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Are you living in a simulation? Does it matter?

By Jack Walker - Philosophy Student @ Churchill College, Cambridge


The idea of a simulated reality is typically rolled out in philosophy to illustrate Descartes’ sceptical challenge to the possibility of knowledge – how can you know anything about reality if there is always the possibility that you are being deceived. If you are genuinely in a simulation, then the world you experience doesn’t really exist. Even if we think that there is some good evidence that we’re not living in a simulation, this is going to be of little use since that evidence could have been simulated too.

More interesting than the fact that we cannot rule out the simulation hypothesis, is the idea that we might have some positive reasons to believe that we are simulated beings. To this end, Nick Bostrom gives us his Simulation Argument. To begin with, we are asked to make two assumptions:

i. A sufficiently complex computer could manifest consciousness.

ii. Incredibly advanced civilisations would have enough computing power to run large numbers of simulations, even while using only a fraction of their resources for this purpose.

If we accept these, Bostrom says that three possibilities are open to us:

1) Humanity is likely to go extinct before it reaches an in