We Need to Find out If We Are Living in a Simulation
There’s a case to be made that this world is one big role-playing game
Are we living in a simulation?
The question seems to be gaining in popularity this year, the 20th anniversary of the release of the most popular incarnation of the simulation hypothesis, the iconic movie, The Matrix. Just this week, a new sequel, called The Matrix 4 for now, was announced with stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss reprising their roles.
Philosophy professor Preston Greene recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times proposing that if we are in a simulation, it is better not to find out. I disagree.
First some background. Today’s versions of the simulation hypothesis are based on our recent advances in video game technology. Oxford professor Nick Bostrom popularized the idea in his 2003 paper, “Are You Living In a Computer Simulation?” Since then, Elon Musk, among many others, have advocated for this argument, which claims that if any civilization can ever get to the Simulation Point (the technological ability to create a virtual world as realistic as the physical world), then it’s probably already happened.
This means that there are probably many more simulated beings in virtual worlds than there are “real” beings in base reality. After all, the simulators can just ramp up a new server and create a billion more simulated beings. Since there would presumably be no simple way to tell whether you’re a simulated being or a “real” one, sheer numbers would suggest we are more likely to be inside a simulation than not. This line of reasoning is broadly referred to as the simulation argument, and it’s what led Musk to speculate the odds we are not in a simulation is “one in billions.”
But this concept is really the modern equivalent of a very old idea. It goes back thousands of years to Plato’s Cave and the Eastern religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, which explicitly put forth the idea that we are living in an illusory world called maya. The concept is also tied to the Judeo-Christian religions, which tell us that our good and bad deeds inside this world are being watched by “recording angels,” and we will be judged based on a viewing of these after death.