SAN FRANCISCO (Christian Examiner) – Everything human beings see around them, everything they touch and everything they experience is likely nothing more than a computer simulation, according to the entrepreneur behind Tesla Motors and Space X.
The Guardian reports that South African-born Elon Musk is enamored by the philosophical concept of a simulated reality. According to the idea, called "Simulation Theory," the earth isn't real and neither are human beings – though they might have once been real before technology advanced beyond the need for current humanity.
According to Musk, a significantly more advanced civilization – perhaps "post human" or another species from a different world – has constructed this present reality and are letting things play out, presumably for their education and entertainment.
In a conference in June, Musk said he believed there was "a billion to one chance we're living in a base reality." That means he believes humans are living a virtual existence – not a physical one – and, perhaps, may even be in multiple simulations at the same time.
It is an idea that isn't new. In fact, the 1973 film Westworld by Michael Crichton first dabbled in a similar idea of existence in an alternate reality where humans and robots were extremely difficult to tell apart. Everything in Westworld was created to allow humans to run their own simulation of life in ancient Rome, in the Middle Ages, or in the Old West.
Then came 2001: A Space Odyssey, where a computer took control of human activity.
Now, HBO has entered into the opening such thinking provides with its adaption of Westworld – where life, again, is simulated with the help of androids and the magic of technology.
The purest version of the idea hit movie screens in 1999. As The Guardian puts it, "If it sounds a lot like The Matrix, that's because it is." In the movie, humans are trapped in the simulation and trying to break free.
Musk is not alone in his thinking, the paper reports. Oxford University's Nick Bostrom popularized the idea in 2003. He suggested current trends in technology, which allow computers to anticipate what people are thinking and also run simulations of their responses to various stimuli, are proof this could be occurring.
Rich Terrile, a scientist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said he believes research indicates that consciousness, a product of the brain, can be reproduced.
"Soon there will be nothing technical standing in the way to making machines that have their own consciousness," Terrile said. "If one progresses at the current rate of technology a few decades into the future, very quickly we will be a society where there are artificial entities living in simulations that are much more abundant than human beings."
Musk points to video games which were once rudimentary, but now allow "photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and getting better every year" as evidence of this advancing technology.
"If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality," Musk said.
Terrile claims "our future selves" may have already accomplished this task and a simulation could be occurring already. He said he believes that is a wonderful thing because it provides, as the paper described it, a "scientific basis for some kind of afterlife or larger domain of reality above our world."
"You don't need a miracle, faith or anything special to believe it. It comes naturally out of the laws of physics," Terrile said. "We will have the power of mind and matter to be able to create whatever we want and occupy those worlds."
Terrile also said there are implications for views on God if simulation theory is true. He said on Morgan Freeman's program Through the Wormhole that God must be an "interdimensional being, connected with everything in the Universe, a creator, responsible for everything in the Universe, and in some way able to change the laws of physics, if he wanted to. I think those are good requirements for what God ought to be."
In other words, God is like a computer programmer who could alter the state of his reality as he sees fit and even suspend what are considered "natural laws" in the simulation. That creates an opening, some advocates of the theory claim, for the miracles in the Bible to be true (though a defense of the Bible is not a goal of the theory).
It has other religious implications as well, James Gates, a physicist at the University of Maryland has claimed. In April, he said a simulation makes the idea of reincarnation not seem so far fetched because the simulation could just be rebooted and, therefore, started over with the same characters.
"It starts to break down a very funny barrier between what people often think is the conflict between science and [...] faith," he said.
Lisa Randall, a theoretical physicist at Harvard, has claimed there's no real evidence that humans exist as a simulation, but the idea has given birth to a host of so-called "god games." In them, players created universes, plan wars, build cities and create farms.