Do we live in a simulation? The problem with this mind-bending hypothesis.

Is everything we know and experience, up to and including reality itself, a simulation created by some unseen and unknowable entity? This idea, known as the simulation hypothesis, was first proposed by University of Oxford professor Nick Bostrom in 2003.

But does the simulation hypothesis offer a compelling argument, or is it just interesting food for thought? Let’s find out.

Let’s assume our computers will continue to grow ever more powerful, efficient and capable. Let’s say that at some point in the deep, deep future (for this argument to work, it doesn’t matter exactly when this happens),

we build some ridiculous planet-sized computer — a computer so powerful that it could simulate our entire universe, recreating all the physics, chemistry and biology that we experience in the natural world.

If we also assume that consciousness is consciousness, regardless of where it resides (in either an organic brain or a digital one), then any simulated entities within the computer that gain consciousness will experience a world that is indistinguishable from ours.

Once our descendants build such a computer, they will inevitably create countless simulated beings — just try to count how many creatures in video games have appeared and disappeared since we first developed the technology.

Very quickly, the number of simulated conscious brains living in a computer will vastly outnumber the organic brains living in the real universe. If this ends up happening, we are left with three possibilities:

1. Our descendants (or other intelligent beings in the universe) will never be able to develop the technological ability to faithfully simulate the cosmos. 2. Our descendants (or other intelligent beings in the universe) will develop the technology but choose not to simulate the cosmos. 3. The vast majority of all conscious entities, including you, are living in a simulation.

The simulation argument is the latest in a long tradition of philosophical thinking that questions the ultimate nature of the reality we experience. Through the ages, philosophers have wondered if our reality is the construct of a malicious demon, or if we live inside of someone else’s dream.

As philosophical arguments go, the simulation hypothesis is a good one. But the hypothesis ends with a trilemma — three statements, one of which must be true (if you accept all the assumptions in the argument), but we can’t tell which one.

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