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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?
Some scientists are speculating that the key to biological immortality is imminent. They expect that within a few decades, we will not only be able to halt aging, but potentially even be able to reverse it.
Modern civilization has only emerged over the last few thousand years. Our successes have been accompanied by risks. Our population growth has also damaged our environment, and our wondrous technology has also created terrible weapons. Cynics suggest that the very engine of our success will likely be humanity's doom.
The average life expectancy in developed countries is at best 80 years. Advances in technology may inhibit or even reverse aging, to open up the possibility of living extraordinarily long times. However, would this actually be a good thing for society, or even for the long-living individual?
Cryonic researchers speculate that scientific advances, particularly in nanotechnology, will make it possible to reanimate a cryonically suspended human being.
Brian Weatherson
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.
David Chalmers
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.
Daniel Dennett
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...
Nick Bostrom
...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.
Robin Hanson
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.
Robin Hanson
A thousand year lifespan would be fantastic, relative to our lifespan. I want it! But it is _nothing_ like immortality... Yes, keep trying to live if you love life, and rage, rage against the dying of the light. Do better; live longer. But why confuse everyone by talking as if you expect to achieve the literally _infinite_ success of “immortality”? It is fine to say “let’s extend lives as much as we can.” But must you really talk as if nothing less than _infinite_ success will do?
Steve Jobs
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.
Jason Pontin
In short, SENS is highly speculative. Many of its proposals have not been reproduced, nor could they be reproduced with today's scientific knowledge and technology. Echoing Myhrvold, we might charitably say that de Grey's proposals exist in a kind of antechamber of science, where they wait (possibly in vain) for independent verification. SENS does not compel the assent of many knowledgeable scientists; but neither is it demonstrably wrong.

New Comments

0 Points       Christopherion       15 Dec 2014     Is it plausible that we're living in a simulation? Mostly Agree
Can a Higgs Boson materialize? Let there be light, I always say. :)

0 Points       Christopherion       15 Dec 2014     Is it plausible that we're living in a simulation? 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       Nashhinton       20 Apr 2013     Is living forever or having a greatly extended lifespan desirable? Agree
Yes, it is desirable.

0 Points       MTC       23 Feb 2013     Is living forever or having a greatly extended lifespan desirable? Agree
The human lifespan as it currently is, is way too short, and that’s all that you really need to know to answer this question.

1 Point       Nick       29 Apr 2012     Is it plausible that we're living in a simulation? 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       W12       21 Mar 2012     Is it plausible that we're living in a simulation? Mostly Agree

0 Points       Christopher Maloney       24 Oct 2011     Is it plausible that we're living in a simulation? 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       Nashhinton       09 Oct 2011     Is humanity likely doomed to destroy itself? Mostly Agree
Benja, it's been proven by studies that optimistic people are more productive and are more likely to tackle problems with courage(1)(2). Pessimistic people are usually the kind of people who aren't willing to help humanity, because they sit around the house and sulk everyday while wasting their life away.

I strongly doubt that pessimists are aiding in progressing humanity further.

Being a realist/optimist is the best way of looking at the world-in my opinion.

1. M. Scheier, C. Carver, M. Bridges. "Optimism, Pessimism, and Psychological Well-Being." Optimism & Pessimism: Implications for Theory, Research, and Practice. Ed. E. Chang. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2001: 189-216.


0 Points       Benja       07 Oct 2011     Is humanity likely doomed to destroy itself? General Comment
You seem rather confident you're doing the right thing and others are to blame.

Why are less productive people driving us towards doom? For the last million years, humans haven't been particularly productive and we've survived. Yet now, when we've had unprecedented levels of productivity, even our short term future seems uncertain.

Why are less optimistic people driving us towards doom? Pessimistic people actually have the most accurate picture of reality. It is therefore the optimists if anyone who "hate wisdom", to use your own words. If the future is a minefield it's the optimists who confidently stride across it.

0 Points       Nashhinton       07 Oct 2011     Is humanity likely doomed to destroy itself? Mostly Agree
Well, I'm a very productive and optimistic person. I was referring to the majority of humanity in general.

0 Points       Benja       06 Oct 2011     Is humanity likely doomed to destroy itself? General Comment
"It is unquestionably likely that our civilization will end in disaster also because of our reluctance to change for the better."
Out of interest, when you say "our" reluctance, are you including yourself?

1 Point       Nashhinton       06 Oct 2011     Is humanity likely doomed to destroy itself? Mostly Agree
My hypothesis is that all extraterrestrial civilizations in our universe are prone to extinction due to their lack of progress and peace. Many galactic civilizations end in destruction because of their desire to promote unjust acts of destruction by technological means (terrorism) or by their personal desire to avoid cooperation and their hatred of wisdom. Because NASA hasn't yet confirmed the existence of highly advanced extraterrestrial civilizations (or type 1 or type 2 civilizations), it is likely that such civilizations are very rare in our universe because they have possibly annihilated themselves before they could even reach such magnificent points of progress. It is unquestionably likely that our civilization will end in disaster also because of our reluctance to change for the better.

Futurism Question Index

Is it plausible that we're living in a simulation?
Is living forever or having a greatly extended lifespan desirable?
Will science be able to halt aging within a few decades?
Is humanity likely doomed to destroy itself?
Is cryonic restoration technically feasible in the future?
Assuming it was technically possible, would a cryonically suspended person actually get reanimated?