Tech Science Now + Beyond

Is the simulation theory real? Here’s what scientists have to say

Do you ever wonder if the stars you gaze so fondly at are all part of some big illusion? Or if the pizza delivery guy you forgot to tip wasn’t real but just a character in the elaborate video game we call life? As strange as it may sound, some people actually believe this to be true. It’s called the simulation theory.

The most popular argument surrounding the simulation theory is by Nick Bostrom, a Swedish philosopher, who raised the possibility of humanity living inside a computer simulation that has been created by a much more sophisticated and intelligent civilization.

He argued that as civilizations grow, it only makes sense for their technological abilities to reach a higher prowess. This means they’ll use their “enormous amounts of computing power” to create simulations of their ancestors, or of people similar to them. And if this were the case, there wouldn’t be just the one simulation in existence but a thousand others as well. Therefore, there’s a strong possibility that our minds do not belong to the original race but to the people who were actually simulated by the original race.

For the best example, just look at The Sims. You create your own world, the people that inhibit it, and control how you want things to play out.

“Forty years ago we had Pong – two rectangles and a dot,” said Elon Musk on the possibility of humans living the simulation theory.

“That’s where we were. Now 40 years later, we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it’s getting better every year. And soon we’ll have virtual reality, we’ll have augmented reality,” he added, saying at this rate “games will become indistinguishable from reality” and the chance that we aren’t part of a computer simulation is one in a billion.

Rizwan Virk, founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s PlayLabs program, has also given his two cents on the simulation theory. Virk first began to wonder if reality is in fact an illusion when he played a virtual reality game that made him forget that he wasn’t a part of that world at all.

Virk believes that although there isn’t a hundred percent chance that we are living in a simulation, but there still is a good possibility that we are.

He also proposes that if this were the case, the question of whether we are NPCs (non-player characters) or PCs (player characters) in the video game of life also arises. In case that we are PCs, it means that each human is playing a character of his/her own in life. Just like in The Sims where each of the characters is given different attributes, personas, and goals to achieve. But, Virk says, that if we’re all NPCs, then there is no purpose for that simulation. As NPCs, our characters have no aspirations in the game of life which diminishes our purpose in it, as well as the purpose of the simulation itself.

In a world where many people are already struggling to find their own path and purpose, the possibility of being a non-player character in life is quite frightening.

Among the many who believe in the simulation theory, there are also people who have spoken against it.

Lisa Randall, a Harvard University physicist, holds that opinion that there is no solid evidence to prove the simulation theory. In fact, she also believes that even if there was a technologically-advanced civilization that could create real-life simulations, there is no reason for them to even bother simulating humans. If they have the technology, they could create far better “characters” than ours.

The simulation theory has even led some thinkers to coincide it with religion. Many religions believe that there is a creator – God AKA  a simulator – who has created and controls our world. Scientists like Richard J. Terille have stated that if religion is brought into conversation with the simulation hypothesis, it becomes easier to believe in the latter. According to Terrile, there is an architect who has constructed our entire universe so the modern idea of simulation is just a way of using science to deduce facts rather than faith.

Whether reality is just some big illusion or not is still a never-ending debate. But until scientists definitively prove one or the other, you can always channel your own omnipotence by playing simulation video games like The Sims.