Life is dominated by conflict, through dialogues of ethics, belief, socio-economic constructs and more. Still, a rarely deliberated aspect of our existence is the overarching reality of it. Most of us strongly agree that what we touch, see, smell and generally interact with physically composes the real world.
Yet, a series of strange, inexplicable phenomena have begun to accumulate within our world. Whether they be eyewitness accounts, personal experiences or documented phenomena, the idea of our very reality being a computerized simulation has only skyrocketed in recent years. Such sentiments have consolidated as beliefs, insinuating that certain aspects of our world seem identical to what we could identify as an artificial construct. These beliefs have coalesced into what is known as “Simulation Theory.”
As elaborated by tech writer Mike Thomas, “From the time it entered popular consciousness, many have noted that simulation theory is essentially a modern offshoot of Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’ story from the Ancient Greek philosopher’s book ‘The Republic,’ and René Descartes’s evil demon hypothesis from the French philosopher and scientist’s ‘First Meditation.’ Both contain ruminations on perception and the nature of being — subjects that continue to puzzle and provoke.”
While not uniform, simulation theory’s most popular iteration regards the idea of mankind merely being strands of code in an unknowable, grand computer program which invisibly dictates our lives. Even more curiously, the mastermind behind our artificial existence might not be what humanity has usually identified as “God.” Rather than a wise elder figure or unknowable cosmic entity, our very existence may be determined by a mere teenager. New York University philosophy professor David Chalmers described the higher being responsible for this potential hyper-realistic simulation as a “programmer in the next universe up,” perhaps one we might consider a god of some sort — though not necessarily in the traditional sense.
“[They] may just be a teenager,” Chalmers said, “Hacking on a computer and running five universes in the background … But it might be someone who is nonetheless omniscient, all-knowing and all-powerful about our world.”
The idea that all our storied lives ultimately being the sordid byproduct of a curious teenager’s coding seems to induce a sense of existential nihilism. Why even aim to achieve if the summation of your life’s work remains the simplistic artifices of coding in another’s grand design? As Scientific American’s Fouad Khan writes, the lives we command could merely be pleasure outlets that our unseen master, or masters, utilize for their own audiovisual stimulation.
“So, there you have it. The simplest explanation for the existence of consciousness is that it is an experience being created, by our bodies, but not for us. We are qualia-generating machines,” Khan said. “Like characters in Grand Theft Auto, we exist to create integrated audiovisual outputs. Also, as with characters in Grand Theft Auto, our product most likely is for the benefit of someone experiencing our lives through us.”
Qualia is essentially an umbrella word used to describe how humans physically, mentally and emotionally perceive the world around them. If indeed our experiences are but the byproduct of an incomprehensible machination, it’d be needing to replicate certain qualia, such as taste, smell or emotion.
Whether or not our every living, breathing move is dictated for the benefit of another though, we’ll still rest our heads tonight and wake up tomorrow to attend our classes and go to work. We’ll still eat, breathe, interact with others and generally perform all the expected necessities of a societally integrated human being. These senses of ours, our sight, smell, touch and how they interact with the world around us, provide a sufficient sense of reality enough to persist.
The implications of such a grand possibility of life being the work of quantum computing and digitization may merely be to nod our heads, shrug and move on. As Scientific American best puts it: “And yet this absolute powerlessness, this perfect deceit offers us no way out in its reveal. All we can do is come to terms with the reality of the simulation and make of it what we can. Here, on earth. In this life.”
That is not what qualia means.