“Our computing power is growing rapidly. We create simulations of worlds. Imagine a day when you can simulate a world so perfectly that you recreate every single neurosynaptic thought you could have — including the perception of free will.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson often discusses his belief in simulation theory on his podcast "StarTalk," but he’s not the only famous physicist to advocate for the idea that we are living in a simulation. The other? Elon Musk.
As their combined argument goes, technology is developing at a swift pace. Fifty years ago, the only computer game was Pong. Forty years after Pong, vastly evolved games were created that mirror our world, like "The Sims" and "Minecraft." We have 3-D movies, virtual and augmented reality, and photorealistic video games with millions of people playing simultaneously that are all being refined and improved every year.
Looking 10,000 years into the future, there are two main possibilities that Elon Musk can envision. First, there could be a ceiling to our advancement that destroys civilization. Essentially, something like global warming or self-replicating robots could prevent further technological inventions and innovations. Second, our society’s capabilities could become so advanced that we simulate ourselves.
Initially, the concept seems impossible to fathom and even foolish. However, Tyson and Musk both trace their beliefs back to a highly accredited Oxford University paper by Nick Bostrom that approaches the topic from both a philosophical and mathematical perspective.
When you consider the difference in the quality of video games between now and 50 years ago, it is logical to assume that games eventually will be indistinguishable from reality as long as there is any rate of improvement. If we will eventually be able to create a simulation, Bayesian reasoning states that it is nearly certain that the process has already happened. Thus, according to Bostrom and Musk, there is a one in a billion chance that Earth is base reality.
On the other hand, Tyson believes that the odds lay at 50-50. His reasoning is that since we are not yet advanced enough to create a simulation, we are either at the beginning or end of the chain of simulations.
So what would it mean for us if we truly were living in a simulation? On a philosophical level, it would mean that free will is merely a perception. On a physical level, it would mean that the natural world is merely an illusion. The same way video games have rules, simulation theory may explain some of the limits on our own world. For example, Tyson has contemplated the idea that we can’t travel faster than the speed of light because parts of our world are still being developed and programmed. Whatever the effects may be, Musk urges that we should hope that we are in a simulation, because if not, human extinction is inevitable.
Overall, I’m still personally uncertain about the merits of simulation theory, but the concept is fascinating regardless. Maybe we should all hope that we’re living in a simulation, because then we can take comfort in hoping that 2020 was just a temporary glitch in the system.
Zach Spindler-Krage is a senior at Mayo High School. Send comments on teen columns to Jeff Pieters, email@example.com.