What Is Simulation Theory? Are We Living in a Computer Simulation? (2022)

What is reality?

Countless brainiacs and psychedelia enthusiasts have pondered that question for centuries, formulating theories that run the gamut from scientific to mystical.

From a purely empirical standpoint, the answer seems obvious. Reality is anything we can perceive using one or more of the five senses: taste, smell, touch, hearing and sight. But some outside-the-box thinkers, including philosophers and physicists, contend that’s not necessarily the case. It is possible, they theorize, that reality is merely an ultra-high-tech computer simulation in which we sim-live, sim-work, sim-laugh and sim-love.

Do We Live in a Simulation?

Simulation theory posits the universe as we know it is an advanced digital construct overseen by some higher form of intelligence. This concept has been debated since the Enlightenment, but there is no definitive answer.

From the time it entered popular consciousness, many have noted that simulation theory is essentially a modern offshoot of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” story from the Ancient Greek philosopher’s book The Republic, and René Descartes’s evil demon hypothesis from the French philosopher and scientist’s First Meditation. Both contain ruminations on perception and the nature of being — subjects that continue to puzzle and provoke.

What Is Simulation Theory?

So, what does all of this mean? If we take the red pill and step through the looking glass, simulation theory posits that we are all likely living in an extremely powerful computer program. (Think The Matrix.)

It sounds far-fetched, but Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom showed in 2003 that it’s more probable than one might think. In his seminal paper titled “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” Bostrom explained that future generations might have mega-computers that can run numerous and detailed simulations of their forebears, in other words “ancestor simulations,” in which simulated beings are imbued with a sort of artificial consciousness. And the odds are, we are products of that simulation.

“Then it could be the case,” he explained, “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.”

Other philosophers have expanded on Bostrom’s argument.

New York University philosophy professor David Chalmers described the higher being responsible for this potential hyper-realistic simulation as a “programmer in the next universe up,” perhaps one we mortals might consider a god of some sort — though not necessarily in the traditional sense.

“[They] may just be a teenager,” Chalmers said, “hacking on a computer and running five universes in the background … But it might be someone who is nonetheless omniscient, all-knowing and all-powerful about our world.”

(Video) Are we living in a simulation? - Zohreh Davoudi

Brain spinning yet? Get used to it.

The theory also builds on the argument philosophers have been having for centuries, which is that we can never know if what we’re seeing is “real.”

“Simply because we perceive the world as ‘real’ and ‘material’ doesn’t mean that it is so,” said Rizwan Virk, a tech entrepreneur and author of The Simulation Hypothesis. “In fact, the findings of quantum physics may shed some doubt on the fact that the material universe is real. The more that scientists look for the ‘material’ in the material world, the more they find that it doesn’t exist.”

“The findings of quantum physics may shed some doubt on the fact that the material universe is real.”

Virk mentioned the renowned physicist John Wheeler, who worked with Albert Einstein decades ago. In his lifetime, Wheeler said, physics had evolved from the premise that “everything is a particle” to “everything is information.” He also coined a phrase that’s well known in scientific circles: “It from bit,” meaning everything is based on information. Even the definition of a particle in physics is “kind of fuzzy,” Virk added, “and may in fact just be a qubit — a quantum computing bit.”

Even more mind-meltingly, theoretical physicist David Bohm once posed this tortuous notion: “Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe. What we believe is based upon our perceptions. What we perceive depends on what we look for. What we look for depends on what we think. What we think depends on what we perceive. What we perceive determines what we believe. What we believe determines what we take to be true. What we take to be true is our reality.”

And what we take to be true, more than a few folks believe — among them tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, who famously said the odds that we’re not living in a simulation are “one in billions” — might now or at least someday be merely the effect of simulated brains and nervous systems processing a simulated world.

To Musk’s unique way of thinking, the strongest argument for our probably being in a simulation is that, as he put it in 2016, “Forty years ago, we had Pong, two rectangles and a dot … That is what games were. Now, 40 years later, we have photorealistic 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously, and it’s getting better every year. And soon we’ll have virtual reality, augmented reality. If you assume any rate of improvement at all, the games will become indistinguishable from reality.”

Read MoreQuantum Computing Movies: How Realistic Are They?

How Would Simulated Reality Work?

What AI is to dystopian blockbuster The Terminator, simulation theory is to the Wachowski siblings’ sci-fi thriller The Matrix, which depicts a post-apocalyptic world in which a race of machines have captured most of humanity and imprisoned their minds within an artificial reality known as “the Matrix” in order to harvest humans’ body heat and electrochemical energy.

In the film, humans going about their everyday lives didn’t realize they were actually living in a simulation because a cable plugged into their neocortices (where stuff like spatial reasoning and sensory perception occur) beamed signals into their brains and read their reactions.

One way to achieve that (or something like it) in the real world, Virk said, would be to gain a greater understanding of human consciousness and how it works so we can produce “conscious AI.” The far less technical alternative, he said, is “tricking our consciousness into thinking that we are in reality when we are in a video game” in which non-player characters exhibit intelligent human-like behavior that passes the Turing Test.

(Video) SIMULATION THEORY (Documentary) - Is Reality Simulated?

“This,” he concluded somewhat ominously, “is coming.” In fact, quantum computing may play a major role in advancing in-game AI.

In Bostrom’s 2003 paper, the philosopher argued that if humans are able to survive thousands of years to reach a “posthuman state” — one in which we have “acquired most of the technological capabilities” consistent with physical laws and material and energy constraints — it’s likely they would have the capabilities to run ancestral simulations.

That type of “posthuman simulator,” Bostrom also wrote, would need sufficient computing power to keep track of “the detailed believe-states in all human brains at all times.”

Why? Because it would essentially need to sense observations (of birds, cars and so on) before they happened and provide simulated detail of whatever was about to be observed. In the event of a simulation breakdown, the director — whether teenager or giant-headed alien — could simply “edit the states of any brains that have become aware of an anomaly before it spoils the simulation. Alternatively, the director could skip back a few seconds and rerun the simulation in a way that avoids the problem.”

We’re (likely) not there yet, but Virk thinks we will be at some point. There are 10 checkpoints on the road to full-blown simulation, he said, and we’re nearly halfway to our destination.

But there are also major barriers ahead, he added, namely what are called brain computer interfaces. This involves technology that can communicate and be controlled directly through brain waves, according to a report from the nonprofit policy think tank RAND Corporation.

For now, however, those don’t yet exist.

More on HardwareWill Exascale Computing Change Everything? Top Experts Weigh In.

Do We Live in a Simulation?

Calling simulation theory “a bit flaky, but a fascinating idea,” astronomer Martin Rees nonetheless remained curious about the idea in an interview with Space.com. “The real question,” he said, “is what are the limits of computing powers.” Or are there limits? Judging by the types of real-world simulations scientists can now run on supercomputers, what might they be able to run in the coming decades or centuries as processing power achieves levels we currently can’t fathom?

Cosmologist Paul Davies has over the years shared many deep thoughts on this complex topic. He has spoken so much on the subject that he preferred to let his past ruminations do the talking. Even as far back as 2003, in a story for The Guardian, Davies was posing brain-boggling simulation scenarios. Here’s part of what he wrote:

Mathematicians have proved that a universal computing machine can create an artificial world that is itself capable of simulating its own world, and so on ad infinitum. In other words, simulations nest inside simulations inside simulations ... Because fake worlds can outnumber real ones without restriction, the “real” multiverse would inevitably spawn a vastly greater number of virtual multiverses. Indeed, there would be a limitless tower of virtual multiverses, leaving the “real” one swamped in a sea of fakes.

So the bottom line is this: Once we go far enough down the multiverse route, all bets are off. Reality goes into the melting pot, and there is no reason to believe we are living in anything but a Matrix-style simulation. Science is then reduced to a charade, because the simulators of our world — whoever or whatever they are — can create any pseudo-laws they please, and keep changing them.

Preston Greene, a philosophy professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said he thinks we could be living in a simulation right now. But proving as much, he has warned, would be catastrophic.

(Video) Is Reality Real? The Simulation Argument

Just as present-day researchers use simulations to digitally create scenarios to aid scientific study —what would happen if we eliminate mosquitoes? — our world and every moment of our past existence might be the simulated experiment of future humans. And just as scientists can terminate simulations (of earthquakes, weather, etc.) when they no longer provide useful data, so too can our hypothetical overlords pull the plug at any time, without warning.

But rest assured, Greene said, “It would be a quick and painless death.”

“If our physicists use experiments to prove we live in a simulation, and they tell everyone about this and that has a large effect on how our civilization behaves,” he explained, “then our simulation would no longer be useful for answering questions about the basement [foundational] level of reality, which contains the computers doing the simulations.”

Greene continued: “This is because such experimental proofs could never happen on the basement level. So even though there are many possibilities for how our simulators would react to our using experiments to prove we live in a simulation, simulation shutdown is worth taking at least as seriously as anything else, since it is supported by observed trends in simulation science.”

Not everyone in the scientific community is on board with the theory.

View 1417 Jobs

Find out who's hiring in Austin.See all Developer + Engineer jobs in AustinView 1417 Jobs

Arguments Against Simulation Theory

Like any outside-the-box notion, the simulation hypothesis has plenty of skeptics. In 2016, during the 17th annual Isaac Asimov Panel Debate at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, the topic was discussed by a panel of august experts that included Chalmers, astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, University of Maryland physics professor Zohreh Davoudi and Harvard University physicist Lisa Randall.

“The argument says you’d have lots of things that want to simulate us. I actually have a problem with that."

Randall was the group’s most definitive doubter. Although she allowed for the possibility that nothing is what it seems, including the cognitive process of observation, she also wondered about the judgment of our supposed simulators in choosing humankind for their grand experiment.

(Video) What If We’re Living in a Computer Simulation?

“It’s just not based on well-defined probabilities,” she said. “The argument says you’d have lots of things that want to simulate us. I actually have a problem with that. We mostly are interested in ourselves. Why simulate us? I mean, there’s so many things to be simulating. … I don’t know why this higher species would want to bother with us.”

She has a point. See: expansive and ever-growing evidence that human development is destroying the natural world.

It was widely thought the simulation hypothesis had been disproven once and for all when, in 2017, physicists Zohar Ringel and Dmitry Kovrizhi published a Science Advances article titled “Quantized gravitational responses, the sign problem, and quantum complexity.” Here’s the catch: their work was at most indirectly relevant to simulation, which Zohar later dismissed as “not even a scientific question.”

Specifically, they proved that a classical computing technique called “quantum Monte Carlo,” used to simulate quantum particles — photons, electrons and other types of particles that comprise the universe — was insufficient to simulate a quantum computer itself, a breakthrough that would negate the need to physically build these next-level machines, which is no easy task.

And if it’s impossible to simulate a quantum computer, forget about simulating the universe.

Per Cosmos.com, “The researchers calculated that just storing information about a couple of hundred electrons would require a computer memory that would physically require more atoms than exist in the universe.”

Nonetheless, Ringel, the paper’s lead author, appeared to leave the door ever so slightly cracked when he told Popular Mechanics “Who knows what are the computing capabilities of whatever simulates us.”

In other words, echoing Bostrum and Greene, some advanced species could possess a system that makes even the world’s fastest supercomputers seem like Commodore 64s. Maybe they’ve perfected quantum computing. Or maybe it’s something else entirely — something of which our limited minds can’t even conceive.

Why Does Simulation Theory Matter?

Then again, you might be wondering, why does any of this matter? What is the purpose of proving or disproving that life as we know it is merely a digital construct and existence simply an immensely complex experiment in someone’s virtual terrarium?

The broad answer, Virk said, is that which all good science pursues: truth. More specifically, our truth.

If we do in fact exist inside a video game that requires our characters to perform certain quests and achievements in order to progress, Virk posited, wouldn’t it be useful to know what kind of game we’re in to increase our chances of surviving and thriving?

His answer, not surprisingly, is an unqualified yes.

(Video) You are a Simulation & Physics Can Prove It: George Smoot at TEDxSalford

“I think it would make all the difference in the world.”

Whatever type of world it is.

FAQs

What is simulation in real life? ›

A simulation is a model that mimics the operation of an existing or proposed system, providing evidence for decision-making by being able to test different scenarios or process changes. This can be coupled with virtual reality technologies for a more immersive experience.

What is a simulation in computer science? ›

In its narrowest sense, a computer simulation is a program that is run on a computer and that uses step-by-step methods to explore the approximate behavior of a mathematical model. Usually this is a model of a real-world system (although the system in question might be an imaginary or hypothetical one).

Why do we use simulation in real life? ›

Simulation modeling solves real-world problems safely and efficiently. It provides an important method of analysis which is easily verified, communicated, and understood. Across industries and disciplines, simulation modeling provides valuable solutions by giving clear insights into complex systems.

What is a popular example of a computer simulation? ›

Some examples of computer simulation modeling familiar to most of us include: weather forecasting, flight simulators used for training pilots, and car crash modeling.

What is simulation example? ›

What is an example of simulations? A fire drill is an example of a simulation. It reenacts the real world scenario of a fire in a building or an environment with the purpose of teaching appropriate actions in the event a real fire is encountered.

What are the 3 types of simulation? ›

There are three (3) types of commonly uses simulations: [1]
  • Live: Simulation involving real people operating real systems. Involve individuals or groups. ...
  • Virtual: Simulation involving real people operating simulated systems. ...
  • Constructive: Simulation involving simulated people operating simulated systems.
Oct 7, 2021

Is the use of computers to simulate a real or imagined? ›

Virtual reality (VR) → is the use of computers to simulate a real or imagined environment that appears as a three-dimensional space.

How computer simulations can help develop possible solutions to a problem? ›

In review, a simulation program is a computer model of a real-world phenomenon. These simulation programs can help people visualize a real-world problem to find possible solutions to the problem. Different scenarios and possible solutions can be tested to see if they work.

Why do scientists use computer simulations? ›

Computer modeling allows scientists to conduct thousands of simulated experiments by computer. The thousands of computer experiments identify the handful of laboratory experiments that are most likely to solve the problem being studied. Today's computational models can study a biological system at multiple levels.

What are the benefits of simulation? ›

Advantages
  • It can avoid danger and loss of life.
  • Conditions can be varied and outcomes investigated.
  • Critical situations can be investigated without risk.
  • It is cost effective.
  • Simulations can be sped up so behaviour can be studied easily over a long period of time.

What can we learn from simulation? ›

Simulation learning allows students to practice critical work skills in a controlled environment. By participating in simulation learning, you'll hone your communication and technical abilities. Simulation learning can take the form of online games and virtual or augmented reality.

What is the importance of simulation in education? ›

Simulation-based education is the pedagogical approach of providing students with the opportunity to practice learned skills in real-life situations. Educational simulation is a teaching method that tests participants' knowledge and skill levels by placing them in scenarios where they must actively solve problems.

When was the first computer simulation made? ›

In October 1961 IBM presented the "Gordon Simulator" to Norden (systems design company). In December 1961 Geoffrey Gorden presented his paper at the fall Joint Computer Conference on a General Purpose Systems Simulator (GPSS) [1,2].

Can a computer simulate itself? ›

No, a computer cannot perfectly simulate itself in addition to something else without violating basic information theory: there exist strings which are not compressible.

What are the four types of simulation? ›

6 Leading Types Of Simulation Models
  • Stochastic Simulations.
  • Deterministic Simulations.
  • Static Simulations.
  • Dynamic Simulations.
  • Discrete Simulations.
  • Continuous Simulations.
Oct 4, 2021

What is simulation simple words? ›

Definition of simulation

1 : the act or process of simulating. 2 : a sham object : counterfeit. 3a : the imitative representation of the functioning of one system or process by means of the functioning of another a computer simulation of an industrial process.

What type of learning is simulation? ›

A simulation is a form of experiential learning. It is a strategy that fits well with the principles of Student-Centred and constructivist learning and teaching.

How do you perform a simulation? ›

How to Conduct a Simulation
  1. Describe the possible outcomes.
  2. Link each outcome to one or more random numbers.
  3. Choose a source of random numbers.
  4. Choose a random number.
  5. Based on the random number, note the "simulated" outcome.
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 multiple times; preferably, until the outcomes show a stable pattern.

Where are simulations used? ›

Simulation is used in many contexts, such as simulation of technology for performance tuning or optimizing, safety engineering, testing, training, education, and video games. Simulation is also used with scientific modelling of natural systems or human systems to gain insight into their functioning, as in economics.

How do you build a computer simulation? ›

Developing Simulation Models

Step 1 − Identify the problem with an existing system or set requirements of a proposed system. Step 2 − Design the problem while taking care of the existing system factors and limitations. Step 3 − Collect and start processing the system data, observing its performance and result.

When should we not use simulation? ›

Simulation should not be used if it is easier to perform direct experiments. Simulation should not be used if the cost of simulation exceeds the savings. Simulation should be avoided if resources are not available.

Which of the following is the use of computers to simulate a real or imagined environment that appears as three-dimensional 3-D space a IRDA B pop C VR D TCP? ›

Virtual reality (VR) is the use of computers and devices to simulate a real or imagined environment that appears as a three-dimensional (3D) space. VR involves the display of 3D images that users explore and manipulate interactively.

How will technology help people with disabilities become more Transportation independent? ›

How will technology help people with disabilities become more transportation independent? Automated vehicles will be developed.

Which of the following is the best definition for virtual reality? ›

WHAT IS VIRTUAL REALITY? Virtual Reality (VR) is a computer-generated environment with scenes and objects that appear to be real, making the user feel they are immersed in their surroundings. This environment is perceived through a device known as a Virtual Reality headset or helmet.

How does computer simulation and modeling help our industry? ›

AI-based computer modeling and simulations could improve enterprise productivity, reduce waste and lead to better, smarter outcomes.

How can computer models be used to learn about the real world? ›

Computer models

A collection of rules is created to study what would happen in real-life situations. Changes are made to see how they affect the outcome. For example, before a new football stadium is built, a computer model could be used to see if there are enough fire exits and if they're in the safest places.

Are computer simulation models always correct? ›

While these models represent crucial research tools and instruments for analysis, models have also been known to misrepresent data and present false information as well.

What is simulation and its types? ›

Meaning and Definition of Simulation :

A simulated model may be defined as one which depicts the working of a large scale system of man, machines, materials and information operating over a period of time in a simulated environment of the real world conditions.

What is computer simulation and modeling? ›

A computer simulation model is a computer program or algorithm which simulates changes of a modeled system in response to input signals.

What is simulation software and examples? ›

Simulation Software Overview

By analyzing these constructs, engineers can observe how the model and system interact, thereby predicting performance, defects, stresses, and product lifespan. Examples of commonly modeled products are mechanics, electrical systems, chemical reactions, heat, and weather.

What are the characteristics of simulation? ›

Distinguishing features of simulation

There are four distinguishing characteristics that differentiate simulation from any computer program: time use simulation is an indexing variable, simulation objective is to achieve correctness, simulation is computational intensive, and there is no typical use of simulation [1].

What is the value of simulation? ›

Simulation allows students to change parameter values and see what happens. Students develop a feel for what variables are important and the significance of magnitude changes in parameters. data issues, probability and sampling theory. Simulations help students understand probability and sampling theory.

What is a simulation activity? ›

A simulation activity is a learning activity that is designed to reflect a real situation or system.

What are the importance of a simulation tool for professionals and students? ›

Simulation tools can track student progress and provide standardized feedback that can aid in developing skills. They can also offer targeted skill development—students can choose which skills to improve on and receive specific training resources, and educators can also control the content.

Who was the first to use simulation in education? ›

Italy was the major source of simulators early in the 18th century, but in the 19th century, dominance in clinical simulation moved to France, Britain, and then Germany. In comparison, much of the 20th century was a "dark age" for simulation.

What is reality simulator? ›

Released. Aug 2, 2022. This is a 3D simulation game walk through where we showcase how realistic next generation games can be and how far 3D realism has come 1. Walk through a house 2. Walk through a stage our Other Games Restaurant Simulator.

What is simulation in teaching example? ›

When students use a model of behavior to gain a better understanding of that behavior, they are doing a simulation. For example: When students are assigned roles as buyers and sellers of some good and asked to strike deals to exchange the good, they are learning about market behavior by simulating a market.

Is there a game that simulates real life? ›

Nintendo GameCube

Animal Crossing is one of the most popular life simulation games around.

What is simulation based learning? ›

Educational simulation is a teaching method that tests participants' knowledge and skill levels by placing them in scenarios where they must actively solve problems. The instructor defines the parameters to create a safe environment for hands-on learning experiences.

How many steps are there in a simulation? ›

This article covers three main steps of computer simulations from the user perspective: pre-processing, execution and post-processing.

Is the universe a computer? ›

In other words: the universe is a computer and, rather than exist in a solid state, it perpetuates through a series of laws that change over time. How's it work? That's the tough part. The researchers explain the universe as a learning system by invoking machine learning systems.

What is the difference between virtual reality and simulation? ›

3 Definitions Virtual reality: A system that enables a person to react and move according to certain simulated conditions Simulation: A program which models a real life situation by putting values into a model to see how it behaves in different environments.

What are the benefits of simulation? ›

Advantages
  • It can avoid danger and loss of life.
  • Conditions can be varied and outcomes investigated.
  • Critical situations can be investigated without risk.
  • It is cost effective.
  • Simulations can be sped up so behaviour can be studied easily over a long period of time.

What is an activity in simulation? ›

A simulation activity is a learning activity that is designed to reflect a real situation or system.

What is simulation and its types? ›

A simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time. Simulations require the use of models; the model represents the key characteristics or behaviors of the selected system or process, whereas the simulation represents the evolution of the model over time.

What was the first simulation game? ›

History. The Sumerian Game (1964), a text-based early mainframe game designed by Mabel Addis, based on the ancient Sumerian city-state of Lagash, was the first economic simulation game.

When was the first simulation game made? ›

The first such recognized emulator was released around 1996, being one of the prototype projects that eventually merged into the SNES9X product. Programs like Marat Fayzullin's iNES, VirtualGameBoy, Pasofami (NES), Super Pasofami (SNES), and VSMC (SNES) were the most popular console emulators of this era.

Why simulation is important in education? ›

Why use simulations? Simulations promote the use of critical and evaluative thinking. Because they are ambiguous or open-ended, they encourage students to contemplate the implications of a scenario. The situation feels real and thus leads to more engaging interaction by learners.

What can you learn from simulation? ›

Simulation learning allows students to practice critical work skills in a controlled environment. By participating in simulation learning, you'll hone your communication and technical abilities. Simulation learning can take the form of online games and virtual or augmented reality.

Who was the first to use simulation in education? ›

Italy was the major source of simulators early in the 18th century, but in the 19th century, dominance in clinical simulation moved to France, Britain, and then Germany. In comparison, much of the 20th century was a "dark age" for simulation.

Videos

1. Why Elon Musk says we're living in a simulation
(Vox)
2. Neil deGrasse Tyson Explains the Simulation Hypothesis
(StarTalk)
3. Are We Living in a Simulation? - Your Worst Fears Confirmed
(Comedy Central)
4. Was 2020 A Simulation? (Science & Math of the Simulation Theory)
(Venture City)
5. Are We In A Simulation? - Elon Musk
(Elon Musk Viral Videos)
6. Is Reality REAL? This Scientists Answer on The Simulation Argument Might SHOCK You | David Chalmers
(Tom Bilyeu)

Top Articles

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Jamar Nader

Last Updated: 11/18/2022

Views: 6632

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (75 voted)

Reviews: 82% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jamar Nader

Birthday: 1995-02-28

Address: Apt. 536 6162 Reichel Greens, Port Zackaryside, CT 22682-9804

Phone: +9958384818317

Job: IT Representative

Hobby: Scrapbooking, Hiking, Hunting, Kite flying, Blacksmithing, Video gaming, Foraging

Introduction: My name is Jamar Nader, I am a fine, shiny, colorful, bright, nice, perfect, curious person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.