Most of the material I have come across on this topic is written by philosophers and logicians and targeted towards the same audience. They try to establish this possibility by idioms and postulates. In fact when I mentioned it even to some of my scientific minded friends, they refused to listen to it saying with bit of disdain, something like “It is not science. It is meta physics”. In my opinion such a reaction in non scientific to begin with… but that topic is for some other time. Here is my attempt to explain to a common man, the possibility that we are living in a simulation. By common man, I don’t mean everyone. One needs to agree with the following three lines of thought.
a. Believe that we are undergoing Exponential Growth. Not many people who are in technology or observers of technology would deny it. But this is not a question of what most believe. You need to be in that camp of believers.
b. Believe that there are and have been possibly millions of advanced civilizations in this universe. In scientific community there are mainly two schools of thought on this topic. One believes in what I just said and there is abundance of literature supporting it (1, Drake Equation). The second school believes that the number of things for intelligent life on earth, that had to be precisely just the way they are, is too large and the possibility that it would repeat elsewhere in universe in not much (Rare Earth hypothesis). The famous Fermi Paradox also supports this line of thought. There are plenty of supporters for both schools. To appreciate this article, you got to be in the first school, meaning believe in the abundance of intelligent life in space.
c. Finally, be ready to accept things, however improbable they may look at first, as long as they are based on above two beliefs. We are going to extrapolate the natural consequences of these and see where this exciting journey takes us.
With that introduction, here is my take on the question – “Are we living in a Simulation”.
1. If exponential growth continues (note the emphasis on if), one day we should be able to create a simulation (something on the lines of current virtual reality environments) where Avatars are complete simulation of human beings. They have same level of intelligence and think and feel the same as humans. They are driven by same survival and other instincts as human beings. The simulation will also have most other entities of real world like animals and other creatures, stars, planets, galaxies and so on. Essentially that will be a simulation of our universe. The interesting part is that whether this takes couple of decades or couple of centuries or couple of million years or hundreds of millions years of exponential growth, is immaterial, as will be clear by reading further.
2. However, the possibility of human beings ever doing the above is next to negligible. There are just too many things that can go wrong on the way. Scientists, who believe that there is large number of intelligent civilizations out there, also believe that much larger number would have got destroyed on the way. See Exponential Growth.
3. But there are millions of other intelligent civilizations out there. Some of them thousands of times more advanced than us. With so many out there, there is a good chance that at least one of those has already been able to develop the technology to simulate the universe. Once a civilization has the technology and computing power to simulate the universe, it is quite conceivable that further along, it will have the capacity to simulate numerous (millions) of such universes. An analogy is that just couple of decades back, we built first computer, but today there is much higher computing power on millions of laptops and other devices and this number is only growing. So in that civilization, vast numbers of simulated universes would exist.
4 Each of those simulations being as advanced as the original, would eventually develop the ability and create similar simulations. Thus the number of simulated universes would grow both horizontally and vertically and soon be in outrageous numbers. Note, what we just concluded, is a natural consequence of just one of the civilizations out of millions developing the capacity to simulate their universe.
5 There would be no way for a simulation, however advanced, to know about its creators or to determine that it is indeed in simulation.
6 So most likely we have millions or billions of universes, each one of these indistinguishable from others, irrespective of their depth in the hierarchy and only one of them is real – the original one.
7 So what is the probability that our universe is not a simulation itself, but indeed the original one? One in billions.
1. Michio Kaku, “Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the 21st Century”.
2. Drake Equation
3. Rare Earth hypothesis
4. Fermi Paradox
5. Are we in the midst of exponential growth? Where are we headed?