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Are we living in a simulation?

December 27, 2019posts theory

This thought struck me while listening to Lex Fridman's podcast with George Hotz. This was Lex's exact opening question - 'Are we part of a simulation?' I do not remember what George answered but this surely got my mind running, searching for answers and trying to find analogies. What came to my mind is that we might not be in an exact simulation, but we may be a part of a playground, one that has all the human beings and is continuing to exist until infinity.

This very much reminds me of the HBO series WestWorld. The series was centered around a simulation game that was like a theme park, where humans could go and have realistic roleplaying experience. For some it was a mere game, for some it was passion. But, this game still had a controlling entity - the ones who built it. They were humans too. But what if, keeping the WestWorld example aside, what if there was a playground, where millions of players existed, each one with there set of features, with some additional scenic elements like air, water and land? This is exactly what I think of our world to be.

Consider the example of the very famous screen savers of the 00s or 90s. A blue rectangle which slid around the monitor screen, and every time it hit an edge, it naturally got reflected. Now think of two such rectangles together. At some point of time they will hit each other and go on to hit each other again some time later. If you visualise this gradually increasing the number of rectangles, and increase the size of the screen a bit, these rectangles are basically independent entities moving across the screen. Due to existence of other such entities, the movement of one single block gets affected, and it gives rise to a very large number of future possibilities of interactions. These interactions are hard to track if the population is very large, and it slowly becomes a chaotic system, which thrives on its own.

We too, are such independent entities, which can live and function on their own, but the world becomes an interesting place when millions of us live together, unknowingly or knowingly affecting each other’s actions. In fact, we are a developed product of this continuously evolving system. Plants produce their own food, but we do not. We evolved in a way assuming that the system had provisions for resources even if we stop producing our own food. Coming back to our point, we can imagine the world as being a large playground model, with us as individual entities just bringing this game to life. I don’t believe there’s anyone controlling this. There is no control needed, in fact. Our varied features multiplied by our numbers result in infinite number of possibilities and these are enough to run the engine. We are part of an autonomous game engine, which evolves itself.

Areas like machine learning and convolutional neural networks got me thinking even more. I believe I might be stating the obvious for several of you, but it just amuses me to think this way. CNNs are basically the process of reverse engineering the possibility of an outcome, it is a way to find out ‘ways’ in which a certain output is achieved and then try to replicate this decision making when a new input is fed to it. 3Blue1Brown described CNNs as a large number of knobs that you tweak to finally get the output. For example, detecting a cat’s face might involve thousands of such knobs, some of which could be very far away from an actual cat, with less weighted value. This is similar to the model I talked about above. When millions of elements are part of the system, an action performed by someone far away, might have some amount of impact on you, given the population count is limited and you are in ‘range’ of the person. When this is exaggerated, we have something which is known as ‘the butterfly effect’. This is a general saying for a situation when a small change somewhere unrelated causes a drastic effect somewhere far away. The name butterfly comes from the situation when if a butterfly flaps its wings in Japan, a hurricane hits the US coast. Similar is possible in our world engine.

We are individualistic beings, our social nature has come into existence only because we have been living in a society for very long. (I might be wrong here.) We live our lives and interact with others like us, we create stories, we cross paths, we distantly affect lives. The world is an interesting place.

~ 27th December, 2019

Mohit Karekar

Software Engineer | JavaScript | Open Source