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.
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.