I find simulation theory – in essence, the possibility that we’re living in a artificially generated reality – philosophically interesting, even though there really isn’t much evidence to support the idea. Then again, it’s not really needed.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the theory, at least from a cultural perspective, is that it is at this point a religious belief system. As the bronze age myths of gods and heroes have increasingly failed to address in any convincing manner humanity’s perennial existential woes (“Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?”), we invented technological ones to replace them.
To a greater or lesser degree, the various branches of the Abrahamic faiths have at least at one time considered Earthly life to be illusory, transient, and even sinful; a transitional state of being on the path to the godhead. In the tech-friendly world of Simulation theory, Earthly life is once again illusory: An artificial construct created by powers unknown who might as well be gods.
Mortality is also addressed in Simulation theory, although we may not like the answers. Physical death may be the equivalent of “logging out” of that illusion and returning to the “real” reality (which may or may not also be a simulation), or it might just be the extinction of the self – presuming that the sense of “self” implies some sort of personal agency rather than an externally engineered state.
The religious myths posited that we were here to serve the gods in some fashion: to love them, or wage war, or toil as their faithful servants. One possibility of the Simulation theory is that we’re part of a computer model that will allow our unseen “gods” to learn more about the past, or perhaps experiment with life itself in a safe manner. In any way, we’re serving the gods again, and they’re no more knowable than Jehovah. Certainly, positing that were here as part of an experiment is no less logical than that we’re here to serve a codependent divinity’s need for love, and it’s far more palatable to a 21st century human’s existence than verses about burnt offerings and sacred oils.
The problem with religious belief systems of any sort, and this includes Simulation theory, is that they offer very simple answers to extremely complex, interrelated problems. They’re self-contained, self-supporting systems that enable circular thought patterns to develop that attack and defeat external ideas much like white blood cells devour viruses and bacteria. (“How do we know the Bible is correct? Because it’s the word of God. How do we know there’s a God? Because the Bible says so. Don’t question this; faith is the essence of belief. Doubt is the Devil tempting your faith.”) As nature abhors a vacuum, so does the human mind. The empty space of moral and philosophical ambiguity is made soft and comfortable by the warm quilt of religious belief, be it technological or mythological.
As Simulation theory is ultimately unprovable (at least as we understand it), those who embrace it must take it on faith. With that in mind, perhaps “Why is this an attractive belief system?” is a better question than “Is it true?”.
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