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Are we living in a simulation?

It’s a question that has risen to prominence in certain technophilosophical circles in recent years, though in truth, the skeptical hypothesis regarding just how real reality is has been around for centuries; perhaps the most pop culturally present of those ancient arguments are things like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave or the “butterfly dream” from the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi, though many other long-ago thinkers expressed similar ideas.

What it boils down to is the notion that everything about the universe we occupy, from the tiniest molecule to the most massive star, is a computer simulation. That includes us, by the way.

This current flavor of this theory springs largely from work in the early 2000s by the Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom, whose premise presupposes that future predictions regarding the massive increase of computing power are accurate and that at some point, said supercomputing capacity would be devoted to running simulations of civilization’s forebears. Assuming those simulations are sufficiently detailed and fine-tuned, the people in them will be conscious and sentient … and virtual.

Bostrom’s simulation argument – which he calls a trilemma – states that one of these three statements is almost certain to be true:

  1.     The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage (i.e. capable of developing these sort of immense simulations) is very close to zero.
  2.     The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running simulations of their evolutionary history, or variations thereof, is close to zero.
  3.     The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation are very close to one.

Bostrom goes on to posit through anthropic reasoning that IF that third statement is true, then we are almost certainly living in a simulation.

There – that’s everything that five minutes on Wikipedia could teach me about simulation theory. You’re welcome.

But that’s not the whole story. In fact, we here in The Maine Edge’s Investigative Futurism Department have spent several hours digging into a different possibility with regard to our simulated world – a possibility that hits us where we live. You see, after much experimentation and deliberation, the IFD has come to an undeniable and paradigm-shattering conclusion.

We ARE in a simulation, but not one crafted by the powers that be in some far-flung future. No, the simulation in which we exist is not, one could argue, a simulation at all.

We’re characters in a story. Specifically, a Stephen King story.

Published in Cover Story
Wednesday, 10 February 2021 12:37

Set adrift on memory – ‘Bliss’

What if the life you know isn’t the whole story?

Few science fiction tropes offer the kind of narrative oomph that you get from parallel worlds. It’s an ideal way to introduce that “what if?” vibe that can make for such an interesting story. A more recent evolution of the concept is from the notion that we are living inside a simulation – an idea that seems to be steadily be gaining more real-world traction.

Of course, the fact that it CAN be effective doesn’t mean it always WILL be effective. And that potential for effectiveness means that we see it used a lot; unfortunately, that high volume doesn’t necessarily translate to consistent quality.

“Bliss” – the latest film from indie genre auteur Mike Cahill – attempts to explore some of the potential ramifications that might come from learning that what you believe to be real … isn’t. And while it does find room for some interesting ideas and a couple of sly subversions, it unfortunately becomes rather tangled in its own construction, to no one’s benefit.

Cahill, who wrote and directed the film, has a history of doing a lot with a little, crafting a pair of marvelous genre gems in “Another Earth” and “I Origins.” He’s venturing into familiar territory here, but despite some big ideas and strong performances from his leads, the film never quite clicks, particularly in its chaotic and vaguely unsatisfying third act.

Published in Movies

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