Are we living inside a massive computer program?


Are we living in a video game? If so, the joke is on us, says cognitive scientist Joscha Bach. When people debate the possibility of human existence as a simulation, it is mainly assumed that we are the actors. Our lord simulators are watching us, aren’t they? Well, that doesn’t seem to match the amount of detail present in our world and the observable universe beyond. Why did our cosmic creators go to the trouble of coding billions of galaxies in the sights of our telescopes? The Higgs boson, for example, is not necessary for our existence, so who would have time to add such trivial flourishes just for our amusement (maybe the simulators had a really good intern that summer? )? The answer? It is not for us. According to Bach, if it is a simulation we are unlikely to be the main attraction and much more realistic that the simulators wanted to model a universe to explore hypothetical physics. That little blue dot with primates mixing concrete all over the surface? “We are just a random side effect or an artifact of the fact that evolution is possible in this universe,” says Bach.


But, this explanation is purely hypothetical because Bach is convinced that we live in a basic reality. However, it is not a bubble that bursts from Bach: while we do not live in a simulation, we live in a computer program. How can that be? Above, he explains why, and also gives his answer to the “gaming console probability” hypothesis popularized by Elon Musk.

Joscha Bach: Could we live in a simulation? I think this relates first to the question of what is meant by simulation. If the question is, “Could we live inside a computer program?” then my answer would be: of course, yes.

Because the only thing we get with any certainty from the outside world is information. And the only thing that can be found with certainty in this information is regularity. And for a system to produce a regularity in information, that is, discernible differences that change in a way that is not random and rather predictable, for that, it must calculate. It is therefore necessary and sufficient for the universe – whatever else it does – that it calculates. And we can’t really know what else he’s doing.

So in my opinion it is necessary and sufficient that the universe be some kind of computer in a pretty literal sense, by the way we define computers and computing. It doesn’t mean that we know what kind of computational class this system is in and there is, I think, a lot of contests and ideas in physics about what kind of computational class the universe actually is and its capabilities. What he can calculate and what he cannot calculate. But still, it’s computer science in a certain sense.

The question of whether we are living in a simulation has more to do with something narrower, that is, is this computer program we are living in intentionally created, or is it just a natural event? And of course, we can’t really know because there is no feature in the world that makes it clear that this thing is a simulation in that sense. I don’t see anything that can convince me that we are in a simulation. But if it is, I don’t think it’s in our best interest. I don’t think all of these galaxies and stars and all the complex elementary particle structures that we can observe in a certain sense — they are not necessary for our experience as primates on the planetary surface. It would have to be painted on telescopes and microscopes by the simulator. So I don’t think it’s fumes and mirrors when we look at the sky and see these galaxy bazillions.

I think if it is a simulation, that would be an important feature of the simulation, which means that the simulation is not there to create us. The simulation is probably there to explore some aspect of hypothetical physics, and we’re just a random side effect or an artifact that evolution is possible in this universe, so we can emerge there.

I think it’s very unlikely that we’re in a simulation, because if I were to build a simulation of a universe, I would make the computer it’s running “irreversible”. This means that operations that occur in this universe may drop bits. This means that a state that you observe in the universe can have several possible states from which it originates. And if you look at what we know empirically in physics, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Our universe seems reversible. And that means we can’t really remove bits. If you can’t remove bits, it means everything we love is irreversible. You stabilize your body temperature, you forget the body temperature of yesterday in your body. It means you have to remove bits in a certain direction. All of these things that interest us – life, planets, stars, computers, organisms, minds – are irreversible in a certain sense. They all need to remove bits to keep their structures stable against onslaught from the substrate, which has its different logic and different direction it wants to go. So, in a sense, you get waste. You have to throw these bits out of your system, and that’s what we as observers perceive as increasing entropy, these bits of garbage.

And if you live in a simulation like Minecraft, in Minecraft you can build perpetual mobiles. This is because you don’t have entropies in Minecraft. Minecraft can remove bits. He may forget his previous condition. This universe apparently cannot. So the reason why we can’t have beautiful things in this universe, why we can’t have perpetual motives, why entropy always accumulates and will always end up having us, why we will always have to die as a ‘living beings. That is why life is always temporary. Each self-stabilizing system will have only a finite lifespan in this universe. It wouldn’t be a feature that I would put in a simulation.

So there’s this argument that, for example, Elon Musk put forward, that we can build game consoles that create virtual worlds that look a lot like simulations of that universe. They can be so realistic that we can’t really tell them apart. And this argument means that every civilization that has sufficient technical capabilities is going to build a lot of these game consoles, so the likelihood that when you look around and find yourself in a pretty realistic looking world that you are in fact in. a simulation is much higher than the probability that you are in basic reality.

But I think what that doesn’t take into account is the level of detail you’re going to achieve in such a simulation. It seems that our universe has an incredible amount of detail and to get this amount of detail in a subset of this computer is very difficult because if you build a computer here on this planet it means you cannot simulate a large universe within. You can only simulate a very, very, very small slow universe in it. So each universe that you stack in another universe will have many orders of magnitude less detail.

So I think if you find yourself in a very detailed universe that has a lot, a lot of galaxies and a lot more detail than you need to have intelligent life and civilizations and so on, it’s unlikely to be a simulated universe. created by a civilization. This is more likely to be the basic reality.


Gordon K. Morehouse