Is it possible that the universe we appear to live in is a fake? An artificial reality, a simulation like, a super-advanced first-person shooter (just for most of us, a whole lot more boring one in which we go do a job)?
Philosopher Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, describes a fake universe as a “richly detailed software simulation of people, including their historical predecessors, by a very technologically advanced civilization.”
It’s like the movie “The Matrix,” Bostrom said, except that “instead of having brains in vats that are fed by sensory inputs from a simulator, the brains themselves would also be part of the simulation. It would be one big computer program simulating everything, including human brains down to neurons and synapses.”
Bostrum is not saying that humanity is living in such a simulation. Rather, his “Simulation Argument” seeks to show that one of three possible scenarios must be true (assuming there are other intelligent civilizations):
All civilizations become extinct before becoming technologically mature;
All technologically mature civilizations lose interest in creating simulations;
Humanity is literally living in a computer simulation.
His point is that all cosmic civilizations either disappear (e.g., destroy themselves) before becoming technologically capable, or all decide not to generate whole-world simulations (e.g., decide such creations are not ethical, or get bored with them). The operative word is “all” — because if even one civilization anywhere in the cosmos could generate such simulations, then simulated worlds would multiply rapidly and almost certainly humanity would be in one.