We might all just be living inside an elaborate simulation
In the movie The Matrix, our hero “Neo” (a.k.a, “The One”), finds out that the world he knows is actually a sophisticated computer simulation. The purpose of the simulation is to keep humans docile and supplying a constant stream of electricity to power the civilization of the machines that created the simulation.
Leaving aside the fact that solar power would serve the machines better, the premise of this movie, that reality is just a fantastically detailed simulation, is actually not all that far-fetched. In fact, there are some very smart people that think that our world is just a simulation; and that, one day, we might have the ability to test this hypothesis and prove it one way or the other.
At this point, of course, this is all just a hypothesis, based on what some see as pretty iron-clad logic. This line of reasoning goes something like this: Our reality follows rules and laws. Specifically, the laws of physics.
The more we look at these rules and laws, the more we see that they are basically all describable with math. Therefore, our entire reality is math-based.
Computers are really good at math. As time progresses, computing power progresses. This progress allows us to run more and more complex and realistic simulations.
Given that reality seems to be math-based, consciousness must also be math-based.
Therefore, it’s only a matter of time before our own simulations include artificial consciousnesses inside them. For them, those simulations will be as real as our reality is to us.
We humans love to run simulations. (“The SIMS,” “No Man’s Sky,” weather models, etc.) At some point, given enough computing power, somebody with a history fetish is going to run a simulation of life/evolution on Earth. That simulation will include all of us.
What if that simulation is already running and this is it?
Besides the fact that reality seems to be math-based, there is one other interesting bit of evidence in favor of this hypothesis: Everything in the Universe seems to be made of “chunks of stuff.” Solid matter, for instance, is made of atoms, and those are made of quarks. Way below that level, it’s also thought that there is a distance (the Planck Length [about 1.66 x 10-35 meters]) where space itself becomes “chunky”. Even light is made of discrete packets called quanta. This is all significant because computers typically work with things broken into chunks.
For example, consider your computer monitor. If its resolution is 1024 x 768, that’s a total of 786,432 pixels in two dimensions. Not a lot by today’s standards, but enough to depict a recognizable version of the world.
Now, consider that reality might have a “resolution” of the Planck Length in all three dimensions… that’s one hell of a lot of pixels to paint a reality onto.
Of course, even if reality is a simulation it really doesn’t have a lot of implications for everyday life. The rules of the simulation seem pretty immutable (i.e. don’t jump out of a plane without a parachute, even if you know reality is just a simulation), so you can’t really hack the system to your advantage.
Also, the entity running the simulation doesn’t seem to have much interest in interfering with it or interacting with it. Then again, our Universe/Simulation is massive, so maybe they just aren’t paying attention. (Time probably passes more slowly for them than us, so maybe all of Earth’s history has been a potty break for them.)
But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to prove this one way or the other. And, if it turns out that reality is a simulation, we should definitely try and contact the Entity running the thing. They might not be able to grant us eternal life (these Entities probably don’t back up their data either), but, if nothing else, maybe we can get a do over on at least this election cycle.
Steven Disbrow is a programmer who specializes in e-commerce and mobile systems development, an entrepreneur, comic-book nerd, writer, improviser, actor, sometime television personality and parent of two human children.