# What do you all think about the likelihood of our reality being a simulated universe?

I was recalling a short story, "I don't know, Timmy, being God is a big responsibility", and wondered what ~ might think of the ideas the story raises.

1. [6]
jonluca
Thanks for the story, it was a very fun read. It brings to light important questions about reality and "truthiness" - my issue with these questions (and the ensuing logic) is that it almost always...

Thanks for the story, it was a very fun read.

It brings to light important questions about reality and "truthiness" - my issue with these questions (and the ensuing logic) is that it almost always becomes circular.

It's impossible to extricate correct logic from these circular arguments - the way we think, the way our modern scientific method works, is by building a pyramid of logic. We start with repeatable, atomic statements and build our conclusions up from there.

Every argument I've heard about simulated universe theory, however, will always come back to circular argument. There are heavy parallels to the arguments used in religion - it becomes almost tautological, i.e. `it's true because it's true`. Any basis or pyramid of logic you try to form can be struck down with the question of "What if...", as in "What if we're programmed to question our reality, or believe in the simulated universe theory", or "All it needs to happen is once, and the cascading effect of these simulated universes means that there is an infinite number (and that, statistically, we are one of the simulations)".

I haven't found a successful argument for simulated universe theory that doesn't lean on this line of thinking at least somewhat (although I'd love to hear one!).

I have a hunch that the answer is a lot more boring or simple than we imagine. Perhaps it simply isn't feasible to model such a large scale universe - the amount of information that needs to be stored to successfully model ourselves quite literally would not fit in our universe. There's some other form of limitations that prevents the model or simulation from happening, like the speed of light or the plank constant.

1. [3]
teaearlgraycold
If our universe is simulated then our parent universe could have different properties and laws of physics than our own. Our parent universe could be many orders of magnitude larger than our own,...

Perhaps it simply isn't feasible to model such a large scale universe - the amount of information that needs to be stored to successfully model ourselves quite literally would not fit in our universe.

If our universe is simulated then our parent universe could have different properties and laws of physics than our own. Our parent universe could be many orders of magnitude larger than our own, allowing for enough matter to exist for both the simulation and its containing universe.

We can already simulate simple universes. Take a look at cellular automata. Our universe may be to our parent universe what Conway's "Game of Life" is to our universe.

1. [2]
woop
(edited )
Isn't this just a form of circular reasoning though? That's a lot of "ifs!" I mean, I could have a miniature pink elephant in my desk drawer, but doesn't it make more sense that I don't? Still,...

Isn't this just a form of circular reasoning though? That's a lot of "ifs!" I mean, I could have a miniature pink elephant in my desk drawer, but doesn't it make more sense that I don't? Still, can't prove it either way! The inability to prove something doesn't mean that it cannot exist, but it doesn't mean that we need to outweigh all realms of probability. I know a lot of people tire easily from hearing about oft-quoted philosophical principles, but I would like to point out the principle of Occam's razor (in the event of two scenarios, the simpler scenario is usually "better").

Still, that brings the entire lack of knowledge about the potentially-simulated universe to the table. It's impossible to verify whether or not we are in a simulation, since there's no way to gain access to the "code" or whatever structure it's built on. So I contend that while it's far more likely that we're not in a simulated universe, the entire notion is irrelevant since there's no way to know.

1. teaearlgraycold
I don't think having dependencies on an idea makes something circular logic.

I don't think having dependencies on an idea makes something circular logic.

2. [2]
SleepyGary
(edited )
I think you mischaracterize the arguments, it's not it's true because it's true it's the closer we are to creating such a reality the more true it is likely we're in a simulated reality. If it's...

I think you mischaracterize the arguments, it's not `it's true because it's true` it's `the closer we are to creating such a reality the more true it is likely we're in a simulated reality`. If it's possible to simulate reality then the likelihood is that we're not the first to do it. But it's also likely that it's impossible to prove which is why it is considered a thought experiment and not actual proof.

Perhaps it simply isn't feasible to model such a large scale universe

Our observable universe is 46.5 billion light years in any direction, in a simulation this could very well be considered a 'render distance' setting. One of the most common ways of saving on computing is not rendering action outside a certain distance of the player's observable limits. Some estimates put the size of the universe at massively larger than what we can observe.

According to the theory of cosmic inflation initially introduced by its founder, Alan Guth (and by D. Kazanas [21]), if it is assumed that inflation began about 10−37 seconds after the Big Bang, then with the plausible assumption that the size of the universe before the inflation occurred was approximately equal to the speed of light times its age, that would suggest that at present the entire universe's size is at least 3×10^23 times the radius of the observable universe.

wikipedia

1. jonluca
Thanks for the reply. I still have a few issues with it, but it might just be due to my own understanding of the topic. I think the issue is perhaps that people are making the leap to simulated...

Thanks for the reply. I still have a few issues with it, but it might just be due to my own understanding of the topic.

I think the issue is perhaps that people are making the leap to simulated reality too fast - perhaps we'll be able to model the laws of physics and our universe, and set up constraints to make it easier, but it just feels like it's a shallow copy. I've done a lot of work in AI/ML in my life and it's a common theme I see - the grouping of our current capabilities meshing with the ideologies or misunderstandings of the far-fetched dreams. My intuition towards the subject is that there is a massive information cliff that will impede us from succeeding. It falls more along the lines of Occam's Razor.

Our computational power is increasing, yes. And if it's possible to simulate reality then absolutely, I'd hazard to guess that we wouldn't be the first. But it becomes a sort of chicken or the egg problem - if we aren't the first, then all our notions about reality fall through, and our most atomic basic truths could be invalidated. For instance, there's no guarantee our parent universes have the concept of limitations - in our world there is a maximum amount of information that can be stored, a maximal entropy. If that isn't true in parent worlds, a lot of our most simple and straightforward theories would fall apart.

Thanks for the reply! I'm not sure if I'm entirely convinced by my own line of thinking, but I'm just not satisfied with the way it's portrayed by Bostrom et. al.

2. [2]
geosmin
I guess this infamous Bostrom paper is relevant.

I guess this infamous Bostrom paper is relevant.

This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation.

1. DonQuixote
This becomes relevant in the story. The endless simulation the characters are in and their knowledge of it predicts a certain type of behavior (not turning off the simulation). In perhaps the same...

This becomes relevant in the story. The endless simulation the characters are in and their knowledge of it predicts a certain type of behavior (not turning off the simulation). In perhaps the same way, beings in a posthuman civilization, being aware of Bostrom's argument, would probably refrain from running simulations as their only chance of themselves not being discovered as being in a simulation.

Or they could yet be in a simulation, just one that was designed with posthuman beings that refrained from performing simulations.

So what would happen if posthumans designed simulations of both refraining and non-refraining post-humans? What is probability when spread over an infinite series? And is this the same argument for and against solipsism?

1 vote
3. [8]
CALICO
(edited )
This is a fun question, and I've been thinking about it a lot. I actually read that story, gosh, around a decade ago and it was nice to see it again. I think it's pretty easy to say whether it's...

This is a fun question, and I've been thinking about it a lot. I actually read that story, gosh, around a decade ago and it was nice to see it again. I think it's pretty easy to say whether it's likely or not, but we'll have to be daring and make some assumptions.

Let's say it's definitely possible to simulate a universe to start. At its most basic level (that we know of) things in our universe are pretty mathematical and predictable, so simulating a universe may just be a matter of know-how and having the flops to do it.
Let's say that life is somewhat common in the universe. It seems to be infinite, and at 13.7 billion years old that's enough space and time to do something rare a few times at least.
Let's also say that civilizations are capable of developing to the point where that much computing power is possible, before going extinct for any number of Great Filter reasons.
If those assumptions are true, and civilizations tend to be interested in running ancestor simulations, then there are more simulated universes than there is "real universe", and it's more likely we're in a simulated one through plain probability. The more simulated universes there are, the more likely it is that we're in one.

Of course, if our universe is simulated and it's possible for us to simulate a universe, then it could be that our universe was simulated from another simulated universe. It could be that this universe is one of many in a matryoshka nesting doll arrangement of simulated universes. There wouldn't necessarily be a way to tell if our universe was the really-real one, or an artificial one. And, any civilization would probably doubt their universe was the top-level one.

It's an interesting philosophical question. I'm not sure if it really matters in the end though. I can't speak for the rest of you (philosophical zombies are another fun idea) but I know that I'm having a conscious, subjective experience. So even if this is a simulated universe, does that necessarily mean it isn't real?

"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"

1. [7]
teaearlgraycold
(edited )
Not necessarily, but it would be interesting if there were some Easter Egg in the universe that would point strongly to an intelligent creator. On that topic, I feel like if you believe that it's...

There wouldn't necessarily be a way to tell if our universe was the really-real one, or an artificial one.

Not necessarily, but it would be interesting if there were some Easter Egg in the universe that would point strongly to an intelligent creator.

On that topic, I feel like if you believe that it's probable our universe is simulated then you must believe in a god of some sort. Maybe our god is just a random dude in a parent universe running a quick simulation, but if they made our universe they are necessarily our god.

1. [5]
CALICO
There's certainly the possibility for Easter Eggs, the one from Carl Sagan's Contact for example, would be compelling evidence for a Creator. Personally, I suppose I consider myself an atheist....

There's certainly the possibility for Easter Eggs, the one from Carl Sagan's Contact for example, would be compelling evidence for a Creator.
Personally, I suppose I consider myself an atheist. But the concept of God is abstract, and it could mean any number of things. I'm open the idea, but that raises the question of "where did God come from?". It's one of those strange loops we can't really wrap our minds around, not at this point anyway. I love thinking about this stuff.

1. [4]
teaearlgraycold
I've seen the '97 movie, which Wikipedia tells me is based on the book. I can't recall any Easter Egg in the film, though. What was it?

Carl Sagan's Contact

I've seen the '97 movie, which Wikipedia tells me is based on the book. I can't recall any Easter Egg in the film, though. What was it?

1. [3]
CALICO
The book is so much better, the climax isn't as lame as the movies, and things go on for much longer after the launch of the pod. At the end of the book, mouse-over for spoilers.

The book is so much better, the climax isn't as lame as the movies, and things go on for much longer after the launch of the pod. At the end of the book, mouse-over for spoilers.

1. [2]
AReluctantTilder
These do not work on iPhone X iOS 11.2

These do not work on iPhone X iOS 11.2

1 vote
1. starchturrets
Just like on reddit, spoilers are broken on ~

Just like on reddit, spoilers are broken on ~

1 vote
2. DonQuixote
If I was a post-human running simulations, I think I'd be likely to run at least a few simulations with easter eggs. Then there would be a likelihood of my own posthuman society becoming aware...

If I was a post-human running simulations, I think I'd be likely to run at least a few simulations with easter eggs. Then there would be a likelihood of my own posthuman society becoming aware that itself was a simulation. The next step would be to try to determine from the easter eggs whether my simulator/creators were themselves the type of posthuman that would run infinite simulations.

4. [15]
Pointless. I hate these kinds of ideas. They're grounded in nothing and utterly inconsequential. If this is not real, or if it's all a dream, or no one exists except in my mind, blah blah what...

Pointless. I hate these kinds of ideas. They're grounded in nothing and utterly inconsequential. If this is not real, or if it's all a dream, or no one exists except in my mind, blah blah what have you, it changes nothing for our lives.

This is why the American pragmatist philosophers really spoke to me. I strongly recommend reading William James.

1. [4]
silva-rerum
Would you have said the same thing to the scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers who advanced seemingly magical and inconsequential fields like quantum mechanics during human eras when those...

Would you have said the same thing to the scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers who advanced seemingly magical and inconsequential fields like quantum mechanics during human eras when those advancements were likened more to magic or fantasy than to testable reality?

1. [3]
(edited )
dont conflate this drivel with quantum theory. this is just artistoelian teleology rehashed into 21st century style. and you can see from some of the comments here that it is a damaging,...

dont conflate this drivel with quantum theory. this is just artistoelian teleology rehashed into 21st century style. and you can see from some of the comments here that it is a damaging, fatalistic mentality. it is nothing but religiosity under a different guise.

1. [2]
silva-rerum
I can imagine a dystopian version of the future a few centuries from now where some of the types of people who are taken in by those Aristotelian teleological rehashes about simulation become the...

you can see from some of the comments here that it is a damaging, fatalistic mentality. it is nothing butreligiousity under a different guise

I can imagine a dystopian version of the future a few centuries from now where some of the types of people who are taken in by those Aristotelian teleological rehashes about simulation become the ones who are so far up virtual reality’s ass that they forget what the value of this reality even is.

To that end, discussions like this are still worth having for me if it means potentially anticipating the evolution of humanity’s downfalls.

1 vote
I suppose that's a good point. I can't really have it both ways, and say this discussion is both pointless and harmful, can I? I wound say, however, that it is pointless at best and toxic at...

I suppose that's a good point. I can't really have it both ways, and say this discussion is both pointless and harmful, can I?

I wound say, however, that it is pointless at best and toxic at worst, at least when an admonitory voice is absent.

2. [5]
chocolate
When we have evidence one way or another, I might care. Until then, I'll maintain my atheism.

When we have evidence one way or another, I might care. Until then, I'll maintain my atheism.

1 vote
1. [4]
What does theism have to do with any of this? Do you mean you'll remain agnostic toward different conceptions of reality?

What does theism have to do with any of this? Do you mean you'll remain agnostic toward different conceptions of reality?

1. [2]
acosmichippo
Simulation theory is just rebranded Deism. The "simulator" is effectively no different from god.

Simulation theory is just rebranded Deism. The "simulator" is effectively no different from god.

1. Neverland
I agree, and that connection never occurred to me until I was responding to this post in my own comment.

The "simulator" is effectively no different from god.

I agree, and that connection never occurred to me until I was responding to this post in my own comment.

1 vote
2. chocolate
'It may be true but without evidence I'm not going to worry.'

'It may be true but without evidence I'm not going to worry.'

1 vote
3. JDeves
I feel like that is a bit harsh. Whats wrong with wanting to wonder/philosophize/discuss an unknowable thing? I absolutely agree with you that when you get down to it, it's not relevant whether we...

I feel like that is a bit harsh. Whats wrong with wanting to wonder/philosophize/discuss an unknowable thing? I absolutely agree with you that when you get down to it, it's not relevant whether we are in a simulation, dream, or whatever because this is the only reality we have so we might as well make the best of it. But it can still be fun and interesting to think about.

1 vote
4. [4]
DonQuixote
Yes, but we may just be in a simulation where you are programmed to be that way. In which case, I envy you, because I'm obviously not programmed that way. IIRC, the term for your view is naive...

Yes, but we may just be in a simulation where you are programmed to be that way. In which case, I envy you, because I'm obviously not programmed that way. IIRC, the term for your view is naive realism. What you see is what you get.

1. [3]
I'm guessing that's not an intentionally backhanded statement, but it comes across as ome. I'm guessing you like it because it implies that your idea is some deeper, more complex, or more...

I'm guessing that's not an intentionally backhanded statement, but it comes across as ome. I'm guessing you like it because it implies that your idea is some deeper, more complex, or more awakened. It isn't. I made no conjectures about how the world really is. I simply pointed out that your idea is based on absolutely nothing and has no more merit than saying the world is really made up entirely of tiny sausages.

1 vote
1. [2]
DonQuixote
I didn't mean to be off-putting and apologize. My comment was more on myself, because I just tend to endlessly question these things. And that's just a personality quirk I can't seem to escape....

I didn't mean to be off-putting and apologize. My comment was more on myself, because I just tend to endlessly question these things. And that's just a personality quirk I can't seem to escape. Whether you consider your own view akin to Naive Realism, I often wish I was a Naive Realist in the sense of a theory of mind. From Wikipedia:

In philosophy of mind, naïve realism, also known as direct realism or common sense realism, is the idea that the senses provide us with direct awareness of objects as they really are. Objects obey the laws of physics and retain all their properties whether or not there is anyone to observe them.[1] They are composed of matter, occupy space and have properties, such as size, shape, texture, smell, taste and colour, that are usually perceived correctly.

My personal problem is related to the complications that Quantum Physics brings into this view. I was unfamiliar with James and what little I just read makes me feel that his views are more complex than Naive Realism.

Again, I apologize if I've offended you.

1 vote
Don't worry. I think the recent ban has people a little more tense than they should be. It's the same reason I don't like posting on r/wholesomememes. But I guess it's much better than the...

Don't worry. I think the recent ban has people a little more tense than they should be. It's the same reason I don't like posting on r/wholesomememes. But I guess it's much better than the alternatives.

James really is a beautiful and fascinating thinker. All the pragmatists are. I chose to name him because he's most accessible, I think.

Charles Sanders Pierce (that's a fun name isnt it? pronounced purse) was the father of pragmatism, and Dewey/James followed. Pierce focused on the physical properties of things. One thing he wrote that really stuck with me was his conception of thirdness. Firstness was raw perception. Secondness was mental representation. Thirdness was signs. That is to say, the communication between entities, whether it be as grand as language, or as simple as the rustling of leaves signifying to an ant that it's about to fall. Thirdness was a real, worldly thing that actually exists, and yet it depends on relations and interpretations to comprehend. Relationships that solipstic ideas like the OP seek to deny.

I think that's why I get so frustrated with ideas like this post. It feels like it reduces all of the complexities of existence down to, "What if we're all, like, a computer program maaaan? Whoa..." It just doesn't do our real reality justice, with all the horrors and glory of our shared fate.

1 vote
5. silva-rerum
I love that short story! The most interesting and lasting takeaway I got from it was the idea of infinity having a top-level or an origin, which I hadn't thought about before. Another thing that...

I love that short story! The most interesting and lasting takeaway I got from it was the idea of infinity having a top-level or an origin, which I hadn't thought about before.

Another thing that intrigued me so much about that idea was the reality divergence that occurs the further away from that top-level your simulated reality gets – the inhabitants of that reality would be normalized to their relatively weird/divergent conditions. It reminds me of the how Stephen Baxter plays with the fundamental laws of nature in the universe in his book "Raft." The characters in that book have the benefit of distantly remembering that their stranded ancestors came from a universe with laws of nature amenable to the human condition.

6. WalrusTooth
It’s not an entirely pointless excercise. Because if we are in a simulated universe we can potentially exploit the system to become gods within it. That is to say, we could get admin privileges....

It’s not an entirely pointless excercise. Because if we are in a simulated universe we can potentially exploit the system to become gods within it. That is to say, we could get admin privileges.

Short of that, which is a practical effect rather than a philosophical one, I’m not sure it’s really relevant.

It certainly won’t effect the way I live my life, and isn’t nearly as large a paradigm shift (to me at least) as the fact that consciousness is very likely an emergent phenomenon, one that isn’t discrete. Thomas Metzinger’s being no one is good for bursting that bubble.

7. [2]
Gyrfalcon
On one hand, it is fun to look at the things that point to our universe being simplified, like a maximum speed in the form of a speed of light, or a minimum temperature in the form of absolute 0....

On one hand, it is fun to look at the things that point to our universe being simplified, like a maximum speed in the form of a speed of light, or a minimum temperature in the form of absolute 0.

On the other hand, I feel like some of the interest in the debate is lost on me. I can't really think of a way that I would try to live my life differently if I were to know with certainty that the universe is a simulation. It's a nice thing to think about, but very little impact whatever the conclusion is.

1. teaearlgraycold
If our universe is simulated it could give us hope for running our own simulations of other universes. We could also try to communicate with the entity simulating our universe.

If our universe is simulated it could give us hope for running our own simulations of other universes. We could also try to communicate with the entity simulating our universe.

8. [3]
Comment deleted by author
1. SaucedButLeaking
I really like that. Would irrational numbers, then, be a loop with an unachievable exit clause?

I really like that. Would irrational numbers, then, be a loop with an unachievable exit clause?

but it isn't rounding. its a failure of our numerical system to capture the infinite. the difference between 0.99 repeating and 1 is so infinitesimal that it literally doesn't exist. this is the...

but it isn't rounding. its a failure of our numerical system to capture the infinite. the difference between 0.99 repeating and 1 is so infinitesimal that it literally doesn't exist.

this is the same as how atoms dont really intersect but we still consider things to be "touching". except 0.99 repeating and 1 are, by definition, even closer than that.

9. [4]
Neverland
That was a really fun read, thanks. For me personally, I file talk of our universe being simulated in the same mental filing cabinet as I do talk of the existence of god. I am agnostic¹ on both...

That was a really fun read, thanks.

For me personally, I file talk of our universe being simulated in the same mental filing cabinet as I do talk of the existence of god.

I am agnostic¹ on both issues. While I respect people's interest and beliefs in both areas, I personally don't find any value in pursuing either concept in any serious manner. First, I believe it is unknowable. Second, what could or would we do differently based on finding the theory of god or simulation to be true? It seems to me that in both cases, giving either concept some credence could lead to bad behavior on one's part. i.e. There is an afterlife and the Catholic god will forgive me if I confess and repent, so what does it matter how good I am in this life! Or, what does it matter what I do, we all live in a simulation! So personally, I find little value, and some danger.

All that said, I love sci-fi and thought experiments. So reading a short story on the topic is very enjoyable. However, if I read an entire novel on the topic and the twist at the end was that it was a simulated universe, I would feel as cheated as someone that just watched the final episode of Lost.

edit: Maybe I am missing something of value, and being a bit too grumpy. Would love to know if anyone thinks that's the case.

¹ Agnosticism is the view that the existence of God, of the divine or the supernatural is unknown or unknowable.
Emphasis mine.

1. [3]
DonQuixote
It would seem that agnosticism, at least the absolutist unknowable version, is self-fulfilling prophecy. Regardless I find it very interesting that many proponents of a non-created (or for that...

It would seem that agnosticism, at least the absolutist unknowable version, is self-fulfilling prophecy. Regardless I find it very interesting that many proponents of a non-created (or for that matter, non-simulated) universe, (Max Tegmark comes to mind) are going through convolutions to determine why our exceedingly improbable presence in a random universe is an actual fact.

1 vote
1. [2]
Neverland
I don’t understand the complexity of that issue. Let’s say there are, or have been, billions of universes. Wouldn’t we of course exist in the universe that could support us? Even if there was only...

our exceedingly improbable presence in a random universe is an actual fact.

I don’t understand the complexity of that issue. Let’s say there are, or have been, billions of universes. Wouldn’t we of course exist in the universe that could support us?

Even if there was only one universe ever, without the specific conditions that led to the physics that allowed stars to form, and life to rise, we would not be around to pose the question. Of course we exist in the unlikely universe.

There are many people smarter than I who take this question seriously, so I must be missing something.

1. DonQuixote
Yes, I think your view is perfectly logical, except it could be just as likely that we are in one of the worlds that was indeed created, through simulation or other means. The many worlds approach...

Yes, I think your view is perfectly logical, except it could be just as likely that we are in one of the worlds that was indeed created, through simulation or other means. The many worlds approach would allow an infinite number of unlikely possibilities.

I guess my point is that the appeal of a being in a random universe among many works both ways. The idea of our being here by chance isn't any more or less likely than the idea of our being put here intentionally, by something higher on the evolutional tree. Simulation is just a current scientific way of saying "creation."

1 vote
10. NubWizard
If our universe is a simulation, I wonder what it would take to get the system to glitch out or hack the system. Something like cheat codes or what speed runners do. It also makes me wonder what...

If our universe is a simulation, I wonder what it would take to get the system to glitch out or hack the system. Something like cheat codes or what speed runners do. It also makes me wonder what the data to run this simulation looks like.

1 vote
11. [2]
flowersforchance
I find the theory interesting, and plausible to some extent. If the universe is a simulation, I'd imagine it being an ancestral simulation. Although, that begs the questions - Does the simulation...

I find the theory interesting, and plausible to some extent. If the universe is a simulation, I'd imagine it being an ancestral simulation. Although, that begs the questions - Does the simulation end when we achieve the technology to make ancestral simulations? Or is it a rabbit hole?

1 vote
1. silva-rerum