Elon Musk: Humanity “Probably” Living in a Matrix like Computer Simulation


Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Green Entrepreneur Elon Musk has claimed that it is almost certain that we all live in a Matrix style computer simulation. But there is a vital piece missing from his conjecture.

Now, 40 years later we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously, and it’s getting better every year. Soon we’ll have virtual reality, augmented reality.

If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, even if that rate of advancement drops by a thousand from what it is now. Then you just say, okay, let’s imagine it’s 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale.

So given that we’re clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set-top box or on a PC or whatever, and there would probably be billions of such computers or set-top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds we’re in base reality is one in billions.

Read more: http://www.breitbart.com/tech/2016/06/02/elon-musk-one-in-billions-chance-we-arent-living-in-a-matrix-style-computer-simulation/

So what is the flaw with Elon Musk’s theory?

Lets call Musks’s conjecture theory one, and consider some other theories (from a previous post). See if you can pick the odd one out.

2. The buildup of anthropogenic carbon dioxide may lead to dangerous climate change, not because CO2 is a particularly powerful greenhouse gas, but because the slight warming caused by excess CO2 will cause sea water to evaporate, filling the atmosphere with water vapour. Water vapour is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. The evaporation of water vapour will trigger a chain reaction, a runaway greenhouse effect, in which global warming caused by the evaporation of ever increasing amounts of sea water forces yet more sea water to evaporate. In Dr. James Hansen’s words, “The oceans will begin to boil”.

3. We have already been visited by aliens, who most likely continue to monitor us. The alternative is to believe the preposterous proposition that we are the only intelligent life inhabiting any of the planets circling our galaxy’s 100 billion stars. The reason this must be true – all we have to do is look in the mirror. In a few decades, or at most a few centuries, humans will have the technology to mass produce and launch tiny space probes. Probes which can visit other stars, and transmit information back to us.

Such probes are already on the drawing board.


Since the probes we shall build will be incredibly small, it will be possible to launch them at relativistic velocities, for trivial economic cost. Scientists have even discovered ways such probes could be steered and decelerated as they approach their destination, using the Galactic magnetic field.

If just one group of intelligent aliens in our galaxy of 100 billion stars reached our level of technology, at least half a million years ago, and made the decision to send out such space probes, then there has already been enough time for their high speed probes to reach our star system, and report back what they found.

4. Human lives are in danger right now, from asteroids and comets flying through space. As the shock advent of the Chelyabinsk meteor demonstrated, Earth can be struck unexpectedly at any time by meteors and other space bodies, many of which have the potential to cause widespread devastation. The Chelyabinsk meteor detonated with a force of 500 kilotons of TNT – it is only due to good fortune that the explosion, which caused some buildings to collapse and widespread damage and injuries from breaking glass, did not cause serious loss of life.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chelyabinsk_meteor

Which theory stands out from the other theories? The answer of course is the fourth theory. Unlike the other theories, the theory that the Earth is at risk of being struck by a dangerous meteor is based on observational evidence. The other theories, however compelling they seem, are just conjecture.


125 thoughts on “Elon Musk: Humanity “Probably” Living in a Matrix like Computer Simulation

  1. Multiverse is a branch of theoretical physics which allows for this possibility. Are you suggesting that this is not possible? What proof can you offer up to disproves this? I’m sure there are many physicists out there that are waiting for your proof. Or maybe you just “know.”

    • Yes, make Eric prove the negative, that is that multiverses, unicorns, and fairies don’t exist.

      Please, this is how the Climate Change faithful want to make their beliefs in the CO2 demon the null hypothesis.

      • I assume that the Mr. Elon Musk’s car business named after the inventor Nikola Tesla is a profitable one.
        Nikola Tesla was cremated and his ashes are kept in the Tesla museum in Belgrade, the museum contains many Tesla’s after-facts which are great motivation for young students of the nearby Electro-technical faculty.
        The Tesla museum depends on meagre maintenance grants from the government of the impoverished East European country of Serbia.
        Even small one off, or a periodic donation from Mr. Elon Musk would make great deal of difference to upkeep of the museum.

        It would be nice if the ‘moderator’ could put this comment up front just in case Mr. Musk decides to read above article, otherwise my apology to ‘ joelobryan’.

      • Thanks for the info Mr. O’Bryan, I suppose it may not be such a great surprise, since the company named ‘Tesla Motors’ is making cars running on the DC currents. Maybe that the company’s fortune could change if it is renamed ‘Edison Motors’, after all Edison was a rich entrepreneur and Tesla ended as a pauper in the last decades of his life.

      • Elon Musk’s BIG money comes from SolarCity subsidies; corporate cronyism defined. Under their most popular sales program, SolarCities allows homeowners to have economically nonviable solar collectors installed on their homes at no cost. Yet the losses for this program, sustained by SolarCities are turned into a profitable business because government tax preferences and rebates and direct subsidies for the “green” goodness of the collectors go directly to the company, not the homeowner. Then in contradiction to their own promotional materials, the company also files secret liens on the homes to protect their investment (gravy train) and those liens then interfere with the homeowners ability to sell or refinance their own home. Musk is, in my humble opinion, an evil man. Here’s a Newsmax story abou the hiddne liens: http://www.newsmax.com/US/Elon-Musk-SolarCity-liens-legislators/2015/04/15/id/638795/

      • vukcevic wrote: Even small one off, or a periodic donation from Mr. Elon Musk would make great deal of difference to upkeep of the [Tesla] museum.”

        There’s a good idea.

    • You’re doing it wrong, null hypothesis, not Trenberth’s new “prove me wrong hypothesis”

    • I’ve recently decided to fully embrace the multiverse and all it can offer. Since there are an infinite amount of universes allowed, that is enough to go around for each and every one of us. Everyone can have a unique place where they can believe anything they want. I make first claim to this particular one cause it seems the most interesting and all my stuff is here. Since it is now mine, I’ll be imposing my will upon it so expect some changes very soon if you decide to stay. Of course, if you don’t like it here, you can always go find one to your liking, just have to ask Professor Hawking how to get there. Happy hunting! :)

      • You would probably prosper more as an Astrologer if you go down that logic path. After all, isn’t that what Astrology is?

        For example, I’m a Pieces in the Astrological world of the ever powerful Zodiac.
        (And there goes Jacque Cousteau off in the zodiac chasing the pod of whales… But I digress, wrong Zodiac)

        Here is my Pieces daily horoscope from horoscopes.com:

        “Creative inspiration could come from deep within today, Pisces. Visions, dreams – anything that excites your imagination – could bring ideas for new projects. You might also find that your understanding of others greatly increases, attracting new and old friends. The only downside is you could get so lost in ideas that you temporarily lose touch with the material world. Try to keep a foot in both camps.”

        You see, it has already come true, here I am contemplating zodiacs, multiverses, climate change, unicorns, and zodiacs.

        Pseudoscience hooey is my verdict on multiverses, since we can never step outside the experiment to become objective observers.

      • Good one Frank.. I’d like to stay in sanity… or is it insanity? Hard to tell these days.

      • in Isaac Asimov’s Invasions short stories, one is called Living Space and because of overcrowding on Earth, we have colonized alternative universes [the quantum variety] … possibly Mr. Resistance is from there?

      • Hopefully you know my post was tongue in cheek for a little fun. I’m thinking that a Simulation Multiverse theory needs to be considered based on Mr. Musk’s conjectures but I’m kinda busy now building stuff that is real in this universe (at least it is real to me…..or is it?…….my head hurts).

  2. EM phone home…

    Yeah, just because you believe in 4D holographic universe with our 3D reality, that makes it true only in your head, sort of like your faith in the Church of Climate Change dogma that greases your Solar City and Tesla ventures.

    More taxpayer welfare for billionaires please. And Hold the drugs please.

    • It’s literally geocentric thinking. A human concept as the meaning of life. LOL

      Someone spoke if the multiverse as a real thing, it’s as real as Dark matter and Strange matter.

      That’s how it works folks, when your theory falls flat on it’s behind, just make up a new matter with magical properties to save said theory.

      Quantum physics is lost, aimless and much wrong.

      • It’s all a model! Yet even though the standard model seems to describe the universe we experience very accurately, virtually no physicist would say “the science is settled”. Hence the nonstandard models that usually arise from tiny gaps or inconsistencies in what we know.

        Lucky for climate science ” zere can be no qvestionz”!

      • John Harmsworh. Perpetual motion machines are rejected by nearly all physicists because the science is settled.

    • “sort of like your faith in the Church of Climate Change dogma ”

      Or any church, for that matter.

  3. If we are living in a simulated world, then even if using fossil fuels is “harmful”, we are not really harming anything real!

    • Press F5, Save,
      Then press the reset, try again.

      Unfortunately (or fortunately) there’s that pesky 2nd Law of Thermodynamics always mucking up the good game. The arrow of time IS simply entropy, nothing else.

      • The “arrow of time” is nothing but science fiction and human concept born of a desire to interpret

      • Time is how we measure procession, how we measure procession has no bearing on the Universe.

      • Time is how we measure the flow of energy from order to disorder, never able to make humpty-dumpty whole again, with each flow of a planck unit of energy.

      • How we perceive our own concept “time” is more geocentric thinking. Putting us right back into the middle of all meaning.

      • “Anthropocentric” is more appropriate, IMO.

        As in “anthropogenic CO2 is the now the climate control knob” in CC church dogma.

        If it comes from mankind, it can be regulated, taxed, controlled, and owned. If it comes from nature with no regard for man, well that just doesn’t make for sound socio-economic policy engineering and welath redistribution… to billionaires.

    • Remember the line from one of the Discworld novels? It was “just real enough to be in real trouble.” Or the immortal Fred Dagg: “If I’m only thinking I’m here, I might as well think I’m happy.”

    • “possible” and “possibility” are admissions of a lack of knowledge. “we don’t know” “could” “may”

      It’s why we see those words so often in climate science.

  4. This reminds me of discussions about Bishop Berkeley and solipsism in philosophy classes. The phrase “Argumentam ad absurdiam” seems appropriate.

  5. “glass, did not cause serious loss of life.”

    Unless of course it was your own, then it would’ve been serious.

    Poor wording choice.

  6. It seems that there is no difference between science and science fiction in a liberal mind…

  7. To be fair the whole thing was posed as a hypothetical question, and it is not clear he was arguing other than in the hypothetical case. He was rambling a little towards the end, but there was clearly some deadpan humour in there as well. I am reminded of The hitchhikers Guide:

    “There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

    There is another theory which states that this has already happened.”
    ― Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

  8. Scenario 2 question.

    A familiar image (looking from the ground up) that mentions absorption by the atmosphere.
    Another way to look at it is how much and what wavelength hits the ground.
    It would seem that H2O and CO2 PREVENT energy from hitting the ground.

    • As any real Physical Chemist would recognize, so-called ‘greenhouse gases’ absorb light going in ANY direction, and re-emit it as heat in ANY direction. There is nothing in the physics that says that these molecules will prefer to emit heat (IR radiation) into the ground rather than into space. There is NO directional bias. At the most, their presence in the atmosphere will lead to a miniscule increase in the overall heat capacity of the air. The effect of this increase in heat capacity would be to slightly increase the amount of heat the atmosphere itself can hold, and therefore increase the time it would take to change the temperature of the air with a given heat flux. The result would be slower heating during the day and slower cooling at night, but nothing you could really measure.
      None of the computer models of the atmosphere are capable of accounting for (let alone predicting) the occurrence of convection cells – fluid flow phenomena that raise warm air from the ground to the upper atmosphere (remember Archimedes’ Principle?), the Coriolis effect (by which convection cells develop cyclonic motions), or the formation of clouds (and their higher albedo) through adiabatic cooling as warm air rises. There simply isn’t a computer with enough resolution to handle the almost countless cells needed to include these phenomena (1km x 1km x 100m).

    • “It would seem that H2O and CO2 PREVENT energy from hitting the ground”

      Yes; these things prevent a bit of solar energy from reaching the ground. Most solar energy is in short wavelengths unaffected by water vapor or carbon dioxide and thus does reach the ground. The ground, being warmed, emits its own radiation but is confined to cooler, lower energy longer wavelengths and thus is proportionally more trapped by GHG than is the incoming solar energy. It is this imbalance that has kept the Earth from becoming a frozen ball. Should it happen that enough water vapor freezes out for any reason whatsoever, the remaining GHG won’t be enough to prevent Earth from a “snowball” phase lasting millions of years to perhaps forever.

  9. Eric: Nice post first of all, and you have of course hit the nail on the head.

    But there is a shorter way to express the point.

    Read Karl Popper and perhaps Kant/Schopenhauer.

    The 4th theory is at least a scientific theory with some evidence to support it.

    What Elon Musk is saying however is not of the same order as the other two theories. They belong to the category of potentially disprovable theories that have been disproved (AGW), and probably just plain idiotic theories (alien visitation). Let’s face it, the alien visitation theory is based on the enormously arrogant anthropocentric proposition that such aliens would actually give enough of a shit to do it, or that having done it, they would be in any way interested in leaving a trace of so doing. So that theory isn’t even a theory based on extrapolation of known data, its based on huge and almost certainly erronesous assumptions about the nature of ‘aliens’

    But Elon Musk’s position is far far more interesting. IT is of course a theory that belongs to the class of ‘metaphysical’ theories. That is, it is a theory that has to be accepted pro tem in order to do science upon it, just as we accept pro tem the existence of a particular sort of physical world, as a precondition to being able to ‘do physics’ .

    In the final analysis, metaphysical theories are ‘supermodels’ of the world. Attempts to guess at the nature of the world behind our experience of it. They can neither be proved false, nor true. At best one can say that such a supermodel allows one to have a rich and useful interaction with the world that it purports to describe.

    It is therefore not possible, lacking a red pill, to establish whether the world we think we live in, is a simulation or not. It is however not especially useful to consider it as such for the largest part of our activities.

    Until we probe the limits of our knowledge, when it does start to become a bit more interesting.
    Metaphysical models of this sort have been a lifetime study and hobby of mine. I keep meaning to write up a short thesis on them. Suffice to say that I find that escaping from the rigid confines of the rational materialistic view allows a far simpler approach to many obscure problems, from why on earth people have religion, to what on earth quantum science really means, to why apparently sane people ‘believe in climate change’.

    The world of our intellect is not the real world, it is ‘models, all the way down’. That is my hyperphysical (beyond metaphysics) proposition. IT doesn’t attempt to deny a real world exists behind all the human modelling, merely that such a world is inaccessible (to the intellect), so we have to deal at all times with models that are imperfect and limited. Which puts us in a peculiar position. We cannot use our intellects without building models, but the process of building them, immediately simplifies and compresses our experience of the world into something that is no longer accurate.

    The ramifications of that, if you accept (prop tem of course!) the hyperphysical proposition, allow you to understand why sane people disagree, why religions exist and may even allow some insight into why the world of ‘classical’ physics seems to be a function of the consciousness of the observer. Because in essence that is exactly what it is…

    As I said, I have been meaning to write this up. If there is interest, I will. Its not new stuff, but it is a fresh view from a modern perspective of issues that have bedevilled philosophers, priests and scientists for ages.

    Today, with our familiarity with models of the scientific sort, and the advances made in information theory, we have perhaps a better vocabulary with which to express this.

    Elon has missed what I think is the point, but he has raised a pretty interesting and useful idea.

    It was a very long time ago at college, when an acquaintance looked me in the eyes and said ‘It is of course a very interesting idea to consider, how much is in the mind, or, indeed if it is all in the mind’. The question intrigued me.

    40+ years later, I have an answer, of sorts.

    • Too long to address fully, but the main problem of a comprehensive simulation is that the information content would have to be equal to the universe we see. That would entail the simulation to be tantamount to another actual universe. At that point, what does it mean to call it a “simulation”? This is just a grad student head trip. Try to simulate anguish or joy. Or the anguish of being unable to express your joy. These are real things, which make us human.

      You probably can have more fun with the more tenable proposition that the observable universe is really a hologram.

      • Michael: that is of course correct, but doesn’t eliminate the possibility that the actual universe is an order of magnitude larger.

        At another level the hologram proposition is actually almost the same.

      • Leo: It is a fabulous discussion (literally), but there is no reason to think that we have “missing” information. (Since we don’t need it, it must be unnecessary.) There is no reason to think that life is not real (which is what you are really trying to argue). Be careful, or you will get into arguments over what possible colors angels might be.

        No, the hologram proposition is actually quite different and does not involve any question of what reality is.

    • The model is not the system it tries to model. The map is not the territory.

  10. According to USA Today Musk said three particularly “crazy” things.

    The 3 craziest things Elon Musk said at Code conference

    1. Humans will arrive on Mars by 2025

    2. Is life a video game played by a more advanced civilisation?

    3. AI could turn us into house cats. But he has a solution.

    I like to idea of a managed mission to Mars (and back!). The other two suggestions really are crazy.

    • All 3 are more plausible than Tesla and SolarCity ever being profitable without subsidies.

      His virtual reality concept is actually the “Better Than Life” scenario from Red Dwarf by Grant Naylor. Just another example where Enron/L Ron Musk is not the innovator he pretends to be.

      Reality will smack him hard when his ponzi schemes fold after the election.

  11. We’ve not exactly been visted by aliers, but they’ve looked in on us. Didn’t come too close in case they caught something – like fatness, cancer, influenza, alcoholism, stupidity etc,. You get the drift.

    And we know they come, every 11 years because they are mining the sun, for energy for their huge spacerocket ship that orbits around somewhere out there. Pretty damn big it is, probably square shaped and green. So look for something like that where it would orbit the sun every 11 years. easy peasy
    Thats what sunspots are you see, sunspots are holes left in the sun after these aliens have taken away great chunks of of it for their civilation.
    My pleasure – I’ll be out spring cleaning my cowsheds when you come round to deliver my Noble Prize.
    cheers ;-D

    • What I love about the alien thing… so at least one other civilization of 100 billion stars must have developed intelligence and an ability to mass produce super-fast mini-probes… huge enough conjecture right there. Where things get stupid is this: That it happened in a timeframe such that the probe arrived on earth in a timeframe that would be even remotely interesting such that they’d have any reason to continue monitoring. Arriving at a planet with no technology, no obvious life signs, etc… why would you bother with it? Why continue to monitor it?

      And even if they did continue to monitor it to this day, then why haven’t we detected the probe or its emissions?

      Is alien visitation POSSIBLE? sure. Is it a done deal based on his “inarguable” conjecture? Nope.

      • Humans are capable of interstellar travel and colonization. It would be extremely expensive, but it’s not beyond the realm of current technology, and development of nuclear powered propulsion would make it much easier. And technological development continues. Who knows what humans will be capable of doing in 1,000 years?

        If humanity does not destroy itself first, we will expand to fill the galaxy. Even without faster than light (FTL) capability it could be done in about a million years. With FTL, it would only take about 10,000 years to breed enough humans to (over)populate every terraformable planet in the galaxy.

        If intelligent spacefaring life is common enough that there is even just one other one in our galaxy today, then the Earth would have been colonized by another race long ago. We would not be here. You don’t go to the trouble and expense to send a living intelligent being to another star system just to check out the exotic life forms. You scout it our with robotic explorers and send a colonization ship if you find a habitable planet.

        We have not been visited.

      • scarletmacaw says: “then the Earth would have been colonized by another race long ago. We would not be here. ”

        Then again, maybe they did and here we are.

      • Michael 2 – Highly unlikely. Human DNA has too much in common with other Earth fauna for humans to have been colonized here. Even assuming that the other primates were colonized at the same time doesn’t work; humans have significant DNA commonality with such remote fauna as flatworms.

        It makes a great SciFi premise, like the Pak in Niven’s “Near-Space” books, but it’s not realistic.

      • ScarletMacaw: Sure its great science fiction; but suppose you were traveling around the universe. Would you start from scratch trying to create life on a planet when it had little chance of surviving because it wasn’t adapted, didn’t evolve there? Or would you tinker a bit with life that you find already existing? If there’s no life at all, move along!

        So a bit of recombinant DNA and off to the next planet. In fact, you don’t even have to go there.

  12. Elon Musk has received 4.9 BILLION dollars of taxpayers money, which makes him a lot cleverer than most of us.
    I think he might be onto something here.

    • I think he should be asked to pay a substantial percentage of that back.

      He has plenty, courtesy of the US taxpayer,

      Its well passed time he was called to account for that money.

      • He thinks he is Neo disrupting The Matrix so in his virtual view of reality, he’ll never be called on it.

    • I’m no fan of taxpayer money going to cronies.

      But you have to admit that for $4.9B the US got a lot more rocket development from Musk than it could ever get from NASA for the same amount of money.

  13. Elon Musk is repeating Nick Bostrom’s simulation argument: http://www.simulation-argument.com

    I find it statistically plausible, in just the same way Musk does. I can find no reason why we would stop creating better and better games – and those games a few thousand years from now would probably by “real” to their inhabitants.

    Compare Pong to Uncharted 4, and ponder the amount of worlds in the procedurally generated No Man’s Sky.

    • Well of course if we are living in a giant simulation created in 7 days just 5000 years ago, by a race of pan dimensional white mice, that explains everything.

      It explains why life is rubbish, it explains why there are no aliens – they left them out in order to have a ‘clean lab’ and it explains the climate. We are just living in a climate simulation model!


  14. James Hansen is the most convincing piece of evidence that this just might possibly be true. The Hansen entity cannot be natural. Surely it must be a piece of rogue code.

  15. Sounds like it’s back to Descartes…
    ““How often, asleep at night, am I convinced of just such familiar events—that I am here in my dressing-gown, sitting by the fire—when in fact I am lying undressed in bed! … As I think about this more carefully, I see plainly that there are never any sure signs by means of which being awake can be distinguished from being asleep. The result is that I begin to feel dazed, and this very feeling only reinforces the notion that I may be asleep.”

  16. The answer of course is the fourth theory. Unlike the other theories, the theory that the Earth is at risk of being struck by a dangerous meteor is based on observational evidence.

    How many people have been observed being killed by meteors? I bet the number is only an insignificant proportion of the human population, so your claim that Human lives are in danger right now, from asteroids and comets flying through space, is also just conjecture.

    • Could be that the observers were also killed? Look up the Tunguska meteorite in Siberia. I believe there were injuries, if not fatalities, at Chelyabinsk. Go see the Baringer Meteor Crater in Arizona. What does it take to convince you that these events are Dangerous? Go talk to Harry Truman about Mt. St. Helens and see if he learned anything from his folly.

  17. Theory 2 and 4 stand out as true based on evidence. The others require an “IF” that we are not certain of.
    1) IF it is possible to create a simulation in which the participants are conscious (or appear to themselves to be so) and are unaware that it is a simulation, THEN we are probably living in a simulation.
    2) Increase in CO2 MAY cause extreme greenhouse effect – we have venus and teh temperature on Earth for evidence.
    3) IF there are intelligent aliens in our galaxy AND they think like we do about other stars AND they survive long enough to develop sufficient technology THEN we have probably been visited by aliens.
    4) Asteroids do pose a threat. We have the Moon and mars for evidence and geological evidence on Earth.

    To include 2 with the rest requires rejecting the greenhouse effect. Some here are probably on board with that, but most thinking people are not prepared to reject such basic physics.

    Of course, if you want to put in straw man riders onto theory two, then you can make it sound silly, but the basic theory is evidence based.

    • No one has to reject the greenhouse effect, they need only reject the “water multiplies it” part of the theory, which the absence of a hotspot has disproved.

      • Ron House, yes, looking again that is correct, the theory as stated does indeed depend on the water feedback. So all we need to put theory in an evidence based camp is some evidence that warmer water/air systems will have more water in the vapor phase. We have masses of evidence for this.

        Because it is a very complex system with lots of other feedbacks as well this does not prove the AGW theory. It does put it in a different category than theory 1 and 3.

  18. Actually this theory has been around for a while. I recommend to anyone interested having the mind blown with the craziness of theoretical cosmology to read Paul Davis’s book, “The Goldilocks Enigma”.

    The idea that we are actually existing in a simulation is a statistical notion, since we can’t observe outside the system. Davis points out that although we can’t see outside, we might have some proxy evidence to support the theory, if, for example, there was some tinkering going on. And there IS in fact some very slight evidence supporting the theory. I wouldn’t bet the houses, but it’s not completely without merit. Check the book out.

    To paraphrase roughly – if the universe is part of a multiverse then according to theory there are 10^500 possible universes. For context, there are 10^80 atoms in the observable universe. 10^500 is a very big number but importantly, not infinite. Of which a tiny fraction could support life. That still is a very big number. Of which a tiny fraction would lead to intelligent life. Still a very big number.

    In fact it is entirely possible that not only do we not live in the real universe, but whatever is generating our simulation is too. So a “god” or “gods” exist (the makers of the simulation) but they too are fake! We could be a simulation within a simulation.

    And while it might ONLY be conjecture, barring the small and dubious evidence that supports it, it is still an extremely interesting thought, and the consequence of it being true does not mean we have to change our entire way of life or world economy. That is the real difference in theories…..consequence, not whether they are conjecture.

    • Fun, but childish daydreaming. As a young person I used to ponder on the idea that life is just a dream and when you die, the dream ends and you wake up as an infant. Entirely possible, right?

    • “We could be a simulation within a simulation.”

      Perhaps a loopback, Klein bottle kind of thing. The good news is that it doesn’t make the slightest difference to worry about it.

  19. There is no reason to expect that an alien race would experience time at the same rate that we do. Thus even if they visited or probed us, we would not likely notice.

    As a (somewhat flawed but useful) example, does an ant colony notice when we observe it? ;-)

  20. That probably explains the 373,000 who’ve paid a $1,000 deposit for a Tesla Model 3.

  21. “Green Entrepreneur Elon Musk has claimed that it is almost certain that we all live in a Matrix style computer simulation.”

    Here’s the problem. You have a stomach, with hydrochloric acid, squishing and digesting and all that stuff. And we can write a computer simulation of the stomach, which behaves as realistically as we have time to program, and computer speed and memory to simulate in ever increasing detail.

    And you have a mind, thinking and conjecturing and imagining etc. And we can write a computer simulation of the mind, which behaves as realistically as we have time to program, and computer speed and memory to simulate in ever increasing detail.

    Yet no one ever mistakes a computer simulation of the stomach with a real stomach, but thousands (including Elon Musk) mistake a computer simulation of the mind with a real mind. Why? The only excuse is the belief that a mind IS nothing but a computer. And even then, it is necessary to assume that the method by which real minds gain all their properties, including especially sentience, is by calculations of a similar nature to those of the computer simulation.

    In short, the hypothesis hinges on several critical assumptions about which there is no conclusive evidence.

    • You are looking at it backwards. Your stomach is a figment of your imagination Like teh whole phsical universe. Why model a model?

      • Hi Leo! You’re not as silly as you look! :-)

        The wave function tells us all we can ever know about the results of observations. It behaves just as realistically as water waves sloshing about on the beach. But the supposed “solid” objects it describes (photons, electrons, etc.)? People go crazy trying to imagine what they are “really” doing. So why not just accept the wave function as the actual reality, and our observations of “matter” and “energy” as nothing more than the experiences that the wave function tells us we can expect? So the mind comes first, the wave function tells the mind everything that can be known, and then the actual experiences arrive in conformity to the forecasts of the wave function. But some people, unable to accept that the universe is fundamentally mental, not material, insist on thinking that particles are real, and then go on to write popular accounts of how quantum mechanics is “spooky”.

  22. you should check “Fermi paradox” on wikipedia or google.
    1) it’s utterly impossible that NO other intelligent life emerged on just any of the planets circling our galaxy’s 100 billion stars in the last million year.
    2) any life form able to send probes and colonies to other stars also has the power to self-destruct (the violent way) or self-extinct (the soft, artificial paradises, way) itself
    bottom line : we are doomed, just like millions of intelligent life form that appeared before us.
    The guess is “How long before we disappear ?” ; as for the cause, it for sure will NOT be climate change.

    • you left out 3) Its almost certain that all the other intelligent life out there is ignoring us because they’ve been there, done that got the T shirt and why should they give a rats ass anyway?

      • I thought it was common knowledge across the universe that life on this planet is the result of decomposing garbage left behind by intergalactic travelers having a picnic–a very long time ago

  23. If we WERE living in a computer simpulation “MATRIx”, that could be detectable. From


    “John D. Barrow, professor of mathematical sciences at Cambridge University, suggested that an imperfect simulation of reality would contain detectable glitches. Just like your computer, the universe’s operating system would need updates to keep working.

    As the simulation degrades, Barrow suggested, we might see aspects of nature that are supposed to be static — such as the speed of light or the fine-structure constant that describes the strength of the electromagnetic force — inexplicably drift from their “constant” values.

    Last year, Beane and colleagues suggested a more concrete test of the simulation hypothesis. Most physicists assume that space is smooth and extends out infinitely. But physicists modeling the early universe cannot easily re-create a perfectly smooth background to house their atoms, stars and galaxies. Instead, they build up their simulated space from a lattice, or grid, just as television images are made up from multiple pixels. “

    • Just like your computer, the universe’s operating system would need updates to keep working.
      Thatswhy we sleep isn’t it?

      • Leo;

        Lets hope its not Microsoft who is running the show, because each update would make the universe worse. Oh wait!

  24. To simulate the universe you would need a computer at least as large as the universe.
    You could not tell them (the universe and the computer) apart. The Turing Test applies.

    • There is no universe! There is just a giant curved screen just outside of Earth’s atmosphere. The system designer is showing us what he wants us to see! Also, the Earth’s core is actually warmed by the processors. At any rate, I just found a keyboard that belongs to the system administrator and I am going to start deleting people I don’t like!!

  25. The “we’re all living in a simulation” conjecture is just a modern form of mysticism. As with any type of mysticism, it is intellectually laziness and only serves to defer existential questions to a higher power.

    • Thank you. I’m so tired of people using scientific sounding language to promote their religion, while pretending they don’t have to argue the merits of said religion against other religions.

    • No, its not just a modern form of mysticism. It is a conjecture that has certain interesting corollaries.

      And its not intellectual laziness either, even though it can defer some existential questions to some sort of higher power, but that of course is the whole point of it.

      There is as little evidence to support it as there is to support a physical reality. Both work to explain stuff.

      Physical reality is more useful of course, but that dont make it true, boy..

      • Leo
        If we are a simulation than something created the simulation, i.e. a god/super engineer programmer with enough power to generate a universe.
        I think that is a religion, no?

      • Examples of intellectual laziness from Leo:

        No, its not just a modern form of mysticism. It is a conjecture that has certain interesting corollaries.

        You say that there are other interesting corollaries but offer none.

        And its not intellectual laziness either, even though it can defer some existential questions to some sort of higher power, but that of course is the whole point of it.

        The comment above isn’t even circular logic, it’s circular illogic. By the end of this sentence you are facing backwards.

        There is as little evidence to support it as there is to support a physical reality. Both work to explain stuff.

        Start with “existence exists” and go from there, or do you have a better, more mystical axiom?

  26. And if we live in a simulated universe, is it ‘digital’?

    And, if it is digital then there must be some limit to the resolution of the device? Are we in a 64 bit universe? 128 bits? or what?

    The phenomena of Quantized Red Shift* as observed in the universe might be of some support to Bostroms theory. Red Shift seems to occur in discrete 72km/sec steps. And if you have fresh batteries in your calculator that might yield the resolving limit of this machine we live in.



    • Could that be just an illusionary effect of digitally measuring an analog universe?

    • Meaux
      June 3, 2016 at 8:37 am
      And if we live in a simulated universe, is it ‘digital’?
      Your DNA and the DNA of any other living creature or life specimen in this planet at least is a digital code base 4.
      That does not actually mean that we live in a simulated universe…..


  27. The idea that we are merely a simulation goes back to at least 1964, in the book Simulacron-3.

  28. “Tell me what’s wrong with that argument…” asked Musk.

    Virtual reality can be distinguished by the computer programmer because he sees two levels of reality – his own and his simulated reality. The simulated people can only see one level of reality – his own. Unless he becomes smart enough to create his virtual reality. So there would be multiple levels of reality. However, each simulated person asserts his own reality as real and not merely virtual. And each one is correct on his assertion because you need a software to create virtual reality. The software is real so all levels of reality must be real. One software cannot be more real than another software. Even if there is only one hardware, all the software rest on the same level of reality of the hardware. No hardware, no software.

    If multiple levels of reality do not exist, then they are all imaginary. If they exist, then they are all real. It is meaningless to debate if our world is only “virtual.” The existence of a programmer does not make the program more or less real.

    • Dr. Strangelove,

      “If multiple levels of reality do not exist, then they are all imaginary.”

      Very young children do an interesting thing occasionally (called by some psychologists a “reality check”). They turn their heads directly away from something they have been observing, pause in that position momentarily, then turn back to look again at what they had perceived.

      The child apparently “realizes” in a functional sense, that some things are persistent/consistent, in a spacial reality (world) that is not the only “reality” things can exist in. Apparently, they have “realized” in a functional sense, that some things are “imaginary” and are not persistent/consistent in the “world”.

      They are, it seems to me, falsifying your statement/idea in a functional sense, in that they have “realized” that multiple levels of reality exist, but they are not all imaginary, which is to say transient and in some important sense(s) self-dependent.

      “If they exist, then they are all real.”

      See above response, and adjust lingo accordingly, please.

      “It is meaningless to debate if our world is only “virtual.” ”

      It seems to me you are there speaking of an “imaginary” world, wherein that statement is true, while in a persistent/consistent one (in which I can still read your comment after “refreshing” ; ) you are declaring (in effect) your own points/words on the subject; meaningless . .

      I suggest the “problem” may lie in the introduction of an imaginary ‘imaginary’ ; )

  29. He’s an egotist and all he is arguing here is that he is the only one that really exists and that all others are a simulation created for him. He doesn’t believe for one instance that we are all independent beings living in a simulation playing out our own parts independent of each other in a giant game designed to create a universe to explore ourselves. If the simulations was as elaborate as reality it would be reality for it to be a simulation the past would have to be a construct in our minds and why would a simulated universe be the same construct in each persons mind?

  30. Of course we are in a “matrix”. I am a large collection of tiny bits of electromagnetic energy organized a certain way and so are you although organized slightly differently.

    In the movie, it was necessary to introduce the device of a “glitch” in the Matrix as a way to detect its presence. A glitch-free simulation is not going to be detected.

    A virtual computer, quite popular nowadays (you can have them on your own PC via Oracle Virtualbox, or on a Mac, Parallels) thinks it is the only computer running. It cannot tell that it is not “real” except by comparison to the outside world.

    So what is outside this universe and how could you compare to it? There is no way; and in older computers like Windows 98, it runs virtual just fine but is difficult to get anything into it or out of it; its protocols are so old that virtualization platforms cannot provide network access and Windows 98 barely has any concept of network anyway, nor can you get drivers and so on.

    So it is that we might be in a simulation, but that’s okay, I’ll eat my simulated supper and attend simulated entertainments and work at my simulated employments and hope for a long and healthy simulated life.

    Cogito Ergo Sum.

  31. Musk believes in intelligent design: some super smart dude, or dudes, built our world and everything in it. He spins it differently than world’s religions do, but it’s essentially the same deal.

    • I agree, Groty. One sees various terms used to describe this potential, like ‘simulated’, but if we can only perceive the one, what exactly is it supposed to be a simulation of? What the majestic “we” of a scientific establishment once thought it was like? . . Essentially a simplistic ricocheting pool-ball sort of deal, wherein objects of mass were solid things, and not the now believed ethereal, virtually empty apparent “particles”, that dance to a music we can detect, but cannot make any sense of at all?

      There is I suggest, a term being studiously avoided by the geeks dabbling in this potential, and that is ‘created’. What is being discussed is the possibility that we live in a created time-space continuum, rather than a truly spontaneous one.

  32. “global warming caused by the evaporation of ever increasing amounts of sea water forces yet more sea water to evaporate. In Dr. James Hansen’s words, “The oceans will begin to boil”.”

    Bollocks. If there were a net positive feedback in the climate system, it would have run away long ago. Systems with out negative feedbacks are only stable at their maximum. Ergo, there must be plenty of negative feedback in the climate system.

  33. See also the book “Simulacron 3” and the movie based on it: “The Thirteenth Floor”.

    Recycling old sci-fi themes (without proper credit) seems a bit tacky somehow.

  34. Elon Musk is just promoting mind numbing nonsense, a digital new age religion complete with beliefs such as the odds are a billion to one we live in a simulation. The work of Stephen Wolfram in A New Kind proves that we’re not living in a simulation and that we’re living in, to use Musk’s term, “base reality”.

    The simple systems that make up the objective reality of nature can’t be simulated as they are inherently unpredictable with the only way to know what their next state is is to observe them. This is why weather can’t be predicted past a certain point of macro phsyics; this is why climate can’t be predicted either. What Wolfram discovered is that some simple systems generate results as complex as the most complex systems and can’t be predicted, only observed in real time as it is happening. The implications are a very hard limit to what can actully be predicted with science, and what can actually be simulated.

    In addition Wolfram proves beyond any doubt that “simulations” of reality are not reality themselves as reality itself consists of such simple systems that generate unpredictable results even if you know the rules of how the systems work!!! That is a stunning result that has broad and far reaching implications.

    The scale of a simulation of a reality would require a depth of “reality resolution” (a term I invented for describing video games depth of details aka how refined the reality is) of even a tiny volume of our universe, say the tiny volume at the CERN particle accellerator collision chamber, would require an entire universe to be dedicated to such a simulation…

    Clearly Wolfram’s work makes it very clear that it’s not possible to simulate our reality in any form of computing system, not even the systems that make up our universe could do it.

    Could one simulate some other kind of “universe”? Sure, we do that already with video games as Musk pointed out… however he’s confusing the limited, and it will always be limited, “reality resolution” of game simulations with objective reality.

    What if Artificial Intelligences became self aware within a super high reality resolution video game as Musk is hinting at with us being the self aware AIs? Eventually you’d notice defects in the simulation, the set of movies titled “The Matrix” dealt with this as Neo started seeing “simulation artifacts”…

    It is amazing to me that a man can build up and have control of billions of dollars of resources as Musk has and yet fall into the trap of proclaming that the odds are a billion to one that we’re living in a simulation. Sigh, so mind numbing. He and I need to talk evidently.

    Stephen Wolfram does show that the objective reality of Nature is much like a computer system in the ways it works, and that it has many different simple systems some of which generate results that can never be predicted let alone simulated even if you know the rules of how such simple systems are obeying! In that sense we are real life systems running on the computing platform of the universe… however to claim that we’re a simulation in someone’s computer is absurd and mind numbing nonsese… especially when he adds that the odds are a billion to one that we’re in a simulation. If he didn’t make that last claim it would be an interesting converstion up to the point one reads Wolfram’s A New Kind Of Science and thinks about it, yes we’re made up of many simple systems, cells, parts of cells, molecules, atoms, parts of atoms, sub atomic components, each of these are many simple systems. That doesn’t mean we can build a computer that can simulate our universe.

    Musk fails the basics of logical thought process that so many do, they fail to test their “thought logic” against the harsh facts of objective reality. They fail to consider how objective reality messes with such beautiful “thought logic” constructs… the we’re in a simulation house of cards comes tumbling down at the slightest contact with objective reality.

    Oh well, we’ll see how people use this to extract massive amounts of money out of Musk’s wallet.

  35. This idea that we are all living in a cleverly designed and detailed simulation is sophomoric, and is hardly worth consideration. To be precise, it doesn’t matter. It is the given reality in which all of us must live our lives.

  36. Jbird
    I agree. I gave up magical thinking when I was 4 yrs old and tested the idea that I
    was the only real person in my household. My test was met with the reality of
    a spanking.

    Musk’s magical thinking that Tesla and Solar City are viable companies is supported
    only O’bama’s magical thinking that he can pick winners.

    Musk’s proposition no 4 does have merrit however.. My mother-in-law was from
    Sylacoga, Ala.and knew the woman struck by the meteriote.


  37. Thank you, Eric, for this piece. I mean that in all sincerity because it confirms the basic premise of a piece I’ve just completed here: What Will Become of Us (https://astronomytopicoftheday.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/what-will-become-of-us )? As well, I’m not sure what the root cause for all of it is but I suspect that much of it stems from access to the internet, where every loon with an internet connection and a personal computer can post their nonsense for all the world to read.

    I read the full piece on Breitbart and watched the full interview with Elon (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsixsRI-Sz4 ). If by way of suggesting that his idea is more or less an aberration or a quirky aspect of Elon’s personality, an attempt is made to impugn the character of a forward thinking visionary and entrepreneur, then the full context of his remarks is required. Before I present my remarks let me just say, I believe Elon Musk to have a genius-level IQ and am a big fan but on this particular point, his brain has taken a walk off the map. One has to wonder, in listening to him as he discusses near-term missions to Mars, orbital dynamics, commercial space flight and “multi-planet” habitation within our solar system for the human race, how does this VR world fit in to all of that and when (or where) does his brain take him down this path of fantasy? As well, many techies tend to look at the world in terms of a computer interface and tend to lose perspective and I would suggest that many in attendance at that conference were such people, hence the inane question by that attendee. A couple of points and comments, if I may:

    1) Trying to debate anyone on this point when they obviously are not going to be persuaded would be the same as debating a FlatEarth-er, trying to convince them that they are completely out of touch with reality and that the Earth really is a big spinning ball in space; it would be impossible. Just a one-off question to Elon or anyone else contemplating this, how long has this VR game been running? Maybe 4.5 billion years, since the sun and our solar system’s formation, or maybe back to the beginning of the universe, 13.8 billion years ago? When did “they” transition “us” to a VR universe? Here’s one that ties two of the four propositions in your article together, is the Chicxulub asteroid, you know, the one that played a major role in the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago (your proposition #4), part of the simulation? Someone, or maybe the entire crowd at that tech conference, has played one too many computer games. Full stop! There is a 100% probability that we are living in base reality! We are NOT part of some advanced VR world setup by aliens. The notion that the universe we live in is too terrible and thus, we must be part of a VR universe is a complete non sequitur, no offense intended to Elon Musk; Elon, on this one, you really missed the mark. Since when does our wellbeing and safety have anything to do with the reality of “where” we live, in this case on a small planet in orbit around a not-so-common star – nature has no conscience and is quite cruel. As Neil deGrasse Tyson has said on occasion “The Universe is trying to kill us”. We do live in a hostile universe and are, as a race and a species, quickly approaching the point when the confluence of certain events will determine whether we make it to the turn of the next millennium, if we’re not eradicated by one or more existential threats or by our own stupidity. Regarding the lack of any evidence supporting the notion that we are not alone in the universe, I discuss that in my most recent article: (https://astronomytopicoftheday.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/what-will-become-of-us ) and quote a section of it here:
    “As a race and as a species we will not survive the next 100 years if we continue on the path we’re on, let alone until the turn of the next millennium. We will not make it to Mars and will go the way many suspect any civilization goes whose technical progress outpaces their moral growth. The famous physicist Enrico Fermi, famous for his “Fermi’s Paradox”, openly wondered why, given the age of the Milky Way, since the galaxy may be teeming with habitable planets, why we see no real evidence of an advanced galactic society. Where are they? If we continue on the path we’re on, we may have our answer sooner, rather than later.”

    2) You characterize proposition 2 as “conjecture”; again, the assertion that this is conjecture is not the reality according to many scientists who consider AGW to be settled science, myself included.

    3) The first part of Proposition 3 (“We have already been visited by aliens, who most likely continue to monitor us”) is complete nonsense and isn’t even in the realm of conjecture. Regarding this statement: “The alternative is to believe the preposterous proposition that we are the only intelligent life inhabiting any of the planets circling our galaxy’s 100 billion stars”, actually, its not; see my comments above regarding Fermi’s Paradox. The second part of Proposition 3 has already begun with $100 M in seed funding (from Yuri Milner) and will soon begin development. See “Breakthrough Starshot”: https://astronomytopicoftheday.wordpress.com/2016/04/30/going-to-the-stars-riding-on-a-beam-of-light .

    4) Proposition 4 remains an existential threat

  38. Reblogged this on Astronomy Topic Of The Day and commented:
    This article is a “reblog” of a piece that recently appeared on Anthony Watts’ Climate Skeptic’s Blog, “Watts Up With That”. The article compares 4 propositions, initially asking the reader to determine which are based on conjecture and which one is supported by science and observational evidence. At the end of the piece, the guest blogger, Eric Worrall, declares that proposition number four is the only one supported by the preponderance of observational evidence. By way of suggesting that the second proposition, “The buildup of anthropogenic carbon dioxide may lead to dangerous climate change”, is conjecture, they deny the science and the clear and unequivocal observational evidence, cited in my most recent piece: What Will Become of Us (https://astronomytopicoftheday.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/what-will-become-of-us ). The comments made by Elon Musk at the 2016 ReCode Conference, held this year in Southern California, affirms and confirms the basic premise of my most recent piece. As well, I’m not sure what the root cause for all of it is but I suspect that much of it stems from access to the internet, where every loon with an internet connection and a personal computer can post their nonsense for all the world to read. My commentary regarding the salient points in the piece follows at the foot of the reblog.

  39. Elon Musk claims to be an artificially intelligent person. I concur with his assessment, his intelligence is artificial due to not being based in reality.


    • pwl,

      …the problem of simulating the universe could be reduced significantly by only calculating stuff that is actually observed. The problem of keeping observations to a minimum – could be handled by reducing the number of actual observers.

      The problem of keeping the expected observations in a controllable range in time x – could be managed by reducing the information that the observer has received until x-1 to a minimum.

      Then add a randomized algorithm to make your wonder about the greatness and complexity of it all – It’s not that big a problem …

      • …hence, of course, Schrødingers damn cat – it just ain’t there before someone look for it. Dead og alive depending on the randomization algorithm. Leaving the problem of identifying the number of observers beside yourself. Who isn’t a Turing? Could a (or the only?) real observer please stand up?

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