The simulation argument puts forward the
view that we are almost definitely living in a computer simulation.
At the core of the
Simulation Argument, there are three points:
The chances that a species at
our current level of development can avoid going extinct
before becoming technologically mature is negligibly small
Almost no technologically mature
civilizations are interested in running computer simulations
of minds like ours
You are almost certainly in a
The argument says that one of these
three points will be true.
technologically advanced civilizations out there?
This is a difficult one as we still don't know whether we are alone
in the universe and how life started.
There's the whole
which argues that life was brought to Earth by asteroids and that
we're all descended from alien organisms. Or perhaps life started on
game of life shows us how complex patterns can come from
We can also look at the
Drake Equation which is a way of speculating
how many civilizations there are in the universe. And the Hubble
Deep Field shows us really how big our universe is (below video).
But still to this date we haven't found any life out there.
Signal is the closest SETI has ever got.
Because of the sheer size of the universe, and the fact that we've
managed to evolve to such a point without getting wiped out, we can
take the first point - that all life will be wiped out before it is
technologically mature - to be false.
Would we run computer
simulations of minds?
If we now assume that there are technologically advanced
civilizations with the technology to simulate life, we now have to
ask whether they would. This could happen for ethical or scientific
Perhaps civilizations would not be interested in running a
simulation of life. But would they really have become so advanced if
they lacked the scientific curiosity?
Would technologically advanced civilizations have a moral objection
to creating simulations of life?
At the moment - as a civilization - we haven't reached the point
where we are sophisticated enough technologically to simulate a
universe in a computer.
If we look back 25 years to
the Bbc Micro or even further to the
days before personal computers, we see
how far computers have come
in a short space of time. In a few decades time, it is perfectly
feasible that we'll be able to build a computer which could simulate
Some analysts believe we'll reach the
singularity in 2045 when computers will surpass humans and become
Looking at our own world, we already see scientists modeling life
and the world on computers. We have gamers controlling their avatars
The Sims. The upcoming game
Spore takes it one step further. And
cloning and genetic modification are slowly becoming more accepted.
We're already playing god. When computers be sufficiently powerful,
we'll still be playing god.
There's no reason to assume that other technologically advanced
civilizations will behave any differently. And even if such a thing
was sanctioned, individuals or groups will still be able to find
ways around such rules and control.
We can argue that if there are civilizations out there with the
technological sophistication to simulate life in a computer then
they will probably do so.
This means the second point - that all technologically mature
civilizations will not be interested in running simulations - is
So are we living in a
The simulation argument says that if we take the previous two points
to be false - the third is true.
Therefore, if we believe that there are
technologically advanced civilizations out there with the technology
to run a simulation of life, and that those civilizations are
interested in running a simulation, we will almost definitely be
living in a simulation.
It's simply a matter of probability and statistics. One computer
simulating a universe would have to contain billions of organisms
and each technologically advanced civilization will probably have
many "Matrices" running simulations. And each of these simulated
worlds could have their own technologically advanced civilizations
And inside those simulations, there
could be more simulations.
Statistically, the vast majority of organisms will be living in a
computer simulation (by several powers).
How does this affect
Whether we live in a computer simulation or not doesn't really
affect how we should live our lives. The world is still going to the
same - the same things make us happy and the same problems will
still have to be solved.
Even if we're not real, we perceive our world to be real. This is
the brain in a vat thought experiment. We can never be
totally sure whether we are materialistically real.
We could be inside a computer simulation
but we are still real in the sense that we have thoughts and
"If real is what you can feel,
smell, taste and see, then 'real' is simply signals interpreted
by your brain."
- Morpheus in The Matrix
More controversially, we could also link
it back to religion and creation.
If we believe that we are almost
definitely living in a computer simulation, we should ask "who built
that simulation?" and "why was it built?". If we are indeed living
in a computer simulation, then it reasons that the simulation was
created by somebody - our "creator".
The argument doesn't tell us anything about why we are here. Could
we be part of a huge social or scientific experiment? In The Matrix,
the human population is used as a energy source.
And there will be people who will see the
way to prove the existence of God. Though it does suggest a
omniscient and omnipotent creator it doesn't say anything about such
Besides, would a creator create a whole
universe of simulated organisms to worship him?
"I think, therefore I am"
- René Descartes