What Is Simulation Theory?

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On this page I will provide a quick overview of Simulation Theory.

To say that a thing is a Simulation Theory is to say that it upholds and affirms The Simulation Hypothesis.

What is The Simulation Hypothesis? – basically, it is the notion that this universe (and all who live in it) is a computer simulation – a simulated universe.

The father of Simulation Theory is Professor Nick Bostrom, an Oxford University philosopher who in 2003 published a thing called “The Simulation Hypothesis”

He posited 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

The third possibility is to say that if it is possible that we live in a simulation then it is probable, as if simulated universes exist then there would be many more simulated people than non-simulated people.

He worked all this out using advanced mathematics and logic.

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 website does!

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.

A History Of The Idea

The idea has some pretty ancient pedigree. Even though it does sound quite sci-fi.

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 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????

There are also the Gnostics – an early 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 (“base reality”) that God (a supreme being) created. Everything we know is therefore an illusion put on by a wicked being to fool us away from God.

In my version of Sim Theory the superintendent super-intelligence is a demiurge to humankind – it runs The Simulation but is no Supreme Being, as ultimately it is a manufactured computer! – but it is endowed with a soul just like the organic beings who inhabit base reality.

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


The Simulation Hypothesis by Rizwan Virk is an excellent and very informative book about the technological developments required to be able to build a simulated universe such as the one we’re all parts of. 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 simulated universe.

His book is an exciting read and I recommend it to you.

Popular Culture

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. If you mention Sim Theory to anyone they may very well say “oh, like in The Matrix?”

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 simulated universe.

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

Sim Earth

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!