When evaluating the probability of us creating a simulation, not unlike that in ‘The Matrix’ or already being in one, we must look at two factors: possibility and plausibility. Obviously, if such a system logically cannot exist then it does not exist. Following this, if it makes no sense for something to exist, then chances are it doesn’t exist, at least not in great volume. For example, a bouncy castle in the vacuum of space is so dumb and pointless of an idea that ought never to exist. With all that said, let’s get into things.
Is a Matrix-like simulation possible?
Everything is information
This famous idea, which stems from information theory, states that everything in the universe can be expressed by information, such as position, speed, energy and force. Supposedly, Physics is enough to describe the entire universe in any scenario, which is useful as Physics is easily computed. If this theory is to be believed, which seems more than reasonable, it would mean all matter and interactions can be expressed digitally, i.e. by a processor. What this means fundamentally is that the entire universe could theoretically be computed by a sufficiently powerful computer.
In the history of Physics, we have often made a hypothesis that seemed to work perfectly only to discover down the line that reality is more complex. One classic example of this is the theory of Quantum Mechanics, which usurped Newtonian Mechanics’ rule, or so we would expect. Instead, we only observe quantum phenomena on a tiny scale and only observe Newtonian phenomena on a large scale. In one theory, this can be explained as computational complexity: quantum phenomena would make such an insignificant difference on a large scale that there is no point computing them. A simulator species could by their own experience know what information they can gather and at what range and simply simulate the minimum to get away with it. As there is practically no chance of detecting electron tunnelling in a star over a billion light-years away, it needn’t be simulated. With such a method of bare minimum simulation, the computational complexity of the universe is far reduced whilst still being undetectable.
Reality is unfalsifiable
Ultimately, whatever we perceive to be congruent with reality is impossible to validate without respect to either logical or physical axioms from known base reality. As we don’t know we are in base reality, we can only form axioms relative to our reality. Effectively what this means is that we know our reality is real relative to our reality, a clear example of circular logic. Like the classic ‘God is real because the Bible says so and the Bible is true because God says so’, we are left no useful information. Unlike many holy texts, however, reality at least isn’t contradictory to itself, though this makes it all the more impossible to prove or disprove.
How plausible is a Matrix-like simulation?
Scenario 1: the happy accident
This scenario, which posits that we are only here as a result of a continued simulation of the big bang and not the end-goal, arises out of our knowledge of the many billions of years that passed before humans evolved. A large number of people see the billions of years of human history and conclude that all of it was the result of a simulation of a few physical constants. Proponents of this theory state that the goal of the simulation was to create a big bang and anything beyond then is coincidental and not the objective, as though some aliens made the universe and then pissed right off. This theory does make sense given how dull things can be and how it seems most of us are bored for a large portion of each day.
Scenario 2: we’re here for a reason
This scenario posits that all history was created with us in mind. Although this sounds very inefficient given the arguments made for scenario 1, the simulators don’t actually need to have simulated all of that time. Instead, they could have ensured a perfect simulation purely by copying their own experiences. Presumably, if they can believe their reality is real enough, they would think that we would believe the same thing. This scenario does make for some consequences such as our simulators more likely being identical to us at some point in their lifetimes. This ensures that all aspects of our simulation are congruent with our logical and physical axioms, as well as a backstory that makes perfect sense.
The last important aspect of us being in a ‘Matrix’ is the motive. In the actual Matrix series, the motive provided is idiotic and so likely untrue but that doesn’t mean a logical motive doesn’t exist. As you may know, this blog is about uploading your brain, so let’s talk about that for a while. We have talked extensively about how fucked society is if the brain-uploading technology gets into the wrong hands and isn’t managed properly. At the same time, we have also talked about how reality can be simulated, something called SimR. Supposedly, if a governing body was concerned about societal collapse they could scan the brains of anyone likely to trigger a collapse and permanently put them in a simulation.
Alternatively, the simulation could be a ‘Westworld’-like attraction where NPCs think they are real and interact with visitors. Another alternative could be behavioural evidence-based. Much like in White Christmas, we could be in a simulation to gather evidence of a crime or establish a behavioural profile, such as a likelihood to commit a violent or sexual crime. Taking this even further, we could be in a simulation governed by a morally corrupt corporation to build a psychological and behavioural profile which may determine insurance premiums, personalised advertising and targeted propaganda. The extreme levels of detail would only be to ensure that the falsity of the simulation would never be discovered.
Overall, whatever reason we could come up with to put people in a simulation could be the exact same reason why someone put us in a Scenario 2 simulation. Though I personally feel that any simulation without an always available exit is morally reprehensible, I can see how a simulation may benefit companies whose clients are immortal digital beings. So, how likely is it that we are in the Matrix? Mathematically, it’s almost a certainty. Personally, though, I will stick to my simulation-agnostic position that reality is unfalsifiable.