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Science & Technology

Is the entire universe just a simulation ?

By T.K. Randall
April 14, 2016 · Comment icon 158 comments

How do we know that anything is real ? Image Credit: NASA/ESA/ESO
Is what we see and feel around us actually real or do we exist within some sort of computer simulation ?
It might sound like the plot of 'The Matrix', but the idea that we live inside a simulated universe is something that several scientists, including those who attended the 17th annual Isaac Asimov Debate at the American Museum of Natural History earlier this month, take quite seriously.

The event, which was hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, saw a group of five big thinkers take to the stage to discuss the possibility that we live out our lives in a universe that isn't actually real.

One theory - that of philosopher Nick Bostrom - suggests that if it actually were possible for mankind to create such an indistinguishably realistic simulated universe, then it is significantly more likely than not that we are actually living inside such a universe right now.

The possibility also exists of a simulated universe being created by people who are already living inside a simulated universe - an 'Inception' type scenario that could lead to an infinite chain of simulated universes - each existing within the other.
If such a simulation actually does exist it also begs the question - how could we ever know about it ?

"There's certainly not going to be conclusive experimental proof that we're not in a simulation," said philosopher David Chalmers. "Any evidence we could ever get would be simulated !"

In the end, the panel members each commented on how likely they believed it was that we are living inside a simulated universe with some offering a probability as high as 42% and others maintaining that there is virtually no chance at all.

The debate in its entirety, which lasts over two hours, can be viewed below.

Source: | Comments (158)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #149 Posted by sci-nerd 3 years ago
I stand by what I said. I may have issues explaining myself though, not having English as my native language. †
Comment icon #150 Posted by sci-nerd 3 years ago
@Horta†I admit I got the "pilots perspective" wrong. But that does not mean that the pilots perspective it correct. It's just how he perceives it. Let's pretend that the pilot is Clark Kent, and he decides to leave the ship and fly ahead of it at 40,000 km/s. He would then not†see the light, looking back, because he himself is flying above lightspeed in total. I'm really trying hard to make myself understandable with a very difficult subject, that has no parallels we can use. But the main point is that ~300,000 km/s is as fast as anything goes. No matter what. Light does not go faster, because... [More]
Comment icon #151 Posted by Horta 3 years ago
Assuming you were going to create a VR from scratch. Why would you program light to behave the way it does? I can think of a lot easier ways that would use less resources. It's completely counter intuitive and seems unnecessary.†
Comment icon #152 Posted by sci-nerd 3 years ago
It only gets messy in thought experiments, like we just attempted. Nothing humanity will ever achieve, will come close to them. As for our daily lives, it works perfectly. We can even use it to determine the movements of deep space objects. Bluish means approaching, reddish means moving away. But, if I were them, and didn't want my sims to know they were sims, I'd not set a speed limit. Maybe they don't mind us knowing, or maybe they don't care. † Edit: It could also be a resource issue. Limiting the speed of light might reduce processing power.
Comment icon #153 Posted by Horta 3 years ago
I don't mean the limit on its own, I can understand why that might be a necessity. I mean the limit re relativity. The way it always travels at the speed of light from any particular "inertial frame". As in the previous example. Why wouldn't the light from the ships headlights be measured only 10% faster†by those travelling in the spaceship, as well as those observing from earth? That would seem more intuitive and straight forward. I still think the best argument for VR is based on logic. Somehow inferring it from physics doesn't seem satisfying and gets bogged down in discussing minutia with ... [More]
Comment icon #154 Posted by Horta 3 years ago
I have often wondered/ mused about light, which can†can lead to some weird ideas. Though I'm not pretending any of them are right (I don't think they are) but it's still fun. Presumably/theoretically if distance shrinks to 0 at the speed of light†and time stops...from the pov of light wouldn't it be everywhere all at once? Or better said, nowhere...ever. If there is no time and space for it to exist in (from its pov)? Or perhaps there is only one quanta of light that is everywhere in the universe all of the time?†Yet because of our limiting concepts of time and space we get an imperfect partia... [More]
Comment icon #155 Posted by Cookie Monster 3 years ago
Every time mankind develops a new technology he attempts to frame reality using it. We arent in a simulation, come tomorrow it will be replaced with a new theory.
Comment icon #156 Posted by lightly 3 years ago
As usual...always? † Great thoughts Horta ! †† ††Reminds †me of an old saying...Nothing is Impossible. † †As in ,there can't possibly be NOTHING. † I'm sure some might disagree with that assessment...but I'm absolutely convinced. ††
Comment icon #157 Posted by OverSword 3 years ago
Itís not we are in a simulation itís we are a simulation and you†mean you donít believe we are a simulation†
Comment icon #158 Posted by lightly 3 years ago
The true test of a simulation must be that's it's so good...the simulated think that they themselves,,,and the rest of the simulation real. † † ? † † † †I was just thinking though...what is a movie? †But a simulation of reality...but of course ,the makers of†the movie know it's a movie...a simulation of reality...which was ,in reality, † reality only while they were making the movie. † I†think. † † †

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