I had the same eerie feeling driving home that I always get. The sky is beautiful, the horizon stretches before me, I drive past trees and mountains and livestock, but what if it’s all a trick? What if I’m just in a big computer program with everyone else and these images are just being fed to me electronically.
Sitting around as a brain in a vat somewhere sounds inefficient, but I could be a circuit board or a microchip in a big computer, or even worse perhaps I’m just a ream of code on a mainframe somewhere. You may wonder why it’s possible, and in fact how possible it is, well the argument goes as follows.
If Simulated Worlds Are Possible Then We’re Probably in One
If it is possible to simulate the world or even a whole universe then it would be incredibly useful. Want to know if you’re going to get that promotion at work? Simply create a simulated world with you in it and watch it run. You could tweak it to make yourself do certain actions that you think would result in promotion and see if you get it. You could even increase the speed to see when you’ll get promoted. Or perhaps you want to see the effect of a new bill passed by congress, create and run a simulated world.
World creation would be so useful and popular that everyone would want to do it, there would be billions of simulated worlds that we could create on our Smartphone 9000 or whatever device we want to create. There’s definitely a real world somewhere, but knowing that such simulations are possible suggests that there are billions of them, what are the odds that we’re currently in one of the simulations as opposed to the real world?
Well, the odds that we’re in the real world would be billions to one. You wouldn’t bet on a horse that had odds of billions to one, such a horse would probably have four broken legs or not even be near the racetrack that day, there’s practically zero chance of victory. Thus if simulated worlds are possible it’s a near guarantee that we’re in one.
What Are The Chances?
So what are the chances that we will create simulated worlds? Well we don’t have them now, unless the government has something to tell us, so for the future development of world simulation there are five possibilities.
- Our species dies we get a chance to create world simulators. Perhaps an atomic war or meteor from space, same result.
- We morally will not create world simulators. It’s possible that we’ll pass laws against it or make religions against it and it will never happen.
- It is technically impossible for us. Maybe we just are never going to be smart enough to think of everything a world simulator needs in an efficient way.
- We lose interest in it. Perhaps no one will ever read this article and computers will be proven to be just a fad or we go back to agrarian existence.
- We actually create world simulators. Humanity may hasten all and be able to overcome all difficulties to create worlds that have simulated people in them going about their own existence.
I don’t have any reason to believe that any one of the five possibilities is more likely than the other so I can assume they’re all equally likely. Thus the probability of world simulation is one in five or twenty percent. Do you like those odds? Roll a six sided die, the odds that a three will come up are about seventeen percent; it’s more likely that we’re living in a computer simulation than that you will roll a three!
Quantum Physics: Tapping On the Glass?
It may even be possible that we have some evidence of our digital existence based on quantum physics and the Standard Model. Think of the following effects.
Planck’s constant – At a very small scale energy only comes in discrete chunks. It’s not continuous. It’s pixilated, like our computer screens and televisions. Maybe it’s just because of the computer we’re running on.
The Planck Length – Similarly there’s a minimum distance that any two subatomic particles can be from each other. Nothing can get closer than one Planck length from anything else. Sounds like a pixel on a computer screen to me.
Schrodinger’s Equation – It turns out that we cannot know both the position and momentum of subatomic particles at the same time. Before we observe them they’re simply not there, there’s just a probability wave, just an equation, and the computer we’re running on doesn’t bother rendering them until we observe them. Maybe there really is nothing there. It’s just an equation in the system.
Okay, so maybe we’re really not here. But for all practical reasons that won’t matter to us. We still have to go out and live our lives the best we can. It’s interesting to think that we’re bits of code in some kind of mainframe somewhere, and to wonder about who’s running this program anyway, all in all it’s another example of how we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously after all.