What Is Simulation Theory?

Before I tell you, you can visit my Sim Theory website at:


Any theoretical framework that affirms “The Simulation Hypothesis” can be called a version of Simulation Theory. Or Sim Theory, as I like to call it.

The Simulation Hypothesis is the belief that reality is a computer simulation. The term was coined by Professor Nick Bostrom of Oxford University in his 2003 paper called Are You Living In A Computer Simulation?

In this paper he posits a trilemma :

  1. Zero or almost zero civilisations survive long enough to be able to build and maintain simulated universes
  2. Zero or almost zero civilisations are interested in running simulated universes
  3. We are most likely living in a simulation

He then argues that if it is possible we are simulated then it is most likely we are all simulated.

Rational Wiki gives an excellent overview of The Simulation Hypothesis and of the various criticisms that have been made against it.

It does a much better job of this than I do on this page!

www.simulation-argument.com is a site maintained by Nick Bostrom that features many scholarly articles that concern Sim Theory. The original Simulation Hypothesis can be found there.

Although it sounds a bit like science fiction the idea has some pretty ancient pedigree.

In Hinduism there is the concept of Maya – which is the belief that the world we experience is an illusion. It says that what we experience as reality is not in fact reality. But is something else. Basically: what we experience is not ultimate reality, it is something else, an illusion. The thing that we experience as reality is not reality and by experiencing this we do not experience reality.

From Ancient Greece there is Plato’s Cave which comes from Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher. Wikipedia explains it as:

…a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them and give names to these shadows. The shadows are the prisoners’ reality, but are not accurate representations of the real world.

Although what they experience has some basis in reality it is not a direct experience of reality. They are not experiencing the fullness of reality. Were they to exit the cave their minds would be totally blown by what they would encounter.

There is also Descartes’s “evil demon” who he imagined might fool people so that they might say that:

…the sky, the air, the earth, colours, shapes, sounds and all external things are merely the delusions of dreams which he has devised to ensnare my judgement. I shall consider myself as not having hands or eyes, or flesh, or blood or senses, but as falsely believing that I have all these things…

And from China there is Zhuangzi, an ancient Chinese philosopher, who once said:

Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was myself. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.

So… are we a computer imagining it is humans or are we humans imagining we are a computer???? What way round is it????

There are also the Gnostics – an early and now extinct Christian sect. They believed that this reality is a sham put on by a wicked being called “The Demiurge” that is based on the reality made by The Supreme Being. 

Everything we know is therefore an illusion put on by a wicked being to fool us away from God and the wicked being – The Demiurge – controls this illusory reality.

In my personal version of Sim Theory Madaba is basically The Demiurge. He has God-like powers over the world he has created for himself but at the end of the day he is only a very powerful and very expensive computer. 

Is Gnosticism an ancient version of Sim Theory or is Sim Theory a modern version of Gnosticism???

What about the technology that would be required to build a simulation such as the one we all inhabit? Rizwan Virk goes over this in his excellent and exciting book The Simulation Hypothesis.

He sees a simulation such as the one we are in as a thing that has evolved from less complex computer things – such as Pong

In his book he says there are eleven stages of technological advancement we need to go through if we want to be able to create a simulation such as the one we’re currently in.

In his book he discusses each individual stage in great depth.

  • Stages 0-3 are from Pong to MMORPGs
  • Stages 4-8 he calls “From Virtual Reality to Mind Interfaces”
  • Stage 9-10 is “downloadable consciousnesses” and the development of super-intelligence
  • Stage 11 is being able to produce a simulated universe.

It is also important to say what Simulation Theory is not. Sim Theory says that all of us who live inside this simulation are basically simulations ourselves – Artificial Intelligence. Or “virtual humans” as Nick Bostrom calls us. This is unlike the scenario in The Matrix films which have done so much to popularise Sim Theory – in which we are actual humans plugged into a virtual reality unknowingly and against our will. This is basically a version of the brain-in-a-vat scenario

In addition to The Matrix there is a lesser known film that may be of interest to those who are interested in Sim Theory – It is called The Thirteenth Floor and came out the same year as The Matrix – 1999.

The Last Question is a short story by Isaac Asimov which ends with a super-computer creating its own simulated universe.

Also of interest may be the film Colossus: The Forbin Project

Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson are both proponents of Sim Theory.

The sim that is our world is very similar to the old 1990s DOS game Sim Earth

You can play Sim Earth for free online by clicking this link

Imagine Sim Earth populated with sentient beings and you have The Simulation!