The New York Times today has an article cover the notion that our universe is really just a computer simulation. While this isn’t really new, the angle John Tierney takes is rather humorous: the ‘creator’ in this case is really just a posthuman geek, sitting at home creating an ancestor simulation while drinking the posthuman version of Mountain Dew.
While this may be rather silly, the idea that our existence is really a simulation is rather mind blowing. We’ve all seen The Matrix, but unlike the movie, we can’t wake up from the simulation, pull the cranial plug and then act all emotionally cool like Keenu. As Dr. Bostrom, director of the Future Of Humanity Institute at Oxford (how do you get that gig?) put it:
technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or “posthumans,” could run “ancestor simulations” of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems.
Assuming we last long enough and are able to create powerful enough computing devices that is. This causes me to think of the book, Programming The Universe by Seth Lloyd. Lloyd looks at cosmology through the lens of information theory. Basically, the universe is a giant quantum computer that just happens to be computing everything we see around us, in effect, a galactic scale simulation. One that is indistinguishable from a big enough ‘artificial’ simulation, with the unanswered implication being we are in a simulation created by someone/thing. A very interesting read.
Back to the story, many things could happen in the future to prevent a ‘simulation’ from being created, such as humanity wiping itself out, losing interest in the past, or even having other, better methods for investigation the past. So there are some outs in this theory if you wish. It all depends on what you feel our chances of survival as a species are.
It’s rather scary to think that everything around us is nothing but a World Of Worldcraft ‘game’, created by posthumans for entertainment. If so, you have to wonder at the huge level grinds they’ve implemented. Maybe being a pocket god isn’t as exciting as you’d think. And what about all the PKers (player killers) or what happens when the server crashes?
Anyway, this is one of those philosophical discussions that is interesting to think about, even if there is little to no practical use to the theory. I just find it interesting how the simulation notion actually has some support from branch of cosmology.
I also thought I’d try something a little different. Below you will find a list of books and movies that touch upon this notion. Enjoy. But a word of warning, if you haven’t seen/read what’s mention below, you may be spoiled by knowing they are included in this post.
- Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson
- The Last Legends Of Earth by A.A. Attanasio (to the best of my recollection)
- The Reality Matrix by John Dalmas. (Thank you anonymous commenter!)