The Simulation Argument

Written by Priyanshu Rastogi

Elon Musk believes we are living in a simulation, and there’s a reason as to why he does.

So Amazon Prime Video recently released a new a science fiction satire called Upload, which revolves around this person whose consciousness just before his death gets uploaded to a computer and the sort of lives in this virtual reality inside a computer simulation(which if you don’t know is, in the most simple terms, a program meant to simulate real-world in a computer, video games are a good example of computer simulations). The reason I bring this up is that this idea of consciousness in a computer simulation is not exactly just science fiction. A man by the name of Nick Bostrom published a whole paper trying to justify this argument. The following discussion is based on his paper.

To state it clearly the simulation argument says that you might exist in a computer simulation and so does everything you know, including the Earth and…well…the the whole universe. Now before we explore this problem let’s get something out of the way first. To make sense of this argument we have to assume some stuff, we call this assumption “substrate independence” - the idea that human consciousness can indeed be implemented on computer hardware like microprocessors and chips. There is no known universal law that prevents us from implementing a mind into a computer. We certainly cannot do it in our time because we don’t have the technology, but a sufficiently advanced civilization would be able to do it. Another thing is, some people have been able to estimate how much computing power would be required to run such a simulation, which gives some ground to the simulation argument.

Now we come to the main segment of this discussion- what this argument is really about. So the simulation argument says that we should accept at least one of the following statements is true (i.e. if you choose to believe in the argument it-self) –

  • There is a high probability that our species with the current state of things around the globe, we will go extinct before we become advanced enough to run simulations of mind.

  • No advanced enough civilizations are interested in running these simulations.

  • We are in a simulation.

Let’s take each of the aforementioned statements and discuss them in detail. If we take the first statement as true, that is, humans will never be able to reach a technologically advanced enough stage to be able to run the simulations, there are several reasons to believe in this. Firstly (and this might get a bit political here), global warming is the biggest reason to believe we might go extinct as a species before we become technologically superior enough. 2019 was one of the hottest years on record, with the average temperature being 1.1 degrees Celsius above what it was 100 years ago. Not only global warming but a problem like non-sustainability of resources, the threat of nuclear wars by…certain countries ( ahem ahem North Korea) and many, many more problems which might take a toll on the species, in the long run, leads us to at least consider the possibility of us not making to a level of advancement in computer-related fields that we can run simulations.

The second proposition might also be a possibility, maybe the future civilization is just not interested in running simulations, maybe they think it's ethically and morally wrong to do so, cause after all, even though it is just a simulation, what us – simulated individuals would feel would be real and making us go through the hardships of the world would be against their morals.

The third one is pretty straight forward. We are in a simulation, we always have been, and some advanced species, human or not, is watching us go about our happy, little lives.

So okay, now it is established that we are in a simulation. How does this affect us, if at all? Quite honestly, it doesn’t, even if we choose to believe that we are in a simulation, the rules of the universe won’t change, energy still equals the speed of light times mass, gravity still attracts, and your crush still doesn't want to talk to you(ouch!), so nothing much would change until this argument is proven either wrong or right with absolute certainty, even after that we don’t know what will happen if we do manage to find concrete proof that we are in a simulation, apart from the fact that it'll rein enforce our belief in the argument.

Although the simulation argument doesn’t precisely answer the question – “Are we in a simulation?”, I have some thoughts of my own to reason that we just might be. So think about this, since the past 50 years that we have been observing the universe we haven’t found a single biomarker that might suggest there is life anywhere else other than planet Earth. Why? I believe life was put specifically on Earth by the people simulating our universe, with an objective, an objective we might be too dull to understand. Nevertheless, this topic is going to ruffle a lot of feathers over the years, but hopes are always up that some lucky day we’ll find the answers to not only this but many of the other questions that have been bugging mankind since the dawn of modern civilization.