Some of the greatest minds of our time are now saying it’s possible we live in a simulation.
“There’s a one in a billion chance we are not living in a simulation” -Elon Musk
“I find it hard to argue we are not in a simulation.” -Neil deGrasse Tyson
“The universe is a hologram.” – Stephen Hawking
Disclaimer – This article is not saying the people listed above necessarily support some kind of religious idea. They are just talking about reality. But this article was written both to explore religious ideas about reality, as well as what has been said and theorized in modern times.
Concepts from World Religions and Philosophies
Many of the great philosophies and religions of the world have a concept of this “reality” being a test. And that once we are done with this test, our souls go on to some other reality beyond this one. I’m not necessarily saying this is true or not true, just going over some basics of what religions have discussed.
In the spiritual traditions of India there is a concept of “Maya,” which in English is usually translated as ‘illusion’ or ‘unreality.’ Though the translation doesn’t completely represent the whole concept. If I were to attempt to explain this concept (which is complicated), it refers to the illusion of what people think is important versus the greater reality beyond this life. There is a dialectic between getting caught up in the desires of this world and someone focusing on doing their Dharma (spiritual/cosmic duty). There is an idea that each person has a responsibility to fulfill the demands of their dharma, or else there will be long-term consequences on a cosmic scale.
The early 8th century CE Indian philosopher and saint ‘Adi Shankaracharya’ said the following: “Only the knowledge of Vedas can help to take away the veil that hides truth from your eyes. God and you are one! so you should identify yourself with Atman, not with human limitations. The idea that you are bound to this world is only an illusion (Maya). Medium
In Islam, there is also a concept that life is a test. That this reality is the Dunyā, a temporary world that pales in significance to the world that comes after. In Islam our actions in the Dunyā determine whether we will be tortured for eternity in Hell (Jahannam), or experience eternal bliss in Heaven (Jannah).
“We shall try you all, so that We might mark out  those of you who strive hard [in Our cause] and are patient in adversity: for We shall put to a test [the truth of] all your assertions.” 47:31 (Asad)
“And most certainly shall We try you by means  of danger, and hunger, and loss of worldly goods, of lives and of [labour’s] fruits. But give glad tidings unto those who are patient in adversity.” – 2:155 (Asad)
In Christianity, there is an emphasis on giving up the goods of the world in exchange for eternal life.
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me [Jesus].” Matthew 19:21
There’s also Plato’s allegory of the cave. That a person who is born inside a cave and lives there all their life would not be able to know what is outside of the cave. So with Plato’s logic, if there is something more to this reality than meets the eye, it would be very difficult for us to know.
Modernity and Materialism
In the Western World, the Englightenment happened when people began to get a religious hangover after hundreds of years of religiously motivated war, death, inquisition, etc.
A movement toward observation-based science evolved. Which brought the world many wonderful things, and put to rest more ignorant ideas (such as that burning a witch could be good way to improve next year’s crop yield).
As the Western world modernized, ideas of materialism took over, so too did this idea that existence is only what we can observe, only what we can measure, or can eventually measure. For many educated people, ideas such as Heaven or Hell and a supreme creator sound like fantasy, because we don’t have any proof that these things exist, aside from some old books written by men in a pre-scientific era hundreds (or even thousands) of years ago.
However, just because we don’t have proof for a thing yet, doesn’t automatically cancel it out. The physicist Neil Degrasse Tyson (Astrophysicist) himself has said, “It’s just as intellectually lazy to believe everything you see as it is to deny everything you see.” Watch Here
So is there a world beyond this world? Is this world a simulation? Let’s see what some of the great minds of today are saying.
Theories on the World Being a Simulation:
Nick Bostrom is an Oxford professor with a background in physics, computational neuroscience, and mathematical logic as well as philosophy. He authored a paper in 2003 asking the question, Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?
The publication Mach paraphrases his logic in this paper.
“If there are long-lived technological civilizations in the universe, and if they run computer simulations, there must be a huge number of simulated realities complete with artificial-intelligence inhabitants who may have no idea they’re living inside a game — inhabitants like us, perhaps.” (Mach)
Nick Bostrom’s paper doesn’t necessarily argue that it is true we’re living in a simulation, but that it is a possibility.
“This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.” Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?
Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX has said the following:
“The strongest argument for us probably being in a simulation I think is the following…
40 years ago we had Pong — two rectangles and a dot. Now 40 years later we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it’s getting better every year.
And soon virtual reality will be followed by augmented reality.
If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then soon the games will become indistinguishable from reality, just indistinguishable, and because we will not be able to distinguish real from unreal, It would seem to follow that the odds that we’re in ‘base reality’ is one in billions.” (Medium)
Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist and cosmologist, had a theory that the universe was a hologram.
Specifically, he challenged previous theories of cosmic inflation and multiverse in a paper.
Scientists generally believe that for a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang, the universe expanded incredibly rapidly before settling into its present state, filled with stars and galaxies – the inflation theory. (Telegraph)
But some have proposed that, on a grander global scale, inflation goes on forever, giving rise to a “multiverse” – a number of different universes with their own laws of physics. (Telegraph)
Prof Hawking was always troubled by this idea, which at a fundamental level cannot be reconciled with Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. In an interview last year he said: “I have never been a fan of the multiverse.” (Telegraph)
Hawking’s theory embraces the notion that the universe is like a vast and complex hologram. In other words, 3D reality is an illusion, and that the apparently “solid” world around us – and the dimension of time – is projected from information stored on a flat 2D surface.
So the world is flat! (I kid, I kid, don’t get mad!)
This is not to say that Hawking, Musk or Bostrom are supporting ancient religious ideas. Not at all. But simply they are raising the point that reality might be a simulation.
To be fair and balanced, I should also consider arguments from the opposing side. Some physicists have said that they found proof that we are not living in a computer simulation. (Cosmos Magazine)
In a paper published in the journal Science Advances, Zohar Ringel and Dmitry Kovrizhi show that constructing a computer simulation of a particular quantum phenomenon that occurs in metals is impossible – not just practically, but in principle.
I am certainly not smart enough to refute their argument from a scientific standpoint. However, my reaction is that they were testing the capability of computing with modern ideas of computing. A superior being (or beings) with superior technology may be capable of simulating this particular quantum phenomena with technology beyond our comprehension.
IF we are in a simulation, what is the purpose? Why was it made?
Disclaimer: The rest of this section is mostly my own speculation and theories (with one thing from Elon Musk). But if you would like to see speculation on why a potential creator would make a reality simulation, here it is.
Part of Elon Musk’s theory is that the reality outside our simulation must be boring, really really boring, as he stated on his interview with Joe Rogan. Because simulations tend to be more interesting and creative than the worlds that exist outside of them.
In Hinduism, there is a concept of creation as God’s ‘play’ or ‘Lila’. (Medium)
A Greater Purpose Than Entertainment?
If it were true that some superior being made us just for sport, then one could argue there is nothing for human beings to strive toward except for one’s own hedonistic cravings. Why try to be good when life is just a game? Why not have a sex marathon? Eat donuts till you die? Get yourself placed on a most-wanted list by going on a killing spree? This is the philosophy of hedonism and nihilism, and simulation theories aside, both are very destructive ideologies that have been condemned by every major world philosophy and religion. If no one has a purpose, if everyone is living for their id, then society cannot exist and function, because society requires shared sacrifice among its members to function.
Getting back to the simulation theory, most games, even if they’re purpose is entertainment, most games have an overarching purpose. Save the universe from the evil aliens. Encourage your Sim to have a healthy lifestyle while not accidentally drowning them in the pool by deleting the ladder. Kill the Endermage. Defend the fort. Slay the dragon.
Within most games and literature that are truly great, there is an underlying theme of good versus evil. And if reality is a complex simulation, I refuse to believe the mind capable of creating it would put in less purpose and meaning into it than a mere human would write into a book.
And while you can always put in cheat codes, or play on sandbox mode, or simply run around doing random things in a separate file, a game is more fulfilling when you can’t use cheat codes, when you have a greater goal to strive toward that usually involves some version of good triumphing over evil.
Not all simulations are for entertainment. Some simulations are designed to predict things, like the weather, to take a bunch of variables, put them through a simulation of different variables, and see what happens.
Perhaps every person, or every soul (if you want to get metaphysical), has different properties. Every soul is an algorithm of sorts. And some creator is putting the algorithm through the simulation to see how they will react to various stimuli. Elon Musk will certainly react to stimuli in a different manner than Cardi B.
Purpose Within the Test?
Perhaps the creator of this simulation is testing “how good,” certain souls are so they can use them elsewhere. The souls that are no good will be deleted, or perhaps even cast into some kind of punishment (Hell?) The souls of the good will move on to the next round. Perhaps to achieve a greater purpose. Perhaps another test.
Who is the Creator? Judge the Creator by the Creation
The bible said human beings were made in God’s image. It might sound completely egomaniacal on the part of humanity to think such a thing. But there’s a certain amount of logic in that statement. Any creator puts something of themselves in their creation. A violent person is going to make a more violent painting than a peaceful person. So it is my belief that to understand God/Our Creator, we must understand ourselves, and reality itself.
Most human beings have an inbuilt desire to do good, but we are dualistic in nature. We are capable of great good and great evil. So perhaps our Creator is also capable of great good and evil, and the metaphor Judeo-Christians have made to understand this is God and the Devil.
But in most theologies where there are good gods and evil gods, the good always ends up triumphing over evil in the end.
And the purpose of most life forms is to exist. To survive. To triumph.
Wisdom from the Ancient Religions – Subconscious Truths Manifest
I don’t think we should necessarily discard religious ideas because they’re old, or because they get the technicality about how the world was created incorrect. I think whatever religions say about how the world was created is less significant than the why. Religion, in my opinion, is mankind’s dramatization of subconscious truths that we do not understand on a conscious level. No human being truly understands themselves. We are too complicated. We are a mess of millions of years of instincts, drives and emotions compartmentalized into a gooey sack of water and meat. Our stories. Our religions. Our mythos. Our superheroes. These are archetypes we use to understand realities that are far too complex for our primitive puny human brains to understand.
Perhaps our religions and our legends (that almost always promote a tale of good triumphing over evil) can shed some wisdom on why this reality was made, and our purpose within it.
After all, you can judge a tree by its fruits.
Perhaps the purpose of reality is what all the great religions have said all along: To be good. To help others. To not be selfish. To not perpetuate suffering, but to triumph above it. To not become too attached to this simulation, but to look toward impressing our Creator, and to what lies in the next reality to come.
Are You Living in a Computer Simulation? Nick Bostrom
A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation? Stephen Hawking
Professor Stephen Hawking’s final theory: The universe is a hologram (The Telegraph, 5-2-18)
World is a simulation— and ‘God’ is the machine (Medium, 2-27-18)