Is life a video game?

March 5, 2020

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Reality is probably not what it seems. The simulation hypothesis proposes that all of reality, including the earth and the universe, is in fact, a computer simulation. This proposition is, in fact, based on fundamental principles of human reasoning. Billions of years have passed since the formation of the earth. Early carbon-based life forms have had compelling experiences, to say the least. Imagine for a second, that the senses we experience, the things we observe, are all but a simulation, in which we are the “sims”.

Computational power is increasing at an unprecedented rate, unlike ever before. About 40 years ago games like Pong were simple unrealistic 2D games. Now, advanced graphics cards allow computers to run ‘Sims’, with state-of-the-art cutting-edge next-generation 3D hyper realistic and photorealistic imagery. These developments are partly due to the unmatched progress within the realms of science and technology.

In the future it may be possible for our species to create such “high-fidelity simulations”, such that the reality may be simulated. But if this will be an option, how can we know that it has not happened already?


The simulation hypothesis by Nick Bostrom states that at least one of the following propositions:

  1. The human species is likely to go extinct before reaching the state of a “posthuman” stage.
  2. Any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (i.e. possible ancestors).
  3. We are almost certainly living inside a computer simulation.

With a “posthuman” stage, we imply a stage of profound development of the human species, far beyond of what is currently within our reach. The idea is that this posthuman stage civilization creates simulations of its “possible ancestors”, so called “ancestral simulations”. These civilizations can then for example better understand how they counter evolutionary and impactful events, that may change the course for history for them.

Observable universe

The truth is: a technologically mature ‘civilization’ with tremendous amounts of computing power, might only want to simulate the part of the universe that is observable to the sims. This is easy to explain by using the Schrödinger cat’s example:

Imagine that a box with contains a radioactive source and a cat. There is a 50% chance that the cat is alive and a 50% chance that the cat is death. We don’t know by looking at the box. We have to open the box to observe if the cat is death or alive.

This is an example how the observable universe might possible be simulated, in which only the things that we observe are simulated in order to preserve computing power. Because simulating the infinite size of the universe may be impossible, even with the computer power we might have in the future.

Currently, we lack any evidence for or against the simulation hypothesis. However, it is nice to think about possibilities that one day we might run ancestral simulations, at the commencement of the posthuman stage. For now, remember we may not be in base reality…

*Note: The simulation hypothesis has no direct connection with religious conceptions of a literally omniscient and omnipotent deity. The simulation-hypothesis does not imply the existence of such a deity, nor does it imply its non-existence.

Want to read more? Check out this paper by Nick Bolstrom:

This article is written by Berke Aslan

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