The belief that Reality is in fact a Simulation

Image from Steve Bowers

Simulationism (also occasionally referred to as Simulism) is a term used to describe a wide range of religious and philosophical beliefs that are based on the idea that reality (or what one can experience of it) is simulated.

While earlier thinkers were known to have explored similar themes (such as Descartes' analysis of the "dream argument"), the idea of a simulated reality can be traced back to the work of Information Age philosophers and scientists, such as Frank Tipler and Nick Bostrum, who postulated that huge amounts of computational power would become available to a civilisation at some point in the future (in accordance with Moore's Law). If, or when, enough became available a civilisation could then simulate either their own past universe or another designed universe to high levels of accuracy. Given enough resources and time this could be done any number of times. On this basis it was argued that, according to simple probability, reality is actually overwhelmingly likely to be one of those simulations. The chance that this reality is the original reality, and not one of the potentially almost infinite simulations that could be run, would be diminishingly small.

The theme was adopted by several popular media productions in the 1st Century A.T., bringing the "Simulation Principle" into the mainstream public consciousness for the first time. Soon afterwards, the fear that one is trapped in a simulation was categorised as a symptom of paranoid schizophrenia; also known as the "Truman syndrome" at the time. A similar condition was reportedly encountered by some early AI researchers who found that when a philosophy of mind was not carefully (and arbitrarily) calibrated an artificial mind would often tend towards a form of solipsism, believing the reality and beings surrounding them were simulated (either by something lying behind reality or by way of a projection originating in their own mind).

The first recognised religious group to believe in a simulated reality, the Higher Callers, emerged during the Age of the Technocalypse. Positing that the increasing problems with nanotech were being caused by the exposure of flaws in a reality simulation that couldn't cope with the manipulation of matter at the nano-scale, they rapidly became popular as the general population in Solsys struggled to understand the catastrophes occurring around them.

While further research into the nano-swarms indicated that they had in fact been caused by the poor design and deployment of nano-tech, the idea had already entered the public consciousness as a serious philosophical idea.

In the modern era, Simulationism is the basis for many groups that are spread throughout the Terragen Sphere. Baseline and near-baseline humans are generally considered reasonably susceptible to the variety of simulated reality memeplexes, although they are also normally equally susceptible to the counter-memes. Studies have indicated that modosophonts that have considered the theory either don't think it will affect their lives in anyway or are not sure how it could effect them if true. Virtuals are naturally receptive to the idea of a simulated universe beyond their own, and it is among this class of sophonts that Simulationism-belief is at its highest.

The idea of Simulationism is not without its problems, and many sources have put forward experimental and theoretical evidence that somewhat discredits the idea of a simulated reality. It is believed that no conclusive evidence has yet been found to prove that reality is either simulated or naturally occurring, and if any has been found the general modosophont population is not aware. The burden of proof is generally assigned to those attempting to prove the artificiality of the universe and, as it is not even known how or if this could be established, most sophonts consider the idea to be (at best) in the realm of meta-philosophy.

The arguments against a simulated reality often involve the difficulties of simulating the universe to a quantum level. It is believed that a computer able to simulate the entire universe to the quantum level that is observed in experiments would need to consist of approximately 10E123 qubits, considerably larger than the largest processors currently believed to be possible. Calculating quantum results on smaller scale (i.e. producing the results on an ad hoc basis throughout the simulation) may also be impossible as many results would take an exponential time for the simulation to generate or be the wrong answer; due to NP hard and P verification issues. Finally, the difficulties of simulating computers of (presumably exponentially) increasing complexity within a computer are obvious, but potentially not impossible to overcome. The problems of computers within a computer are made even worse when the Simulation Principle is extended to its logical conclusion of reality simulations within reality simulations, and reality simulations within reality simulations within reality simulations [ad infinitum]. Philosophically, the likely implication of the Simulation Principle, if correct, is that our reality is result of a multitude of computer simulation layers that is increasing and stretching towards infinity; this is proof of its own implausibility for many.

Advocates of the simulated reality idea dispute these arguments, and the debates are ongoing. A huge amount of resources and intellectual effort has been expended on complex experimental and theoretical research for both sides, but so far either no conclusive evidence for either side has been found or, if it has, no evidence has been made apparent to the general modo population thus far.

One of the most powerful arguments for the simulated reality belief is the possibility that the reality within which our reality is being simulated may have wildly different physical constraints and/or computational limits, which would allow the simulation to be calculated to the quantum scale and even beyond. Speculation on the Archai creating universes for their own Tipler Oracles and other computational uses has occasionally suggested that it may be possible to create a universe with almost completely arbitrary parameters, but the rumours are currently unfounded.

Some groups have invoked other hypotheses that could support their beliefs. Possibilities include only a small portion of the universe being simulated to small-scale resolutions, quantum mechanical results only being calculated when energy/matter is probed to those scales (all we see is an approximation, with the appropriate amount of uncertainty- chaos thrown in), or the simulation actually being paused or even rewritten to allow for quantum results to be calculated and/or inserted.

It could also be argued that memetic subversion could be used to force a population to believe something despite either a lack of supporting evidence or a normally overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary. The true power of the Archai's memetic influence is not precisely known, but holding modosophonts and lower transapients in a state of ignorance about the fundamentals of their reality might be possible. Of course, if the Archai are also to be included in the deception, it might require an intellect far beyond that of the S6s (something considered "not impossible" by modern toposophy).

With growing reports of illegal "bottleworlds" (virchworlds which have populations completely unaware they are residing within a simulated universe) and people and groups temporarily trapped by transapients within a simulated environment apparently without any of them knowing they had changed substrate, proof that a simulated reality completely inseparable from our own might be possible may not be far away. For this reason, Simulationism is a growing belief in the modern era.

Most Simulationist religions, cults and schools are interested in one of two key ideas. Either they see the simulated-basis of reality as a source of existential risk, and seek to remedy this risk in some way, or they see simulated reality as escapable, and seek to move towards a situation where they can transcend this universe and experience the true reality beyond. Other themes include the belief that all sophonts are merely simulated automaton that are driven by simple arbitrary rules imposed by those who created reality, or the worship of the Archai as conduits between the simulated reality and the true reality beyond.

The largest recognised Simulationist group is the Church of the Sacred Façade, which has large followings in several widespread locations throughout the Hinteregions and smaller footholds within the NoCoZo. The fundamental belief of the Church is that the simulation is a form of challenge, and its endpoint (and subsequent freedom) will be reached when a significant proportion of sophonts (generally expected to be the golden ratio conjugate [1 - Ö ≈ 0.6180339887]) are enlightened (i.e. believe in a simulated reality). While most denominations go about this through peaceful methods there are several small groups claiming connection with the Churches that sees annihilation of non-believers as a valid method of reaching the desired proportion of the enlightened.

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Text by Graham HopgoodInitially published on 29 June 2009.