argument for simulation

“The argument for the simulation is quite strong.  40 years ago we had pong.  Two rectangles and a dot.  Now we have photo-realistic 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it’s getting better every year. 

If civilization stops advancing than that could be due to a calamitous event that erases humanity.  But if we keep advancing, and assuming everything in the physical world could be simulated, then we could start simulating ourselves (like we’re already doing in video / computer games).  In this scenario, there would be billions of universes created that are indistinguishable from our own.

Therefore probabilistic thinking would have us conclude that we are in a simulation because we exist. 

Or we could be in base reality.  But that’s a one in a billion chance.” 

-Elon Musk

This argument for simulation was created by philosopher Nick Bostrom in a paper he wrote called, “Are You Living In A Computer Simulation?” published in 2001 (see Nick Bostrom’s research and video below).

Bostrom argues there are three possible answers to the simulation question:

  • The human race is likely to become extinct before reaching a “post-human” stage
  • Any post-human civilization is unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of its evolutionary history
  • We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation

Bostrom’s philosophical framework starts with the belief that everything is at it seems.  He acknowledges that technology continues to improve with each passing year and the rate of change continues to increase.  Based on this, he asks us to consider the possible impacts that continued technological improvement would have on humanity in decades, centuries, and millennia to come.

Based on how we currently interact with technology (e.g. play video games that are very similar to our lives), could we reasonably conclude that humanity eventually reaches a point in the future where video games / simulations are indistinguishable from “base reality”?  If we agree to the above (that humanity is able to one day run simulations that mirror the physical world in every sense), then we should also agree that there is a chance that we are living in one of these simulations.

Critics of the simulation argument point out that there is currently no proof of technology which would facilitate the existence of sufficiently high-fidelity ancestor simulation. Additionally, critics suggest there is no proof that it is physically possible or feasible for a posthuman civilization to create such a simulation, and therefore for the present, the first proposition must be true.  Additionally there are proofs of limits of computation.

Regardless of whether you side with Bostrom / Musk or with the critics, given the rapid acceleration of technological advancement in the past 40 years, the simulation argument makes for an interesting thought experiment.

Thanks so much for your time.