A Life Well Lived…wait, simulation?

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I used to work at a bookstore. I woke up early. Brushed my teeth. Ate something resembling breakfast. Travelled via bus for over an hour. Bought coffee. Drank coffee. Opened store. Wrote while waiting for people. Served people. Served rude people. Watched people leave. And wrote some more. And it then occurred to me, I’m living the life of a non-playable character (NPC) in a video game of real life.

I didn’t think much about my brooding resentment of retail until I came across an article featuring an interview of Elon Musk speaking about reality during Recode’s annual Code Conference. The question posed to him:

‘There’s a philosophical concept that a sufficiently advanced civilisation will be able to create a simulation that’s like our existence…have you thought about this?’

Though Musk grins whilst being asked this question (instantly stating, ‘I’ve thought about it a lot’), it initially startled me Neo-style. Are we even flesh, bone and blood? Could our world be a mere simulation for a far older, much more technologically savvy alien race? Does this render our existence futile if we discover that said theory is true?

I’ll attempt to answer the above questions frankly:

We are most likely flesh, bone and blood, or faux flesh-bone-blood, though that remains uncertain and irrelevant. Biology doesn’t indicate base humanity as per Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and countless other SF texts.

According to a paper published in the Philosophical Quarterly journal (the one in which Musk is likely pulling his answers/theories from), Nick Bostrom claims that at least one of the following are 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.

(Bostrom, N 2003)

An interesting read with a bit of mathy bits concluding that we are probably living in a simulation. Well, nice, but that doesn’t really delve deeper into our discussion.

Does this render our existence futile? That’s the key thesis of this article, and it’s problematic due to the fact most normal people would find it distressing, similar to how our beloved Morty from the Rick and Morty animated series:

But unlike most people, and Morty, we are cyberpunks (assuming you are if you are reading this article) and cyberpunks have a very different way of viewing digital life. I for one embrace the fact that I might be living within a video game. I’m living a life where I can wake up late, write, game and be taken seriously writing about SF for a living. The fact that I may be living in the matrix, or may indeed be a persona, does nothing to alter my perception as this is all I’ve ever known, and ever will know. If I am a simulation, then I am a damn good one. It doesn’t make me, or you, or anyone, any less human for we have defined out humanity by choosing to live by the core human tenets of being.

In fact, it may be fortunate that we are in somebody else’s simulation, as Musk states:‘I mean, all you really should hope that’s true because otherwise if civilisation stops advancing then that may be due to some calamitous event that erases the civilisation…so maybe we should be hopeful that this is a simulation…otherwise either we’re going to create simulations that are indistinguishable from reality or civilisation will cease to exist.’

There has been much discussion in the media lately about virtual reality (VR) and the ethics behind VR, but what I want you, my readers, to come away with is to not feel a sense of melancholy over the fact that our life may be an illusion. We are but fleeting vessels of meat (arguably), and though we may all be floating in a petri dish, observed by super advanced beings, the answer remains the same: life is what you make of it. Like the name of the game suggests in Rick and Morty; a life well lived is a real, human existence. 

Inquire. Discover. Play on. And if that fails to work, remember to press the up and B key simultaneously.  

One Response to “A Life Well Lived…wait, simulation?”

  1. […] Ship in a Bottle explores the idea of simulated realities within simulated realities. Beyond this, however, the question is posed: are we living in a reality generated by “a little device sitting on someone’s table?” Furthermore, does it matter? The answer given by the episode seems to be no, since the crew of the Enterprise traps Moriarty, a program that gained sentience after Data asked the computer to create a foe that could defeat him, inside of a data cube that is given the storage space to be able to endlessly generate a fictional universe for Moriarty to explore. Do we live in such a reality? […]

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