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Is it plausible that we're living in a simulation?

Popularized by movies such as the Matrix, the simulation argument states that the physical world as we know it is actually running on a simulation. Is this argument science or science-fiction?

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Experts In Philosophy

Nick Bostrom    Director, Future of Humanity Institute
...the simulation argument shows that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage is very close to zero; (2) The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero; (3) The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.
01 Mar 2001    Source

David Chalmers    Philosophy Professor
I don't rule out the possibility that we're right now living in a matrix. [The argument roughly goes that] the number of simulated people in the world is going to vastly outnumber the number of [non-simulated] people in the world. ... What are the odds right in this world now that probably has vastly more simulated people than real people that I'm one of the lucky ones?... I take the argument seriously enough to ... give at least 20% odds that I'm in a simulation right now.
21 May 2007    Source

Experts In Science

Robin Hanson    Economics Professor
Obviously we cannot now be sure that we are not living in a simulation. The more likely our descendants are to be rich, long-lasting, and interested in simulating us, the more simulations of people like us we should expect there to be on average, relative to real people like us. And so the more we expect our descendants to be rich like this, the more we should expect that we are in fact living in a simulation.
01 Sep 2001    Source

Sub-Arguments Of This Expert:
Could a computer ever be conscious?

Experts In Philosophy

Daniel Dennett    Philosophy Professor
The problem of calculating the proper feedback, generating or composing it, and then presenting it to you in real time is going to be computationally intractable on even the fastest computer, and if the evil scientists decide to solve the real-time problem by pre-calculating and "canning" all the possible responses for playback, they will just trade one insoluble problem for another: there are too many possibilities to store. ...our evil scientists will be swamped by combinatorial explosion...
01 Jan 1991    Source

Sub-Arguments Of This Expert:
Could a computer ever be conscious?

Brian Weatherson    Philosophy Professor
Nick Bostrom argues that if we accept some plausible assumptions about how the future will unfold, we should believe we are probably not humans. The argument appeals crucially to an indifference principle whose precise content is a little unclear. I set out four possible interpretations of the principle, none of which can be used to support Bostrom’s argument.
01 Jan 2003    Source


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0 Points      Christopherion      15 Dec 2014      Stance on Question: Mostly Agree

YES: it is axiomatic of the future of evolution under a linear projection of biological scenarios, that such a simulation like the present Reality offers, would be essential, actually, in order to preserve aspects of the species like depth of understanding and maturity. Else the Species would be ruined. It would also be essential that it be a "divested" experience with no possibility of rescue, in order to instill the irretrievable instinct to LET THE EXPERIENCE EVOLVE with PARTICIPATION - just as in Reality.

SOMETHING ELSE: It is also axiomatic that the best simulation is no simulation, and "Reality" just might IN FACT and ACTUALITY serve such a function - if at full scale, by extinction or "resetting" & civilization-scale fecundity ("competition").

NO: One would expect to observe a limit of computation scaling that would show up as "matrix anomalies." I would expect to see sudden loss of detail, and not just peculiar occurrence of Quantum Magic, e.g. synchronicity.

SOMETHING ELSE: Dreams are an example of such a simulation that suffers sudden loss of detail, signaling a constant stream of changing scenarios that share a common and deep theme, as dream analysis proves, and not just a random "simulation of Reality." This is interesting towards a concept of PURPOSE, and also implies that the "simulation" need not appear "true-to-real" to be effective.

SOMETHING ELSE: It is therefore evident, especially the deeper one goes towards understanding, that the human experience floats atop simulation on both the macro and micro scale, that it is itself deeply evolved as a platform to exploit and to be exploited to facilitate it.

SOMETHING ELSE: In context of a significant role for reincarnation or "repurposing" of life experience in some similar fashion that reincarnation may not capture, perhaps simple histories - the tradition of story telling - and in some future way in a "totality" of context that we do not yet know.

SOMETHING ELSE: Perhaps such a future scenario would involve the capacity to actually recreate "the full life experience" through an accurate reconstruction method under an "information causality and preservation theory." This might be possible as a function of the once hot question of "black hole" information preservation. Though the problem may be more generally stated than literally as a "black hole phenomenon," to one of the First Principles of Quantum Magic. The solution to that problem (the "First Principle") might be so big that it actually drives the entire universe in a poly-universe-style of Fates and Potentials (with "Entaglement"), spanning at least the top levels of complexity. (Crude and fused example: 24 screenwriters on "TOOTSIE")

NO: not directly as in a Matrix storyline scenario. Recall that at least in the Animatrix told story of "The Kid" the story is driven by repeated emphasis on the sensation of "Strangeness" - of "not-realness." This is simply not present to any degree "here", unless one is dreaming.

YES: The storyline of "THE ONE" (Neo) is, by itself, the continuity of the storyline within the Matrix. "The One" lifetime anthropomorphizes the phases of human enlightenment within the life experience of "the founder" of "the next" age, and is the one essential storyline to promote the species, given the decay of the prior age.

SOMETHING ELSE: This scenario might be played ("simulated") on the ACTUAL stage of Reality to produce the needed Neo. Or, such an idea might be generalized to a state of "Teleological Purposefulness" ("potentiated delusion") over "Randomness and hopelessness in the absence of Purpose."

Something Else: Alpha-Omega thesis: A finite number of phases of human enlightenment, and humanity will attain a long-term "Eonic" state, that will have "succeeded" in evolution - "Overcome" - and faces Eternity as "in a new beginning."

Ion-Christopher, UUNIS.net

0 Points      Clive Hetherington      24 Nov 2014      Stance on Question: Agree
The original simulation argument was based on very theoretical and rare circumstances. Unfortunately, everyone seems to have used the original theoretical circumstances as the spring board for thinking about 'are we in a simulation' possibilities. This is entirely unrealistic.

'IF' we are in a simulation then it is:
1. Very likely that our future selves set this place up.
2. That we will (shockingly) be in someone's 'simulation' project AND that we are copied people each living out someone else's life
3. Copied people living out someone else's life will exhibit deducible and measurable behavioural differences compared to a real population.

These deducible differences coincidentally are exactly what we have identified as cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias. This is explained in detail here and the next page: http://www.soul-healer.com/true-nature-of-reality/why-has-no-one-written-in-detail-of-what-it-would-be-like-to-be-a-simulated-copied-person/)

Also there is another seriously obvious possibility that I've not seen presented anywhere. Which is that any simulation designer attempting to simulate free thinking people would ABSOLUTELY MANAGE their simulated populations awareness, thinking and evaluating capacities. This is explained on this introduction page here: http://www.soul-healer.com/simulation-argument/

There is actually an abundance of macro observable evidence that we are in a simulation, including loads of evidence that we are being managed to not think of OBVIOUS possibilities: http://www.soul-healer.com/simulation-argument-evidence/

0 Points      Anonymous      07 Jan 2013      General Comment
The question as to whether humans could ever reach this level is irrelevant. One can't assume that a simulation is that similar to the simulators' universe. One could simulate a universe that consisted of a single capsule or a universe without radioactivity or without electricity or with magic. What applies in a simulation need not apply in the world that simulates it.

1 Point      Nick      29 Apr 2012      Stance on Question: Agree
Many answers to this question are making mistaken assumptions about what needs to be simulated.

Firstly the size of the problem is overestimated: A simulation need only model the things around you in detail and not even many of those. There is absolutely no reason to suppose that anything beyond ones immediate perception and point in time need be simulated. Much like a dynamically evolving computer game the scene outside your front door need only be generated when you open the door. You believe that there is consistency over time but it that need not be so - From a programming point of view it is simpler to just say "memoryOfOutside := currentSimulation" and your simulated mind would never notice.

Regarding time: People are ignoring the fact that time itself would be simulated. This is actually one of the main points of the simulations that we ourselves do - climate simulations run faster than real time and microprocessor simulations run slower, much slower. (Simulations can even be paused indefinitely whilst someone models new information such as me opening my front door as above).

We are also being very narrow minded when we imagine simulations running on what are essentially bigger better versions of the computers that we have now. Who are we to say what the computers of the future may be like or to say that they would not include chemical and nuclear reactions. In "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" Douglas Adams would have us believe that the earth and everything on it are essentialy a computer designed to calculate the meaning of life etc. The idea is comical but why should it not be true?

A final thought on religion: If one believes that God created the from nothing then by any reasonable definition God is playing SimUniverse right now.

0 Points      MGR      14 Dec 2012      General Comment
At what point will our current simulation develop the capability to develop a new simulation and so on. If that's the scenario, I wonder how many levels deep into the simulations we are now experiencing?

0 Points      W12      21 Mar 2012      Stance on Question: Mostly Agree

-1 Point      Meglomaniac      21 Mar 2012      General Comment
"It's neither science nor science-fiction"
Oh I'm sure the irony isn't wasted on the scientist who created the simulation running you.

Really though, your post doesn't actually have anything to do with the question. You've interpreted the meaning of "simulation" with all slop and no rigour.

"proviso - brain must be switched ON and personality must be humble for any learning to occur"
Your brain was not switched on when reading this question. As for humility...

"Learning and attitude are the keys to emancipating yourself, nobody can do it for you."
I've never seen such a pompous climax to a comment. Bestow your wisdom on us, oh learned one, oh humble one.

-1 Point      matt      29 Feb 2012      Stance on Question: Agree
of course its plausible, if it wasn't plausible then there would be not point in this question. There is no way of knowing for certain that what we are in at the moment isn't one big dream and one day wake up to find the world as we know it today completely different. but everyones entitled to their own opinion

0 Points      Christopher Maloney      24 Oct 2011      General Comment
None of us is living in reality. The optic nerve translates what the eye sees and we edit out 99% of that input. Then we add all of our judgments about what we see and translate the fraction of 1% into an existing framework of past memories and emotional responses. My response to anything will be framed by previous interactions far more than the rock itself. Add in something as complex as a human-to-human interaction and it is very likely we are living in a simulation of our own creation.

0 Points      TheJackel      16 Apr 2011      Stance on Question: Disagree
The very fact that conservation of energy means that energy can neither be created nor destroyed will nullify the argument to be completely meaningless.


It's simple... Energy =/= information. They are two sides of the same coin to where one can not exist without the other. They are both substance and value. You can look up information Entropy, Digital Physics ect... Information is the Material physical cause of causation. All things are governed by 3 laws to where are also the properties of all information and energy.


So it doesn't matter what reality you think you are in, you could ask that same question with a perplexed look on your face. You can call it the Matrix if you want, but the correct answer is Material physicality.

* Information: The material physical Cause of causation

* Immateriality: The Fallacy of Magical Nothing!


Existence is seen as a phenomenal reality of physical self-oscillating, self-organizing energy that makes you, me, the stars, matter, anything with mass, and itself possible.

"Obviously we cannot now be sure that we are not living in a simulation"

If you are living, you exist somewhere.. Technically living in a simulation doesn't make any logical sense. Existence isn't a simulation.

0 Points      Benja      16 Apr 2011      General Comment
If functionalism is correct, it's conceptually (albeit perhaps not practically) plausible that we're living in a simulation. That's the theoretical basis for this argument, so if you want to attack the simulation argument as being logically incoherent, you'd have to attack functionalism, and the notion that a computer could host consciousness.

My impression, though perhaps I'm mistaken, is that you're being unduly dismissive of a non-fringe academic opinion on this issue. Should you really be using language like "it's simple" and "doesn't make any logical sense" when referring to what's wrong with the opinions of world class philosophers like Daniel Dennett and David Chalmers? Even if they are wrong, it's implausible that their wrongness is obvious.

Your statement "If you are living, you exist somewhere" begs the question. Where? We have already simulated rats brains on computers. If we could simulate a brain smart enough to ask themselves the question: "Am I one of those simulated brains or am I the original brain?" and it thought it was a non-simulated brain - or to use Chalmers' terminology, a "Level 0" brain - then it would be wrong. Not meaningless as you suggest, but actually wrong.

0 Points      TheJackel      17 Apr 2011      Stance on Question: Neutral
Even a simulation is an existing state.. To say you are in a state of simulation could only ever at best be in an existing state, process, phenomenon, or function. Let me make this a little more clear.. Closed systems can only exist within an over all infinite open system. Kind of like how your oven is a closed system that exists within the kitchen. And how the kitchen exists within a planet called Earth..ect, to where Universes being possibly like an infinite number of bubbles within an infinite capacity and volume to which they are apart of, and comprised of.

So lets pretend you are plugged into a computer and your perceivable life is just a "simulation".. The reality is that you would exist in both realities. And both realities would be apart of the sum total of reality itself (existence). Your mind may be played a simulation, but the simulation is still coming from the same world you exist in.

Energy and information are =/=... Digital physics means energy and information are the same thing, or two sides of the same coin. Both substance and value. So regardless of simulation, it's still real ;)

"begs the question. Where?"

Where is not a question that I would be concerned about, especially when we know capacity and volume are infinite. But Regardless of where you relatively, or actually are matters not. You have to have a where.. More specifically, you have to exist within a physical capacity. One must have the capacity to exist if it's to actually exist. That means you will require energy, which means you will require mass and informational value just like everything else does.

"Am I one of those simulated brains or am I the original brain?"

Let's say the simulated brain is actually conscious.. What's the fundamental differences? How can you attach the label "fake brain" to something of identical function, or even similar functional dynamics? How can you attach simulation to anything that actually exists? Well, simulations are to mimic something else from which it's based on.. Like a flight simulator.. Or it's used to gather information on something like building an airplane. But if you step out of the box, and really think about it, what is simulated? Any phenomenon that occurs is real. Hence these computer simulations are apart of the same reality you are apart of, you are made from the same stuff we call energy. The only differences lay in the differences of the atoms to which give us the biodiversity and chemical diversity of our Universe. These differences give us the periodic table. All these things are on the orders of magnitude on the energy scale.


And where I disagree with David Chalmers is this:


Nothing can not be an existing person, place, substance , object, or thing. There is a reason why you physically feel emotions, feelings, sensations ect.. And the reason why you can't describe what something is like is because the sensation or experience itself can only represent an actual full description.. Hence the actual physical experience is the physical description itself. Remove a physical aspect such as taste, the physical description or experience changes accordingly..

There can be no phenomenon without material physicality, or capacity..And here is another problem with his arguments, and it's in regards information theory, and consciousness:

"Nothing begins with Consciousness, everything begins and ends with information"

What that means is that consciousness can't exist without cause, material physicality, or information to support a base of inquiry that can in turn support mechanisms and dynamics to which give support to the function of observation, and awareness. There must exist a system with feedback.. And thus consciousness is an emergent property, or product. Kind of like how your image on your computer screen is. ;)

0 Points      Benja      17 Apr 2011      General Comment
It seems like we're arguing at cross purposes. It doesn't actually seem like you're against the conceptual possibility of a simulated reality. It's more that you're saying that it's irrelevant if our reality is simulated or not. But this is not necessarily true at all. If our reality is hosted, then evidence of this hosting may be detectable. Daniel Dennett's combinatorial explosion argument suggests that evidence of hosting would indeed be detectable, and in the absence of that evidence, we can deduce that we're not living in a simulation.

"Where is not a question that I would be concerned about..."
Daniel Dennett's argument provides a rational reason why someone might not be concerned about the question. Your reasons, in comparison, do not address the concern. I understand that you're trying to "dissolve the question" but I think the question you're trying to dissolve is actually a different one to the simulation question.

"which means you will require mass and informational value just like everything else does."
Not if you're simulated within a universe that has different physical laws. I'd agree with you that we could extrapolate commonalities between the universe we're living in and any universe that could host our own. But you're anthropocentrically restricting that set of universes to just our own.

"Energy and information are =/=."
You're applying quantum mechanical principles to consciousness. You say that consciousness is an "emergent" property, combined with implicitly sneaking in the premise that emergent properties possess all the properties of that which they emerge from. This is faulty application of reductionism, and an example of the fallacy of composition.

"And thus consciousness is an emergent property"
Emergence is a hand-wave.

0 Points      TheJackel      19 Apr 2011      Stance on Question: Neutral
"Not if you're simulated within a universe that has different physical laws. I'd agree with you that we could extrapolate commonalities between the universe we're living in and any universe that could host our own. But you're anthropocentrically restricting that set of universes to just our own."

I disagree, If you are in a universe and you are simulated within it, you are applicable to the laws, and your laws will be related.. Energy and mass can neither be created or destroyed. Yes different laws could possibly exist, but much of that has to do with the Higgs Field theory.

"but I think the question you're trying to dissolve is actually a different one to the simulation question."

The problem is, they fundamentally aren't different. Even in the simulation you can figure out the base fundamentals of the laws of nature, or energy and information.. The point remains is that even if you were plugged in, or even just a program within a simulation, it wouldn't matter.

let's say you were unplugged and found yourself in, for sake of argument, the real world.. No test you could do or perform could validate that except to realize the real world is existence itself regardless.. In fact, you would be left with the same question... I best made this argument here:


A child is born from our perspective to be unable to feel, see, hear, or smell to where this would result In the fact that this child would be completely unable to respond to any outside source of stimuli, or unable to sense and observe it. This child would be in a solipsistic state of mind to where this child's universe could never consciously perceive that of our own universe even though this child is equally apart of it.(this fits into the concept of religion where death transcends to another reality). This in a sense is an example of Occam's Razor, and a Sollipsist reality.. This child would not know that itself is a living biological being born from the whom of his mother. And it gets better, we being the outside observers could never peer into this child's mind, or this child's universe to understand what kind of reality this child is experiencing. Hence, we could never currently establish if this child is even consciously self-aware, or has imagined a whole different universe of existence. Hence, can a world be created within the mind based off what little information the locked in mind may have gathered during it's development in the whom?

So what happens if this child wakes up and discovers that itself is apart of another universe much grander than the one he was locked into? And what does that say about our own universe?.. Are we locked in? Is there an ever ingress in reality? So if we die and wake up in another universe, what kind of understanding would we have of reality or of existence?. So if this child wakes up and tells us, or explains to us what his reality was like, He nor we could ever really know if we are in a similar Lock-in, or explain our entire existence and universe.

However, what we do know is that no matter what the case may be, the mind will always require containment, a place to exist, dimensional value, information and material physicality.


You can look at this in simpler terms. When you play a video games you are immersed into another material physical reality. It's still all subject to the same requirements and rules as outlines above :)"

"You're applying quantum mechanical principles to consciousness. You say that consciousness is an "emergent" property, combined with implicitly sneaking in the premise that emergent properties possess all the properties of that which they emerge from. This is faulty application of reductionism, and an example of the fallacy of composition."

Why don't you actually read up on modern information theory.. Or look up terms like Digital Physics, Physical information, or why everything is on the magnitude of energy scale.

0 Points      Benja      19 Apr 2011      General Comment
"Why don't you actually read up on modern information theory.. Or look up terms like Digital Physics, Physical information, or why everything is on the magnitude of energy scale."

This is an example of the Appeal to Research Fallacy. You're even bringing Higgs Field Theory into this discussion. It is a failure of abstraction if one can't answer the question - are we living in a simulation - without relying on gauge bosons.

0 Points      Christopherion      15 Dec 2014      Stance on Question: Mostly Agree
Can a Higgs Boson materialize? Let there be light, I always say. :)

0 Points      TheJackel      19 Apr 2011      Stance on Question: Neutral
The Brain is considered a Neuro-computer and a Quantum computer.


But regardless of what you believe.. Consciousness can't exist without the processing of information, or without a system with feedback. It's without doubt an emergent property. Simulated or not.

1 Point      Benja      19 Apr 2011      General Comment
"The Brain is considered a Neuro-computer and a Quantum computer."
It's highly debatable as to whether the brain is considered a quantum computer. See Is quantum mechanics needed to explain consciousness? on TakeOnIt. In any case, we've gone way off track.

0 Points      TheJackel      19 Apr 2011      Stance on Question: Neutral
Is it debatable?.. What does a computer do? Processes information. What does the brain do? Can you have consciousness without processing information? And this isn't off track, because what is required for a simulation to run, function, operate, or exist? It really raises some valid questions concerning the argument.

I personally would agree that we could be plugged in.. But I disagree that we can validate that we are, or would be. Can we even validate that we are not simulated a consciousness running on some other entities computer experiment? Hence, are you even real? Would it matter?

0 Points      Benja      19 Apr 2011      General Comment
"I personally would agree that we could be plugged in.."
OK, I'm less confused about your position now.

"But I disagree that we can validate that we are, or would be."
If we were simulated by a cheap simulator, it would be easy to validate. We could look out the car window and see the landscape rendered with 80s parallax scrolling. It seems that if we're in a simulator, it's an incredibly good simulator. How good? Well it appears to be impossibly good. Our own universe would be incapable of creating a computer to generate such a simulation. That's Dennett's argument in a nutshell. I'm curious if there's something wrong with this argument, in part, because many people take the simulation argument seriously, and I know they must have encountered Dennett's argument. It's one of those thing I did a Google search for and couldn't find an answer.

"[If we were simulated] are you even real? Would it matter?"
We may actually agree here: whether we're simulated or not, our consciousness would be just as real.

0 Points      tony      21 Jul 2011      General Comment
If we were developed in a simulation using 80s parallax scrolling we would perceive that as normal. We wouldn't have a frame of reference to say 80s parallax is abnormal.

If our reality turns out to be holographic and have quantum wave function collapse on perception by an observer as speculated it seems we could be perceiving the limits of our simulation, assuming these are a means to create a less process intensive representation of a reality that doesn't have these features.

It is because these possible descriptions of reality are so convenient to simulation but unexpected about reality that I would consider them suggestive of simulated reality.

If so discovering the nature of the simulation isn't invalidating the simulation such that it is ending or being shut down yet.

0 Points      Benja      21 Jul 2011      General Comment
"If we were developed in a simulation using 80s parallax scrolling we would perceive that as normal."
You seem to be implying that it's somehow self-evident that it's logically impossible for an intelligent observer in a simulation to detect abnormalities in the construction of its universe. Such a claim is trivially refuted by considering the scenario of a brain emulation.

"We wouldn't have a frame of reference to say 80s parallax is abnormal."
The frame of reference we've got is logic, and it applies across universes.

0 Points      Jim      08 Aug 2011      General Comment
Are we Simulations? Indeed

I year ago i found the molecule DMT that explained everything
We are all indeed programs.The current reality as i knew changed . I no longer knew the people i worked with for 23 years. Third Eye was totally open and consciousness was shared , very scary level up , lots of references to hell from other staff.
I was advised by senior mgmt that this all was a program and there was nothing i could do about it and to keep doing what i was doing.
Freewill was the key back to the reality i knew, but this took me some 2 weeks to work this out

I know this sounds bizarre and someones farked up drug experience but believe me it changed my life forever
If you want the answer, hunt down the molecule and make up your own damm mind :-)
All the best for the future

0 Points      Benja      13 Apr 2011      General Comment
Anyone know what's the argument against a combinatorial explosion?

0 Points      BT      11 Mar 2012      General Comment
Who said we are being simulated in realtime? It is possible that we are computed on very slow speed. One million "real" years can pass for every "our" second. We cannot say whether it is case.

(Also, if laws of our universe are deterministic, combinatorial explosion will be impossible as the next step is unambiguously inferred from previous step )