There is a very real chance that we are, right this moment, and unaware of the fact, living inside of a video game. This is not a metaphor. This is not an attempt (admittedly, sadly characteristic of me, I get it, whatever) at trolling a sometimes too-easily confused class of perennially-furious anonymous internet commenters. This is an answer to the question of the nature of our reality that is plausible, recently popularized, and linked to a powerful thought experiment that I will outline below, implications of which I can’t escape, and that you might not be able to either. So before you read on, consider the degree to that you are satisfied with your life; if you aren’t looking for a mindfuck, probably go and find a listicle ASAP. One of mine, even. Have you checked out the 7 Most Probable Reasons He Isn’t Texting You?
Last call. Are you sure that you want this?
Okay then, kids. Here we go.
From Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to Grant Morrison’s the Invisibles and, hell yes, the Wachowskis’ Matrix trilogy, Western culture has explored the authenticity of the fabric of our world more or less uninterrupted from its inception, and ever with that inquisitive eyebrow up, like, I know that this is ‘real’… but is it real real? With the advent of powerful computing in the Twentieth Century, however, new possibilities became apparent; the question concerning what might be a perfect video game was answered, plainly, with an idea: the perfect video game is not a game that you play, but a game that you live, and even better if you don’t know that you’re inside of it.
Imagine this: you link your mind to some future, bad ass piece of technology, and it transports you to a game world that looks and feels as real as your own. Maybe it’s an historical simulation. Maybe it’s a Harry Potter simulation, and you’re flying on your broom high above Hogwarts beside fiction’s #1 dreamboat, Oliver Wood. You’re headed to a date in Hogsmeade and there is like, a very good chance that the two of you will be making out after. With tongue, ladies.
“Cute cloak,” he says.
“Oh this old thing?” you say, and smile, and bat your witchy eyes.
Imagine now that you don’t want to know that you’re inside the simulation. Imagine that it’s an historical program, and you want to feel exactly like the historical figure you’re living the life of. Imagine that you were struck with the fancy to experience life in the Twenty-first Century, perhaps, at the moment humanity became a space-faring civilization (oh heyyy, Elon Musk), and that this, all around us right now, is that simulation. A great, strange dream.
There are an infinite number of programs one might run with the ability to enter what seems, completely, perfectly, a new world, with our ability to produce them limited only by our capacity to think of them. And this is the bewildering, inescapable point. If we develop the ability to produce even one simulated reality, we will almost certainly produce more than one. We may produce hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of simulated realities, even, as the human population rises.
So here is the question upon which all of this, our potentially-simulated existence, is hinged: do you believe that we will EVER have the technology to produce simulated realities?
If no, okay. Bye, I guess. But if you believe that it is at least possible that simulated realities can exist, and that any civilization that has the ability to create a simulated reality will create thousands upon thousands of them, or more, even, then what is more likely, do you think: are we the one civilization, at this one moment in time, with the inevitable ability to create a simulated reality, or are we one of the thousands upon thousands of simulations that would almost certainly exist in a world where this is possible?
You guys, I’m not convinced our world is real.
I became interested in this idea a few years ago while drafting my novel, Citizen Sim: Cradle of the Stars, which will be pubbing here on Thought Catalog June 3rd (and @micsolana for non-stop social media whoring concerning this epic, wonderful, perfect, life-changing tale that will surely be remembered for all of human history, by the way). Then recently I discovered Professor Nick Bostrom, who was on this wild brain beat long before I was, and who far more succinctly outlines the logical implications below.
Our three simulated potentials, the professor holds:
1. Almost all civilizations go extinct before technological maturity.
Or 2. There is a strong convergence among all technologically-mature civilizations (they lose interest in simulating their ancestors, for example, or anything else).
Or 3. We are almost certainly living in a simulation.
Okay. Now what does it mean? What do we do with this?
Well, in the first place, my fingers are crossed that thinking through the possibilities here does not in some way corrupt the simulation, or mark its end. Is awareness our very own version of MegaMan’s final boss? Did we win? Is it over? Does reality go dark upon some great, collective “Wait a minute, is this shit even real?” If so, sorry! If not, I’m not sure. There’s no non-religious precedent for this, which is another interesting thought. Is technological simulation our new religion? A century out, is this our way to build a Heaven without a Hell, or a God? Or is this how we build the New Testament’s Heaven on Earth? Does this counter or compliment Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism? Or is this just new?
Again, I really don’t know. But holy crap, you guys, it seems like something we should talk about.
CITIZEN SIM: CRADLE OF THE STARS is available for preorder here.