Simulation theory is super complicated, super interesting and I’m not going to attempt to outline it or claim I fully understand it. There’s a pretty good description of the argument on wikipedia with the counterarguments and sources you can reference if you want to learn more. Additionally, on the Philosophize This podcast, episode 95, it is very well-explained.
Basically, the author of the theory, Nick Bostrum argues for three likely possibilities regarding simulations. He makes a case that if the third of his outlined possibilities is true, then we are almost definitely living in a simulation.
I think it is a comfortable theory for many of us, because we have trouble seeing a world where we are not the most important piece of it. So many of us are so concerned with how we are affected in a given situation that we literally cannot even fathom how someone else is also affected by said situation. The exception being perhaps a shared experience where we can directly relate to what someone who was with us at the time saw, felt, and heard.
If we’re in a simulation, our actions also have no consequences, which seems to be how many of us live our lives as well. “If this other person is just an NPC (non-player character) it doesn’t matter what I do to them. Eventually, the simulation will be turned off and we’ll return to the ‘real’ reality.”
As interesting as this theory is to explore, I also think it comes with an element of danger if it were to become widely accepted. It would logically lead people to become more selfish, always putting their needs first without any regard for those around them, as the other people in their world would not be real anyway.
We DO NOT need people to become more selfish. I have a hard time even picturing some of the people I know becoming more selfish. This might be a good philosophical quandary to explore: “How does one become more selfish if they are already as selfish as they can possibly be?” Turn up the selfish volume to 11, Spinal Tap style.
But in some ways, we need to make a wager. Whether we’re:
- Just a brain in a vat with electrodes hooked up to us,
- We’re playing a fully immersive video game,
- Or we’re living in a normal reality as we know it;
it’s worth betting on number 3. If number 1 or 2 are true, and we live exactly how we want to, with no regard for anyone else’s needs or the consequences of our actions; nothing happens. Eventually the simulation will end and we’ll wake up in our other reality.
But if number 3 is true, and we act only in our own interests, we ruin everyone else’s chance at happiness and fulfillment to further solidify our own standing. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m willing to take that bet and attempt to live a life that puts others’ needs first or at least equal to my own.