A growing number of physicists and technologists believe the ‘stimulation theory’ is going to be proven, just like it was proven that the Earth isn’t the center of the universe.
Whenever Elon Musk is not busy making planing for using his gigantic rocket to leave the decaying Earth to go colonize Mars, at times he discusses his belief that Earth isn’t real and that we most likely are living in a computer simulation. In June at a conference he said that there is just a billion to one chance that we are actually living within a base reality. Musk is one of those Silicon Valley individuals who take great interest in something called the “simulation hypothesis.” It argues that what humans experience as reality actually is a gigantic computer simulation that more sophisticated intelligence has created. It that sounds similar to The Matrix, it’s because it is.
According to the recent New Yorker profile of venture capitalist Sam Altman from Y Combinator, two tech billionaires have secretly hired scientists to work at breaking us free of this simulation. However what does that mean exactly? And what kind of evidence exists in fact we are living inside The Matrix?
One of the more popular arguments for explaining the simulation hypothesis, apart from acid trips, was offered in 2003 (although this idea dates all the way back to the 17th century and Rene Descartes) by Nick Bostrom of Oxford University. Bostrom suggested in his paper “Are You Living In a Simulation?”, that individuals from an advanced “post human” civilization possessing great computing power may have decided to run simulations of their universe ancestors.
The argument is extrapolated from watching current technology trends, which include efforts for mapping the human brain and advances in virtual reality. If there there isn’t anything supernatural about what creates our consciousness and that it is just the byproduct of a very complex architecture within the human brain, then it can be reproduced. NASA Scientist Rich Terrile, from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory states that soon there won’t be anything technical that is standing in the way of designing machines with their own consciousness.
Video games are also becoming increasingly sophisticated. In the future, there will be the ability for having simulations of conscious entities within them. Musk says that all we have forty years ago was Pong – a dot and two rectangles. Now there are photo realistic 3D simulations that are played simultaneously by millions of people, and they continue to improve every year. Musk says that we will have an augmented reality as soon as we have a virtual reality. He adds that if any rate of improvement is assumed, that games and reality will soon become indistinguishable from each other.
Terrile shares this view. He states that if today’s rate of technology progresses a couple of decades into the future, that very soon our society will have many more artificial entities that are living in simulations than there are humans. If the number of simulated minds is so much higher than organic ones, then it starts to appear a lot more unlikely that we are among real minds. Terrile says that if there are more digital individuals in the future living within simulated environments compared to what we have today, then there is no reason to believe we aren’t part of this now.
Some of the better reasons to believe that our universe is actually a simulation include that it behaves in a mathematically manner and is broken up into sections (subatomic particles) that resemble a pixelated video game. Terrile says that even things we view as continuous – volume, space, energy, time- all of finite limits due to their size. So if that is true, then our universe is actually both finite and computable. Those properties are what allow our universe to be simulated.
He added that it is actually an incredible unlikely circumstance if we aren’t actually living in a simulation. He says that it is our future selves that have created the simulation. Of course not everybody is convinced of this hypothesis. According to Max Tegmark, an MIT physics professor, it might be logically possible we are in a simulation, but he thinks that we probably are not. He says that in order to even make the argument to begin with, we must know the fundamental laws of physicals for where the simulations are created. Also, if we actually are in a simulation then we don’t have any clue about what these laws of physics actually are. He said, what he teaches at MIT would be laws of physics that were simulated.
Lisa Randall, a Harvard theoretical physicist, is even more skeptical than Tegmark is. She says she doesn’t really see a good argument for it and that there isn’t any real evidence. She adds that it would a great deal of hubris think we would be what was simulated.
Terrile thinks that recognizing that we most likely living within a simulation is just as game-changing as when Copernicus realized that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe. He says that the idea was so profound that it wasn’t even viewed as an assumption. Before Copernicus made this discovery, scientists had attempted to explain the odd behavior of the motion of the planets using complicated mathematical models. However when the assumption was dropped it became much easier to understand everything. Terrile argues that realizing that we may be in a simulation is a much simpler explanation for human existence than the concept that ours is the first generation to rise out of the primoridal ooze and then evolve first into molecules, then into biology and finally into self-awareness and intelligence.
Peculiarities within quantum mechanics are also accounted for by the simulation hypothesis, especially the measurement issues, where things are only defined when they can be observed. This has been a problem for decades. Scientists have been bending over backwards to get rid of this idea that a conscious observer is needed. Terrile says that maybe the true solution is a conscious entity is needed, like a video game’s conscious player. However, this doesn’t make sense to Tegmark. He says there are many problems in physics, but that our failure to solve these can’t be blamed on simulation.
So how can this hypothesis be tested? Artificial intelligence researchers and neuro scientists, on the one hand, can check whether or not it’s possible for the human mind to be simulated. So far it has been proven that machines are good at playing Go and chess and placing captions onto images. However are machines able to achieve consciousness? At this point, we really don’t know. Scientists, on the other hand, can search for the hallmarks of simulation. Tegmark says, suppose our universe was being simulated by someone. It would be really tempting for them to cut corners so that it would be cheaper to run the simulation. You could search for evidence of this in an experiment.
The simulation hypothesis for Terrile has profound and beautiful implications. First of all, it offers scientific basis for there being some type of afterlife or some broader domain of reality outside of our world. He says you don’t need to have faith, miracles or anything special in order to believe in it due to the fact that it comes from the laws of physics naturally. Second of all, that means that we will have the same ability soon for creating simulations of our own. He says, that will mean we have the power of matter and mind to create whatever we want to and then occupy those worlds.