Are We Living In A Simulation?

The idea that our world is just a computer simulation was popularized by the movie The Matrix. But the idea itself is much older than that.

Over 2000 years ago, Plato suggested that we are just people chained in a cave, and what we think of as reality are just shadows on the wall. That’s fairly close to the idea of a reality that is generated by a giant computer.

While our experiences certainly seem real to us, it’s not too hard to imagine a different scenario. Computer graphics, like in common video games, are getting more and more realistic. Virtual Reality headsets are commonplace. And while the graphics they use are still somewhat rudimentary, users often comment about how they quickly come to accept the false world.

In addition, games like The Sims, which place a computer-generated person or family in the hands of a video-game player, have been around for decades. Artificial Intelligence is getting better and more capable every day. We carry them around with us wherever we go on our smart phones.

Putting all that information together, and in just a few years we can imagine a completely immersive experience where you plug in to the internet and lose yourself as another, computer-generated character in a completely modeled world.

What is real?

How can we be sure that’s hasn’t already happened? Perhaps we are laying on a slab somewhere, with what we think of as the world around us being beamed into our brains. Moreover, maybe we don’t even have a body in the “real” world. Everything we see, everything we experience, could all be algorithms in a complicated computer simulation. Each one of us might be a Sims character.

In some ways, that would explain the universe as we understand it. There are certain physical laws, like the speed of light being  the fastest speed possible. Laws like these could just be the parameters of our simulation.

That, however, just opens up more questions. If true, what about the world that houses the computer where our simulation exists? How did it come about? What are the physical laws there?

What difference does it make?

If we entertain this idea of living in a computer simulation, does it make any difference to our everyday life? If the emotions that I think I experience turn out to just be some lines of code in a complicated computer program, does that invalidate them in any way? Does it ultimately remove the meaning from my decisions and actions, or does it add meaning? If I feel pain, or experience joy, or have my heart broken, does it matter if it originates from neurons firing in my brain or the spinning of a hard drive?

It’s difficult to imagine any way of actually testing this hypothesis. We may never know if our universe started with a Big Bang or with a coder writing a program to test out some advanced scenario. The idea, though, is a fascinating one. Are we living in a simulation?

Related questions: What is unknowable? How much of our thoughts are our own? What is time? What beliefs do you have that might be wrong?

What Do You Think About Facebook?

Facebook is one of the most influential companies of the last several decades. It has obviously been very successful in growing viewership, but there is plenty of controversy surrounding it as well.

Do you think it is overall a benefit or a detriment to society?

Share why if you wish.

How Important Is Privacy?

Privacy as it relates to social media is a hot-button issue. How much you share, who can see your data, and how the social media companies use what data they collect? These are all problems that concern us every day.

Privacy or convenience?

But even beyond our social media presence, we have been trading privacy for convenience regularly over the years.  Credit card companies, for example, can track you geographically via your card usage, as well as knowing how you spend your money. We accept this intrusion into our lives because it keeps us from having to carry cash or to write checks.

As technology advances, the ability for companies or governments to know more about us has increased drastically. Our smartphones give us the entire Internet in our pockets, accessible at the touch of a finger. However, the flip side is that we carry a GPS tracking device with us wherever we go.

New artificial-intelligence devices, like Amazon’s Echo or the Google Home system, are enabling new so-called “smart homes”. They can control things like lights, thermostats, and can even be wired to connect to appliances like the stove or the refrigerator. But they also raise some serious privacy concerns, as they could potentially allow companies to listen to everything that happens in your home. It could also make your house susceptible to hackers.

Generations are now being raised with these devices, with their resulting loss of privacy. If you grew up before these devices were introduced, you may feel quite differently about them.

Different people are more comfortable than others regarding sharing their lives. Some have no problem posting every detail of their day to Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram, or any other social media platform. Others can be quite possessive of their own personal data.

What are the risks?

To be sure, we can see that there can be consequences to this data being collected and shared. With everything from the Snowden revelations to the accusations of targeted election meddling, countries or corporations that do not share your interests or values are abusing data.

Even if you have nothing to hide, if you are not cheating or stealing or deceiving someone, is there a certainly level of privacy that we each need? Are there some things that we need to have just for ourselves, things that we don’t share, even with our closest friends, family, or other loved ones? Or is it a shifting target, subject to social norms?

How important is privacy?

Related questions: Why do we feel the need to belong? How do you know who to trust? What social media platforms do you use? What role does technology play in your life? Freedom or security?