Living in a simulated reality – Why bother?


There’s a recurrent theory in the mainstream, a bold speculation fueled by decades of science fiction tropes and not-so-good movies: what if we are living inside a simulated reality? Big names like Elon Musk promised to finance research on this subject, the media published a lot about it. It’s like a soap bubble that, every now and then, pops up and shine for a while.

If you get a logic approach on this theory, then the first question is about the perception of reality. How can an observer understand if he/she is looking at a simulation or to the real universe? Being inside a simulation, no matter how well done, does leave any chance to discriminate what is “real” and what’s not? If you want to deny such hypothesis, is there any fact or logical demonstration that could be considered as an absolute?

Now, just imagine being a researcher. You have been commissioned to find evidence of the existence of a simulated reality, an artificial environment where you’re existing. You will be paid only if you are able to find such evidence (1). So, the first question is: what do you do? A good starting point could be to look at any glitch in the simulation, trying to find some error that shows any kind of inconsistency in the design of the reality. In our collective experience, no program could be perfect.

Meanwhile, there is another researcher who’s being asked to do the opposite. How can he/she find proof of the nonexistence of the simulated reality? This researcher’s pay is under the same caveat, money against evidence (2). This task is almost impossible because any logical argument cannot pass a test against this statement: in the future, we will be able to define/create a simulated reality system, based on technologies still to be discovered. So the logic will be about  a “reduction ad absurdum” hypothesis, posting a speculation against another speculation.

Both researchers are likely to be stuck in their tasks forever (or die of starvation, given the money caveat). Aside from jokes, is there any real meaning to such a question? No matter what kind of reality we’re in, is there any way to step out of it? There’s another question, strictly related to the simulated reality. Why bother to create such a thing? It will be almost impossible, even with god-like technologies,  for any conceivable civilization. But… what if a very-very-very advanced civilization got itself stuck in a single solar system, reaching the extreme of building a Dyson sphere all around their star? What could they do next? Well, in such a scenario even a massive simulated reality could become a good idea.

Note #1: being paid in a simulated environment with non-existent money, to live an unreal life satisfying simulated needs… I’m having a not-so-simulated head spin to this perspective.

Note#2: being paid in the real world is almost unreal; virtual money transfer from bank accounts is a matter of electrons moving in an invisible environment, isn’t it?


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