Have you ever felt like something isn’t right with the world? A creeping feeling just digging at the back of your skull that something is amiss but you’re unable to lock it down and figure out exactly what it is?
Well, another great person felt that same way and his name was Neo – and he was played by Keanu Reeves, and he is totally not real – but he was living in The Matrix, an awesome movie about the world being a simulation that spawned two more not so awesome movies.
But the merits of The Matrix trilogy aside, could we really be living in a simulation?
Elon Musk, Tesla and SpaceX owner and guy who launches convertibles into outer space just to pass the time, says there’s a 99% chance we are in a simulation right now. And he’s not alone.
Astrophysicist and popular science dude Neil deGrasse Tyson says the “odds are very high” and philosopher Nick Bostrom wrote a book pushing simulation theory forward.
Even the staid Bank of America, in a report to clients in 2016, stated there was a 20%-50% we’re all living “in the matrix”. I suppose it’s easier to get people to hand over their money when you convince them nothing really matters.
And why do experts believe simulation theory could be possible? It’s all about the video games.
“Forty years ago we had Pong – two rectangles and dot,” Musk has said. “Now, 40 years later we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously, and it’s getting better every year … if you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will soon be indistinguishable from reality.”
Oh, please let me be alive when that happens! But I digress.
The gaming example is one most of us have seen, and it does point to the likelihood that world simulations with whole populations of incredibly lifelike people are possible.
And there are many reasons to create simulations: So called ancestor simulations – to show how people lived in the past, to change history and see how things play out, and perhaps what I think is most likely, just for cool gaming experiences.
Once you accept the logic that simulated worlds will exist, it becomes clear that with the number of simulated worlds, each containing billions of simulated people, the chances that we are base reality drops to almost zero. Chances are we’re all simulated.
But there is opposition. In October of 2017 theoretical physicists – they’re like the special forces of physicists – at Oxford University said they proved that life cannot be a simulation!
Their proof? Something much too complicated to repeat here even through cut and paste methods, so I’ll try to sum it up: Creating a complex simulation would take immense amounts of computing power and that just “storing information on a couple hundred electrons” would require a hard drive that would need more atoms than exists in the universe.
Yeah, can’t just pop down to the shop and pick that up.
Though the author does end with the warning that perhaps the limits of physics don’t exist outside of this universe and the universe that is simulating us has physics that make simulations possible. So, simulations definitely don’t exist. Unless they do.
In my mind – and I’m not one to contradict theoretical physicists, although I’m about to – who knows what kinds of computers these future worlds are running? I’m pretty sure they’re not simulating the world on Windows XP.
And if you think how could such complex beings as ourselves be simulated, maybe it’s time to question just how complicated we are.
When I think of simulated worlds, I think of Grand Theft Auto 5. Sure, it’s not a world. It’s just a patch of sandbox that looks like Los Angeles. But this is definitely one of the first steps to simulated reality.
They simulate the buildings, nature, the weather and, of course, the people. Most don’t do much, they wander the streets, bumping into people, and having inane conversations, because they’re only there for depth, to make it all feel that much more real – and also to run them over. OK, mainly they exist to be run over.
But that poor hot dog guy who pushes his cart up and down the street doesn’t know he’s just there to get run down by me in my stolen Ferrari. He just thinks, hey, I’m gonna sell some hot dogs today, and then do this again tomorrow.
Admittedly, he’s not self-aware. But it’s easy to picture a game with a simulated world including non-player characters that are somewhat autonomous and think for themselves.
Which brings me back to us. Just how smart are we really? Maybe we’re just a few steps up from that hot dog guy, programmed to go through our routine day after day so whoever is the player in this simulation (I’m thinking it’s Trump, has to be Trump) lives it up and has the time of their lives.
But whether we live in a simulation or not, it doesn’t really matter, because this is the only reality we’ve got.