The discussion about whether we are a computer simulation has been going on for some time. So, let’s face it, have many other outlandish discussions about what we really are and why we are really here.
This is not a new discussion. Several Indian deities, for example, are believed to have created us as a computer simulation for various reasons.
Several theories have been doing the rounds as to why we might be part of such a computer simulation.
Most of these theories seem to suggest that the simulation is being run by human descendants, who are trying to work out why we did what we did to our planet (topical, at least). And whether we could have saved it or not. Mind you, it is just as likely that something terrible happens in the future and the simulation is based on how we might have avoided it.
Many examples are quoted to support the theory of a computer simulation. Top of one list is the ‘Mandela Effect’. Apparently, many people ‘remember’ that Nelson Mandela died in the 1980s, when he actually died in 2013 at the age of 95 (or did he?).
Some people say that ghosts and deja vu are evidence that there are glitches in the machine and that we are, sometimes, able to ‘see out’. Some believe that the film ‘The Matrix’ predicted how we live now so right that it is proof that they ‘know something’.
Now, another scientist believes that the chances of us being part of this computer simulation are about 50/50. The problem is that we cannot prove it, because if we tried, all the evidence we could gather would be simulated too.
There is also, of course, the problem of computing power.
Imagine every single thing in the Universe, not just our ‘world’ being – essentially – a massive Internet of Things. The computing power needed to manage and run that simulation is eye-watering, in fact, impossible to comprehend.
Except, it really isn’t.
If you look at the power of computers and how that power has grown over the last 20 years or so and compare it to how long we have been around as functioning human beings, it is but a nanosecond. Already we are talking seriously about the ‘next step’ into quantum computing and beyond. If you equate man’s ‘progress’ to the world’s GDP, the graph does not even look like a hockey stick, it sits parallel to the baseline (time) and then turns sharp left and goes off the top of the chart in the last few decades.
Extrapolate that progress and increase in computing power and you begin to see that in a hundred more years of computing progress, almost anything will be possible.
The Big Bang is another tricky issue in the computer simulation argument. The Big Bang suggests a ‘beginning’ or that there was something around ‘before’ our Universe sprang into being.
Our laws of physics say that time is linear (possibly with anomalies and glitches). We keep finding that the laws of physics that we invented seem to work with almost everything we observe in the Universe. And given our single point of perception, which will always be a barrier in properly observing things, this does not even seem plausible. It seems as if the rules of the Universe conveniently fit the rules that we make up for it, which suggests we are programmed to think within certain parameters.
Consider our brain in all this. We know we use our brain pretty inefficiently and that a lot of what it does is ‘subconscious’ (maybe there is a Seti-like harnessing of our brains for the simulation). And we know that our brain constructs our reality. We do not record things exactly as we see them, we construct them to suit our needs.
And our needs, according to Donald Hoffman (video below), are about fitness (or survival). Everything we see, we interpret through a lens that tells us whether what we see will increase our fitness to survive and this means that what we see is not what we ‘see’.
To explain this, Hoffman uses the example of a computer desktop. On it, we have a background and an icon, perhaps of a folder. We know that we double click on the folder and we can start writing articles about whether we live in a computer simulation or not.
If we could see what was going on behind the scenes to create that icon and background, we would be so overwhelmed by stuff that we do not understand that we would almost certainly be unable to write, well, anything.
Hoffman believes that we have been given an ‘interface’ so that we can more easily understand what is going on and relate it to our needs, for fitness and survival.
More and more scientists, of different hews, are seriously considering this – on the face of it ludicrous – idea. Yet, it is hard to rule it out, when much of it makes a lot of sense.
And, anyway, Elon Musk believes we live in a computer simulation, so it must be true.
And while you’re here, that Matrix scene: