The Simulated Universe

Since the dawn of human awareness, we’ve asked ourselves why are we here and do we have a purpose? Do we just happen to exist, or did someone actually create us and the universe around us for a reason? It has been rather tricky to find an answer to that question.

The simulated UniverseThe dilemma is that if someone or something did create us, then for what purpose? And who created our creator(s), who created them and so on ad infinitum? But if on the other hand there is no creator then there could also be no purpose to life and universe. Why would something that has utterly no purpose exist? Or even, how would an entire universe just pop into existence out of nothing?

From Nature-Deities to Big-Bang

Our earliest ancestors tried to search for a creator among the natural forces they interacted with and which seem to exert a considerable positive influence on their survival. After all, if there really was a creator, she would not leave her children utterly helpless. Thus the earliest candidates suspected of being the creator were forces of nature that helped us survive. Mother Earth, from whose belly all the plant life emerge. Sun, which provides the warmth and light so vital for life. Rain and rivers, without which there would be no crops and so forth.

 Then, came the age of philosophical thought.

All cultures, from the prehistoric Eastern to modern Western have had their unique schools of philosophy. The pre-Socratic philosophers rejected traditional mythological explanations of the phenomena they saw around them in favor of more rational explanations. These philosophers asked questions about “the essence of things”:

From where does everything come?

From what is everything created?

How do we explain the plurality of things found in nature?

How might we describe nature mathematically?

Medieval philosophy in the west, roughly extending from the Christianization of the Roman Empire until the Renaissance, was greatly concerned with the nature of God. One early effort was the cosmological argument, conventionally attributed to Thomas Aquinas. The argument goes, that everything that exists has a cause, but since there could not be an infinite chain of causes back into the past, there must have been an uncaused “first cause.” This is God.

Through the age of Renaissance to the modern era, philosophy gave birth to the scientific method, the most robust method known to mankind of uncovering the true nature of things through minute observation and rigorous testing.

Over the past few hundred years, scientists have thus developed various theories that describe the early universe and origin of life. The Big Bang theory states that the universe expanded from an extremely dense and hot state (often referred to as a ‘singularity’) some 13.7 billion years ago, and continues to expand today. Hence, the popular name big bang. Theories of Abiogenesis and Panspermia describe how life may have started on planet Earth. The theory of Evolution describe how, once life had started, it evolved into ever higher forms ultimately resulting in the modern intelligent homo-sapiens.

And yet, surprisingly, we still do not have a single widely accepted theory of how the universe might have come into being in the first place!

Its worth noting that due to frequent mis-representation in popular media, many people mistakenly believe the big bang theory to be a creation-theory. This is not the case! The big-bang theory does not attempt to explain the creation of the universe, only the rapid expansion of it once it was already created, leaving us clueless as to how the singularity might have come into being in the first place, and giving rise to two major questions:

  1. Where did the singularity exist? Anything that exist has to exist somewhere in the universe, but since the singularity itself is the universe at its earliest stage, it would have to exist somewhere outside. But the big bang theory does not and cannot go beyond the big bang as all of our physical laws pretty much break-down at that point.
  2. When did it exist? According to big-bang theory time itself started from the moment of big-bang, hence, it cannot tell exactly when the singularity existed.

We therefore have no idea how the universe was born, when was it born and where was it born. Something seems to be entirely missing from the way the whole origin question has been approached so far.

Simulation Argument

By the end of the 20th century, despite searching for thousands of years, humans were getting no closer to finding a single, logical and comprehensive explanation of how the universe around us could have come into being and for what purpose.

Then, just around the beginning of the new millennium, a remarkable new idea started to emerge. Major advances in the fields of quantum physics, artificial intelligence and computerized simulations and the ever-increasing processing power of microprocessors led to the question being asked:

could a computer ever be built, so powerful, that it could compute the entire universe as a simulation?

Unbelievably, it turns out that if Moor’s law would continue to hold true, this would most likely be the case. Furthermore, if we were to take into account emerging technologies such as molecular nano-technology and quantum computing, then it becomes almost certain.

This led scientists and theorists to ask:

if it is a known certainty that at some point in future humans would be capable of building computers so powerful they could run a simulation of the entire universe, how do we know this has not already happened?

This was put forward as a formalized logical argument in 2003 by Nick Boström, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford, and came to be known as the Simulation Argument.

Boström argues:

“A technologically mature posthuman civilization would have enormous computing power. Based on this empirical fact, the simulation argument shows that at least one of the following propositions is true:

 1.The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage is very close to zero;

2.The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero;

3.The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.

If (1) is true, then we will almost certainly go extinct before reaching posthumanity.

If (2) is true, then there must be a strong convergence among the courses of advanced civilizations so that virtually none contains any relatively wealthy individuals who desire to run ancestor-simulations and are free to do so.

If (3) is true, then we almost certainly live in a simulation.

In the dark forest of our current ignorance, it seems sensible to apportion one’s credence roughly evenly between (1), (2), and (3). Unless we are now living in a simulation, our descendants will almost certainly never run an ancestor-simulation.”

In simple words, the argument is saying we are almost certainly living inside a simulation unless one of the following is true:

a) The human civilizaton will destroy itself before our computers become powerful enough to be able to run a universe simulation.

b) The human civilization will not destroy itself and will acquire the computing power necessary to run a universe simulation, however, we will have no wish or reason to do so.

But what kind of processing power such simulations would require?

According to Boström:

the main computational cost in creating simulations, that are indistinguishable from physical reality for human minds in the simulation, resides in simulating organic brains down to the neuronal or sub-neuronal level.

He estimates, roughly, that this sort of simulation would need a computer capable of carrying out somewhere between 1033 to 1036 operations per second and claims that this is well within the reach of “posthuman” computational power, even when leaving a large margin for error.

In part 2 of this article, I will show how Boström’s argument can be further expanded leading us to some remarkable conclusions, e.g .that the human race does not need to reach “post-humanity” to build such simulations, we are already building them only we do not yet recognize them as such. That the purpose of these simulations are not to serve as “ancestor simulations” but something completely different and that our universe is most probably a low-detail simulation of another vastly more complex universe while we ourselves are most probably a dumbed-down simulation of vastly more intelligent beings possessing a much higher number of physical senses than us.


Part 2 – Why We Exist

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