Prone as we are to expecting what has happened before to come around again, the shock of the new often causes us to frame outliers with narratives, to assign order to what disturbs us.
While Brexit and Trump’s election would make for great fictional plot twists in novels sold at airports, they’re so deeply upsetting to many among us and such a threat to global order that these events have been suggested by some as evidence that we exist inside a computer simulation written by future humans testing our mettle, a theory spread widely by Elon Musk in recent years, fueled by his Bostrom bender. Even the recent Oscar snafu was peddled as proof of the same.
None of these occurrences proves anything, of course. Statistically, the unusual and unpleasant is bound to happen sometimes. A “cancer cluster” is occasionally just a natural and random spike, not the result of locals tasting tainted drinking water. A sad-sack sports team on a winning streak can likewise be arbitrary noise. Not everything is a conspiracy, not everything evidence.
Political Theory professor Michael Frazer’s Conversation article “Do Brexit and Trump Show That We’re Living in a Computer Simulation?“ neatly outlines philosopher Nick Bostrom’s reasons for believing we exist inside a sort of video game controlled by others:
“Either humanity goes extinct before developing the technology to make universe simulations possible. Or advanced civilisations freely choose not to run such simulations. Or we are probably living in a simulation.”
Of course, all of those options rely on us having incredibly distant “descendants,” something those in the simulated-universe camp seem to blithely accept without any proof. Today’s academics may create counterfactuals on historical epochs, but they possess good evidence we have ancestors. Descendants living in a far-flung future building a narrative from us seems more like our own narrative.
Some have argued that superior humans of tomorrow wouldn’t be so unethical as to create a universe of pain and calamity, as if intelligence and morality are always linked. (Just consider a “genius” of today like Peter Thiel as a reference point on that one.) Frazer makes a compelling case, however, that if a future world exists, it’s probably not populated by code-friendly tormentors. As he asserts, great immorality mixing with unimaginable technology would likely be too toxic a combination for these people of tomorrow to have survived.
Recent political events have turned the world upside down. The UK voting for Brexit and the US electing Donald Trump as president were unthinkable 18 months ago. In fact, they’re so extraordinary that some have questioned whether they might not be an indication that we’re actually living in some kind of computer simulation or alien experiment.
These unexpected events could be experiments to see how our political systems cope under stress. Or they could be cruel jokes made at our expense by our alien zookeepers. Or maybe they’re just glitches in the system that were never meant to happen. Perhaps the recent mix-up at the Oscars or the unlikely victories of Leicester City in the English Premier League or the New England Patriots in the Superbowl are similar glitches.
The problem with using these difficult political events as evidence that our world is a simulation is how unethical such a scenario would be. If there really were a robot or alien power that was intelligent enough to control all our lives in this way, there’s a good chance they’d have developed the moral sense not to do so.•
Tags: Michael Frazer