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Digital Subscriptions > Skeptic > 21.4 > I am Not Living in a Computer Simulation, and Neither Are You

I am Not Living in a Computer Simulation, and Neither Are You

THE NOTION THAT WE’RE ALL JUST COMPUTER simulations living in a simulated universe—once the stuff of late-night college dormitory bull sessions— has now resurfaced, having been espoused by (among other eminences) a world-famous astrophysicist and an Internet entrepreneur billionaire.

Illustration by Ástor Alexander

The notion is the latest manifestation of what was perhaps was first contemplated (and then, at least to his own satisfaction, disproved) by Descartes, whose cogito, ergo sumI think, therefore I am—was the first step in an attempt to figure out what can be reliably known, although he considered not a computer program creating the illusion of his body and his world, but an evil demon. The idea is a close cousin of the philosophers’ thought experiment (or parlor trick) known as “brain-in-a-vat,” which is said to have inspired the Matrix movies. Notice, though, that brain-in-a-vat requires a real brain in a real vat and the Matrix movies had real brains in real people plugged into their simulated world. The proposition that we’re all just computer simulations in a simulated universe eliminates the vat, the brain, the people, and the world. It can also be seen as the nerd’s version of the notion that we’re all simply dreams in the mind of God—perhaps the central creed of a Church of Computer Science.

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DECEPTION IN CANCER TREATMENT SPECIAL ISSUE: The Cancer-care Industry’s Marketing is Among the Most Deceptive on the Consumer Landscape. SPECIAL SECTION: Classic Skepticism: The Amityville Hoax at 40; Alien Sulls: Do the Mysterious Rhodope Skull and Adygea Skulls Belong to Aliens?; The Real Meaning Behind the Nazca Geoglyphs; Clown Panics: Sightings of Mysterious Clowns Rattle Nerves ARTICLES: The Case for a Galactic Defense System; Is “Spirituality” so Broadly Defined that Testing for it is Meaningless?; Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?; Luck and Regression to the Mean: One of the Most Fundamental Sources of Error in Human Judgment; Political Obfuscation: Thinking Critically about Public Discourse. COLUMNS: The SkepDoc: Anti-Aging Claims: The Fountain of Youth is Still Only a Legend, by Harriet Hall, M.D.; The Gadfly: Can Working Memory Be Trained to Work Better? by Carol Tavris REVIEWS: “Three books about the Salem Witch Trials and their legacy: The Witches: Salem, by Stacy Schiff; In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692, by Mary Beth Norton; America Bewitched: America Bewitched: The Story of Witchcraft After Salem, by Owen Davies JUNIOR SKEPTIC: Mammoth Mysteries! Part Two, by Daniel Loxton
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