Are we in a simulation? This short video explores the question

Great points, but now what should we tell all the people currently devoting their working lives in pursuit of proof that we’re living in a designed simulation?




I’d simply point out that pushing bits around is more economical than pushing matter. Of course the substrate matters; it is more economical to build a model out of plastic than gold, for example. Economic efficiency does not depend on complexity alone.

Unless weather depends on quantum phenomena (which seems highly unlikely), weather is NOT fundamentally indeterministic; chaos/complexity is not the same as fundamental indeterminacy. Thermodynamics / mechanics are the basis of weather and are fundamentally deterministic. The apparent indeterminacy is a result of limited knowledge of initial conditions and model simplification. The only fundamental indeterminacy in the world is quantum indeterminacy (if you subscribe to Copenhagen), and if you are an Everretian, even quantum mechanics is fundamentally deterministic (the schrodinger evolves unitarily) and the apparent quantum indeterminacy is simply an observer self-selection phenomenon.

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I think you are a bit confused here. Look at it this way: say we find empirical evidence that we are in a simulation. This would tend to confirm the hypothesis that we are in a simulation. But wait you say; it’s possible that the simulator might have fabricated that evidence. Well sure; but that’s not an argument that we are not in a simulation; you’ve already had to accept that hypothesis to advance your counter argument.

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I think the big problem is: Can you actually explain what that evidence could possibly be? How is it possible to tell a simulated world from a world that just happens to be that way? What would be different about reality if it was simulated?


Thermodynamically, pushing matter around is an informational process.

Classical mechanics, and hence thermodynamics, is an approximation of quantum phenomenon, and remains so irrespective of hidden variable theories.

I subscribe to neither - we lack the knowledge to determine which, if either, are accurate descriptions of reality - but even an Everretian cannot determine in advance which division of their universe they’ll end up it once it forks. The future is indeterminable and therefore for the sake of empirical science it’s also indeterminate. If we discover reproducible empirical evidence of the validity of any hidden variable theory which allows us to obtain complete knowledge of the future, then we will need to revise whether the future is indeterminable, and for now we have no such evidence despite a century of searching. It’s possible we’ll find one any day now, a century isn’t that long, but to assume one isn’t empirical science, it’s baseless speculation. Until and unless we do, the laws of QM forbid you complete knowledge of the initial conditions no matter how complex your model is.

I’ll have to think about that.

If I may politely ask, why not aggregate your replies to a single interlocutor (in this case me) instead of making separate posts for each point you wish to address? If you’re posting as you go along in your thought process and wish to avoid edit tags, know that I trust you to edit your posts without moving the goalposts, and you’re always free to include an ETA when you add something. Not telling you what to do, but aggregating is considered good netiquette.

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I can’t figure out how to multi-quote in a single reply. Care to explain how? :slight_smile:


When you have the reply window open, just highlight the text you want to quote with your cursor (or finger or pen on a pad) and the quote button should appear just above the highlighted text. Click on it and only that text will appear in the editor. Type your reply below it in the editor and then hit enter or return to move to the next line down and use the cursor to again highlight the text you wish to quote for the next part of your reply. Repeat as needed. The various quotes can be from different replies and each one should automatically display which user you quoted.


The video explains some evidence that is being searched for. It is possible to search for inconsistencies (it is very hard to produce a consistent ad-hoc simulation for instance…imagine trying to simulate a chess game where the only information you have comes from mid-game; combinatorial explosion makes it nigh impossible to develop a consistent history of the game from the start point); it is possible to search for short-cuts taken to reduce computational burden; we can think of how we might develop a simulation and what signature that might leave inside the simulation (if you were an intelligent inhabitant of one of our current video-games, for example, it would not be hard to find evidence that the game was artificial). None of these are likely to be conclusive, and IBE will come into play. My own belief is that it is very unlikely that we live in one of Bostrom’s ancestor simulations, and fairly unlikely that we live in a universe-scale one. But it does not seem to be beyond the realm of possibility.

Quantum indeterminacy just doesn’t operate at the scale of weather. Chaos theory is quite sufficient to explain the effective unpredictability of weather, without bringing QM into the equation. Just like we don’t need quantum woo to explain how brains work; they are much too warm and wet. A good article here deals with this subject: (added) but this is a bit besides the point. You are correct that chaotic systems such as weather aren’t very amenable to ad-hoc simulation, since they are effectively indeterministic. This is one of the reasons I don’t like Bostrom’s ancestor simulation idea.

William of Ockham, Bertrand Russell and Gong called. I didn’t understand all of it, but there was something about a teapot and moving beyond first semester undergrad philosophy. Sounded like they were having a blast, though.


I totally disagree with this. If you were Mario, you would not be able to determine scientifically that your world was a computer simulation. In order to do that you’d need to know what an unsimulated reality would look like so that you could compare. Mario can’t learn about the base reality that created that world, can’t know about coding languages it might use and errors that might occur in the compilers, can’t guess from the large size of fundamental particles in their world that something is amiss. Basically, you can never answer the question: What if that’s just the way reality is?

We’ve found inconsistencies in the universe before and they always turn out to be inconsistencies in the biases that we brought to the table. Wave particle duality, the uncertainty principle, basically everything about quantum mechanics. But even if they weren’t, even if the reason why quantum mechanics work the way we do is because of some computational trick our simulators used, we couldn’t possibly discover that using science. That’s just not what science does. Science says, “Well, this is the way it works no matter what you think of that.”


The argument is that everything is completely deterministic, and that if we find something that doesn’t follow our idea of determinism, then we have proved angels.

No test proposed will ever prove the premise, because the premise is un-disprovable.

It’s the same argument as Creationism. A lot of pseudo-scientific pageantry with nods to actual science, in the service of a premise that it shows there’s a “Maker” behind it all.


Which is a foolish argument. If we can assert that base reality is deterministic, then any simulation of base reality is necessarily deterministic. Determinism passes from the parent to the child reality (I’d be interested in arguments to the contrary) since any modifications to the child reality that the parent reality makes were determined before the creation of the child reality. Therefore once we assert base reality is deterministic there is no point in looking for non-deterministic elements within a simulation. Determinism is an obfuscation.

What we might find is things that don’t appear to us be caused by anything from within the simulated reality. But that’s exactly the same as just saying, “Things are don’t look deterministic because we don’t know what caused them.” That is, literally everything science now understands from the perspective of someone in the past.

(By the way, kudos for linking this back to the watchmaker argument earlier, since that’s all it is)


It’s putting magical thinking under a cloak of scientism.

“I found a rock on the beach, and it wasn’t where I predicted a rock could be. Let me spend three months explaining my scientific process for determining rock origins. Now, maybe you’ll agree this supports my main theory that God put it there?”

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For Mario, an intelligent design explanation would not be unreasonable. And he’d be correct. For us, before Darwin/evolution, ID as a theory was more reasonable than post-Darwin (since evolution BNS is a far better explanation on any number of levels).

Sure, this is a potential answer to any question. It’s just not a very good one, except for matters of logical necessity. This isn’t to say that, faced with potential inconsistencies/evidence for design etc, one should stop looking for internal naturalistic explanations. (added) and that’s not even where we are right now. right now, people are just looking for potential evidence. and not finding any.

Say that a few hundred years in the future, we still haven’t been able to elucidate a consistent quantum gravity. We can throw our hands up and say “that’s just the way it is”, we can say “there is an internal natural explanation, we just haven’t found it yet”, or we can consider the possibility that it might be a computational feature of an external simulation, and see if we can figure out what such a simulation would look like/how it would work. Science does not say “well that’s just the way it is, stop looking for explanations”. (added) The difference between this an “magical thinking” is that we have a good scientific understanding of how to build simulations of our own. The same was never true of the “god” hypothesis.

We also knew how watches are possible. Building our own simulations doesn’t prove anything more about a Maker behind our existence.

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The fact that you think Mario could reasonably guess that Mario’s world is simulated tells me that we have completely different ideas of our ability to understand reality. I’m going to put forward one final simplified case for the problem with proposing and intelligent creator, but I think that’ll be it.

Science is a tool that allows us to make predictions about the natural world. We know things to the extent we are able to predict them.

If we find some irreducible problem (and it seems like a sure bet this will eventually happen) and we can mathematically prove there is no way to predict the behaviour of some specific thing, or prove through observation that it does not work in an internally consistent way, we could say:

  1. We cannot predict how this behaves; or
  2. This is the work of an intelligent creator and we cannot predict how this behaves

It’s a little bit like the possibly apocryphal story of the astronomer who was asked where God was in their model and answered, “I had no need of that hypothesis.” That we cannot figure something out is evidence of nothing but our lack of understanding. When science can’t explain something it either keeps searching for an explanation forever or it proves mathematically that the thing cannot be explained. There is no value in saying, “What if it is caused by some intelligent creator” because then we would have to continue to apply science to that intelligent creator anyway.


The simulation hypothesis does not say “this thing can not be explained”; it says “this thing can be explained as part of an external artificial simulation”, which is itself non-supernaturally explicable. It does indeed “apply science to the intelligent creator”; there is nothing supernatural in the hypothesis. In that respect it is somewhat similar to multiverse explanations of the anthropic coincidences, in that it expands “the universe” to a deeper level in order to explain something that is not fully explicable at this level. I’m not sure why you would think that there is no value in applying science to a hypothetical intelligent creator, should we ever find evidence for such. Whether it would be possible to science that greater reality is a different question; it is analogous to software running in a sandbox attempting to discover/hack the machine running the sandbox.