The Simulation Theory

Updated: May 11, 2019

The simulation hypothesis or simulation theory proposes that all of reality, including the Earth and the universe, is in fact an artificial simulation, most likely a computer simulation. Some versions rely on the development of a simulated reality, a proposed technology that would seem realistic enough to convince its inhabitants the simulation was real. The hypothesis has been a central plot device of many science fiction stories and films.

The idea has often been dealt with by science fiction. One of the most popular examples is the film saga of the Wachowski brothers—The Matrix—in which intelligent machines keep humans immersed in a simulation of reality. But for centuries, the question of whether reality is really as we experience it has captivated philosophers. Already in the 4th century BC the Chinese skeptical thinker Zhuang Zhou dreamed that he was a butterfly, and when he woke up he could not help wondering: “I did not know whether it had formerly been Zhou dreaming that he was a butterfly, or it was now a butterfly dreaming that it was Zhou.”

In its modern form, the simulation hypothesis is usually attributed to the Swedish philosopher at Oxford University (UK) Nick Bostrom, author of a 2003 work that has generated endless debate. Under the title “Are you living in a computer simulation?Bostrom stated in the Philosophical Quarterly journal that at least one of the following propositions is true: either humans will extinguish themselves before they reach a “posthuman” stage, or the posthuman civilization will not be interested in constructing simulations of their ancestors, or we live in a computer simulation