The idea that we are living within a computer simulation is a popular thought currently among certain scientist, spiritualist, occultist, and new agers. Despite the more recent popularity of this concept, it’s origins actually go back to 2003 when philosopher and professor Nick Bostrom published his written work “Are you living in a computer simulation?” in philosophical journal The Philosophical Quarterly. Bostrom argues that in the future, humanity’s technology will evolve to a point where we will have the computing power to create countless simulated realities that will be indistinguishable from the true reality, and that the simulated minds within these simulated realities will eventually outnumber the minds that exist in the true reality. Bostrom called these simulated realities “Ancestor Simulations”. These Ancestor Simulations could be used by advanced civilizations to simulate their own history and the behaviors of the minds who lived that history.
Before going any further, there’s a misconception that I think needs to be cleared up that I feel many have about the established simulation theory. Nick Bostrom’s Ancestor Simulation concept on which the simulation theory is based on does not refer to a virtual reality like world. What I mean is, it is the wrong idea to think simulation theory is suggesting that you are an avatar or “player” inside something akin to a virtual reality game or simulation and that you have a “real” independent existence outside of the simulation once you “log out”, die, or transition on after the expiration of the body. Bostrom’s original idea of the Ancestor Simulation is suggesting that we are indeed simulated minds apart of the simulation, in video game terms making us more like NPC’s having no real independent existence outside of the simulation. With our current understanding of physics, a computer capable of simulating the entirety of the Universe and the minds within it is impossible. In theory however, it would not be necessary for these Ancestor Simulations to simulate every single minute detail of the real world. They would only need to simulate enough detail of the outside world and the actions of the neurons within the brain to convince the simulated minds within the simulation that they were real.
Doing the mathematics, to simulate the entirety of human history would require between 10^34 and 10^37 binary operations per second. This could theoretically be achievable with a Jupiter sized computer that would be capable of producing 10^42 binary operations per second, creating an unlimited amount of simulated realities and simulated minds. The Copernican principle states that we should be the most common observer that could be having our experience. With this in mind, if simulated minds are more common than original minds, then we should indeed be simulated minds inside a simulation. It’s the idea that if just one advanced civilization created just a few simulations, those simulated minds within those simulations would vastly outnumber the original minds outside the simulation. The rabbit hole goes even further when you consider the simulated minds within the simulation creating their own simulations and simulated minds within their simulation! Bostrom however believes that the likelihood that we are already living inside a simulation is actually less than 40%, suggesting that civilizations either die out before being able to achieve the technology to create such simulations, or advance civilizations simply decide not to create such simulations.
The simulation theory is attractive based on the data given, especially to those of us who are into Gnosticism. The idea that matter is but a temporal illusion or an imperfect model of the true reality within Spirit and the Pleroma is already a main tenant within this school of thought. However I am quite skeptical of the idea of our existence and minds being reduced to simply being simulations with no independent existence outside of the simulation. The linking of this theory to the Gnostic concepts of the Pleroma and the material world created by the Demiurge as well as related concepts like the Dunya in Islam or the Maya in Eastern philosophy I find to also be misleading. To begin with, to accept that we are simulations in this way directly contradicts both the Gnostic concept of the eternal Spirit and the first Hermetic Principle of Mentalism which states “ALL is Mind; The Universe is Mental”. Within Gnosticism, the Spirit or “Divine spark” within Man and Woman which is the True Self has a very real, eternal existence outside of the physical Universe, the Gnostic’s goal being to free themselves from the confines of matter into the fullness of Spirit or the Pleroma. From the Hermetic point of view, to accept that we are a simulation would mean that we are unwilling participants in someone’s created system, rather than being the creators and controllers of our own reality apart of the Universal Mind, which is consciousness. While the physical neurons in the brain may be able to be simulated, I’m not convinced that consciousness itself can be simulated. What does it mean to simulate consciousness if everything is consciousness?
My largest protest against simulation theory returns back to the idea that we are simply simulated minds with no independent existence and thus no soul, no spirit, no control, and no purpose other than someone’s entertainment or study. That is something I just cannot accept. There are those who have taken Bostrom’s Ancestor Simulation concept or rather perhaps their misunderstanding of it and linked it together with the “Holographic Principle” in order to morph their own concept of us living in a virtual computer simulation that is similar to The Matrix, which only adds more misleading ideas about our existence due to the fact that was not the original understanding of Ancestor Simulations Bostrom conceived. The Holographic Principle is a completely unrelated concept that deals with quantum mechanics and string theory that was first proposed by Gerard ‘t Hooft and given a detailed interpretation by Leonard Susskind in 1995. The Holographic Principle is in fact a credible and quite intriguing concept that is worth exploring and learning about within it’s proper context. My further thoughts on the Holographic Principle will be in an upcoming follow up article.
We could never prove or disprove that we are living in a simulation, so debating about it in essence becomes irrelevant. Besides, even if it were indeed a simulation, then living out our lives as if they’re real and had purpose would be what it’s designed to do. I suggest then that we continue living our real lives with purpose.
Peace, Love, & Balance
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