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There’s A 50% Chance We’re Living In A Simulation, Scientists Say

by : Emily Brown on : 20 Oct 2020 12:37
There's A 50% Chance We're Living In A Simulation, Scientists SayWarner Bros.

Have you ever felt like your life is just one giant Sims game? Ever made a decision and then thought, ‘Why the hell did I do that?’ Well, there might be an explanation, because scientists have estimated there’s a 50% chance we’re living in a simulation. 

Questions of fate, free will and the existence of a higher power have been posed for generations and are often referenced in casual clichés like, ‘If it’s meant to be, it will be’, or ‘Everything happens for a reason’.

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Well, it’s possible the reason is actually that someone’s sat at a computer, controlling our lives with clicks and buttons.

ComputerPixabay

The question of whether we might be part of a simulation was raised by philosopher Nick Bostrom in his 2003 paper Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?, in which he posed the idea of a civilisation that possesses incredible computing power, and that uses a fraction of that power to simulate new realities full of conscious beings.

Heading back to the Sims analogy, it would be exactly like you controlling the players, trapping them in door-less rooms and ladder-less swimming pools, except the players are conscious and wondering why these bad things keep happening.

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Bostrom argued that one of three things must be true: either humans almost always go extinct before reaching a simulation-savvy, ‘post-human’ stage; humans make it to that stage, but are unlikely to be interested in simulating their own past; or that we are ‘almost certainly’ living in a computer simulation.

Neo The MatrixWarner Bros.

Columbia University astronomer David Kipping did his own calculations based on Bostrom’s arguments, though he put the first two suggestions into one ‘no simulation’ category.

Per Scientific American, Kipping assigned ‘the principle of indifference’; the ‘default assumption when you don’t have any data or leanings either way’.

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Taking into account factors such as whether each simulation would be able to create their own simulation, the astronomer found that the probability that we are living in reality is almost the same as the probability that we are a simulation; more specifically, the odds are 50.22222 to 49.77778 in favour of reality.

Binary computerPixabay

Kipping suggested that even if we are living in a simulation, we would not be able to then create a simulation of our own – aka, the Sims characters couldn’t create and play their own Sims game.

Scientific American explains:

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That is because as simulations spawn more simulations, the computing resources available to each subsequent generation dwindles to the point where the vast majority of realities will be those that do not have the computing power necessary to simulate offspring realities that are capable of hosting conscious beings.

However, the near 50/50 split would change if humans managed to created a simulation with conscious beings inside it.

The SimsElectronic Arts

Kipping wrote:

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The day we invent that technology, it flips the odds from a little bit better than 50–50 that we are real to almost certainly we are not real, according to these calculations. It’d be a very strange celebration of our genius that day.

Houman Owhadi, an expert on computational mathematics at the California Institute of Technology, pointed out that if the creators of the simulation had ‘infinite computing power’ then humans would never figure out that we were living in a virtual reality, ‘because it could compute whatever you want to the degree of realism you want’.

Though the idea of living in a completely simulated world might seem like something that belongs only in The Matrix, it would be good to have something to blame all of our bad decisions on! On the off chance there is an all-powerful civilisation looking down on us, maybe consider turning down the difficulty level a bit? 2020 has been one hell of a year.

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Emily Brown

Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.

Topics: Science, Computer, Now

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Scientific American
  1. Scientific American

    Do We Live in a Simulation? Chances Are about 50–50