Elon Musk thinks that it is possible that we live in a videogame or simulation of a vastly superior civilization. Okay, sure.
It’s not that shocking a notion really. As Musk points out, we are quickly progressing towards games which are more photorealistic than they have ever been. Simultaneously, scientists and game developers have been developing evermore advanced systems which mimic or imitate intelligence.
In fact, consider how thin the line between virtual reality and the existence that we know as reality is. The key difference between what we consider to be actual reality and virtual reality is not degrees of “realness” but instead degrees of “digitalness.” So sure, Musk’s notion is plausible, if unlikely.
Question that remains open ended is whether we are in a game or a simulation. This distinction has colossal implications for our world. Let’s examine each separately.
We live in a simulation.
This is the easiest one, and one that has very few consequences for our world. Imagine that we live in an astronomically more sophisticated version of something akin to Minecraft. Sure, Minecraft is still a game but our version is much more a physics simulator. It means that everything we’ve done, are doing, and will ever do is being monitored by scientists.
The end goal of this simulation might be a better understanding of how a (relatively) unsophisticated species behaves when given a sandbox to play in. Maybe we’re one of several iterations all being tested under different conditions. Maybe our creators have found themselves in a bind and are using various simulations in order to see if we discover the cure to their ills.
Ultimately, this is the most benign situation. If we’re being studied and monitored, then at least that gives us the protection. If their scientists are anything like ours then at least we’ve got some time till they flush us.
We live in a videogame.
This is the one we don’t want. We’ll never know with absolute certainty what kind of game we’re in, but all of the options are pretty bleak. The primary difference is that here we exist solely for the enjoyment of someone else. We still live in a world governed by rules but that ruleset isn’t designed to keep us alive or functional.
Instead, those rules exist to keep us entertaining. Remember the glee with which you set natural disasters upon your SimCity? Remember how you deleted toilets and burned down the homes of your sims? Imagine an advanced alien race doing that but on a global scale and with us.
What’s funny is that this formulation actually kind of explains some of the inexplicable things about or world. It would be hilarious to some intergalactic teenagers to create Donald Trump in Earth: The Game and then laugh for days on end when we elect him President. It could explain UFOs, cryptids and Tommy Wiseau’s film career.
Perhaps the most chilling conclusion is that maybe we don’t exist on purpose. What if we’re the emergent NPCs in a game that our creators don’t even know is going on. What if we’ve already created the next level of this Russian nesting doll? Think about that the next time you boot up The Sims and plop in a sociopath. You might have just made their next President.