An MIT trained computer scientist and Silicon Valley video game designer gives 10 reasons for the “Simulation Hypothesis”: that our reality is a simulated, pixelated 3d world where we all have individual xp, levels, and quests run by some giant Artificial Intelligence
Recently, the idea that we may be living in a giant video game, or as it’s sometimes called, the Simulation Hypothesis, has gotten a lot of attention because of prominent figures like Elon Musk who have openly discussed the idea. As Virtual Reality technology has gotten more sophisticated, we are starting to contemplate virtual worlds like that of the omni-present Oasis in Ready Player One, soon to be a blockbuster movie directed by Stephen Spielberg.
Some like sci fi writer Philip K. Dick, believed strongly that we were living in a kind of simulation. Others, like futurist Ray Kurzweil, have popularized the idea of downloading our consciousness into a silicon based device, which would mean we are just digital information after all. Some, like Oxford lecturer Nick Bostrom, goes further and thinks we may in fact be artificially simulated consciousness inside such a simulation already!
Science Fiction Or Mysticism?
Like my first exposure to most great ideas, I discovered the Simulation Hypothesis through watching and reading too much science fiction.
The first time was during an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where a holo-deck character realized that he was in a simulation and that some of the people in the simulation existed “out there” (in this case, out there was the rest of the Enterprise) and he wanted to go there, too! Was it possible that we were in a “holo-deck-like” space and that there was another world “out there”, I wondered?
Although this was only a passing thought at the time, it wasn’t until the movie the Matrix was released in 1999 that the idea grew in the popular consciousness. It occurred to me then that this kind of simulation could exist with or without the overlords that make this a nightmare scenario (in both the Matrix and Elon Musk’s version of the giant video game, there are super-intelligent overlords behind the simulation, in one case evolved machines and in another aliens!).
As a computer scientist and video game designer, I have to admit that this idea is not really that crazy. A civilization that implemented an advanced simulation like ours might be many thousands (even millions) of years ahead of us; it’s not that hard to imagine such a civilization creating much more sophisticated games than we are capable of building today.
As I started to study Quantum Physics and its startling revelations about the nature of “objective” vs. “subjective” reality, I started to wonder again about the idea of a giant multi-player video game. Moreover, as I delved more into the Eastern traditions, particularly Yogic and Buddhist philosophy, I found that their ideas about the nature of the world were actually pretty consistent with the idea that we are living in a simulation.
Why Might This Be A Video Game After All
Let’s delve into the top reasons why we may be living in a simulation after all:
1. Pixels, Resolution, Virtual and Augmented Reality
One of the main arguments that Musk makes is that a more advanced civilization will have games that are of very high resolution — so high that we would be unable to distinguish between the “real” world and a “simulated one”.
Today we are already seeing with Virtual Reality that “full immersion” is possible. Anyone who has played a convincing VR game will realize that it’s possible to forget about the real world and “believe” the world you are seeing is real.
As a great example, I was playing a prototype of a Ping Pong VR game last year (built by Free Range Games), and even though it wasn’t realistic resolution, I lost myself and thought I was playing ping pong for real. So much so that I set the paddle on the ping pong “table” and leaned against the table. Of course it was a VR table so it didn’t really exist — I ended up dropping the paddle (actually the Vive controller) onto the floor. As I leaned into the “table” I almost fell over before realizing that there was no table. In other words, to quote from the Matrix, there is no spoon.
Imaging what kind of pixel resolution we might have in a hundred years, let alone in a thousand years! It could be pretty convincing. Also, as AR technology evolves to project onto the retina without needing external glasses, we could be seeing things around us that aren’t really there in a resolution that’s indistinguishable from the physical world. This brings up the idea that the world “out there” could really be just a projection in our minds.