By Frederic Friedel

Is our universe just an incredibly complex computer simulation? In an episode of StarTalk Radio (if you do not listen to it automatically — why not?) Neil deGrasse Tyson discusses this (and other) questions with theoretical physicist Brian Greene. The subject is hot, hot, hot — just google the question: are we living in a computer simulation? Sixteen million stories found in 0.28 seconds? I don’t know how to interpret that.

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Anyway in the deGrasse Tyson podcast interview Brian Greene says:

“If it is the case that one day we can have computers that can recreate a reality in bits and bytes that has such verisimilitude that the inhabitants of the simulation feel that it is real — if that is possible, and many believe that it might be and we are getting closer and closer already — it’s so much easier to create a simulation than a real universe. If we wait long enough there are going to be many many more simulated universes than there are real ones. So any sentient beings will assume that they are in a simulation because there are so many more than there are real universes.”

Listen to the whole discussion in the podcast. I got an instant comment from a friend in England. Here is what he wrote:

I believe that I have discovered the explanation for recent curious events. As many people believe, we do indeed live in a virtual reality simulation. But why should anyone go to the trouble to create such a vastly complex simulation? The answer, of course, is to make a profit. In the ‘future’ (you will see the reason for the quotation marks in a moment) a large corporation has invested in developing a new form of entertainment. They have created a virtual reality world which their customers can observe. This virtual reality world is our world. People in the ‘Upper World’ pay to access the entertainment and they can follow the activities of their favourite characters, much like reality TV in our world. The corporation decided the best simulation would be one which recreates a past world, firstly because it is simpler and secondly because past worlds often hold an appeal, just as some people here hanker after the simpler life of Victorian times.

The characters in the simulation have ‘free will’, or as much of it as people in the Upper World possess. The ‘Operators Up There’ can influence the world by changing parameters to make certain things more or less likely, but the simulation is so complex and self-sufficient that for the most part it just has to run and evolve by itself.

Every so often, the simulation is spiced up by triggering some kind of major event in an effort to attract more customers. In the past, the occasional World War was a good gimmick, but as this would now involve general depopulation of the simulation it is no longer possible, although the minor wars which occasionally erupt always attract a good audience. Sometimes, to encourage customer participation, an online poll is held in which people can vote for a special event to occur. In a recent poll, the options were:

1) Destroy a major city with a monster hurricane
2) Receive a clear-cut signal from aliens
3) Have the Pope caught in bed with a famous actress
4) Have a complete idiot elected as US President

You can probably guess which option received the most votes. Just think about it, I am probabl
y going viral in the Upper World right now…

Yes he is, and it will get much worse on November 8th.

Written by

Frederic Alois Friedel, born in 1945, science journalist, co-founder of ChessBase, studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford.

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