The Life Cycle podcast dives into the simulation hypothesis rabbit hole

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Calling this reality a simulation, sort of begs the question of, "what deeper reality is this a simulation of?

Before computers, I think this was called solipsism.


And what kind of dicks gave us Trump as an option…


The first time I heard of this omphalouskeptic cowflop Professor Jennings came to mind:

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If this is a simulation, then load up the infinite sex bots module already, dear overlords.


I can just imagine a couple of 12 year old game modders giggling as they wonder “let’s see what happens if we make the US president be Chaotic Evil with an intelligence of 3, hee hee hee!”


That kind of speculation is really boring to me. It’s the philosophical equivalent of " it was all just a dream".

And it’s one of those unprovable and irrefutable theories that is more in line with faith than science.


It is not unprovable, this is based on the quantum nature of the universe, the fact that there’s a speed limit, the experiments where we see quantum entaglement of particles… At the small scale, many things make sense if you start by thinking that everything is a construct stored on a big computer and everything is calculated.
Think of a videogame, with people, streets, cars, guns… virtual people react to virtual bullets, virtual cars crash into virtual walls. For them it is real.

It’s provable only if the simulation is so buggy that we can spot the errors. Some errors, such as a slight anisotropy of the speed of light because we are going calculated on a grid might be properties of a universe anyway if there is some Conyway’s life-like elemental underneath it all (which I doubt, but no harm in looking I suppose).

The bit I really don’t get is why people hold this idea. It’s like being a Flat Earther: if you can’t imagine that the world is curved because it does not agree with your ‘common sense’, then the curvature of the earth has little direct visibility in your life - you are not a pilot or an astronaut - so why get excited about it?

People are Weird.


From time immemorial, the high priests have been given the task of explaining how the world is. They build huge temples, invent complex counter-intuitive rulesets to act as shibboleths, and defend both by demonstrating they understand best how the world works. Sure, we’ve moved on from the procession of the equinoxes to GPS and MRI, but perhaps the first rule of science should be “it’s never angels.”


Exactly, and if you don’t found any bug believers will say it’s because you didn’t search well enough or because the simulation is perfect.
And if the simulation is perfect then it is impossible to prove you are in a simulation.

Recursive logic ! Yay !


It is like the homunculus fallacy or the ‘cartesian theatre’. If we can’t imagine our brain having conciousness, we interpret the actions of all the parts we have analysed as being mechanical; and therefore there must be some ‘little person’ in our head that gets presented with the processed data and does the actual thinking. And the little person must have a little person in their head too.

This is just the same thing but going the other way.


Sorry, I don’t engage with arguments with the word quatum in it :stuck_out_tongue:

My point is : if the simulation is perfect then it is impossible for us to know if we are in a simulation because the software can hide any proof perfectly.
No need for any quantic whatever.


I get that it’s uninteresting to you; but just because something is unprovable doesn’t mean studying it has no value.

Some of our greatest physicists spend a lot of time studying the “multiverse” theory, and it is by definition unprovable but it opens new lines of thinking to explain the structure of the universe. In computer science it seems to be unprovable whether P == NP, but studying it is an important part of understanding computational complexity.

I have no opinion right now on the simulation hypothesis one way or the other, but I find it interesting to think about both sides, and whether you might be able to prove it with the right information or tools.

No one said the simulation had to be perfect.

You can’t have “simulation” without positing a framework where there’s an intention to simulate.

You can’t have “intention” without positing a creator for this hypothesis (it doesn’t matter if you ascribe no other properties to your “creator”, it’s enough to just say something wanted to make something else).

It’s creationism.

Using science to “explore the hypothesis that we were created by a being” isn’t new; people have wanted to use every scientific framework for this purpose, from using experiments in electricity and medicine to see if we have “souls”, to using the shapes of nature to prove a cosmic watchmaker.

The missing step is always between “This is how we believe nature works” and “This shows something authored it.”


It’s literally provable. Someone can find a way to interact with the larger system and prove that it exists my manipulating it. If someone tells me that this is all a simulation, and then has the sun fly over to Earth and serenade us all without killing us, I’ll consider that some very strong evidence for “its a simulation”. Likewise, you could find evidence of a simulation even before that as you break apart physics and understand the deeper nature of reality. You could prove it is a simulation by having a third party outside of the simulation demonstrate that this is a simulation.

There are a lot of ways to demonstrate that our reality is a simulation, we just haven’t found any yet. That is perfectly valid in science. You can have a hypothesis that fits all the facts, you just now then need to go find a way to prove it.

The biggest problem with the simulation theory is that it is very hard to imagine a way to disprove it. That makes it an interesting hypothesis, but not one with much scientific relevance other than that scientist keep checking the numbers to make sure that there is nothing really weird going on that might be explained by this being a simulation.

The other piece to the simulation theory is that the answer doesn’t really matter. If we suddenly had conclusive proof that this was just a simulation, it wouldn’t mean anything for anyone but philosophers and spiritualist. You still feel pain, you still don’t want to die, and the fact that reality is some sort of computing substrate rather than jiggling strings to small to imagine (or whatever) doesn’t really change anything for your day to day reality.

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It’s certainly is a form of creationism. The biggest difference between Christian creationism and simulation theory is that simulation theory happily admits that it is currently unproven, has no positive evidence for it, no currently known tests, and the answer has exactly zero influence on how you should live your life. It happily sits in the land of hypothesis where physicists when confronted with mathematical oddities can ask themselves, “is this evidence of a simulation?”

Asking “was this created” is a perfectly valid question. The problem with Christian creationism is that it ignores evidence that says “no”. Christian creationism has a framework in which it tries to stuff reality into. “Simulation creationism” is going in the opposite direction. It accepts reality and is looking to see if maybe reality is simulation shaped. It has no opinion on the question; it’s just a hypothesis.

There is nothing wrong with people thinking on this problem and thinking on this hypothesis. Reality could be a simulation, and we might be able to discover and prove this. If we do, it will almost certainly come from physicists coming to understand the nature of reality better such that they can poke back deeper into the system. This is the nature of their work, regardless of what the final answer is.

Obviously, no one should be living their life like the answer to this question matters, and thankfully no one is. This is what separates it from Christian creationism. Christian creationist believe they know the answer and seek to bend reality to prove it, and then make demands on how you should live your life after having accepted the theory. Simulation theory on the other hand is a theory that offers absolutely no advice on how to live your life (pain and death are real to you, simulated or not) and doesn’t actually claim to be true; it just claims to be an unproven hypothesis you might ponder while poking at the secrets of the universe.


You’re right. It’s like angels.

The point isn’t that it could never be proven. The point is that it’s adding an unnecessary hypothetical creator, when the work of exploring the nature of reality doesn’t require it.

It’s ascribing agency and testing for it, where “proof of agency” is described as anything that doesn’t meet assumptions. A no-lose hypothesis.

That sounds right.

If people are only claiming that, no problem.

If they start claiming beyond that, like say, claiming that we must be living in a simulation, then they’re making Creationist-level claims.

It’s the difference between “Maybe the Creationists could be right?” and “I think the Creationists must be right”.


No one has said anything about a creator. The hypothesis is that the universe is a simulation. You are the one taking the next step and saying, “and that simulation must have a creator”.

A creator is certainly one possible way to have a simulation, but you could imagine other possibilities. You could imagine a universe like ours, but where natural laws result in simulation spontaneously evolving on natural computational medium. In other words, the simulation might just be an accident of some funky alien crystals or whatever that through evolutionary processes started simulating some make believe universe.

“There is a creator” hypothesis would certainly get a big boost if we discovered the nature of reality was a simulation, but that would be a perfectly acceptable hypothesis because as far as we know, all simulations have creators. Regardless, there is nothing wrong with hypothesizing “this has a creator”. I look at my computer and correctly hypothesis “this has a creator”. We look at strange signals from space and conclude “this has a creator” (humans). It’s only a problem when you start hypothesizing “this has a creator” when there is clearly a natural explanation.

No one is claiming that we must be living in a simulation. Nerds just point out that we could be living in a simulation. Some really big nerds point out that if you make a couple of big assumptions about the nature of reality and computing, then we statistically it’s likely that we are in a simulation.

Regardless, the people playing with the simulation idea all come to the same conclusion; it doesn’t matter. This isn’t religion. If we prove tomorrow that all of reality is actually a simulation, the only people that are going to be upset are spiritualists. Everyone else is just going to shrug, and carrying on trying to avoid pain or death. Whether I’m made up of atoms or bits, pain and death still suck. Only religious people would care about the distinction.

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There’s no such thing as “accidental” simulation. There is such a thing as accidental parallel development, but not accidental simulation.

That’s not a “simulation” theory; that would just be a “how stuff happened to happen” theory. “Simulate” doesn’t mean “looks like”, it means “made to look like”.

You aren’t. I’m not disagreeing with you.

As a hypothesis, we both agree it’s a fun thought experiment for speculation…

As a hypothesis, it’s still, “How would we test for something intending this?”, not just “How does stuff work?”.