Top 10 Outcomes if Our Universe is a Computer Simulation
If the universe is something like a computer simulation, virtual reality, or a video game it will naturally have some massive repercussions for how we think about and operate within the world.
This is a concept I have been kicking around since The Matrix was released 20 years ago in 1999. Since the early 2000s I have released over 12 hours of video on YouTube, wrote several popular essays for the Institute of Ethics and Emerging Technologies, lectured internationally, published a critically acclaimed book on the subject, and in 2018 I was one of Medium’s Top Writers on VR. In short: the idea of the universe being a computer simulated virtual reality video game is something I have given a bit of thought to.
With that in mind, here are my Top 10 outcomes if it turns out that our universe is a computer simulation.
#10. We realize we are multidimensional beings
We will realize that we must exist in multiple dimensions. Our physical universe would be one dimension, and wherever The Big Computer is would be another. After all, a simulation cannot compute itself; our seemingly physical universe would have to be generated from “somewhere else.” It would have to come from some place other than our physical matter reality. That means there has to be at least more than one single reality-frame. But there may be even more to consider.
Our consciousness—and the consciousnesses of all lifeforms—are likely coming from the very same dimension where The Big Computer is generating our physical universe subset from. Even though our bodies and brains seem to occupy this physical universe, it does not mean that our consciousness occupies it as well. It likely means that our consciousness merely has accesses to this seemingly physical universe via our seemingly physical human avatar. Our consciousness very well may be operating our physical avatar bodies from “the other side of the screen.” This would explain why the mind-body problem has been so difficult for us to wrap our heads around for so long; we have been trouble finding consciousness in the brain because our consciousness merely has access to our brain. Our brain doesn’t generate consciousness, our brain access consciousness.
But it truly gets weirder still.
If all of this is true then it would have even stranger repercussions, like our brains wouldn’t really be real. It would mean that while we have been searching for consciousness in the brain, it would explain why we have had such difficulty in pin-pointing our understanding of consciousness. It would mean that we have only been looking for consciousness in nothing more than our own super slick-looking avatar’s “brain.”
If the universe is a video game then it makes sense that the “place” where we control our VR human earth avatars would be in the same Big Computer that this universe is generated from—which would have to be another dimension.
#9. Much of Quantum Mechanics and Relativity finally makes sense
Relativity and Quantum Mechanics has been famously stymied throughout the 20th century due to their apparently counterintuitive incompatible weirdness. Why the speed of light is constant, why wave particle-duality exists, retrocausality, quantum erasure, entanglement, and even mysteries like the Big Bang make much more sense if our universe is the result of a computer simulation.
Terence McKenna apply criticized the Big Bang and cosmology at large when he said:
The hard swallow built into science is this business about the Big Bang… This is the notion that the universe, for no reason, sprang from nothing in a single instant… Notice that this is the limit test for credulity. Whether you believe this or not, notice that it is not possible to conceive of something more unlikely, or less likely to be believed. I defy anyone. It’s just the limit case for unlikelihood: that the universe would spring from nothing in a single instant for no reason.
The idea that all the matter, energy, and the laws of nature emerged simultaneously from absolutely nothing is a notion that requires serious chin scratching. However, the Big Bang does make sense if we think of it like a computer starting up and a program firing.
Much of Quantum Mechanics doesn’t make sense because when physicists first dove into the smallest units of reality they expected to see things like “atoms” that behaved in a deterministic billiard-ball like fashion. Instead we got something called quantum indeterminacy. Physicists were greeted by example after example of seemingly non-physical or anti-physical reactions. “Particles” were not really particles, because half the time they were “waves.” And how they manifested seem to be dependent upon the presence of a conscious observer. And they didn’t move in the ways that we see in the macroscopic world with the naked eye. They all acted like they were in their own alien micro-universe where almost anything was possible.
The way that QM works and how large scale bodies like the universe acts makes a lot more sense if in this universe matter isn’t really real—but is merely elements of a computer simulation that’s rendering needed information based on the presence of an observer. Instead, matter would only have to be, have to seem real enough to the observing player.
#8. Our normal idea of Cause-and-Effect becomes wobbly
If the universe is a computer simulation it chucks out material reductionism and normal ideas of cause-and-effect. Instead what we end up with is a universe with phenomena that occur or do not occur based on statistical probability.
Then there is room for something like spontaneous generation, but not exactly the idea that was being peddled in the 1800s. Nevertheless, the program behind our universe would only require to generate the appearance of consistency. It would have no requirement to actually be 100% entirely consistent all the time. It would only have to be consistent as needed. This means things could pop into and out of existence given a thing’s probabilistic likelihood — not cause-and-effect.
The only thing we ever really experience is what’s probable. Herein: a tree falls in the woods only because it was probable, not because of cause-and-effect.
#7. We realize that our cultures are something like VRs too
This is something a little weird—if it turns out our world is a virtual reality of some kind, it makes sense then that our “worldviews"—the beliefs we hold, our ideologies—are anthropomorphic VR worldviews themselves.
After all, minds tend to model, to simulate outcomes of a given situation. This is how a predator outsmarts its prey and vice versa. Both anticipation and imagination are simulated models. This makes the mind something of a VR in itself. Kevin Kelley pointed out:
“The human mind is actually, has a propensity, a natural gift to move into other realities. When you are reading a book, a novel, when you’re totally engrossed in a story, particularly one that’s not visual, that you’re imagining in your own mind, you’re creating a kind of version, a kind of virtual reality.”
So since our minds are like virtual realities, it would make sense that our worldviews and cultures are something like virtual realities too.
#6. Morality will be Examined
If the universe is something like a simulation, or a virtual reality, or a video game it does not necessarily mean that we enter an era of amorality or immorality: that nothing we do, no action we take, actually really matters.
On the contrary, NASA physicist Tom Campbell suggest that if simulism is real then everything we do matters. How’s that? Campbell thinks of the universe as a kind of “VR trainer" to help our budding consciousnesses learn important lessons about interacting together. Namely, in Campbell’s view, “getting along” is the name of the game. Just because we are in a video game illusion doesn’t mean that we aren’t getting scored on our individual progress.
Campbell’s idea is that the goal is not about escaping our simulated universe; it is about playing this game with all its challenges, in such a way that it helps us “grow up” and evolve. The simulation exists to create prosocial beings.
That’s just one possible outcome. But morality will certainly fall under the microscope if this is a VR.
#5. Splinter Religions, Spiritualities, and Philosophies
Naturally, religion, spirituality, and philosophy will change as such a discovery would result in a drastic rethinking of our collective ontology. Some will likely endure because religions and some spiritualities already rely on the concept of multiple worlds or dimensions of existence. For example, plenty of Eastern traditions already interpret our world as a grand illusion, as does Christianity—especially Gnosticism.
However, there will no doubt be new religions as well. Matrixism was a small religious community that hit the internet in 2004. George Hotz toyed with the idea of a simulism-focused religion in 2019 at SXSW.
Without a doubt, if it is proved that our universe is a computer simulated video game many religions, spiritualities, and philosophies will change, but few will disappear entirely. In fact, many will likely undergo some kind of teleological renaissance.
#4. Consciousness Exploration
What about our individual selves? If the universe is a computer simulated virtual reality video game then our body is just an avatar—but what about our minds, our consciousnesses? In this context, our individual consciousness is something like the player behind our video game body — and that might be a major key.
In fact, strange yet well documented cases of oddities like near-death experience, remote viewing, telepathy, prophetic dreams, and out-of-body experiences might end up being an example of our player operating just outside of our physical reality bodies.
There might also be a major interest in practices like sensory deprivation, mediation, lucid dreaming, and even psychedelics.
#3. The Paranormal and Supernatural finally makes some kind of sense
I wrote in a previous essay:
[Simulated universe models] in general explain all psi and paranormal phenomena quite elegantly. It should go without saying that if you believe your video game world is really real and something utterly peculiar happens to go down, you might very well be inclined to interpret it as paranormal or supernatural, when in reality it is just the game getting weird on you.
Whether or not you personally believe in the supernatural or paranormal is really irrelevant. The important caveat is that they have been part of human history and literature since the beginning of our species, and — if any of them are real, living in a VR would easily explain why.
#2. The Universe might “not be real” but it is definitely “real enough”
The physical universe is not made of matter or energy—the universe is made of information.
The big revelation here is that the room you are currently occupying is the only thing that needs to rendered. Everything you cannot see, wouldn’t have to be rendered at all. In fact, not rendering what you can’t see would save The Big Computer its own valuable computing cycles. This is exactly how MMORPGs work. If this is a simulation, it means that the world is indeed an illusion of some kind — but that would not necessarily mean that “nothing is true, everything is permitted.” There are clearly still consequences and rules at play.
So paradoxically, even though we are in a game that isn’t really real, it remains real enough when we lose an arm.
#1. We attempt to make contact with The Big Computer, and/or Escape the Matrix
It makes absolute sense that we will attempt to communicate with The Big Computer responsible for life and the universe — just as we attempt to contact extra-terrestrial life via projects like SETI. Whether or not there are actual hyperdimensional “programmers” gazing at and perhaps even guiding our lives, or rather simply a giant ever-evolving AI-Supercomputer remains to be seen. Nevertheless, if the universe is a computer simulation then we should expect it to desire to contact it somehow.
The idea of “escaping” this simulation is common among thinkers on this subject. I do not suspect that you can really break out of the simulated universe, as I wrote in this linked essay. That would be like Mario trying to break out of the Mushroom Kingdom. I do suspect however that you can “break in,” and how to break in will have everything to do with not the physical world (our video game reality); I think it will have something to do with the other side of the coin: consciousness.
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