What do you think about the simulation theory?

The simulation theory is the idea that we’re living in a simulation like a computer game. The argument goes like this

  1. One day scientists will invent a computer that’s so powerful that it’ll be able to build a perfect simulation of the world and fill it with perfectly realistic people like the Sims only a billion times better.

  2. If this ever happens then the scientists will build more than one and they’ll probably run lots of these perfect simulation.

  3. Let’s assume all that happens. What’s more likely that we’re living in the one true reality or that we’re just characters living in one of the millions of simulations? Obviously its more likely were living in one of the simulations.

I think it’s likely that we’re in a simulation because technology is growing so fast that there is no reason not to think scientists will invent this super powerful computer one day. In less than 80 years computers have gone from Alan Turing’s colossos which could do about 5000 operations a second to the Japanese Fugaku super computer which can do 415 petaflops per second (that’s 4 quintillion, 150 quadrillion - or 4,150,000,000,000,000,000 - operations per second!). And that took just 80 years!

Also computer power growth is exponential which means most of that growth happened in the last few years and the next few years progress will be even faster. Given all that, there’s no way we can predict what kind of computers will have in say 500 years. For all we know people in the future might be able to run simulations with an app on their phones. It sounds crazy, but if we went back to 1940 and told someone that in 2020 we’d be watching movies on our phones that would’ve sounded crazy too.

So that’s why I think we’re probably living in a simulation. If that’s true, does it matter what we do? If I know I can steal from you without getting caught, why shouldn’t I do it? You’re not real I’m not real and the moneys not real so what does it matter? If this belief became widespread do you think it would have bad consequences for society?

Is there any possible way this “theory” can be disproved?

On what basis do you conclude that the actions you described have no consequences?

Why would morality hinge on whether we’re made of bits or atoms?

I agree with @Czarcasm. The “theory” appears to be without substance. There’s no way to prove or disprove it, and no obvious reason it should or would have any impact if we could.

The biggest problem with the simulation theory is the third premise.

Sean Carroll correctly points out that it results in a contradiction: “If a civilization is capable of performing simulations, then it will likely perform many simulations, which implies that we are most likely at the lowest level of simulation (from which point one’s impression will be that it is impossible to perform a simulation), which contradicts the arguer’s assumption that it is easy for us to foresee that advanced civilizations can most likely perform simulations.”

Additionally, there is no logical argument by which to assume that computing power will be sufficient to produce a high-fidelity simulation of the universe. The appeal that there has been a large improvement in computing power therefore there will always be an improvement in computing power until high-fidelity simulations are possible is not logically valid. Especially, given that some theoretical upper bounds on computing power have been calculated.

Of course, if we are in a simulation, then those upper bounds are not valid since they’re being computed inside of the simulation. However, in that case, the observation that there has been a large increase in computing power is equally invalid. The simulation hypothesis is self-defeating.

I find the logic of the argument pretty compelling and sound, but intuitively it’s pretty hard to buy into.

I don’t think it has any practical relevance though. If you believe in God, you might be offended by the idea of replacing him with an infinite hierarchy of simulation-runners. For me it only proposes to replace one uncommunicative and undetectable entity with a similar uncommunicative and undetectable entity.

In other words, whether it’s a simulation or not, we still live under the same rules. At least I do.

In the interest of not fighting the hypothetical, even though I think the hypothetical is not logically valid.

If this were a simulation, then it changes nothing. Either I have free will and it is a non-deterministic simulation, in which case what I do matters, and everything that seems real to me seem as real to everyone else, so I should choose benevolently. Or I have no free will and it is a deterministic simulation, in which case I’m going to end up doing what I’m programmed to do, and hopefully I’ve been programmed to be a decent person.

If we are not in a simulation, and you can steal from me without being caught, then the only reason not to is your own personal morality. Can you explain why, if we were to establish that this is not a simulation, you would refrain from theft?

If we are in a simulation, then you may not be caught by us, but someone may be keeping score.

What if the point of the simulation is to develop AIs that can be trusted, and those that cannot will be discarded?

In the case that the universe is simulated, we still don’t know if we are players, NPC’s, or test subjects.

What do you think about the simulation theory?

It’s ridiculous.

Trying to break the universe with a nested infinite recursion?

I don’t understand how whether we’re in a simulation or not has anything to do with morality. Can the OP flesh that out some more? Assuming you’re a sentient being, either in a simulation or not, you’ll still feel regret and guilt (I hope!).

As to whether we’re in a simulation, it seems like an unanswerable question to me. Arguing about it based on our technology makes zero sense, though – if this were a simulation, we have no idea what kind of technology, nor what kind of universe, the simulators live in.

Finally, these questions about being in a simulation always seem to assume that we’re the reason for the simulation. It’s a big universe – much bigger than necessary to simulate Earth. Why would the simulators care about some slightly more organized miniscule part of the universe? I think of it this way – imagine Conway’s Game of Life being played on a matrix that was the size of the universe. Do you think you’d notice some tiny piece of it doing something maybe slightly interesting?

If this is all a simulation, then any speculation is pre-programmed and cannot produce reliable results.
It is reciting “This is scripted!” from the script itself.

Things don’t need to be pre-programmed into a simulation, we could still have as much free will as a person would normally have.

On topic: One thing I rarely see considered, is that there is no reason our simulation would have to mimic the laws of the base universe. The base reality could be anything with any laws of physics and our simulation might just be to see what could happen in some weird oddball universe with crazy rules. “These beings only have 4 dimensional spacetime, LOL.”

A perfect simulation of the world would have to also include the computer that is simulating the world, which means that the computer has to be more capable than itself. That seems like a basic contradiction. More generally, the claim that the computing power available to people will always increase forever and without limit to the point that it is capable of holding more bits of data than there are atoms in the universe seems a bit suspect. The fact that computing power by some measures is on an exponential curve now doesn’t mean that it can continue to do so forever, and basic issues like entropy and conservation of mass-energy speak against it.

I’ve never really heard how the ‘we must be in a simulation’ argument gets around this issue, actually simulating the entire universe from within the universe doesn’t appear to be possible at a logical level, not just a practical level.

I disregard any argument that leads inevitably to a conclusion that has to be false. There has to be someone living in the real world, but they could also apply this argument and conclude that they too must be in a simulation.

That only sounds crazy because using a ‘phone’ to watch a movie doesn’t make any sense linguistically to someone who’s not familiar with the evolution of cell phones to smartphones. The idea of making a TV small and portable wasn’t obscure, nor were things like video phones (1927’s movie Metropolis had desktop-sized one) or portable communicators. The first fictional reference to a handheld device with a tablet-sized screen playing transmitting video both for remote viewing and communication was the Cinematophote or Blue Optic Plate in the 1909 short story “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster “But it was fully fifteen seconds before the round plate that she held in her hands began to glow. A faint blue light shot across it, darkening to purple, and presently she could see the image of her son, who lived on the other side of the earth, and he could see her.” “Those who still wanted to know what the earth was like had after all only to listen to some gramophone, or to look into some cinematophote.” So it certainly wasn’t a completely foreign idea 3-4 decades later.

That doesn’t stop our universe from being a simulation. All it says is that a simulation has to be simpler than the thing simulating it – we have zero idea what the “real” universe would be like, if we were in a simulation. I agree, however, that it’s impossible for anyone to build a simulation of their own universe.

Have you ever, like, really looked at your hand?

Yes there is. But I have a solution. The computers only have to be sufficiently powerful to simulate me, everything else can be sketched in when I pay attention to it. It also doesn’t have to run fast. There is no way for me, inside the simulation, to know, or experience the time between ticks of the computer clock. It just has to be massively complex.

Thanks for that, Pinto.

The specific argument that I was responding to and quoted in my post explicitly and clearly stated that scientists would invent a computer so powerful that it could build a perfect simulation of ‘the world’. That is a case of someone attempting to build a simulation of their own universe, unless they’re using ‘the world’ to mean something very unusual.

The simulation doesn’t need to model ever particle in the universe. It needs to (if you’re assuming it’s a general ancestor simulation) model every particle in all sentient brains. The rest can be spontaneously generated as needed. Like the moon was roughed out until Humans approached it.