(Full disclosure: The name derives from Queen’s 1975 hit song “Bohemian Rhapsody.” However, the title was initially used in a Big Think video, “Are We Living in a Massive Computer Program? Or a Simulation?” But it was just too clever to pass up. To them full credit is due.)
Computers and simulations cannot understand emotions. With the correct programming, artificial intelligence (AI) can detect emotions, suffering, pain, and so on. But as a created thing in and of itself, without upgrades, without debuggings, without properly secured systems in place, it is victim to deterioration and entropy. Now, one may posit that entropy is universal; all are subject to decay. However, as noted by Joscha Bach, Cognitive Scientist at Harvard Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, though we are a type of program, similar to computers (i.e. designed), while computers forget and are subject to permanent, irreversible data deletion, life doesn’t forget. We forget life, but it never forgets us. This is why history is, as many say, doomed to repeat itself. The only simulating originates from humans.
Furthermore, many suggest humans wouldn’t create, or spawn, other forms of simulations on planets with the likeness of humans due to pain and suffering. Though it wouldn’t be real, we wouldn’t want to subject another species to any kind of apocalyptic demise simply for the pleasure of invention and creation (i.e. playing God). This is the primary motive for the ultimate disbelief in a Creator. However, if we are a simulation (and we aren’t), how do we know the difference between right and wrong, good and bad. This could be programmed, but programming posits a Programmer. And that would be inconvenient.
Even more, the innate desire to create is unique. Mathematician and economist Eric Weinstein notes that AI can self-replicate (spawn), but only with the direct command of a computer scientist. Eventually, he says, AI may one day figure out how to outsmart the programmers. He continues by saying dumb computer systems already control humans, like social media. Humans are glued to their phones and tablets because of the reward-based systems. Earlier this year on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper interviewed several persons involved in the Silicon Valley experiment–programming humans. Notifications are designed to train humans to spend X amount of time staring at a screen. For example, though a certain amount of persons (i.e. followers and friends) may have liked or favorited retweeted a particular post, it doesn’t notify the user until a relatively substantial amount of traffic has passed through the page, enticing the user to post more, read more, like more, etc. This is called “brain hacking.”
Now reverting back to the argument that AI may one day take over the world (e.g. Skynet, Ultron), this isn’t counter to humanity’s self-destructive past. We have always been inventing, innovating, and re-purposing old tools, ideas, and weapons to defeat our enemies over dirt rights, ideologies, religion, colonialism, etc. only to find we are just as capable as them of committing history-altering, world-ending atrocities. In our attempt to create peace, we, in the end, destroy ourselves (Jer. 6:14, 8:11; Ez. 13:10).
In a TED talk entitled “You are a Simulation & Physics Can Prove It,” renowned physicist and Nobel laureate George Smoot set out to reveal the evidences of a simulated universe. He starts by defining solipsism: “the philosophical idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist.” It’s sort of like René Descartes’s “I think, therefore I am” proposition, which is a little more complicated. But I digress.
First, like religion, this idea, solipsism, is non-falsifiable. However, we can come pretty close to peeling back the layers of nature to understand how the universe as we know it functions. Starting with the Anthropic Principle, it states,
“the cosmological principle that theories of the universe are constrained by the necessity to allow human existence.”
As explained by the fictional character Dr. Sheldon Cooper in the CBS comedy show The Big Bang Theory,
“The Anthropic Principle states that if we wish to explain why our universe exists the way it does, the answer is that it must have qualities that allow intelligent creatures to arise who are capable of asking the question.”
The Strong Anthropic Principle argues the universe was fine-tuned specifically and solely for the existence of humans while the Weak Anthropic Principle argues we are just lucky to be here, which is open to the multiverse argument as so eloquently demonstrated in the Marvel Comics.
Smoot continues with the Simulation Argument, saying that one of these must be true:
- “Human civilization is unlikely to reach a level of technological maturity capable of producing simulated realities, or such simulations are physically impossible to construct.
- A comparable civilization reaching a technological status will likely not produce significant number of simulated realities…for…ethical considerations of holding entities captive in simulated realities.
- Any entities with our general set of experiences are almost certainly living in a simulation.”
He posits “Simulacrum by Humans,” meaning, simulations already exist in video games, movies, virtual reality, and other lucrative indulgences. He proceeds that the vastness of the universe and all its galaxies and suns and planets, habitable and uninhabitable, are too great to not contain simulations and other life forms.
He continues to postulate that by 2045 humans will be uploading their minds (i.e. consciences) to computers to solidify their existence forever. In other words, artificial reality.
Furthermore, Smoot demonstrates with a series of pictures, diagrams, and optical illusions that just because we see something, that doesn’t make it real (e.g. mirages). He then concludes his talk by demonstrating contradictions within physics (e.g. general relativity and quantum mechanics), yet we still trust in these as reliable tools for determining reality since they both describe and explain unknowns within the universe.
During a Q&A session at the annual Code Conference held in Ranchos Palos Verdes, California last year, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk addressed the question, Are we living in a simulation? He confidently stated that there is a “one in billions” chance we are living in reality.
According to Musk, advancement and innovation are proofs of this illusion. People once thought the earth was flat. People once thought the earth was at the center of the universe. In less than one hundred years, due to the industrial revolution and mass migration, we went from horse and buggy to flying airplanes to landing on the moon.
Additionally, video games as a whole have advanced exponentially. Moreover, computer scientists and cyber architects are not only ruling social networks as the wealthiest people on the face of the earth but are also providing key components to fighting wars. Today, no war is fought without thousands of hackers keeping the US secure from foreign powers wishing to self-destruct our nuclear facilities, wipe out the power grid, remotely poison water supplies, and so on.
“The strongest argument for us being in a simulation…is the following: 40 years ago, we had pong, two rectangles and a dot. That is what games were. Now 40 years later we have photorealistic 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it’s getting better every year. And soon we’ll have virtual reality, augmented reality, if you assume any rate of improvement at all, the games will become indistinguishable from reality.”
Overall, the idea of a simulated universe posits a Creator. Who or what could this be? According to Anthropic Principle, if we can’t question anything, we don’t exist (ref. René Descartes). Therefore, we would live in a simulation since the Creator, or Programmer, didn’t see it befitting to create a people with the intellectual capacity to ask deep philosophical questions. But what if the Programmer programmed us to think critically and evaluate circumstances, ideas, and processes? Many, like Smoot, think one wouldn’t create a simulated universe since it would replicate humanity’s propensity toward depravity and inevitable suffering. Therefore, they are assuming people are inherently bad and can recognize the need for reform. And since we need reform, it posits an initial Causer (as aforementioned in a previous post), or Programmer. And the Programmer knows the needs of the program in the same way a parent cares for their child. So in reality, games are a microcosm of an accentuated reality. Simulations are meant to replicate or point toward something greater. They are meant to instill an appreciation for “the forms” (as described in a previous post). Therefore, if one were to say that we live in a simulation, they wouldn’t be wrong; however, if that is a substitution, an excuse for amoral living or refusing to observe and appreciate the forethought of the Creator, who created us in His image (Gen. 1:27), then they are deceiving themselves (Jas. 1:22) and the truth is not in them (1 Jn. 2:22) for they have duly shown their value (Rom. 1).
Strangely, scientists can conclude there are most likely other sentient and intelligent beings and simulations of life without definitive proof but can whimsically and disdainfully conclude that an all-powerful Creator—an initial Programmer if you will—cannot exist, despite its non-falsifiability? In their polemic—their impassioned attack—against solipsism, they can conclude that humans and even aliens are alone. By striving to prove we are not alone, they only seclude themselves more in hopes to shroud themselves from the ever-knocking Savior at the door of the heart (Gen. 3:10; Matt. 7:7).