CAN ELON MUSK'S SIMULATION THEORY BE BELIEVED?
By Deniz Kaya
Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk has stated that there is a, "Billion to one chance that we're not living in a simulation." Are sceptics justified in claiming that reality may not be as it appears?
Elon Musk is a key player within a multitude of different companies, such as SpaceEx, Tesla, which are the most well known, but with others such as Neuralink, Zip2, and XCom, (now Paypal), also being part of his claim to fame. Clearly he wishes to help advance humanity with his companies providing services for:
- Reducing global warming,
- Encouraging sustainable energy production and consumption, and overall,
- Reducing the risk of human extinction.
As such, when he states something, like the topic of this current essay, it is reasonable to assume that Elon is not just simply speculating.
This essay will aim to provide arguments for and against Elon’s statement, whilst also utilising the philosophical views of Nick Bostrom, the author of, ‘ Are we living in a computer simulation? ’, and exploring the idea of what our response to living in a simulation, if even possible, should be.
Nick Bostrom, a Swedish philosopher at the university of Oxford, is important towards this statement, providing us with 3 statements that need to be fulfilled before we can be sure as to if we are or aren’t living in a simulation.
‘ (1) The human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history; (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. ‘
The main basis for such an argument is, that, due to the fact that humanity is advancing with its technology at such a rate, or as Elon states that:
”40 years ago we had Pong – two rectangles and a dot.”,
to the fact that we currently,
“have photo-realistic, 3D simulations…”,
it is not unreasonable to assume that humanity will reach a point at which we will be able to create a simulation of humanity, or as Bostrom states ‘ancestor simulation’, so realistic that the participants of this simulation will be unable to tell the difference. In fact, the recent development of ‘deep learning‘, in which a computer will be able to learn like a human, i.e not ‘machine learning’, only strengthens the possibility that we could be simulated and thus, this statement could be true.
Going further, he assumes that for such a possibility to occur, it needs to have a cause, of which he argues is economic gain. He believes that the reasoning behind this is gaming.
Currently, VR is still in development although it is seen to be notably popular, with such brands as, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Playstation VR, etc. Assuming the continued development of such technologies, it is not unreasonable to assume that a form of ‘ancestor simulation’, could be created to sell onto consumers, as games.
Now, let’s assume that we are a gaming company and we market the game,’ The History Of Humanity’; our very own ‘ancestor simulation’. It becomes very popular and with the increased wealth and population of the future, it sells many million, even hundreds of million of copies. Now we are left with hundred of millions of ‘fake’ world copies and only one real world, which Elon calls our ‘base’ world. We have, mathematically, a possibility of being real of 1 in 100 million, or so. This provides us with a chance of being real of around 0.000000001%. Bounds away from Elon’s stated possibility but if we take this concept further, Elon is proven correct.
This is because, ‘base’ world humanity creates simulations so advanced that the first generation ‘fake’ world, creates their own simulations. Those simulations have their own simulations and so on. The leads to a cycle in which only the computing power of the base world, would determine how many fake worlds have been created. Even Bostrom isn’t sure around how many, with him simply stating it as, ‘hugely many’.
As such, we are almost certainly within a simulation or even a simulation created by another simulation.
According to the logic stated above, there is an incredibly tiny chance of us being real. If we follow the reasoning shown above, the fact is that, being a simulation might be the best for us.
By assuming that we are currently not in an ancestor-simulation, we are admitting the possibility that either post humans are smart enough to choose to not make an ancestor simulation, as they know the issues behind doing so, or the more harrowing option that we will never reach that stage.
The fact is that, living in a simulation may be our only hope for advancement, as this may be the only way that we can guarantee that the human race doesn’t go extinct in the future. Without this, as Bostrom states, ‘ the fraction of human-level civilisations that reach a post-human stage is close to zero’, hence, we are almost certainly dead.
Our only hope, thus, of not being simulated whilst also remaining alive and prosperous, is that post-humans exist but have chosen to not create ancestor-simulations.
However, the real question here is that, will us knowing that we are almost certainly within a computer simulation, make our existence any less meaningful?
A relevant philosophical stance, created by Albert Camus, takes this into account and many other uncertainties of the future as absurdism. In short, it is the idea that humanity should embrace rather than deny the conditions of human existence whilst still continuing our journey of advancement and development.
It is the moment that, as Albert states, ‘ the universe reveals its indifference to your goals’, that absurdism becomes relevant. In denial of existentialism, It is one of the best solutions for the fact that we may be simulations .
Camus asks us to draw comparison between our meaningless or otherwise predetermined existence and towards the myth of Sisyphus. The myth describes a man, Sisyphus, being punished for his deceitfulness, by the Gods, made to roll a boulder up a hill, only to see it fall back down each time, repeating this action for eternity.
The futile nature of this task and our existence makes for a good comparison. Camus asks us to image this task not as a punishment, but as a way for us to create meaning. By revolting against the nature of the task, or as Camus suggests, by Sisyphus being happy towards what is meant to punish him, we create our own meaning behind our futile nature, and whilst doing so accept the absurd. In short, to accept the absurd is to go against it, for the nature of the absurd is to make us feel helpless, insignificant and purposeless. Creating our own purpose from the fact that we have no purpose is perhaps one of the best ways to advance.
To conclude, although there is considerable evidence that we are in a simulation, we shouldn’t go against this idea but instead embrace it. We shouldn’t care for the idea that we are simulations, as the idea cares not for us, but revel instead in what decision we make to oppose it and create our own purpose from it. Of course, this is one of the many theories to our existence.