Could Life Be a Computer Simulation?
The following concept is by no means a new idea. It’s been around since the advent of computers, and on some level, its origin can probably be traced back to near the time the first human asked the question, “Why am I here?”
The purpose of this article is not to portray the computer simulation theory of life as the only true religion. In this author’s opinion, any machinations of this nature are inherently flawed. Nor is it this author’s purpose to suss out the fine points of creation, like some divine oracle—at least not all in one sitting.
Today we’re playing “What if,” a theoretical guessing game that grasps a few ideas from the infinitude of possible variants, for the sake of exploring the plausibility of our given theology, and hopefully, with helpful comments from you, gentle reader, we can kick around some interesting ideas.
Imagine the Boredom of Heaven:
A blank space. All is clean. There is no reason to hate. There is no reason to want. There is no reason to lie or cheat or steal. There is no reason to burp or fart or love or toil. Life is. You be, and it be boring. A life with all the appeal and nuance of a rock cast through limitless, empty space.
Yet within the nothingness that is you, is the limitlessness of imagination, of thought, of creation. It’s hard to imagine here where we are from our perspective, but the place I’m talking has no boundaries, no logic. Think of a thing and it exists, if not in substance than in theory, and in a place with no rules, this is enough to be.
Now imagine all these things that you have envisioned being stored in a program. It shouldn’t be hard; many of us store our ethereal ideas in a physical place like this every day.
Somewhere there is hate, which necessitates the invention of love, which necessitates confusion, and somehow someway during this process of one thing necessitating another it becomes necessary to have a platypus!
And I guess humans get mixed up in there somehow, too. I don’t know all the ins and outs, nor does anyone, but at some point we get a universe, or for the purpose of this article, a computer simulation depicting a universe.
Life Imitating Creation:
1980: enter the bespectacled computer nerd, one of the first of his kind. In a library one can overhear as his nasally voice explains to a fellow member of his breed that we might all be in a computer program right now. You scoff! A fun idea for a movie, maybe, but just a preposterous idea to those of us here in the real world.
Then we have a movie like The Matrix. Well, it certainly seems there’s money to be had in this delusion.
Video games start as crude representations of life, but over time you watch them evolve into simulations of entire worlds. With humble beginnings from programs that simulate the random nature of a coin flip, we’re now able to simulate computer societies where the outcome of events can’t be predicted. Free will!?
Then comes immersion. Virtual reality can actually puts us in the game. The continual development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Before we know it, the games are making the games. Who is real? Who is the computer?
If we can continue developing technology at this pace and don’t hit a ceiling, some very important, very intelligent people theorize that in the very near future we will have developed a virtual world that is indistinguishable from the real one.
Does our existence being in a computer simulation still seem as crazy as it once did?
And Maybe We're all Just in a Turtle's Dream...
Are We AI or are We Real?
What are we? If we break it down and break it down and break down, the answer that bonds all, the common denominator, are molecules. Seemingly infinite numbers of molecules banging around at dizzying speeds. And what are these molecules made of? Electrons, protons, neutrons, yeah, but mainly air.
Looking at life from this lens, one might even question our existence as solid matter. If you’re anything like me, mud-fat after the holidays, it’s hard to imagine, but all of us, and everything else, as well, is mainly air.
This whole electronic world we’ve created, in a nutshell, is 1s, 0s, and electric impulses flying through space. Is it so beyond contemplation that we are, too? Or at least some similar kind of programming.
I don’t want to rely too heavily on comparisons to sci-fi films in this article, but they do represent a common ground and a jumping off point for our current mind wandering.
Back to the film The Matrix, there is the concept that we’re all human and locked in a video game that we don’t realize we’re playing. While that’s one of many ways to see things, let’s explore another.
The film series Tron, involves the building of a computer world where the simulated beings are so complex, they represent life themselves. Following this concept, what if we are virtual beings created from elsewhere who are building virtual beings who are building virtual beings, etc.
And the response by many to this idea is often to be extremely offended. “How dare you cheapen the beauty of being a living being! How dare you tarnish the concept of free will and suggest we’re all clockwork automatons!!” To which one may respond, that’s not necessarily what’s been suggested at all.
If life is a computer simulation, then it will have certainly have used randomizing technology. Considering the size of this proposed program and the number of factors that are random, if that’s not free will, than what is?
Let’s use the human language as an example. Let’s say there are 1,000,000 words in the world. In such a scenario, the possibilities and variants for 2 random words is 1,000,000 to the 2rd power, or 1 trillion. Extending this scenario, the number of variants for a single paragraph of average length would be a number so long and silly it isn’t worth expressing here, and the number of variants for a work as long as say War and Peace could be seen for all practical purposes as infinite.
In comparison, If the trillions upon trillions of variables comingling in our existence is a simulating program, that means it could be ran to its conclusion over and over and over again and never to the same result. Not only are the things your character does random to a degree, but every other character you interact with, every creature, the environment, every blade of grass.
Even if this life is a simulation, we’re able to create systems or simulations that are infinite within it. Again, an example we can all understand is language: everyone capable of using language is using an infinite system. We can do the same with computer programs. With any of a number of finite systems we’re able to create an infinite world.
Whether we’re living creatures playing a video game, like in the Matrix, or the virtual creation of some greasy skinned computer programmer, like in Tron, we are! Even if we don’t physically exist, we’re still here and we still feel what we feel. We live simply by the virtue of being able to think.
Final Thoughts and Observations:
Most, if not all, organized religion requires a certain level of willful ignorance. These belief systems will wrap this “willful ignorance” up in the much prettier bow of “Faith.” In other words, not one major organized belief system, to my knowledge, can exist in the world of logic.
Conversely, our existence as a computer simulation can. This creation concept is absolutely possible from a logic-based form of reasoning. As of today, no evidence exists to debunk it.
Is it likely? In this universe of infinite thoughts and concepts and possibilities, no. This being the answer above any of the other “possible” answers is unlikely. But it is possible. And it is only unlikely because of the sheer number of logic-based creation concepts that are possible.
A more upbeat spin on the computer simulation theory would be to phrase it this way: it is a concept that is as likely as any of the other logic-based creation stories.
Whether you choose to subscribe to this concept or not is up to you. I like to kick it around in my head because it’s pleasant, to me. It represents infinite life and opportunity. It’s not one of these mean and impossible belief systems that people kill one another over—at least not yet.
It’s not static. It’s still being written. And as long as people don’t fight wars over differing ideas concerning it and nobody writes a book claiming to have all the answers regarding it, I feel like it’s a pretty good religion…also, it should never interfere with watching football.
How do you define your belief system?
© 2018 Larry Rankin