Are We in a Simulation?

I wrote a post about this a long time ago but I got a couple things wrong. There are a couple more thoughts I’ve had about it so I thought I’d reintroduce the idea before getting to those ideas.

The main argument is an idea by Oxford philosophy professor Nick Bostrom. I will just speed through the argument, but you can read more about it here. The argument shows that one of the following three statements is likely true.

(*1*) We will never reach the post human stage.

(*2*) Post humans are won’t run simulations.

(*3*) We are living in a simulation now.

The post human stage is just a stage of human development with extremely advanced technology by our current standards. It doesn’t refer to an era after the extinction of humans like the name suggests. Post humans will have extraordinary computing power. Some speculate that they will even build massive computers out of planets.

The simulations these post humans might run could be extremely detailed virtual worlds with conscious beings called Sims. There is some debate on this issue of whether sufficiently detailed simulated beings would be conscious, but seems likely that they would so we can assume that for now. The simulations would be realistic enough that the Sims would be unaware that they are in a simulation. One interesting fact to note is that the speed of time in the simulation doesn’t have to match the rate of time in the environment the simulation is being run in. For example, it is estimated that a planet sized computer could simulated the entire history of the human race up to this point in about 1 second using only 1 millionth of its computing power.

You might ask why these powerful post humans would bother running simulations like this. One reason might be to study them. These ancestor simulations could be used to perform controlled social science experiments. Another use for simulations would be entertainment. The computer game The Sims currently sells millions of copies and the characters are not even very realistic at the moment. It seems plausible that the game would become more popular with added realism.

Since it’s hard for people to get any clues about whether they are in a simulation or in real life, their certainty that they are in a simulation is approximately equal to the fraction of humans living in simulations. Since there are the same number of people that live before the post human era in reality and in simulations, the fraction of people in simulations is:



P=fraction of human civilizations that ever make it to post human stage from our current time

I=fraction of post human civilizations that are interested in running simulations

N=average number of simulations they run assuming they are interested

Once they have the ability to run a simulation it seems likely that they would run many copies. Think how many copies of The Sims are run today. So N is going to be very large. Unless a very small fraction of civilizations make it to the post human stage (*1*) or a very small fraction of post humans are interested in running simulations (*2*), almost all humans are simulations. If almost all humans are simulations and you cannot tell if you are a simulation or not, then you must conclude that you probably are (*3*).


4 Responses to “Are We in a Simulation?”

  1. Mudwig Says:

    i think consciousnesses is a very interesting concept on it’s own. penrose’s book “the emporer’s new mind” was fascinating even without agreeing with all his conclusions.

    with simulations, i think this also shows you get simulations within simulations and thus those people running the simulations which include us are themselves just simulations and it never really ends, except with one dude running the original one (with a non-zero chance of him also being a simulation)

  2. themindofbruce Says:

    Yea there is a possibility of nested simulations, but for these purposes it just makes N bigger so it doesn’t matter too much.

  3. Finding Yourself « The Mind Of Bruce Says:

    […] By themindofbruce This post earlier about whether we are living in a simulation relies rather critically on this idea that our […]

  4. Church of Bruce « The Mind Of Bruce Says:

    […] of Bruce By themindofbruce I have an idea for a religion. It relates to the ideas about whether we are in a simulation and assigning likelihoods of finding yourself in different indistinguishable […]

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