The discussion around the idea that we exist in a computer simulation has been recently fueled by the publication of The Doomsday Calculation by William Poundstone and some remarks by Neil deGrasse Tyson and Elon Musk. Although it is an entertaining philosophical proposition, it has gotten too much serious attention in the scientific community.
The suggestion that our world has been created by an inaccessible, thinking entity (in this case ‘the conceptual programmer’) is functionally indistinguishable from a theological belief in a world created by a supernatural god. It has not been derived from observation or mathematical prediction and therefore objectively untestable as a scientific hypothesis.
Suggesting that everything we experience in our world is a computer simulation creates a speculative, philosophical overlay that is functionally identical to a world created by an all encompassing deity. By design, this cannot be proven or disproven because the controlling overlay manipulates every detail of our inner and outer reality and all of our actions including our thinking. A program that creates and controls everything we experience is functionally omnipotent and decision making becomes open to the theological questions of predestination and free will just as belief in an all powerful god implies. How can subservient creatures in such a system have access to the operative mind of their creator?
No matter what results are reached from the exploration of this proposition, it can always be argued that the program’s algorithm allowed or influenced those results. Any study, discussion or writing, supportive or opposed to this theory, becomes factitious. Ineffectual. Giving this speculation serious attention will be no more productive than the medieval, theological discourse to determine how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
Just as past gods were the creations of the societies from which they emerged, so the insubstantial idea that we exist only in a programmed, simulated reality is the product of modern humans living in a computer-dominated society. As with other human concepts, this is an obvious derivative of the culture from which it sprang. Computers and their simulations are not the final technological development. Unforeseen future technologies will likely inspire new existential theories about the nature of our existence and these imaginative musings will also remain outside the purview of empirical analysis if similarly conceived apart from direct observation and deductive reasoning.
If such ideas gain scholarly consideration and widespread acceptance in our society, the impossibility of any definitive proof or disproof could lead to the creation of religious cults based on nuanced interpretations of this simulation theology and fervent cult followings might lead to social division, wars and even a return to a dark age that rejects real science. Also it is a moral imperative that we see others as equal entities and not as manipulated perceptions, otherwise human suffering, murder or genocide appear insignificant. Suggesting that we are a contrived computer-generated simulation implies a lack of individual free will which could make man’s attempts to improve his own life or influence the course of humanity seem futile. Our only response to this ungrounded proposition should be to acknowledge it as a theological construct and file it away among the many other speculative, philosophical constructs in human history.
By any objective measure you are my incarnate equal and as such we similarly experience our shared universe, however it was created. If our reality has been generated by a computer algorithm, an unseen god or a fortuitous series of natural phenomena, our only credible option is to proceed to examine and experience this singular, available reality; get on with the discovery, testing and understanding of our place in this grand scheme with the proven, scientific approach already at hand.