A Study Shows There’s a 50% Chance We’re Living in a Simulation

This Article is Syndicated from Popular Mechanics by CAROLINE DELBERT

If real life in 2020 seems like just too much, take comfort in some breaking news: scientists say odds are even that we’re living in a simulation. The coin flip depends a great deal on science we may uncover in the near future, they say.

The 50/50 probability is rounded from a calculation whose outcome is more like 50.22222 to 49.77778. Scientific American cites the landmark 2003 paper “Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?” by philosopher Nick Bostrom. It’s worth reading Bostrom’s brief abstract in full:

“I argue that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to become extinct before reaching a ‘posthuman’ stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of its evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we shall one day become posthumans who run ancestor‐simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. I discuss some consequences of this result.”

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Bostrom’s claim is both philosophically and probabilistically bold, with considered outcomes he has placed almost on a pure binary. This led Columbia University astronomer David Kipping to run his own numbers using Bostrom’s argument as a guide.

Kipping began with Bayesian analysis, which lets the calculator include assumptions as a way to aid in the modeling. And since Bostrom’s first two criteria both posit there is no simulation, he condensed them into one criterion. Then, Scientific American explains, Kipping assigned “the principle of indifference,” which is the most nonspecific and non-assumptive “prior probability” you can use.

The next part requires a bit of a deep breath.

“Kipping then showed that even in the simulation hypothesis, most of the simulated realities would be nulliparous,” Scientific American‘s Anil Ananthaswamy writes, meaning the simulations cannot spawn their own additional simulations. He continues:

“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.”

That’s a mouthful, but it’s easy to understand if we think about a decidedly human-invented simulation: the virtual machine. If you have an Apple MacBook and want to run a PC program, you might use a wrapper like Wine to install the program in a self-contained computer that, to itself, is a real computer. But you don’t give the virtual machine your entire hard drive—you still need some to keep running the rest of your software and doomscrolling on Twitter. Like Russian nesting dolls, each creation must fully fit into and not encompass the parent.

So this idea, that simulations themselves are unlikely to spawn further simulations, tips the “indifferent” Bayesian calculation just a shade back into Team Reality. But there are two catches, at least. The first is that Bostrom himself thinks it was whimsical to assign the indifference principle to begin with, to consolidate two parts into one part, and so forth. He thinks this somewhat artificially weighted the outcomes.

And second, if programmers here on simulated Earth ever themselves make a simulated reality that includes conscious beings—which could take the form of a closed system of sentient artificial intelligences, for example—the entire Kipping calculation is voided.

But for now, on the shy side of 2001 or Her, we still have a little bit of time in the Matrix.

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2 thoughts on “A Study Shows There’s a 50% Chance We’re Living in a Simulation”

  1. Ah, if you can call it “science”, you can promote any theory and “they will come” and receive it with bright eyes!
    Frankly, this is nothing new. I think it was Rene Descartes who hypothesized that we were God’s dream: that was our true context of “reality”. We are all just part of His ongoing dream (nightmare?); which would mean if He wakes up, sayonara!

    But it’s “fun” to postulate when you don’t know the Truth. (Is it?) Thank God He has made the truth about Himself, ourselves, this world and the next, and how to transform from sinner to son or daughter of God, completely, clearly known! While such philosophical musings are fertilizer for another Stephen King book and movie and income to cover yacht payments for desperate Hollywood actors and actresses, they provide no basis for hope for a better or eternal life. So sorry, Descartes, but your concept has been technologized into its contemporary form – and know one remembers who you are anyway! : ) So it goes…..

    • Indeed, “it’s fun to postulate” (in my opinion without regard to one knowing the truth of our God). The thing I find so interesting about this article is the very notion that there is a “simulation.” If so, it logically follows that there must be a “simulator” established by means of intelligent design. For this reason, the study actually makes a case for the existence of God. For order never is the result of randomness and cachous.

      Further, what we understand as reality could very easily be a simulation of consciousness (similar to that depicted in the movie The Matrix). In actuality, it is impossible to know from the viewpoint of our consciousness (with or without the potentially imposed limitations of a simulation). “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.” (Anaïs Nin). A stone consists of energy, while occupying time and space just as we do. However, a stone could not have a subjective experience (spoken facetiously lol). At the end of the day I consider the ant. It really does function as thought it receives its commands from a simple written software. You can move it, shake up its ant bed, and it never seems discouraged or even distracted by it. Rather, it defaults to doing what it always does…

      God encompasses our planet, and places us here to visit it and participate in reality. How that occurs can never be conclusively determined this side of reality. That makes it fun!

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