Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?

We may be living within an “ancestor simulation” being conducted by our future descendants.

Computer simulation

Research into whether or not we could actually detect if we are living in a simulation has begun.

Photo by Fotolia/high_resolution

Content Tools

While video games may seem escapist and trivial at best and damaging and wasteful in their use of resources at worst, simulated experiences are not simply child’s play. In 2003, philosopher Nick Bostrom published a paper, “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” in Philosophical Quarterly. Bostrom argued that we are most likely living within an “ancestor simulation” being conducted by our future descendants.

Grossly simplified, the argument runs like this: If humankind ever becomes technologically sophisticated enough to simulate a reality containing conscious minds that think and experience their simulated reality in a way that is equivalent to how we experience our world, then the only limit to the number of people that could exist would be the amount of computing power available. Assuming that current trends extrapolate, it is feasible that the number of simulated minds would be greater than the number of real minds by many orders of magnitude. In other words, it will become more probable over time that we will live in a simulated reality, because each of us is more likely to be guided by a simulated mind than a real one.

Bostrom’s paper has inspired research into whether or not we could actually detect if we are living in a simulation. “Constraints on the Universe as a Numerical Simulation,” a paper by Silas R. Beane, Zohreh Davoudi, and Martin J. Savage, proposes that we can measure predictable physical limits that are inevitable given the grid-based nature of any simulation. If predicted limits are found, it could be proof that our reality isn’t real.

Want more from nik harron? Read Exploring Nature Through Open-World Video Games.


nik harron has straddled the lines between graphic design, fine arts and scientific research for  more than 22 years.