A blog about systems and statements
Living in a meaningful simulation
Living in a meaningful simulation

Living in a meaningful simulation

How do you find meaning in this world? That really is the big question, isn’t it? I have a meaning figured out, and what I like about mine is that it can be said to be near-certain knowledge. It is a view that any reasonable person can hold and justify. And it has a lot more to do with computers than you’d expect.


I would like to present you a concept called simulationism, first hypothesised by Nick Bostrom. It argues indirectly that you, everyone you know and everyone that has ever existed and will exist on Earth, is, was and will be simulated. We are all simulations on a computer. I must admit that the argument does not provide undoubtable truth, but it does go an immensely long way none the less. Here is the core of it:

Take the following three separate propositions about ancestor simulations (simulations of fully conscious humans):

  1. No civilisation (human or otherwise) ever reaches the point where they are able to run ancestor simulations.
  2. All civilisations that do, are not interested in running such simulations.
  3. We are almost certainly in fact all in a simulation.

The Simulation Argument says that logically, exactly one of these propositions must be true. I will discuss the reason the falsehood of the first two propositions implies the truth of the third in just a moment, but first I want to explain why the first two are almost certainly false.

Let’s take proposition 1 first. Technology is currently growing and innovating at an incredible pace. Much, much more than it was a few decades ago. This does not guarantee that we will be able to simulate a human mind any time soon, but it does make the possibility almost certain, somewhere in the future (even if it is thousands of years from now). The only thing that could stop this from happening is if such a smart civilisation (remember, there could be other smart ones out there too) invents some kind of technology that is so unstable and dangerous that it kills every single participant of that civilisation. One could imagine a biological weapon in the wrong hands could do this, but what I can’t believe is that every single being will be killed. Some must survive and live to learn from their mistakes when re-establishing their civilisation. In summary, the first proposition is extremely unlikely, because I think it would be very difficult to wipe out the entirety of a hyper-intelligent civilisation and even more so every single hyper-intelligent civilisation ever.

Next, the second proposition says that if a civilisation would gain the technology to run ancestor simulations, they would not want to. This implies that that civilisation is not fueled by curiosity, as with us humans, but by something else. To me, it seems highly unlikely that such a civilisation would ever reach such a technological peek anyway. Without curiosity, why even try to discover anything? I’d say the second proposition is the least plausible of the bunch.

Now we have determined that there will very likely at some point in the future be a civilisation that runs ancestor simulations. And as with all kinds computational tasks, if you can do one, pretty soon you’ll be able to do a milliard. So we can derive that there will be possibly uncountably many ancestor simulations running. In this case, if you compare the amount of simulated civilisations to the amount of real ones, and you consider that there is no way to tell in which one you are, it would be perverse to say you are certainly part of a real one. You are almost certainly part of a simulation.

Now this might be a little daunting, but I’m here to argue that simulationism is not only a good thing, but the best thing.

The new meaning of life

Suppose there exists a civilisation out there that runs ancestor simulations. What would their purpose be in doing so? These are in my view of the most likely reasons:

  1. Prediction: A simulation could be used to see how things will work out when certain events occur (e.g. natural disasters) and learn from the virtual mistakes beforehand.
  2. Research: A simulation that could be ran millions of times faster than reality could be used to harvest ideas, literature and inventions without having to sweat.
  3. Entertainment: How cool would it be to see the events of a simulated world? I would certainly watch a prime time show where we explore a world where people evolved entirely differently. It would be much like interdimentional cable.

Either way, if you are in one of these simulations (which you probably are), there is meaning to your life: to be interesting. The only thing that would cause a hyper-intelligent civilisation to switch us off, is if we’re really bland. Because a bland society wouldn’t fulfil any of the above purposes. So, by being interesting, you can assure your continued existence.

Why is it the best?

Simulationism is a very special way of life, because it contains the benefits of both atheism and theism with no fear of hypocrisy. If we exclude what happens after natural death, the main advantage of believing in any religion, is that it gives a meaning to life — a purpose and motivation to live your life to the fullest. On the other hand the main advantage of atheism is that you can believe in science without being a hypocrite — everything in the world can be explained and (more importantly) your belief can be justified to any rational person. A theist will always have a harder time justifying their belief to the average person than an atheist will.

With simulationism, these two are brought together and allows its followers (1) a legitimate belief in science, (2) a meaning for life and (3) a strong justification for its belief.

First off, a simulationist can believe in science, as is, with no problem, as long as they accept that the science we study in our reality may not apply to the “real world”. But even so, science is still extremely useful and well worth studying. There are no obvious limits imposed by us being in a simulation so there is no reason to stop discovering.

Secondly, simulationism gives a meaning for life. That meaning (be interesting) isn’t as great as any religion’s (be good so you can have a good afterlife), but it’s a hell of a lot better than atheism’s (nothing really matters).

Lastly, a simulationist can justify their belief to any reasonable person using nothing but pure logic. Both atheists and theists need evidence to support their beliefs. And evidence is easier to call into question than pure logical reasoning. The reason for this easy justification is that simulationism makes no claim as to the existence of a god, as long as the believer accepts that a god (if he exists) would have very little interest in them. In the case that we are all in a simulation, a real god would treat us like he would treat an artist’s painting. We are merely the creation of a significantly more important being.

The only real downside to being a simulationist, I must concede, is that if one of the religions turned out to be right, you cannot go to their heaven. Unfortunately you cannot truly believe in both simulationism and a religion, because you have to forgo the notion that you are a soul. And being a soul is a requirement for going to an afterlife.

Yet given all the information available to me, I am much more inclined to side with simulationism. For me, it’s the belief that has the best justification and makes the least compromises along the way. Even if it means forgoing any chance of an afterlife, I still prefer it.

P. S. If you think it’s a good idea to believe in a religion for mere benefit (an afterlife), you are what they call ‘wagering belief'. There are some good arguments against this, but that’s a post for another time.

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