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 beingĀ  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?

Does Nature Have Rights?

We all want a prosperous future, and we have rights to help us achieve that. We also want a sustainable planet. Are these two desires incompatible?

Human Rights

The issue of the rights that we have, as human beings, is one of great importance. In the founding documents of the United States, for example. mention is made to the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Bill of Rights lays out various human rights like free speech, freedom of religion, freedom to bear arms, and several others.

Additionally, there are arguments over what other human rights should be. Should health care be a right? Does every person have the right to a job? A home?

Importance of Nature

From an ecological standpoint, we know that nature is very important. The vast array of life fits together in a great pattern. Each species has a niche, or a role, to play in making the world work properly. If you upset that delicate balance, it can have catastrophic impacts on all living things.

We humans are in the process of disturbing that balance. Through growing numbers, humans are crowing out other animals. We are clearing forest in order to grow crops for food or to support animal farming. Many species are endangered, and several have already gone extinct.

Humans and Nature

Tying these two ideas together, do we as humans have a right to have access to nature? Studies show that humans benefit from time in a natural setting. Time away from cities, and artificial noise, calms the nerves and leads to a more positive outlook on life. Should we all haveĀ  access to a place we can go to escape urban life? To forget, if only for a little while, the hustle and bustle of modern life?

Moreover, does nature itself have a right to exist? Should there be areas set aside that will not be used for human development? Not used for further cities, or for farming or other human-related activities?

There are several examples of the grandeur of nature that have been set aside as national parks or forests. These include the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone Park, the Great Smoky Mountains, and many others. But beyond these natural wonders, should there be some land that exists to maintain biodiversity, and as a refuge for plants and animals, and the ecosystem in general?

Or is it the case that any parcel of land exists only for humans to use as necessary? If space or natural resources become scarce enough, can any and every place be used? Are the needs of humans more important than the needs of any other species on the planet?

Does nature have rights? Or are rights only reserved for humans?

Related questions: How can we maintain wonder? What is your retreat from the world? How can we appreciate life more? What is keeping us from sustaining the planet?

How Are Humans Like Other Animals? How Are They Different?

Humans are among the most successful animals on Earth. We have transitioned from a few hundred thousand hunter-gatherers to billions of people spread across the planet.

However, we recognize in other animals that share our planet many of the same traits that we ourselves have. We see the loyalty of the dog. The tool-using cleverness of the crow. The playfulness of the dolphin. We see so much of ourselves in gorillas and chimpanzees that it suggested we have a common ancestor.

And yet, we seem quite different from any other animal. We have a manual dexterity that is uncommon. Our language is more highly developed than most. We learn about and manipulate our environment in ways that have transformed our lives completely.

There are many ways we can look at the animal kingdom, and draw comparisons or contrasts. Which ones do you find most compelling? Are we more like our animal cousins than we want to believe? Or are we somehow unique, for better or worse?

How are humans like other animals? How are they different?

Related questions: What do we have in common? How have we changed? Is it a cruel world?