In his seminal work Republic, Plato presents the allegory of the cave; Imagine a group of people imprisoned from childhood in a darkened environment. The chained prisoners are only able to see the walls in front of them and identify their fellow prisoners through their shadows appearing on the walls. One day a prisoner exits the cave and finds a vast landscape basking in bright sunlight, finally able to see the world for what it is. When the prisoner returns to tell the others about the world outside, his tribe refuses to believe him and leave the cave. Through this allegory, Plato proposes that people only believe what they see and hear, failing to ascertain that true knowledge comes from philosophical reasoning. The same line of thought leads us to the idea that the world we presume as an absolute reality could very well be a simulation.
A simulation is defined as an imitative representation of a system, or process, that utilizes the function of another. The simulation theory proposes that it is highly likely that our world, or the perception of it, is a simulation in a multi-verse system. This hypothesis was popularized in recent years by British philosopher Nick Bostrom.
Many renowned scientists and famous technologists, including Elon Musk, lend credence to Bostrom’s hypothesis. Musk explains it in this way: Video games from forty years ago such as Pong had generic 2-D graphics, as simple as two rectangles and a dot. But today, advancements in the field have led to photo-realistic, multi-player games being played online by millions around the world at any given moment. The constant technological progression of AI and VR will make games of the future indistinguishable from the world outside. Wired into these games, players would create the worlds as they think, inter-connected with their neural synaptic systems. At that time human beings would have the capacity to simulate the hyper-realistic worlds, but it would no longer be so easy to differentiate the real world and the simulation. If we reverse engineer the same thought, the argument that the world we live in today is also a simulation being projected by a superior civilization becomes a probability.
The world as we know it works on physical and scientific laws based on mathematical equations. All these equations function with the presence of arbitrary constants that haven’t changed in many decades, to as far as the millionth decimal. As such, if a powerful enough system were programmed with these laws, the system would be capable of simulating our entire cosmic experience. This computer would need to be set up on a planet mimicking the conditions of our own planet and within reach to a powerful energy source like the Sun. Bostrom’s hypothesis then states that if a civilization can project a simulation, the argument that it itself is a simulation becomes highly probable.
Various methods have been presented to test this idea, one such being that a simulation being run by a computer will undoubtedly accumulate glitches over time. To fix these glitches, the simulators would have to make modifications in the system the same as any other software or computer we’ve built. The scientists suggest that these changes could actually be calculated, if changes in the constants of some of the physical laws of our world were to occur. These changes, however, might be so subtle that it could take centuries along with more advanced computational devices to measure.
Another theory is that the multi-layered simulation system has to be controlled by the top layer of simulators and no matter how strong their computing system, it will hit the bottom at one level and that level wouldn’t have the capacity to create another simulation. The world we experience might very well be the bottom-most layer of the simulation.
Elon Musk and many other scientists believe that the only thing that could refrain us from achieving the level of technology with which we can simulate our universe through an inter-connected synaptic system would be an apocalyptic war or natural calamity. Another reason might be that when we reach that stage, humanity could decide not to create a simulation as ethical reasons toward pain and suffering arise.
Whatever humanity achieves in the future isn’t clear to us now, but when we reach the point of creating simulations, the argument that we are one ourselves would become stronger. This would finally answer the age-old question of where life begin and the secrets of consciousness.