Simulation theory says more about human nature than it does the universe

Our ancestors arrived at the same conclusion as the most forward-thinking minds of the current time.

“We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.” states the abstract of a 2003 philosophy paper by Nick Bostrom.

A theory exists where the entirety of our reality is a synthesis of a greater world. It has found popularity among the general public and great minds alike. Nick Bostrom’s theory was thrust into the spotlight after Elon Musk stated, ‘Chances are we’re all living in a simulation’. The idea held people captive, the fact that a man such as Musk bought into the theory seemed encouraging to many.

Simulation theory says more about human nature than it does the universe

Simulation theory

Simulation theory is the hypothesis that we exist in a simulated reality indistinguishable from ‘real’ reality. This is different from current virtual realities. The VR of today, even at it’s best, is distinguishable from the experience of real life. A virtual reality in the context of simulation theory would be impossible to separate from true reality.

The dilemma of simulation theory

If the simulation of an entire universe were possible; it would also be possible for more simulations to exists than actual reality. In this scenario, there is no reason to assume we’re in ‘base’ reality as it’s a billion times more likely we aren’t. As Bostrom’s 2003 paper details, the inevitability of this reasoning is three fold;

  1. No civilizations ever last long enough to develop simulations.
  2. Civilizations that can simulate realities are so different from our own, they would never simulate a reality like ours.
  3. We are likely in a simulation already.

The popularity of simulation theory may have more to do with our ability to comprehend it than anything else. Many of the analogies used to describe the theory are relatable to most who hear them. Trends such as the increase in computing power or the creation of virtual realities. The growth of the video game industry and the creation of artificial intelligence. Movies like The Matrix and Total Recall provide visual context for the theory. It is easier to imagine the word as a VR only because we already have metaphorical and visual references to base our presumptions on.

Simulation theory before simulations

Simulation theory is the latest iteration of a common theory of reality. One of the more similar versions of the theory is an example from the 15th century. Before the invention of the printing press, a German shoemaker with little education postulated a theory that unified religion and contemporary quantum theories in a single moment of intuition. Jacob Böhme had many mystical experiences culminating in a vision when he focused his attention on a beam of sunlight reflected in a pewter dish. In that moment he became aware that the universe was a binary, fractal, self-replicating algorithm.

Although Böhme did not use those words the concepts he expressed equate to the same meaning. He expressed these ideas in a religious context, the only vocabulary available to him. Böhme presented the universe as consisting of two parts good and evil, this is equal to binary computer code. He saw all things to be a microcosm of the divine model, equal to an infinite fractal. He concluded that everything in creation must follow the same replicating pattern observed in nature. This can equate to a procedural algorithm which makes and remakes itself forever.

Other theories of reality

Throughout humanity, our ancestors attempted to rationalize experience with various theories. The concepts balanced between the areas of science, religion, and philosophy.

Plato’s allegory of the cave explored the concept that reality is the shadow of a perfect reality. The Buddhist Dhamma portrays a concept of reality which is a dream-like experiential projection of a cosmic force known as karma. The Hindu Brahma is a concept of a more perfect and unchanging reality beyond the experiential reality of existence. The Zohar of Kabbalah states that everything in the physical world is illusory, including time. These are but a few of the many ancestral concepts of our experiential reality.

The common bond of these concepts are the idea that reality is a synthesis of some greater reality. The similarity of these older theories to simulation theory is striking. Our ancestors arrived at the same conclusion as the most forward-thinking minds of the current time.

What theories of reality really say about us

The fact that many theories of reality proposed throughout time share an incredibly similar theme may or may not be important. The fact that we theorize and attempt to understand reality may say more about us than they do about experiential reality.

We comprehend our reality relative to the totality of our experience. The importance of our relative experience is evident in the metaphorical descriptions of concepts throughout time. Wherein the comprehension of a concept is always based in the context of the time in which the concept was introduced. Reality is described as a shadow of another world in Plato’s cave, a dream by the Buddhist Dhamma, a holographic projection by Jacob Böhme, and a virtual creation by Simulation Theory.

The only difference in these theories is the metaphor used to explain the same concept. Modern theories use technological metaphors, whereas older ones use religious or natural metaphors. We interpret the world through the technological mindset of the time.

A stark conclusion to the complex theory

The most conclusive observation one could arrive at with regard to simulation theory is Musks elaboration.

“If we aren’t already in a simulation, the most probable reason isn’t that we are the first civilization; it’s that no civilization has ever advanced far enough to simulate reality.”

A stark conclusion to the complex theory; either we are already living in a simulation or we’re doomed extinction. In this light, it is easy to understand why the prospect of living in a virtual world is compelling for many. It may be easier to theorize within an abstract construct comprised of metaphors than confront a know-unknown. Perhaps this is the motivation for all contemplation on the nature of reality.

Simulation Theory Reddit comments and discussion.


  • Reddit Reader says:

    Avoidence coping?

  • Devon Swanson says:

    Doesnt mean we are a doomed civilization if we arnt in a simulation. If a version of us is in the base civilation we could just be watching “our reality” and saying “okay so this happens if trumps elected, and in that reality hillary is elcted.. now what reality is the best outcome? Because we ran this simulation and we chose the outcome.

  • Brian DeGraw says:

    Why not both and neither? In some sense the inflationary field could be self embedded. Does this make it alive? If we introduce tachyon fields it gets even worse. The electrons that are, are simply a temporary temporal distortion, yet to travel backwards in time. Electrons are indistinguishable in identity via some pragmatic formulations, as the operator or the overlay takes precedence. Even isolated electrons exhibit interesting product like behavior. Their ontology is not discernible from their epistemology, as both error correcting epiphenomenal and surrealist fatalistic interpretations maybe isomorphic. The tools used seem to necessitate features such as completeness, consistency, and decide-ability and yet reality seems to limit our ability to extract dependence, objectivity, and determinism. It becomes such a mess that the ontic and epistemic cannot be discriminated, and yet the miracle is that they do transact,, perhaps do not needing to be discriminated. That perhaps they do possess some equivalence for all the absurdity of our human judging.

    It goes deeper. There are multiple realizable theoretical mechanistic accounts, some of them inaggregable. Even weirder is that such an aspect may maintain our very apparent meta-stability. And so we are left with abstractions and circular reasoning. Abstractions like points, either connect or disconnect. Merely maps of both formulations and a journey still yet to be spoken.

    Of truth and beauty, mind moves. We do not actually ever truly talk about what things are, nor perhaps do we need to. We simply share how things relate to other relations with openness for indeterminacy .

    • You just blew up my brain. I think you generally agree with my main paints? Please correct me if I misunderstood.

      • Scott C. says:

        No, he doesn’t agree with your points. He’s talking about theoretical physics. He’s talking about how we can’t reconcile our daily experience with what physics tells us is actually real. String theory, multiverse theory and the holographic principle point towards simulation theory. Read Brian Greene, the Bill Nye of string theory. I like your article, but you can’t understand or give it a real shot without reading something at the level of “The Singularity. (Could machines outthink us and would we want them to?)” by Uziel Awret. It’s easy to say that we don’t understand things, but we can and do.

  • this article is overall trash says:

    Whoever wrote this article needs an editor. I’ve spotted several errors so far. Period where there should be a question mark, “its” replaced with “it’s”, lacking necessary commas, a sentence fragment, semicolons and colons not being used properly, and just generally shitty writing all around. Pretty sad. I’m done counting, time to try and read the rest of the article.

  • Zigmond says:

    Excellent article – you hit the nail on the head.
    Sim theory tells us far more about human psychology than about philosophy or philosophy of science (certainly tells us next to nothing about the universe).
    The historical examples are excellent.

    If I may add – the big logical/psychological flaws are:

    1. Human tendency to assume that what has been happening for a while will continue happening.
    This is clearly seen in the assumption that a civ’s processing power will keep increasing as it has in the first 50 years.

    2. Human tendency to extrapolate complex systems in an over-simplified manner while completely ignoring cost and complexity and how they scale.
    Remember all those endearing movies from the mid 20th century about the Atomic house – where even the vacuum is powered by nuclear energy?
    Same thing here – we take the current trend and extrapolate to infinity ignoring the fact that throughout human history this has always been proven wrong once some time has passed and the real trend emerges.
    Another example is human growth – 30 years ago demographics told of unchecked growth – yet today we can see the trend leveling off by 2100.

    3. Assuming civilization (humans or otherwise) are actually sustainable.
    So far the evidence is more in favor of civilization being unsustainable – lack of SETI signals as well as the march towards collapse we are seeing on our own planet.

    • Thanks for the response. I agree with your observations regarding some flaws in logic for predicting the future.

      The entirety of the problem as I see it, is really that we’re not smart enough to comprehend anything outside of our current state. While we have gotten better at this and have many more means to measure our reality through technological innovations these measurements are an arbitrary mechanistic way of perceiving our reality. They do help us create and observe amazing things. They have not yet helped us grow beyond our own human limitations.

      In short, we’re still bound by our evolutionary state. We my never be able to comprehend a greater existence or simulated reality beyond our current physical and psychological limitations.

  • Donna says:

    Nice article, im curious to read more on Jacob Bohme, any recommendations?

  • David Mitchell says:

    You missed out the important bit of the “three-fold” reasons. It states that we’re likely in a simulation, UNLESS ONE OF THE THREE IS FALSE.

  • Markus Hiltunen says:

    It should be stated that all simulation hypotheses make huge and in my opinion unwarranted assumptions about the characteristics of all physical universes and at the same time grounds itself in our willingness to create something resembling us. I’ll explain: To state that if we are not a simulation, then that is because no other civilization has yet advanced far enough, assumes that what we have reason to expect to be possible computing wise, applies also up in the chain. This almost certainly would not be the case. If humans were to simulate reality, We would not include all intricacies of quantum mechanics, even where it isn’t required for the end result. If we did, we could not simulate just about anything. In fact, quantum effects are used to make calculations. In a way every modern computer does, and complete quantum computers have their advantages as we know. One sacrifices complexity, to gain quantity. To state that this isn’t the case, then the simulating universe one up in the chain would be at least as large as ours, or in practice the same. If we consider that “complexity has been sacrificed” the universe in question would not resemble ours in any way.
    Same thing said in other words: For us to simulate what we have seen so far of our universe, would be a task of galactic proportions. For what kind of folk would it be feasible to simulate us? For someone who’s laws of physics allows us to exist in a grain of sand… “They must have created us as images of themselves, as our hypothesis dictates!”

    Simulation hypothesis, much like that of singularity, appears to me as a kind of religion that reasonably smart people can convince themselves to believe in, and enjoy the process of doing so. They are both possible, cannot be falsified, and allow means for endless self projections.

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