Recently, Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla and SpaceX) stated at a tech conference in California that there is a “1 in a billion’s” chance that we are not living in computer simulation, especially with how advanced and realistic video games are becoming through technologies like VR, CGI, and the Unreal engine. For most of the scientific and philosophical community this news is ground breaking, though this matrix theory has existed for as long as man has been sentient (or at least since the Sims came out).
Dating all the way back to 2003 and further to ancient times we can see evidence of theory’s like Musk’s emerging, the most recalled would belong to philosopher Nick Bostrom. His Trillemma (known quite simply as the Simulation Argument) doesn’t quite say that we are living in a simulation, it instead says that at least 1 of 3 unlikely seeming propositions must be true
1) “The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage (that is, one capable of running high-fidelity ancestor simulations) is very close to zero”,
2) “The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero”, or
3)”The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one”.
The Truth is that all three of these theories bring up something that throws our very existences into existential crisis, and that is the fact that if even a tiny almost minuscule amount of Post Human (being anything greater than ourselves whether it be a god or some geek at a computer desk) were to run “Ancestor Simulations” (which according to Wikipedia are “”high-fidelity” simulations of ancestral life that would be indistinguishable from reality to the simulated ancestor”) the total number of beings in the universe/multiverse would exceed beyond the total number of legitimate ancestors. To make matters more set in stone, Bostrom adds on that in that chance that argument number 3 is the correct one then we are almost certainly living in a simulation.
Skipping forward the 13 years to Elon Musk’s recent proclamation we can see evidence of Bostrom’s Trillemma evolving. Musk believes that there is only a 1 in a billion’s chance that we aren’t in a simulation. Being a man who’s mind is always on computers and the dangers of AI, he suggests that our existence is being conducted by computers and intelligent AI, going further to state that he hopes he’s right because if he isn’t that means that the world will end (how’s that for a slice of simulated-reality).
Elon Musk’s main argument is “40 years ago we had Pong – two rectangles and a dot. That’s where we were. Now 40 years later we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it’s getting better every year. And soon we’ll have virtual reality, we’ll have augmented reality. If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, just indistinguishable.” In this argument Musk is referring to the idea that one day we will reach a point where a first person Sims title would be entirely indistinguishable from reality, making it an Ancestor Simulation. If we can one day reach a point where it is indistinguishable, then who’s to say that we haven’t already achieved that, and won’t go further to achieve that again in the future?
Elon Musk hopes that if the Simulation Theory is true then civilization will prevail, stating “if civilisation stops advancing, then that may be due to some calamitous event that stops civilization.” He continues to answer the question of whether or not we are in a computer simulation game with a “probably”.
The cool thing about this line of thinking is that it brings us closer to the age old question, who/what set the universe in motion? While philosophers throughout history have argued the existence of gods, the thing that singles out the Simulation theory is that it believes that there is some form of higher power, but that form of higher power exists in its own reality (or in Musk’s argument, that this current existence is being perpetrated by a form of post-human beings by means of hyper realistic and indistinguishable simulations).
Now, I’m not saying to lose faith in this existence and pull a Pint-Sized-Slasher move, especially not when there are various arguments that both of these dudes are dead wrong.
Physicist Paul Davies argues that the third statement in the classic Bostrom trillemma is false, while one of the first two are true. If there were a near-infinite multiverse, there would be posthuman civilizations running ancestor simulations, and therefore we would come to the untenable and scientifically self-defeating conclusion that we live in a simulation; therefore, by reductio ad absurdum, existing multiverse theories are likely false. (reductio ad absurdum is a common form of argument which seeks to demonstrate that a statement is true by showing that a false, untenable, or absurd result follows from its denial, or in turn to demonstrate that a statement is false by showing that a false, untenable, or absurd result follows from its acceptance. )
In the end of it all the point of these arguments is that there is (at least currently) no possible way to tell if we are in fact living in a simulation. All that I know is that there are philosophical arguments that machines are capable of thought, so maybe next time I’ll think twice before removing the ladder from one of my Sim’s pools (in all honesty I probably will still do it).
Here’s to hoping that we do live in a video game, because who wants civilization to end?
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