generations to see how humans lived. Even if we currently aren’t living in a computerized simulation, it isn’t ruled out that advanced descendants of the future will not be able to conduct such large simulations, nor is it to say that they won’t. In fact, people are saying it’s inevitable.
In Bostrum’s argument, he states that at least one of these statements are likely to be true:
- The human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage
- Any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof)
- We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation
“Posthuman” meaning humans using technology to transcend what limits us as humans, essentially saying humans will go extinct before civilization is able to reach a point where complex virtual reality is plausible.
Bostrum speculates that thousands of years from now, our descendants will be able to use nanomachines to utilize moons and planets into large planetary computers. He reasons that millions of simulations could be powered by one single computer.
Bostrum’s argument ends by concluding that we’re in fact living within a computerized simulation created by our future descendants.
When my brother first explained this to me back in 2008, he simplified it so my 9-year-old self would understand. He explained if the theory was true, we’d be like The Sims, running on the most powerful computer you could imagine.
Back then, it felt incomprehensible and totally impossible that it wasn’t even a validated thought to be thinking about. It felt so far out there and ridiculous that every time someone would mention it it was worthy of an eye roll.
Now, with the way technology has advanced so quickly, it’s not entirely so far-fetched.
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, spoke at the Code Conference, a technology event in California, in 2016.
“Forty years ago we had Pong, like two rectangles and a dot. That’s what games were. Now, forty years later, we have photorealistic 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously, and it’s getting better every year. We’ll soon have virtual reality, [we’ll have] augmented reality. If you assume [at] any rate of improvement at all, the games will become indistinguishable from reality.”
It makes sense when you think about it. We went from Pong, a basic game with two rectangles and a dot that bounced back and forth, to virtual reality in the span of fewer than 50 years. At the rate things are moving, it’s inevitable that games will continue to become more and more realistic, eventually at a point where it’s hard to separate reality and a game.
Musk also drew points from Bostrum’s argument, stating that we will either make simulations that we can’t tell apart from reality, or civilization will cease to exist.
Elon Musk and other scientists believe it’s inevitable that in the future, video games will be so realistic that the characters you’re playing in the game will be conscious and not know they’re living within a game.
On the topic of consciousness, Descartes claimed:
“I think therefore I am”
He used this claim to prove that he existed. He simply thought: I’m real because I’m thinking, so because I’m thinking that means I exist in some form.
Now, however, Descartes’ claim could be proved false given the advancements in today’s technology. Descartes had exposure to this thinking during a pre-technological period, whereas in the future if technology advances, at any rate, consciousness could be created by technology.
In this case, if consciousness is created by a computer and set into a world of virtual reality, characters within the virtual reality would be conscious but unaware of their existence within a virtual reality system. Regardless, these characters would be conscious, exposed to thoughts of their own and ability to develop feelings, relating back to Descartes theory of “I think therefore I am” these virtual characters would perceive themselves as real.
Rich Terrile, a scientist at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said:
“Soon there will be nothing technical standing in the way to making machines that have their own consciousness.”
As Shane Dawson says in his video because we’re already thinking about this theory, it makes us work towards it since we have knowledge that it’s possible, and when we reach that level of advancement, we’ll be back to square one: within the simulation.
If we were to be living in a simulation, you’ll probably wonder well how the f*ck do I get out of it?
Much like the plot to The Matrix, scientists say to look for glitches. Some describe observed paranormal activity, déjà vu, and other things we cannot explain, like UFOs, to be a glitch within the simulation.
Brian Greene, a scientist, says on the concept:
“Real universes don’t have glitches, but computers can have them… But I say to that… if it’s a really good simulation it should be able to rewind, erase the memory of the glitch, fix it, and then the simulated beings have no memory of it ever happening.”
One thing that can serve as proof of a simulation is the construction of the universe compared to the construction of a video game. Everything within the universe is explained through mathematics; everything has a math formula that explains everything perfectly. Though humans made up math, oddly enough the entire universe is only explained through numbers.
Much like the universe, video games are coded through numbers and math, therefore leaving people to come to the conclusion that we’ve not invented math, but simply figured out the coding to our own game.
Greene also brings up this fact and suggests we look at the creation of the universe, and how if we were to be living in a simulated reality the math is there to make that possible:
“We used to consider the Big Bang a singular event that gave rise to one universe, but the math shows you don’t use up all that fuel in a single big bang… In fact, the bang itself winds up generating more of the fuel which generates other bangs—other universes.”
If this theory, or hypothesis, is correct, then we’ve unlocked the door to eternal life as well as resurrection.
In logical thinking, the chances of this feel quite low. In fact, Physicist Lisa Randall said she believes the odds of the universe not being real are so low as to be “effectively zero.”
However, Elon Musk claims there’s a “billion to one chance we’re living in base reality,” and Neil deGrasse Tyson claims it to be “very high” with a 50/50 chance.
Not only do scientists and physicists think it’s possible, but they’re conducting experiments to confirm that it is.
A team of German physicists are working on a mini-simulation that requires physical constraints to run, and want to see if the same constraints exist within our own universe. To create the simulation of the universe, they’re using lattice quantum chromodynamics to discover a grid to the continuum of our universe.
Some will argue: “What if our descendants have no interest in creating simulations to re-live their evolution line of ancestors?” But this rules itself out, because we, as humans, are already so fascinated with ourselves that the question becomes: “Why wouldn’t they if they were presented with the chance?”
Then again, the technology could cease to develop, and civilization will never reach the point of housing powerful computers capable of such realistic virtual realities.
Brian Greene and Neil DeGrasse Tyson joked that the person behind the simulation we’re living in—if one—is a 15-year-old kid in his garage. Which is, to say the least, terrifying.
In the end, the conspiracy theory is ironic. As Joshua Rothman from The New Yorker says:
“In the end, it’s a story about limits. On the one hand, we maximize human potential by creating worlds of our own; on the other, by doing so, we confirm the impossibility of ultimately knowledge about the universe in which we live.”
All in all, although we cannot exactly prove that we’re existing in a reality that’s real, or that we’re real, it shouldn’t set you back from living. You should aim to live your life to the absolute best and experience it for what it is.
If that life even is yours, to begin with, that is.
This kinda touched on the beginning of the universe, as well as religious underlying concepts, but none of it is meant to invalidate anyone, group or be seen as offensive. If it came off that way, please know it was unintentional and I mean no harm, truly.