Could the world and everything in it really be just a hyper-advanced simulation? The simulation hypothesis posits that it’s not just possible, but fairly likely. This conclusion may seem radical, and is indeed highly controversial, but it’s also based on a solid theoretical background and a number of very smart people think it’s worth considering, so it’s worth knowing about even if you think it’s ridiculous.
The fundamental reasoning behind the simulation hypothesis goes like this: either civilizations tend to go extinct before they harness the computing power to make universe simulations, or civilizations that have the ability to make such simulations don’t use it much for some reason, or there’s a high chance that we’re living in a simulation. The third possibility may seem to come out of the blue, but it really does follow logically: if neither of the first possibilities are true, then there must be lots of simulations of universes, and there can only be one base reality. Therefore probability dictates that we’re more likely to be in one of the simulations than in reality.
There are, of course, good reasons to think we’re not living in a simulation. The most obvious of these is that the first two possibilities might be true, which would make it likely or even certain that we are living in the “real” reality. The simulation hypothesis may be seen as unscientific because it can’t be proven false – no matter how “real” things seem, it could just be a better simulation. Another reason is that the amount of computing power required would be insanely massive – so huge that scientists have calculated traditional computers couldn’t do it with all the atoms in the universe.
Of course, that doesn’t say anything about future advances in computing, such as whether it would be feasible with Quantum Computers, which are already in development. And while we can’t prove the simulation argument false, we certainly could prove it true – and scientists are already designing tests that could do so. If such tests return a negative, that’s not proof that we’re not living in a simulation, but it’s data that points towards that conclusion, however weakly. So the simulation hypthesis seems worth some minimal level of scientific investigation, if only to show that we really don’t have any proof that we’re living in a simulation.
In the end, the simulation hypothesis doesn’t really have any practical effects on how we live our daily lives; it’s just something interesting to ponder, just as humans have pondered whether reality might be “really real” since at least 286 BCE. Maybe someday we’ll prove the simulation hypthesis correct, and devise whole new fields of physics to describe the world “outside”… or maybe our reality is just that, reality.