Of Course We’re Living in a Simulation

The only people who absolutely disagree are, well, scientists. They need to get over themselves and join the fun.

Three things need to happen, and probably in this order, for any crackpot idea to take hold of the culture: (1) its nonthreatening introduction to the masses, (2) its legitimization by experts, and (3) overwhelming evidence of its real-world effects. In the case of the so-called simulation hypothesis, you could hardly ask for a neater demonstration.

In 1999, a trio of cinematic mindfucks — The Thirteenth Floor, eXistenZ, and, of course, The Matrix — came out, all illustrating the possibility of unreal realities and thus fulfilling condition (1). Four years later, in 2003, (2) was satisfied when the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom concluded in a much-cited paper titled “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” that, heavens to bitsy, you very possibly are. It’s simple probabilities: Given that the only society we know of—ours—is in the process of simulating itself, through video games and virtual reality and whatnot, it seems likely that any technological society would do the same. It could very well be simulations all the way down.

As for the arrival of (3), the real-world proof of such a thing, it depends on who you ask. For many liberals, it was the unimaginable election, in 2016, of Donald Trump. For The New Yorker, it was, rather fogeyishly, the 2017 Academy Awards, when Moonlight oops’d its way to Best Picture. For most others, it was the Covid-19 pandemic, whose utter ludicrousness, pointlessness, Zoominess, and neverendingness couldn’t help but undermine, at a breathtaking scale, any reasonable belief in the stability of our reality.

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