Life In A Simulation

Imagine an alien civilization with such advanced technology, they can construct a computer many orders of magnitude more powerful than ours. It’s powerful enough to simulate our entire universe. 10^10^100 operations is easy, for these alien computers.

One of these aliens sits down one day and starts to code. Before they get to the real interesting programming, they’ll have to import some libraries. File formats, network protocols, secure handshakes, cryptographically secure random number generators.

How do these aliens generate random numbers? Like our random number generators, they develop some basic rules to convert one state of computer memory to another, seed it with something like the current time, and run these rules forward a while. In practice, when a set of rules passes a variety of statistical tests, it is deemed “random enough” for practical uses. Eventually you discard the vast majority of the information, and just extract a few bits to use for your random numbers.

Of course, these alien computers are extremely powerful. So powerful, they can easily spare 10^10^50 bits for a random number generator. And these rules for their random number generator… we call them the “laws of physics”.

Long ago, the aliens running our simulation seeded the Big Bang. They’re going to run our universe for a hundred billion years. At the end of it, they’ll count the number of electrons. If it’s an odd number, the output is a one. If it’s an even number, the output is a zero. And there you go. One random bit! Random bits are useful for practical applications, of course. It’s not like our universe is going to waste. There’s a real meaning to it.

Okay, cool story, so what?

Philosophically, the simulation hypothesis suggests that humans are living in a simulation. There’s a simple argument for it: if a civilization creates simulations, then there are more simulations than “natural” civilizations. Therefore any particular civilization is probably in a simulation.

But this doesn’t tell us anything about the nature of the simulation. Think of a scenario like the one I described above as the “random number generator hypothesis” or “RNG hypothesis” - that humans are living in a simulation. But it’s just a random number generator. The creators of the simulation don’t care about us at all. They will never intervene. And there’s no way for us to interact with the outside of the simulation.

I claim that the RNG hypothesis is more likely than a simulation in which the simulators care about any intelligent life in the universe. The argument is simple. Lots of programs need random number generators! But it’s fairly rare to write a simulation that is aimed to simulate some sort of being where you inspect its behavior. If the aliens’ programming behavior is remotely like our own, we are far more likely to be in a random number generator than in the sort of simulation where the simulators are paying any attention.

Does this matter in any way? If the RNG hypothesis is true, it is indistinguishable from a world in which we are not in a simulation, where the laws of physics simply exist and always have existed. So, in a sense the hypothesis is scientifically meaningless.

And that’s my point, really. Whether we are in a simulation or not, it doesn’t mean anything. If we could communicate with the aliens that created our universe, yeah that would mean something. If we could discover useful things about the laws of physics by analogy to the rules of a simulation, yeah that would mean something. But just being in a simulation, by itself, is meaningless. Don’t lose any sleep over it.