If reality is a computer simulation, how does that work?
In 2003, Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom proposed that the universe may be a simulated reality — an enormous game of Sims. This virtual universe may have been created by our future generations who wanted to time travel to the past but eliminate the inherent paradoxes. In this scenario, you could kill your great grandfather and not destroy your own chance to be born.
Bostrom suggested that if a civilization developed advanced technology that could create such a virtual world, the inhabitants would probably create multiple copies.
If our descendants managed to achieve this, Bostrom argued, then the odds were that you are one of many copies living in a simulation rather than the base reality. Statistically speaking, if there are 10,000 simulated universes where copies of you exist, the chances of your consciousness being the original would be 1 in 10,000.
In other words, if copies were made, and the odds are you are not the original.
A Universal Web of Simulated Realities
Think of it as a vast Internet where each individual page represents one possible reality simulating the past. Or, this world may have been designed based on nothing more than someone’s imagination.
Infinite universes may exist where every possible choice can play out. Your consciousness may be experiencing an existence like a choose-your-own-adventure book.
Another possibility may be that we are willing participants, opting to immerse ourselves in the experience by forgetting our true nature. We may suspend our understanding of reality to accept a limited view of the universe.
It should be noted that some other scientists reject this theory.
Do We Have Free Will?
The ancestor simulation hypothesis falls apart when it comes to consciousness. If we are merely props in our descendant’s playground, and our actions are predetermined, then there is no need for us to have free will. It would serve no purpose to grant the inhabitants any sort of agency if they are not free to make choices. It would require vast amounts of computing power for an unusable feature — and one that would likely disrupt the simulation.
The exception would be if consciousness was granted to those intended to experience the simulated reality and the main character had limited free will. In other words, this universe was designed for your experience alone and therefore, only you are conscious inside your virtual world. You have some ability to make decisions and move about with some limitations.
If We Are Living in a Giant Computer Game, What Would that Look Like?
A simulated reality might function something like the above image. Your consciousness exists in a vast sea of potential. It would be much like an individual sitting in a living room deciding to play a game.
Your consciousness has any number of adventures to choose from, and many possible experiences. Until a game is chosen, it is only a “potential” reality, just like a book on your bookshelf has the potential to be read. It exists much like a wave form. As we experience it inside the simulation, it becomes “particle-like” and “real.”
Our physical form is like our avatar inside the game. We have freedom of movement if we hit the major checkpoints such as marriage, career, children, etc. — much like a video game requires players reach certain locations or achieve goals before moving forward. We are limited by the constraints of the adventure, we cannot defy the built-in laws.
While others share the same construct, they are non-player characters in your game, you are an NPC in their experience. Your universe was designed for you, only you are conscious in your reality, but everyone’s adventure plays out in the shared space. Our stories may overlap, but they are independent, separate, and distinct.
Reality is purely subjective to each player. Our mind is where our reality is created. We simulate the physical world inside our brains using our perception of the world.
The only difference is that in this reality, we are conscious (or we have simulated consciousness) and we are unaware we are in a simulation or the vast expanse of potential.
Even if everything is simulation, the world “out there” seems real to us.
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