The definition of “simulation”: “The production of a computer model of something, especially for the purpose of study.” The Simulation Hypothesis is the concept that we are “digital beings who are so technologically advanced that we’re not able to realize that we aren’t actually real, because the technology that we’re built on is indistinguishable from real-life sensations and experiences.” (Are We In a Simulation: Why We Are not Real)
In the late 1990s, as soon as computing had reached sufficient power to make a world simulation a real possibility, an Oxford University philosopher, Nick Bostrom, proposed three different scenarios for the likelihood of computer simulations:
1. A civilization will go extinct before creating technology powerful enough to run convincing simulations of reality;
2. A civilization will live to see such technology but decide, for whatever reason, not to run any simulations;
3. A civilization will create that technology and run many different simulations of its evolutionary history (ancestor simulations) – in which case there would be lots of simulated realities and only one non-simulated one.
Bostrom later said that he thought the chances that we are living in a simulation to be less than 50%, since there were two other options any civilization would have: never getting there technically or deciding not to create simulations. However, in 2019, he also said, “the advances toward ever-faster computers have slightly reduced the probability that civilizations at our stage will go extinct before reaching technological maturity.” (Vulture Magazine, Feb. 6, 2019)
Clearly, we are rapidly approaching the level of computing power and talent where we can create whole new worlds with very realistic environments, many of them “indistinguishable from reality,” that exist only inside our computers. Here’s a list of ten video games whose graphic sophistication has already reached an astonishing level of “realism”:
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Forza Motorsports 7
Call of Duty WWII
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
The Last of Us Remastered
Grand Theft Auto V
Assassin’s Creed: Origins
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Project Cars 2
And I’m sure that by the time you read this, that list will be out of date and “video reality” will be even closer to the “real thing.”
So today, in 2020, like Bostrom, we can say his scenario #1 is not very likely – that we will go extinct before developing the technology to the point where we have the computing power to create convincing simulations of reality; and with the proliferation of secret military and government programs, can anyone really say with 100% certainty that we haven’t already created our own simulations somewhere deep inside Cheyenne Mountain, or in Area 51?
It is also clear at this time that we are very ready and willing to use that technology, ruling out Bostrom’s #2. If that’s the case, it raises the very real (odds on) probability that #3 is true and we are a living in a computer simulation.
I would humbly add a corollary to the 3rd scenario on Bostrom’s list:
3A. Any civilization that arrives at the technological point to ask the question whether they are living in a simulation is most likely living in someone else’s simulation.
Who might that “someone else” be? It could be us in the future running an ancestor simulation for the purposes of better understanding how and why we got to that point. Or, as Neil DeGrasse Tyson has suggested, just some snot-nosed kid sitting in front of his computer in the basement of his parents’ house somewhere in an alien civilization programming our world purely for his own entertainment, if you’re willing to accept the premise that we’re not alone.
“It just requires that what you program into your Nintendo has enough complexity that, in the mind of the characters in that game, they think they are real and have free will.”
~ Neil DeGrasse Tyson, PBS Space Time, May 3, 2017
This could easily explain why we haven’t found life elsewhere, and why our sun is at exactly the right distance not to fry us, but provide the warmth that life as we know it needs to survive. A lot of things have to be just right for Earth to exist and for us to sustain life on it. And maybe we haven’t come into contact with anyone else “out there” because a simulation is only “real” to its creator(s).
This may all sound crazy at first, because we’re not there technologically in 2020. But just remember that the Simulation Hypothesis is talking about a civilization some years in the future when the technology has progressed even faster and further that it did over the last 100 years, and WE are the simulation THEY have created. In other words, WE don’t have to be that technologically advanced for us to be living in a simulation. THEY do.
Today it’s not possible to prove (or disprove) that we’re living in a computer simulation. But it would be a very big mistake to deny the possibility and ignore the hypothesis. However, the point of this book is not to try to convince you that we are living in a simulation – there are good books, articles, and YouTube videos that do a better job of that than I could – but to look at one explanation of why we might be an ancestor simulation.
I invite you to open your mind and consider the possibilities….