It is a question as fascinating as it is complex. Is reality real or do our lives look like Matrix scenario ? A first hypothesis was formulated in 2003 by philosopher Nick Bostrom. The Swede, considered one of the greatest transhumanist thinkers in the world, then suggested that a post-human civilization had conceived a highly developed computer simulation that we are all in.
1 in 2 chance that we are living in a computer simulation?
David Kipping, a professor at Columbia University, took his reasoning even further. In his study published in MDPI, it was based on the famous “Bostrom’s trilemma”. Here is what Nick Bostrom says.
I contend that at least one of the following statements is true:
- The human species is very likely to become extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage.
- Any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of its evolutionary history (or variations).
- We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.
This statement paved the way for a new current of thought on transhumanism which has given a lot of thought to a large number of scientists, including David Kipping. The latter wanted to calculate what were the chances that we lived in a simulation.
To do this, he took this trilemma back to a dilemma. He actually simply put the first two propositions together., believing that they would lead to the same result: “we do not live in a simulation”. So, there would be about a one in two chance that we live in a simulation on the assumption that they were given the same probabilities.
Is it possible to prove whether or not we are living in a simulation?
A little simplistic do you think? It’s not false. But the reality is that we don’t have concrete evidence to tip the scales one way or the other. We’re not even sure it would be possible to prove that we live in a computer simulation if that was the case. If David Kipping estimates the odds at around 50-50, it is above all for a lack of information but this can change if we learn more or if we rely on assumptions.
For example, David Kipping puts forward this idea. If the assumption that there is no way to create a simulation is true, we would be 100% sure that we are not in a simulation. Logic. On the other hand, if the hypothesis where simulations are possible is true, we would not even be sure to be part of a simulation.
David Kipping indeed suggests that civilizations capable of creating a simulation will have tools with a computational limit. Thus, the more simulations are created, the more they will be “coarse in fidelity at each level, smaller in volume, poorer in detail”. What’s more, civilization may not use these tools in such a quantitative way. So, the odds that we would live in a simulation would be just under 50%.
A real puzzle
This is all very complicated, and many other scientists have tried to find a way to find an answer. But the problem is this: even if we find an element that could correspond to the idea that we are in a simulation, it could be that it is just specific to our basic reality. It would not be enough to confirm that this is a simulation.
David Kipping himself strongly doubts that one day we can prove whether or not we live in a simulation. He thus prefers to turn to Ockham’s razor principle which explains that the simplest explanation is more likely to be true. Finally, why make it complicated when you can make it simple?