Do we live in a computer simulation? Chances are about 50–50

The idea that we could be virtual beings living in a computer simulation is not new, but a new analysis shows that the odds that we are living in base reality —meaning an existence that is not simulated — are pretty much 50-50, according to astronomer David Kipping of Columbia University.

Do we live in a simulation? Chances are about 50–50

Anil Ananthaswamy for Scientific American:

But the study also demonstrates that if humans were to ever develop the ability to simulate conscious beings, the chances would overwhelmingly tilt in favor of us, too, being virtual denizens inside someone else’s computer. (A caveat to that conclusion is that there is little agreement about what the term “consciousness” means, let alone how one might go about simulating it.)

Before Bostrom, the movie The Matrix had already done its part to popularize the notion of simulated realities. And the idea has deep roots in Western and Eastern philosophical traditions, from Plato’s cave allegory to Zhuang Zhou’s butterfly dream. More recently, Elon Musk gave further fuel to the concept that our reality is a simulation: “The odds that we are in base reality is one in billions,” he said at a 2016 conference.

“Musk is right if you assume [propositions] one and two of the trilemma are false,” says astronomer David Kipping of Columbia University. “How can you assume that?”

Kipping decided to resort to Bayesian reasoning. This type of analysis uses Bayes’s theorem, named after Thomas Bayes, an 18th-century English statistician and minister. Bayesian analysis allows one to calculate the odds of something happening (called the “posterior” probability) by first making assumptions about the thing being analyzed (assigning it a “prior” probability).

Kipping began by turning the trilemma into a dilemma…

Kipping, despite his own study, worries that further work on the simulation hypothesis is on thin ice. “It’s arguably not testable as to whether we live in a simulation or not,” he says. “If it’s not falsifiable, then how can you claim it’s really science?”

MacDailyNews Take: As Kipping himself references in the full article, look to Occam’s razor for the unanswerable answer: The simplest explanation is most likely the correct one.

34 Comments

    1. There is some actual science behind this. The popular press has run with the more lurid interpretations. I can’t really follow their arguments well. Something to do with studies of information and black holes. The proposition is that information can’t be destroyed so when an object disappears into a black hole the information about that object is encoded somehow in the surface of the black hole. This led to theorizing as to whether our three dimensional universe could be described by a two dimensional surface. I believe the current claim is yes. If so, our universe could be some sort of projection of that two dimensional surface. I hope I haven’t mangled that too much.

      1. And, besides, the Cosmos does not need “computers” — which would be an insult to All That Is — if it wanted to project a part of itself into our perception of reality.

      2. Considering that science only concerns itself with observables, and in a simulation everything can be observable, I would tend to think not.

        It’s the same reason math may be the language of science, but in and of itself is not science.

  1. People have spiritual experiences as well. This goes deep. In fact I see no reason for science for study it since its impossible to prove. (a simulation could just as well be “god” in the traditional religions).

  2. I expect the bedwetters that found yesterday’s post having little to do with Apple (Biden’s laptop) to be outraged with this post having nothing to do with Mac specifically?

    If there was a place to make such a bet, I’d be a winner at the end of the day.

  3. Why I think they’re all wrong on simulation. It assumes infinite computational power in a base reality. You cant run infinite nesting of VMware (much less simulation) /wo deepest nested emulation being starved bc ultimately base processor does the work. Without infinite nesting odds of simulation drop from 1 to substantially less. So odds of us being in a base reality far higher than 50/50 much less billions to one. All these simulation theories are propped up by this stupid infinit computational power in base reality.

    1. But that assumes, like a lot of scientists and dabblers alike, that base reality bears some resemblance to the “reality” we know. If our reality is simulated, it’s possible our laws of physics bear no resemblance at all to what we observe around us (mostly empty space — coincidence?).

  4. The problem with simulation theory is that it makes so damned much sense that it startles you when you first get it.

    Essentially we accept that computing power will advance to the point where we can do an effective “matrix like” simulation at some point. We accept that we will. We will because, “What could go wrong?”

    The NPCs in the simulations don’t know they’re NPCs. We are the NPCs.

    The simulations can be created by us as well as simulations created by other intelligent species in the universe. There might be lots and lots and lots of them.

    So here you are. Living your life. The odds are you are on one of the lots and lots of simulations and not the real Earth, if there ever was one. Those are are greater than 50-50, like a billion to one odds that you are an NPC.

    Sleep Well.

    Nick Bostrom started this insanity. Simulation Theory. It gives me hope.
    Musk buys off on it.

    I can make effective arguments to devout Christians that God is just the simulation administrator.

    1. Why I think they’re all wrong on simulation. It assumes infinite computational power in a base reality. You cant run infinite nesting of VMware (much less simulation) /wo deepest nested emulation being starved bc ultimately base processor does the work. Without infinite nesting odds of simulation drop from 1 to substantially less. So odds of us being in a base reality far higher than 50/50 much less billions to one. All these simulation theories are propped up by this stupid infinit computational power in base reality.

      1. Not infinite, just a lot. And there is no reason to think that the entire universe is being simulated – it could be just the areas around humans, with simplified rules for elsewhere. This is how videogames do it.

  5. If the Cosmos needs a computer to project itself, then I am thinking that the computer must be a super duper still undisclosed Apple Mac. I am waiting for that special event reveal.

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