If we’re all living in a simulation, as some have suggested, it would be a good, albeit risky, way to find out for sure.
The proposition that the world is a sham is not new; it’s been cropping up for thousands of years across different cultures, from China to ancient Greece, advocated by thinkers like Descartes with his mind-body dualism. But this more recent version, based around computation—or at least artificial reconstruction—bubbled up around 2003 with the publication of a paper titled “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” by the philosopher Nick Bostrom. In essence Bostrom makes the argument that if any extremely advanced civilizations develop the capacity to run “ancestor simulations” (to learn about their own pasts) the simulated ancestral entities would likely far outnumber actual sentient entities in the universe. With a little probabilistic hand-waving it is then possible to argue that we are most likely simulated.
The neatest test of the hypothesis would be to crash the system that runs our simulation. Naturally, that sounds a bit ill-advised, but if we’re all virtual entities anyway does it really matter? Presumably a quick reboot and restore might bring us back online as if nothing had happened, but possibly we’d be able to tell, or at very least have a few microseconds of triumph just before it all shuts down.
The question is: how do you bring down a simulation of reality from inside it?
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