You wake up on a Saturday to the sound of birds chirping outside your window. You go about your usual morning routine, beginning at the most important part: breakfast. As you enjoy your bacon and eggs with a cup of freshly brewed coffee, the birds that woke you up continue to sing, only adding more pleasantries to an already enjoyable day. You’re in your early to mid-twenties, life is good, and you have no reason not to think so. There have certainly been some ups and downs throughout your journey as a human being but overall, you’re content with life. After all, it’s the only life you’ve lived, and the only one you will probably get to as well. You don’t question your existence primarily because the thought has never really popped up in your head, but shouldn’t you? Isn’t there a chance that the life you have lived isn’t actually real? Isn’t there a chance that like the Netflix series you enjoy with your breakfast, it’s just an illusion being presented to you through advanced and sophisticated technology? If you have begun to think of this, I suggest you continue reading, because today, I might possibly convince you that you’re only real because you think you are.
To do this, we first have to divert our attention to the “Simulation Hypothesis,”a thought experiment by philosopher Nick Bostrom. Bostrom’s theory is based on the premise that technological advancements may one day lead to a point where mankind reaches a posthuman state in which we can develop supercomputers capable of running a simulation which may be able to host millions if not billions of “sentient life” in it. Bostrom doesn’t argue that the simulation hypothesis is correct, but rather introduces a trilemma to assess the situation. The first possibility is that no civilization will be able to reach said posthuman state, thus rendering simulation impossible. The second possibility is that all civilizations which reach a posthuman state are uninterested in running these simulations, again rendering the hypothesis obsolete. The third possibility, and the one which gives this theory some form of possibility is one in which civilizations do reach a posthuman level and are willing to run simulations, to better assess how their ancestors (us) lived (imagine how easy it would be to learn history if we could, for instance accurately simulate Ancient Rome; the nation itself and all those who inhabit it). He proposes that if the third possibility is the correct one, all of us who have modern day experiences will most probably be living in a simulation.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “How could that possibly be true? I have memories of being a child, quite fond memories in fact! And, my parents have videos of my birth! How could any of them be fake? And if they aren’t fake, then how can my existence be?” Well, consider this. You don’t exactly remember your own birth. Your parents do, but they remember giving birth to a baby, not exactly you. For all we know, this baby could just be a blank slate, with your memories being inserted into it at a much later time (somewhat explains how our earliest memories begin at the age of 1-2). Or, everyone you know could be just part of the simulation, with you being the only “real” person. If that were the case, then certainly these people are not going to tell you! If you are at all familiar with computer games, you’ll notice how when you load a safe file, your character appears onto the screen at the point you saved. You don’t load your game from the beginning; with complete disregard to the laws of space-time your character appears out of thin air at the exact point at which you saved last. Until it is loaded there is no “game world”. Your loading of it is what creates one, and it is created at the exact point of your choosing. Now apply this to the earlier scenario. If you were “loaded” into your body, the “world” you’re loaded in would begin at the exact point of you coming into existence.
Still not convinced? Let’s look at “Archer”, an Emmy Award winning animated series and one of my personal favourites. The universe in which Archer is set in has similar laws of Physics to ours, with one stark difference; due to the series intending to be a parody of spy movies, a lot of advanced spy technology exist within the series, and the characters get wounded (often grievously) in almost every episode. However, the characters’ rarely die in the usual sense, and nobody, including the protagonist, questions this. This is because in Archer’s (the protagonist’s) eyes, quickly healing from wounds or not dying from explosions is the norm. He isn’t daunted when his girlfriend becomes a cyborg, nor does he hesitate to jump onto a nuclear missile in mid-air. As funny and parodic as these scenarios may seem to us, to Archer this is reality. If you or I ever saw our coworkers being mind-controlled, or discovered our mother was having an illicit affair with the head of the KGB (all of this is in the series, I recommend anyone interested to check it out), we would lose all grasp of reality. But Archer didn’t. More likely than not, to him, these ridiculous (to us) scenarios are the equivalent of bacon and eggs; completely normal. If we somehow landed in Archer’s reality, we would immediately recognise it as fake, because we can easily compare it to the reality we live in and notice the differences. However, like Archer in his own universe, the world you experience right now, has been the only reality you have experienced throughout your existence. Even if you were living in a simulation, you would never really know, because you wouldn’t have anything to compare it to!
So how does this affect you, the reader? Not much, really. In either possibility (you’re either in a simulation or you’re not), it really doesn’t change anything for your life. After all, if it isn’t a simulation, then there’s nothing to it and even if there is, what can you really do about it except accepting the fact? I would not go so as far to say that the “Simulation Hypothesis” is real. I myself have many doubts about it; at the end of the day, it’s just an interesting thought experiment. But if you’ve been intrigued by this article, I suggest you continue reading about it. Being limited by the fact that this is meant to be a short article, I can only give you a taste; the smallest morsel of the pie. However, there’s a plethora of books, articles and other forms of content regarding this hypothesis (both for and against its possibility) readily available online. But be warned, the more you discover about reality, the less real it might possibly become.