If you were a software simulation, how would you know?
If you think your sensation of consciousness proves you are real, that’s magical thinking. Consciousness is little more than imagining what happens next and comparing your experience to your expectations. Add some memory and some sensors for the environment and you have the entire package. Software can do that. And if programmed to report all of that as a “feeling” it could.
If we are software, it seems likely that we have a lot in common with our creators. It seems more likely that humans would create simulations of other humans as opposed to random creatures. It’s the same reason our movies and entertainment are generally about people or creatures who act like people. People who think like us are likely to love themselves as much as we love ourselves.
So let’s assume our creators think the way we do, in some general way. That’s a starting point.
Let’s also assume the programmers have limited resources. They can’t program every possible development in our reality, so instead they use shortcuts and tricks. If we see evidence of those shortcuts and tricks in our alleged reality, it raises some questions.
For starters, some humans might be fully programmed and others would be background extras. The extras would be easy to identify because they never have anything interesting to say. You know those people. Check.
Our programmers might also create our history on the fly, and then only for compatibility with whatever is happening at the moment. Your sidewalk doesn’t have a history of a crack until someone sees it. And your cat is neither alive nor dead until you see evidence for one or the other. If you want to be more controversial, it would mean finding a fossil creates a past with a dinosaur and not the other way around.
Next, you’d expect a lot of code reuse. And that means the world would be full of repeating patterns. For example, why does it seem that whenever something unique and bizarre happens to me in the afternoon it is also the plot of the only sitcom I watch that very evening? That happens to me about once a week. If I spill Gatorade on the cat, it’s the plot of Modern Family that very night.
Yes, yes, yes. I know. Coincidences are just coincidences. It’s nothing but statistics acting out. But here’s the fun part: We don’t understand why statistics work. We know things revert to the mean, for example, but why? The rules of physics seem like programmed rules as opposed to simple logical truths.
Our hypothetical programmers would need to build knowledge barriers beyond which our search for truth cannot extend. For example, we can’t travel faster than the speed of light and therefore we can’t see the edges of our universe. And when we drill into the quantum world we quickly reach absurdity instead of understanding. It has the smell of something a clever engineer programmed just to keep us from learning our true nature. And can light really be a particle and a wave at the same time? What about quantum entanglement?
Realistically, does it make sense to you that all matter and energy are comprised of different and smaller things no matter how far you peer into the world of the super-small? If a particle is made of X, what is X made of? Can that chain of inquiry go on to infinity? It’s absurd. Just the way a clever programmer would build it. If we saw an actual physical brick wall around our solar system we’d know we were programmed. But if every time we extend our knowledge we find new riddles, we live in a prison of limited knowledge without feeling it.
What other clues might we find of our programmed existence?
For ideas that are less crazy than this blog post, see my book: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.