Have you ever had a dream that you were sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world? Maybe you’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.
Well, scientists have worked out why that might be, and it turns out the chances that we’re virtual beings living in a Matrix-style simulation of reality comes down to a coin toss. The argument goes that if computing power continues to increase at the rate it has for the last 50 years, sufficiently advanced future civilizations will be able to run infinitely complex simulations that could encompass an entire universe, which we may live in. The purpose of these could be evolutionary or societal research, or simply for fun.
New analysis reported by Scientific American pins down the possibility of this as 50.222222% for reality to 49.777778% for the simulation. I’ll let the experts take it from here:
The next stage of the analysis required thinking about “parous” realities—those that can generate other realities—and “nulliparous” realities—those that cannot simulate offspring realities. If the physical hypothesis was true, then the probability that we were living in a nulliparous universe would be easy to calculate: it would be 100 percent. Kipping then showed that even in the simulation hypothesis, most of the simulated realities would be nulliparous. That is because as simulations spawn more simulations, the computing resources available to each subsequent generation dwindles to the point where the vast majority of realities will be those that do not have the computing power necessary to simulate offspring realities that are capable of hosting conscious beings.
Plug all these into a Bayesian formula, and out comes the answer: the posterior probability that we are living in base reality is almost the same as the posterior probability that we are a simulation—with the odds tilting in favor of base reality by just a smidgen.”
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If we are living in a simulation, what does that mean for us? Well, Neil deGrasse Tyson discussed the theory on a recent episode of podcast StarTalk, saying that not being able to travel faster than the speed of light may be a hard-coded limit set by the simulation to prevent us from breaking the rules.
So, I guess unless you’re planning on taking a quick jaunt to Alpha Centuri, this news isn’t going to affect you much. Ultimately, whether we live in a simulation or not doesn’t really impact our day to day lives and shouldn’t change our behavior. After all, if it’s indistinguishable from the real world, what’s the difference? Still, if some omniscient future society sysadmin is reading this, it’d be awesome if you could dial down the global warming and killer virus stuff for a bit.
In the meantime, The Matrix 4 is now scheduled for release on December 22nd, 2021.