Simulation Hypothesis is the idea that this world is just a computer simulation created by other organisms beyond our universe.
There have been similar existentialist thought experiments for a long time – Descartes’ meditations, Harman’s “brains in a vat” scenario (popularized by Putnam) – but the “simulation hypothesis” in its current form was proposed by Nick Bostrom in 2003. It has been more recently popularized by Elon Musk, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and Rich Terrile.
The argument goes something like this: In the last 40 years, we have managed to create photorealistic video games played simultaneously by millions of people around the world. We went from Pong to Fortnite. Soon, assuming any rate of improvement, we will be able to produce simulations that are indistinguishable from reality. So, in a 13-billion year universe with trillions of stars and planets, it is highly unlikely that we (humans) would be the first to ever create our own reality (universe) that is seemingly “real”.
Musk says there is “one in billions” of chances that this is “base reality”. Tyson says that it is “easy to imagine” that we are “just the creation of some other entity for their entertainment”. Terrile says that it would be “extraordinarily unlikely” to not be a simulation. This is bolstered by aspects of the universe that seem fake or unexplained. You wouldn’t necessarily need to simulate the whole universe at the same time – only what people see (“if a tree falls in the woods with no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?”)
I wanted to share some of my comments on this theory:
1. Assuming we were in a simulation: this would not deny our existence. As Descartes demonstrated, for us to be “deceived” into this experience, we must be real, because a non-existing thing cannot be the target of outside deception.
2. If we were in a simulation, therefore, our “base” self would be immaterial to this universe. Our physical birth and death here would not be related to our real, substantive existence. The only conduit to our base self would be “consciousness” itself, which religious people have been arguing for generations (consciousness being related to the concepts of a soul, spirit, nous, etc.)
3. The irony of this theory is that it is mainly pushed by agnostics and atheists, who are more likely to believe that we are the product of advanced aliens than the creation of God. However, they don’t bother addressing the problem of infinite regress – who created the aliens? For contingency to exist, shouldn’t the necessary exist?
4. The Fermi Paradox is also worth mentioning in this thought experiment. The Fermi Paradox is the idea that, despite the vastness of the universe and the numerical likelihood for other intelligence life to exist, there (at this point) is no real evidence for intelligent alien life. This may be due to our limited scope, but consider that we live in a very hostile, volatile, mostly barren universe. It is a universe of black holes, supernova blasts, comets, meteors, asteroids, colliding planets, dangerous gases – and we are just one of millions of species; nothing else is like us on Earth, and a simple disease, war, or space event could have wiped us out millions of times by now. Yet, Allah made our atmosphere a guarded canopy (21:32). It may be very likely that simple or complex lifeforms exist in the universe, but there is no guarantee at this point that a species capable of creating realistic simulations exist anywhere. Even if they did, it is likely that they have no interest in deceiving us.
Now there are some areas in the Islamic tradition (albeit weaker) that are related to this topic that are worth investigating. There are references to the planets of Jabulqa and Jabulsa beyond our solar system, the concept of cyclical time, the multiple Adams and humanities (up to one million), the garden of Adam, the Ya’juj and Ma’juj as ethereal or transcendental beings, etc. If there is a grain of truth in the simulation hypothesis, then precedents exist in the Islamic tradition.
But the purported “falseness” of the universe would not make it any less a sign. If we ever find it to be artificial, then this only points towards an Intelligent Designer.
And Allah knows best.
“We created not the heavens, the earth, and all between them, merely in idle sport.” (44:38)