Are you living in a simulation?

Are you living in a simulation? Is reality programmed in some way? The dismaying answer is – conditionally – “Yes.” Since the universe we know exists only because we sense it, and our brains are interpreters, not direct recorders. This universe is not the ultimate reality. It’s put together out of diverse, indefinite raw materials, according to preference and inherited programming.

by David Stone

Assorted Ideas, Large & Small

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So, the real question is not whether you are living in a simulation, but how it is set up and in charge? Is it a supercomputer, God, Consciousness or all three? By what rules and with what capabilities do we – apparently in great unification – pull it together? And you can forget about, Why? for now because we’re so far away from there.

Living in a Simulation?

The earliest modern proponent of reality as a simulation was René Descartes in the 17th Century, and he put God in the designer’s seat. But this begs another question: Is reality a simulation put together by God to help us learn and grow, as in The Matrix? Or are we all part of one infinite consciousness expressing itself as trillions of individual reflections?

Maybe it’s just as Robert Lanza spells it out in biocentrism: We create the universe, not the other way around. We spawn human evolution and everything else with consciousness, to each its own, in one grand, unified design.

That is not meant to imply that it all works well under any conceivable conditions. It is what it is, cliche or not, and we embed ourselves in it.

But the roots of the idea of living in a simulation go least as far back as Zhuangzi, a Chinese philosopher in the 4th Century BCE. His Butterfly Dream example shows how impossible it is distinguishing dreams from waking moments and determining which is “real.”

But is this real?

One of the most interesting questions we ask ourselves is, “Is this all real?” In the age of computers, it’s become increasingly relevant as possibilities spiral off into infinity. The question arises out of an interpretation about whether or not reality as we know it might be a simulation created by some sort of intelligence. The late Carl Sagan thought deeply on this subject and concluded that not only is it plausible but likely. He said this could be the most important discovery in human history.

What does Carl Sagan mean by “we are living in a simulation”?

In Sagan’s essay The Demon-Haunted World, he proposes the possibility of a technologically advanced society creating many simulated worlds to run on their supercomputers. And we might be one of these worlds created on a computer. The characters living inside this world don’t know it.

Sagan’s central idea is that we will never know if we are real or not, but he also says there is reason to think we probably exist inside someone else’s simulation. He uses the Theory of Abduction to make his point, combining this theory with one based on Frank Tipler’s Omega Point Theory, which itself is derived from Panspermia Theory. In other words, it’s all theoretical – many times over.

The nature of reality is that we believe it exists because we sense it. But “reality” is not an ultimate truth or doctrine – it’s just something we believe exists because we have no other alternative. It’s what we experience, even when we know the flaws in our beliefs.

We are living in a computer’s memory bank…?

Sagan explained the basis for his hypothesis in two episodes of Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. He explains that supercomputers will become sophisticated enough to create computer simulations of living things by 2035 – a prediction he made in 1983 – and after 10¹² such simulations have been run, the odds suggest we are among them.

He suggests a way to test this hypothesis: take a number, say 10²³, and raise it to any power (10¹⁴) representing the number of times our world has run its course. If that result is greater than one, Carl Sagan asserts, then we are likely living in a computer simulation.

I don’t get the math, to be honest, but I include it here because some of you probably do.

Sagan’s reasoning for this idea comes from what he dubs the principle of mediocrity – perfect is the enemy of the good – which he borrowed from Voltaire’s story Micromégas:

A scientist looking at any natural phenomenon should first assume that no special explanations are needed. For example, if a strange shadow blots out part of the stock market tape in Times Square, then the scientist should assume that a large bird has flown across the scene, casting its shadow on the tape. Only if this hypothesis is inadequate to explain the phenomenon would the scientist next consider more exotic possibilities, such as a UFO or a manifestation of God.

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His argument for living in a simulation:

If we are living in a computer simulation, Sagan said, then it is reasonable to expect that the creator of this simulation would be able to “supersede even the laws of physics.”

If this hypothesis is true, what does this mean for us? Sagan suggested that, if we are living in a simulation, there is no way to know if the computer creating this simulation is programmed with morals, so it may be possible for us to “be turned off at any time.”

He posited that if there are other civilizations out there, then this would seem more likely. He explained, for example, that natural disasters on Earth are unable to be predicted because they are too rare and difficult to measure. But he believes that other rare events can be predicted because they are not rare at all.

He gave the example of an asteroid impact, which would have to happen “once every few thousand years” for scientists on Earth to learn enough about them and predict their impact with the technology available to us. He further argues that because the only way to get enough data to predict its impact would be for it to actually happen, this is evidence that someone has set up a simulation to get the data to study events like these.

While Sagan stated that there’s a “fair chance” that you and I are living in a simulation, he went on to say that he would rather assume we are not until proven otherwise “just as a matter of principle.”

What Reality Is And Why It Should Be Explored

The argument for being in a simulation assumes we can prove that we exist, each of us being who we are. That is, are you you? Sagan didn’t just leave it at that, however, and went on to describe how he could prove that he was real.

The idea is that if you are you, you would leave your mark on your environment in your unique way. There must be things you do or say that are distinctly you.

Can We Investigate Reality?

Sagan argued that reality is not something absolute, but rather something we all believe exists because it’s the only thing we can sense proving we are who we are. But the current reality could have been created with you being “a brain in a vat” wired up to an incredibly complex computer simulation. This would mean you have no evidence of other civilizations existing because you could be alone in your own “cosmic petri dish,” having your entire existence wired up to a computer.

Would You Need God?

Sagan argues that if the creator of your simulation is some sort of god, then “that would seem to be good evidence that there is no God,” because “a fairly intelligent and somewhat malicious child” could create something like this.

On the other hand, if it were just consciousness without an external body or mind-controlling this consciousness, you would have an extremely unintelligent, unconscious universe resembling a dream state. If this were the case, then this sort of universe can exist simply because someone is imagining it.

Who Is In Charge?

Disturbingly, Sagan found that all three potential explanations for who or what is in charge of this simulation agreed that he did not exist. There are two arms to the argument; either Sagan finds there’s no alternative to believing in some sort of god or consciousness, or he tries trying to prove otherwise which he can’t do.

In both directions, Sagan either left a door open for a god or consciousness to exist in the future, or you would have to prove that there are no such things. This means, either way. we could be living in a simulation, and every single one of us only believes we’re real because someone planted this idea in our heads. We can never be sure if we’re actually real, or just living in someone else’s imagination.

Bearing All This Mind

It is through this argument that Sagan believed the strongest argument in support of the simulation hypothesis comes when you try to prove there isn’t a simulation or discover who created it. Then, you are breaking the simulation. If we are a simulation, he thought, we should feel confident that our creators would never allow us to find out.


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