Our brain works in a very interesting way, it stimulates specific areas of itself by using electric impulses, exactly like a computer does. It doesn’t have a central point orchestrating everything, instead, it has many different ‘processors’ sending messages across different areas of the organ, using long and short memories to store and access information. Computers communicate in a language called binary, which is also basically electric impulses It’s the simplest language ever created, composed only by two words: 0 or 1. A sequence of 0 and 1’s is how a computer talks to itself. If you click a button in your computer for example, a space in memory containing a list of commands will be triggered, each command will send a different binary sequence to different regions of the memory and controllers. This is a very high level of how it works and it’s impressively similar to our brain. I would say, a computer is an abstraction of the human brain, a dumb version though.
Our brain also has its automated algorithms, it never stops, it’s always processing information after information, producing conclusions, orchestrating vital parts of our body. Imagine you had hurt your thumb when working with the hammer the day before, when you go to sleep your brain will be awake replacing the damaged cells with new ones, will also be sending white blood cells to the area and make sure an infection is not started.
In the other side of the coin, it also works by stimulation, when you see that girl or boy you have a crush on, many parts of your brain receive impulses. Some will make you sweat a bit, some will make your heartbeat goes up, others will make your voice to tremble. We are conditioned to react to sensory stimuli. No one would be sane living in a dark room, some exceptional cases would, but that’s not what we call a life.
We need communication to survive, we need interaction with the world, we need to see things, hear things, touch things. But what if we can simulate an stimuli? What if a given person could live in a virtual world, a perfect world where they can be whoever they want?
That’s what some scientists believe, many works of science fiction as well as some forecasts by serious technologists and futurologists predict that enormous amounts of computing power will be available in the future. Let us suppose for a moment that these predictions are correct, one thing that later generations might do with their super-powerful computers is run detailed simulations. Suppose that these simulated people are conscious, as they would be if the simulations were sufficiently fine-grained. Then it could be the case that the vast majority of minds like ours do not belong to the original race but rather to people simulated by the advanced descendants of an original race. It is then possible to argue that, if this were the case, we would be rational to think that we are likely among the simulated minds rather than among the original biological ones.
The simulation hypothesis proposes that reality is in fact a simulation, most likely a computer simulation, reproducing the behaviour of a system using a mathematical model. Simulated reality is the hypothesis that reality could be simulated to a degree indistinguishable from true reality. It could contain conscious minds which may or may not be fully aware that they are living inside a simulation. This is quite different from the current, technologically achievable concept of virtual reality. Virtual reality is easily distinguished from the experience of actuality. Participants are never in doubt about the nature of what they experience. Simulated reality, by contrast, would be hard or impossible to separate from true reality.
A dream could be considered a type of simulation capable of fooling someone who is asleep. One of the first philosophers to question the distinction between reality and dreams was Zhuangzi, a Chinese philosopher from the 4th century BC. He phrased the problem as the well-known “Butterfly Dream”, as follows:
Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn’t know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things. (2, tr. Burton Watson 1968:49)
In the fantastic movie “The Truman Show”, the main character doesn’t know, but everything in Truman’s life is part of a massive TV set. A producer orchestrates “The Truman Show,” a live broadcast of Truman’s every move captured by hidden cameras. As Truman gradually discovers the truth, however, he must decide whether to act on it.
Parallels can be drawn from Thomas More’s 1516 book Utopia, in which More describes an island with only one entrance and only one exit. Only those who belonged to this island knew how to navigate their way through the treacherous openings safely and unharmed. This situation is similar to The Truman Show because there are limited entryways into the world that Truman knows. Truman does not belong to this utopia into which he has been implanted, and childhood trauma rendered him frightened of the prospect of ever leaving this small community. Utopian models of the past tended to be full of like-minded individuals who shared much in common, comparable to More’s Utopia and real-life groups such as the Shakers and the Oneida Community. It is clear that the people in Truman’s world are like-minded in their common effort to keep him oblivious to reality. The suburban “picket fence” appearance of the show’s set is reminiscent of the “American Dream” of the 1950s. The “American Dream” concept in Truman’s world serves as an attempt to keep him happy and ignorant.
We can make some effort and try to find evidences that we do live in a simulation run by superior beings outside this universe. First of all, a simulation has limitations, on Truman’s world he couldn’t travel further than a specific distance in the sea, otherwise he would hit the wall on the edge of the world created for his show. In the movie Matrix, it gets a bit harder to identify if you are in a simulation, how would a person know they are in a simulated world? Our universe has also bounderies, after the Big Bang the universe is expanding at an accelerated rate, at a speed that is faster than the speed of light if you compare opposite edges. No one knows what is in the outside and we will probably need millions of millions of years to get to a stage of evolution to be able to try to figure out.
The speed of light is a very good example though. Not taking faster-than-light theories into consideration, nothing can go faster than light, and if it could it would require an infinite amount of energy, what would even affect the pace time flows comparing two points in space-time. Why is the speed of light the maximum speed? Is it the maximum value of a variable in the algorithm written to rule our universe physics?
Some physicists have devised a new experiment to test if the universe is a computer. A philosophical thought experiment has long held that it is more likely than not that we’re living inside a machine. The theory basically goes that any civilisation which could evolve to a ‘post-human’ stage would almost certainly learn to run simulations on the scale of a universe. And that given the size of reality – billions of worlds, around billions of suns – it is fairly likely that if this is possible, it has already happened.
And if it has? Well, then the statistical likelihood is that we’re located somewhere in that chain of simulations within simulations. The alternative – that we’re the first civilisation, in the first universe – is virtually (no pun intended) absurd.
Professor Martin Savage at the University of Washington says while our own computer simulations can only model a universe on the scale of an atom’s nucleus, there are already “signatures of resource constraints” which could tell us if larger models are possible.
This is where it gets complex.
Essentially, Savage said that computers used to build simulations perform “lattice quantum chromodynamics calculations” – dividing space into a four-dimensional grid. Doing so allows researchers to examine the force which binds subatomic particles together into neutrons and protons – but it also allows things to happen in the simulation, including the development of complex physical “signatures”, that researchers don’t program directly into the computer. In looking for these signatures, such as limitations on the energy held by cosmic rays, they hope to find similarities within our own universe. And if such signatures do appear in both? Wow, we’re inside a computer. (Maybe).
“If you make the simulations big enough, something like our universe should emerge”
My personal theory is that given a civilisation, it tends to evolve digitally over time, and once it happens, simulations and virtual worlds and environments take over the real world. It’s like saying that once Truman gets to mature stage of his life, he would be so happy with his own world that he would never have to travel to outside the boundaries of it. Because everything he needs or wants is digitally created for him. Even further in the future, his grand-grand-kids would be all living digital worlds created by the antecessors. Their brains would be stimulated by anything they wanted. New forms of society, work, life, philosophy would be naturally created.
Would you swap your real life to a digital one where you could be always happy?
Maybe that’s why we never met any alien form of life, as once any given alien society evolve to a specific point, they tend to live in a digital world, which is already happening to us to be fair: we live more online in the internet than in actual life.
But wait, what’s actual life?