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Is the world we're living in just a computer simulation? That question might sound absurd to most, but some people are convinced of that possibility.

For instance, Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom in 2003 showed in his influential paper that the possibility of simulation theory could be at least in one of three scenarios, as reported by Vox:

  1. All of the human-like civilizations have gone extinct before reaching a technological maturity capable of running simulated realities.
  2. If, by chance, some civilizations survived and reached the phase of technological maturity, not one of them is interested in creating simulated realities.
  3. Civilizations that reached technological maturity would be so advanced that they have created multiple simulations and not just one.

But scientists who study the simulation theory still does not know which of these three possibilities is correct. Bostrom concludes that the third option may be the most probable outcome.

Before Bostrom, some scientists also pondered on the simulation theory, such as Jacques Vallee, John Keel, Stephen Wolfram, Rudy Rucker, Ed Fredkin, and Hans Moravec.

Using Bayesian Reasoning to Explain the Simulation Theory

Like his predecessors, David Kipping also believed in the simulation theory. He used Bayesian reasoning to calculate the odds that the reality as people thought is unreal. Bayesian reasoning is a common method of statistical analysis that applies probability theory to inductive reasoning.

Kipping believed that by using this method, there is a 50% chance that the world as humans know it is just a computer simulation. He added that the probability would increase as the technology that enables the creation of the simulation that contains conscious beings is developed.

In a report by Scientific American, Kipping said that: "The day we invent that technology, it flips the odds from a little bit better than 50-50 that we are real to almost certainly we are not real, according to these calculations. It'd be a very strange celebration of our genius that day."

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But How Do Scientists Prove That Claim?

According to an article by Anil Ananthaswamy in Scientific American, computational mathematics expert Houman Owhadi from the California Institute of Technology said that it is impossible to see that the world is just a simulation if it has infinite computing power because it can compute whatever the degree of realism a person wants.

"If this thing can be detected, you have to start from the principle that [it has] limited computational resources," Owhadi said.

For him, quantum physics experiments are promising ways to look for potential paradoxes that these computing shortcuts created. Quantum systems can be in a superposition of states described as a mathematical abstraction known as the wave function.

The wave function randomly collapses to one of many possible states due to the act of observation in standard quantum mechanics. Physicists are unsure whether the process of collapse is real or just a reflection of the humans' knowledge about the system.

Owhadi said that in pure simulation, there is no collapse as everything is already decided. The rest is just like playing a video game that is in simulation.

Owhadi and his colleagues have worked on five conceptual variations of the double-slit experiment, but he also admitted that at this stage, it is impossible to know if such experiments could work as those are just conjectures.

"It's arguably not testable as to whether we live in a simulation or not," Owhadi says. "If it's not falsifiable, then how can you claim it's really science?"


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