Join us as we discuss some alluring concepts which question the very essence of your reality. Sit back and enjoy an assortment of hand-picked thought-provoking concepts for your mind’s pleasure.
“Inanimate matter, born from exploding stars billions of years ago, can come together in a form that has the capacity to question its own existence.”
Dr. Nick Bostrom, a philosopher and the director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, has made the prediction that there is possibly a 20 percent chance humanity is a simulation. Woah? What sort of science-fiction, Matrix-inspired crap is this? This my friends, is simulation theory. A beautiful, thought-provoking idea that our entire existence sits within a simulation that is indistinguishable from actual reality.
This theory is built around the concept that a technologically mature civilisation would have enormous computing power. Based on this pragmatic fact, the simulation theory shows that at least one of the following propositions is true:
- The fraction of human-level civilisations that reach a posthuman stage is very close to zero;
- The fraction of posthuman civilisations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero;
- The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one.
Do you think it’s unlikely we’re in a simulation? Why? Is it because you don’t expect our species to endure long enough to reach the technological criteria required to produce a simulated world? Or is it because you have consciousness? Well, what is consciousness? Throughout time, many civilisations have believed in the spirit, the magical soul that makes each and every one of us special, through a ghostly entity that gives our life a unique occupancy. But what makes this any more real than an information system that believes he is unique through advanced programming? What is the actual difference between a simulation and reality?
Take a look at the video game The Sims – A life-simulation game created for us all to dabble into the realm of a virtual world. Like gods, we modify the Sim’s virtual world for our entertainment and curiosity. They roam their world seeking their needs like food, love, and entertainment. From time to time they raise a fist into the air and direct their anger towards YOU, the player, their God; as they get visibly frustrated at the terrors of pain and suffering falling before them. Sound familiar?
Ok calm down, I’m not making the case that the Sims have a self-perceived consciousness. But this is 2016, we’ve gone from Pacman 36 years ago to the full blown, virtual environments that are commonplace today. Artificial intelligence continues to make strides, and only a few years ago we made the first computer simulation of a complete organism. The entire organism is modelled in terms of its molecular components, integrating all cellular processes into a single digital model. DNA, RNA, proteins, and metabolites, and running on a 128-core Linux cluster, the simulation takes 10 hours for a single M. genitalium cell to divide once — about the same time a normal cell takes — and generates half a gigabyte of data. Still doubtful?
The Fermi paradox
Do you think the collective awareness of an ant colony could comprehend the vast world going on around them? Do they perceive the vehicle that has just passed them as a transport system developed by humans? Do they even understand the technology or the behaviours of the human world around them?
Now imagine the human race has a similar limitation to the perception of reality. An advanced world potentially surrounding our realm at this very moment with no way of us understanding what is going on. Welcome to one possible explanation of the Fermi Paradox, a fascinating contradiction between the lack of evidence and high probability estimates for the existence of extraterrestrial civilisations in the universe.
The Fermi Paradox explicitly outlines the fact that our current mathematical estimates of earth-like planets that should be able to harbour intelligent life are so vast that Earth should have encountered an advanced civilisation by now. There have been many attempts in the scientific community to explain the Fermi paradox, one of which is that intelligent extraterrestrial life is so extremely rare and that we’re kinda special…
For those that can’t possibly agree that we’re special. Here are some alternative attempts to explain the Fermi Paradox:
- Alien civilisations are fully aware of Earth and are observing us (Zoo Hypothesis) think of Humans filming animals in the wild and potentially protecting the habitat in a cosmic national forest.
- Alien civilisations may have already visited Earth, potentially before Humans or recorded history.
- Ever taken a look at our cosmic neighbourhood? Earth could be sitting in a desolate section of the Milky Way. Perhaps a specific section of the galaxy is inhabited with many intelligent life-forms that have had little to no desire to visit our section of the cosmic neighbourhood.
- Predator civilisations exist in the universe, and higher intelligent life forms are well aware of them. Perhaps the lack of messages floating around the cosmos is the strategic normality for survival. (I mean it wouldn’t be a good idea to be giving your location away to a hostile group, right?)
“If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.”
- And finally, maybe we got everything wrong about our reality. Perhaps we’re in a simulation like we mentioned above or perhaps our existence is explained by…
“Cogito ergo sum / I think, therefore I am”
— René Descartes
The philosophical concept that your own mind is the only thing that is sure to exist. Knowledge of anything outside one’s own mind is unsure; the external world and other minds cannot be known and might not exist outside of the mind. There is no real rebuttal to a Solipsist argument neither. One factor which makes this idea an unpopular concept, is the very fact that any serious discussion will typically end with somebody getting told they don’t really exist. Ouch.
- Epistemological position: Anything outside one’s own mind is unsure.
- Metaphysical position: That entire world and other minds do not exist.
And there you have it. 3 thought-provoking concepts about your reality for you to now ponder over. Don’t lose too much sleep.