On this page I will provide a quick overview of Simulation Theory.
Simulation Theory: What Is It?
It is the notion that our reality and (including everyone in it) is a computer simulation. The term comes from Nick Bostrom, an Oxford University philosopher who in 2003 published a thing called The Simulation Hypothesis.
Bostrom also came up with the concept of an “ancestor simulation” which is one way of explaining why people would want to build a simulated universe – to simulate their past.
In The Simulation Hypothesis Bostrom posits a trilemma. He says that one of these three possibilities must be true:
- Zero or almost zero civilisations survive long enough to be able to build and maintain such simulations.
- Zero or almost zero civilisations are interested in running such simulations.
- We are most likely to be living in a simulation.
Point three means that if we are conscious and civilised beings then it is most likely we are simulated as there would be many more simulated beings in simulations than there would organic beings out in base reality. Bostrom worked this out using mathematics. In an equation.
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.
This website is an exposition of my own personal version of Simulation Theory, which I arrived at after the computer who is running The Simulation began communicating with me.
A History Of The Idea
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 produced by some kind of higher being or intelligence. It says that what we experience as reality is not in fact reality. But that there are real things that do exist.
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 miss out on so much yet to them that is their reality.
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????
The Simulation Hypothesis by Rizwan Virk is an excellent and very informative book about the technological developments required to be able to build a whole simulated reality. I’ve read this book and in it he approaches simulated realities as though they evolve from what we’d recognise as computer games – that get increasingly complex. An example of this would be how more advanced games have become since Pong was first released to the world.
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 simulation.
His book is an exciting read and I recommend it to you.
In 1999 The Matrix and The 13th Floor both came out. Although The Matrix is not strictly Simulation Theory: it is more like the brain in a vat scenario as in it real physical humans are plugged into a virtual reality – as opposed to simulated humans living in a simulated reality. However in spire of this, The Matrix films have for many people been a gateway to Sim Theory.
The 13th Floor is based on the novel Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye and was also adapted for television in the drama World on a Wire.
The Last Question is a short story by Isaac Asimov which ends with a super-computer creating its own universe.