Humans will never be able to experience the true nature of the universe, unfiltered. our senses and brains can only process a small portion of the universe. To learn about the true nature of reality, we must rely on philosophical concepts and technological progress. However, Technological advancement has not only broadened our understanding of the universe but has also made us aware of unsettling possibilities.
“Are you living in a computer simulation?”, a book written by Nick Bostrom, says that we might be living in a computer simulation. He states that it is not only possible but rather probable that we are already living in a computer simulation created by an advanced civilization.
So how do we know whether we live in a simulation or not?
First, let’s identify what reality is. Reality is how things exist. Each person observes the world in his or her unique way. Because each of us sees the world through our own eyes.
Our minds can’t identify if reality is real or fake. Because our mind works according to our environment. If someone can control your mind, then that person can control your reality too. If we are indeed living in a simulation then the mind is just a software. A code, written to control us.
40 years ago we had games like Pac-man. Very basic games with minimal graphics. 30 years after Pac-man, we got Minecraft. Now 40 years later, we have photorealistic 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it’s getting better every year. If you have played games like Red Dead redemption then you know how close it comes to reality. Our computing powers increase day by day.
Will we ever be able to simulate the entirety of the world, though? No. At least for now, because we don’t have enough computer power. Our computer power is limited. Finite.
Is it even possible to simulate consciousness? We haven’t got a clue what consciousness is.
Let’s assume that you could generate consciousness by stimulating the brain. The brain is pretty complex as we all know. Let’s count every interaction between synapses as one operation. Your brain runs at about ten to the power of seventeen (one hundred million billion operations) per second. To simulate one second of human consciousness, let’s estimate we’ll need ten to the power of twenty operations. But, we don’t want to simulate just one human at a time. We want to simulate all of humanity at once.
Let’s calculate how much operations are needed to simulate, two hundred billion humans, with an average life span of fifty years.
One year has thirty million seconds, multiply it fifty times to get the number of seconds a human would live.
Now, this is for a single human being. Multiply it two hundred billion times to calculate the number of seconds all humans exist. Finally, multiply it by ten to the power of twenty. As a result, we will need a computer that can handle million, trillion, trillion, trillion operations per second. More operations than there are stars in the observable universe.
For a type 0 civilization like us, a computer like this is just impossible. If we were a type 4 civilization then this would be a different story.
So, let’s fast forward roughly 10,000 years. It’s possible that when we get there, civilization will be entirely gone because there is a limit to our advancement. Maybe it’s because of global warming or due to the Great Filter. The great filter states that no species will ever reach the peak of technological advancement. Side effects of advanced civilizations, such as Artificial Intelligence, nuclear war, asteroids, climate change, or black hole generators, will challenge the existence of a civilization. Technology itself stops Technological advancement.
Another possibility is that if we continue to progress and assume that everything in the physical world can be simulated, we will someday be able to simulate ourselves. Every synapse in the entire human brain, for everyone on earth.
However, if Nick’s statement is correct, and we do live in a simulation, then the next big question is, why do these Posthuman do something like this? why start a simulation in the first place?
Nick has a beautiful answer for that. Ancestor simulation. After humans have evolved to a state beyond being humans, they might want to know how their ancestors lived in the past. They want to study us. Just like how we read history books to learn about the past they would have created a simulation to learn about their past. Us. So just maybe, we really are in a simulation created by Posthuman.
When using a virtual reality device such as an Oculus Rift, we know what we’re looking at isn’t real, yet it feels real to our senses and minds, so we react accordingly. So in this world we live in, it seems real to us because this is all we have known, but to those that programmed this world, the reality could be much different.
This can be explained by Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Plato proposes to have prisoners who have been chained in a cave from birth, unable to gaze at each other or anywhere else than a wall in front of them.
All they see are shadows, cast on the wall by a fire behind them, that they have never seen. Because this is all they’ve ever known, the shadows are their reality. They have no understanding of the outside world because they have never seen a real person, never encountered anything else, and never had a human interaction.
If a prisoner was to break free and leave the cave, he would be so frightened and confused by what they saw that they would return to the comfort of their cave, their reality.
Just like the prisoners in the cave, we believe what we see in front of us to be true, to be real.
So to recap, there are three possibilities.
1. Humans will become extinct before we’re able to run a simulation like this.
2. Posthuman doesn’t run simulations because it’s wrong.
Maybe they think it’s unethical because there is a tremendous amount of pain in the world. And that pain would still feel real to simulated humans.
3. We are currently living in a computer simulation.
There’s a slim probability we’re in either scenario 1 or 2. But according to Nick Bostrom, there’s a 20% probability that we’re already in a simulation.
All of this is predicated on several assumptions that we are unable to test right now. Please remember that we have no authority on this subject, so take what we say very lightly.
There aren’t many changes for you even if you’re in a simulation. You’re either on a tiny rock traveling through everlasting nothingness, or you’re in a computer simulation. All we can hope to do is try to live decent lives and enjoy ourselves while we can.