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The Implications of the Simulation Theory

The Implications of the Simulation Theory

The Simulation Theory has taken several shapes throughout time as it has filled many cultural vessels, but the premise remains the same: Is the reality experienced by sentient beings within this universe fundamentally authentic? This concept is most easily elucidated through an exposition of examples, beginning with Descartes’ Daemon.

Rene Descartes, in the 17th century CE, using his program of systematic doubt, chose to perform a meta-test on the apparatus that does the testing itself, his own consciousness. He posited the existence of a demon who is as powerful and malevolent as necessary to completely deceive him by enveloping him with the experience of a body and a perception of an external universe, neither of which maintained its own being. This is one of many approaches to questioning whether there is a more basic reality that serves as an existential ground to the one consensually taken for granted. Much earlier, in the 4th century BCE, Zhuangzi questioned the demarcation between waking and dreaming. As sure as he was experiencing being a butterfly, he suddenly awoke to the equally genuine experience of being Zhuangzi. Being experientially equivalent, neither could be claimed with any confidence to be the more real. A more modern approach uses recent technological advances and the surrounding concepts as an analog to probe the same question.

In his 2002 paper entitled “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?,” Nick Bostrom proposed that at least one statement of his trilemma is true. The first states that the human species will become extinct before attaining a post-human civilization. Humans will be destroyed by themselves or some natural disaster, or will stop developing increasingly sophisticated technologies. The second statement says post-humans are very unlikely to run a significant number of ancestor simulations. The reasons could be a decision not to allocate the resources, a lack of interest, or a prohibition by moral law banning the creation of sentience which would include the experience of suffering. The third and last bluntly asserts that we are living in a simulation. Either humans perish without running simulations, thus ensuring a final demise, or this currently is a simulation, allowing sentience to take advantage of the experiential plasticity of time and continue its existence for a time that will seem infinite, such as in Frank J. Tipler’s Omega Point theory, except it will be overshadowed by the implications of being in a simulated reality.

Acceptance of life within a simulation brings forth many complicated implications. A person would be forced to assume that consciousness is not substrate dependent, meaning that it must not always rely upon the carbon biological neural network called the brain. It could easily arise from the complexity of silicon chips, such as in the computer processing the simulation. This could carry the attention of the thinker towards issues related to artificial intelligence, ethics, morality, spirituality, metaphysics, and a whole plethora of other possibilities whose exploration is beyond the scope of this discussion. The thinker, if inclined towards paranoia, may question whether he is the only true sentience and the other seemingly-sentient people are only shadows who appear to be conscious. This is termed solipsism, and is unresolvable. Dwelling upon these thoughts could result in depersonalization, derealization, and other horrid psychopathological mental activities. History itself could be doubted if a start date could not be confirmed, and the thinker could begin to distrust his own memories. External implications are equally worrisome.

If the simulation was not forced to end at the time of the beginning of the simulation, then a simulation within a simulation would begin. If this were allowed to happen once, then an infinite number of stacked simulations could exist, and a person may find themselves in 1st, 100th, or millionth iteration. A question was once asked about what held up the globe. The obvious answer was Atlas, but what held up Atlas? A cow, and then an elephant held up the cow, etc. In an attempt to circumvent the monotony of trying to recall as many animal species as possible, another person answered, “Turtles… all the way down.” This answer may have anticipated the series of stacked simulations that could arise. If such an irresponsible being or beings would allow stacked simulations, would they also interfere or alter the simulation, or perhaps even judge the beings within it?

Consider the information processing power needed to fully simulate an entire universe. If the goal were to only create subjective conscious experience, then a computer would only be required to simulate to a resolution of neurons, and not neuro-chemicals since the neurons generate the experience by being acted upon by the neurotransmitters. Suppose the goal were beyond the comprehension of the sims, but with enough microscopic power they could find the limit of the simulation. In quantum physics, two such scenarios may possibly have been found. The non-locality of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and wave-particle duality, and the appearance of quantum foam at Planck length distances.

The ultimate question posed by the Simulation Theory seems unanswerable. It certainly cannot be disproved, and searching within this reality will only bring one towards a higher confidence that this is a simulated reality. The implications can be psychologically dangerous, and perhaps it is for the best to approach the thought experiment as the future post-humans may, by banning the creation of needless suffering.