How Would You Feel About Living Inside A Computer Simulation?

This month, the Hayden Planetarium hosted the 17th annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, with this year’s topic focusing on one of those questions we may not want the answer to: Is our universe a simulation?

Panelists included professor of philosophy David Chalmers, nuclear physicist Zohreh Davoudi, theoretical physicist James Gates, theoretical physicist Lisa Randall, and cosmologist Max Tegmark. The event was, as always, hosted by the director of the Hayden Planetarium, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

You can watch the full 2-hour debate in the above video. It’s pretty interesting, especially for those who haven’t been following the current conversations and studies on the simulation hypothesis.

A few highlights:

  • Some back-and-forth occurred on the nature of a possible simulation. Would it be like a video game, with the maker controlling every aspect of what happens in the simulation (like in The Sims series), or would it simply be a case of setting the initial simulation parameters and letting [simulated] nature take its course? I suppose it would depend on the purpose of the simulation.
  • Zohreh Davoudi mentioned her (and others) work in searching for “clues” that our universe is a simulation. These would involve any signs of limitations or “short-cuts.”
  • James Gates pointed out some of the potential consequences of being able to create (or just living in) a simulated universe, the biggest being that it would make immortality, or some kind of afterlife, a very real possibility. Other things could be made possible, too, I think – like time travel. Or magic. Or mermaids. But if we do live within a simulation, could we ever hope to break its boundaries, or manipulate it?
  • Finally, the ultimate question was raised by the philosopher: Does it even matter? If a simulation can be made that is identical to the real universe, and it contains all of the same information, physics, and mathematics, is it any less real? Is there a meaningful difference?

It’s something to think about. Personally, I’m not sure there would be, or that it would matter. But if we ever did come to find out, one way or another, that we live in a cosmic computer simulation, how would that affect the way we view our universe? Our lives? It would be a strange realization, don’t you think?


Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions. Might be a robot.

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