Here’s a bizarre thought for a Tuesday: what if the world that we know is really just one gigantic, thorough, technologically adept computer simulation that encompasses everything we see, hear, know, and touch? Believe it or not, scientists and philosophers are actually considering this concept in earnest these days.
In part, this is just another of those weird mind exercises and “proofs” that made philosophy class a tiresome exercise back in college, but it’s also being spurred by the advances in computer gaming technology that are making massive, realistic simulations seem increasingly plausible. If you’ve seen the latest versions of some “reality” games, you know that things have changed completely in the 40 years since “Pong” — and the pace of improvement in computer simulation capability seems to be accelerating.
Is it so unbelievable that, in 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 years, humans could create a simulated world that covers every last detail of life, from the feel of a wooden floor under your feet to the taste of coffee on your tongue to the laws of physics that control the natural world around us? After all, we perceive the world entirely through electrical stimulation of parts of our brains — so why couldn’t our perceiving minds be wired into an advanced computer game? Maybe what we call “sleep” is really the downtime when gamemasters load new simulated situations into the programming.
If we are just the imaginings of futuristic disembodied brains in vats, or the product of some hyper-realistic supercomputer existing centuries from now, would we know it? Some of the scientists and futurists and philosophers quoted in the article linked above think we might search for back doors, programming glitches, or gaming options that could allow us to briefly do superhuman stunts — like Ms. Pac-Man gobbling an energy dot so that she can consume the ghosts that relentlessly chase her. That seems unlikely to me. If the goal is to create a truly realistic world that you could immerse yourself in, gizmos that create superpowers would be contrary to the whole goal. Maybe what we consider to be “normal” is exotic and interesting enough for the jaded game players of the future.
So what if everything around us, from this computer keyboard I’m tapping to the great Mozart piece I’m listening to, is part of an elaborate game? I would never be able to distinguish the difference, anyway. In any case, I’m thinking: Hey, this is a good game!