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Are you living in a simulation?

The simulation theory, which states that we are all living in a computer generated simulation rather than what is termed "base reality", is growing in popularity. With the likes of Elon Musk talking publicly about the plausibility of it, the idea has started to attract mainstream attention.

The idea is a simple one. That the world we live in isn't exactly organic and real, but is a digitally rendered simulation like in a video game or an animated movie. And that everything that we do isn't really our doing, but is a result of the initial parameters for kickstarting the simulation that were more or less chosen at random, putting the whole 'free will' concept in question.

Let's look at them one at a time.

If the Universe we live in is indeed a digitally rendered simulation rather than the organic base reality, that doesn't really mean much. We know how the current state of the Universe (post big bang) came into being and we know more or less where it is headed. What we don't know is the state of affairs prior to the big bang. And there is no empirically verifiable way of knowing that. The simulation theory leaves us in pretty much the same place. Where there is no empirically verifiable way of knowing that we are in a simulation.

So, base reality or simulation, it doesn't really matter. The Universe is going to play out just as we expect it to play out, no matter which theory we use to explain it.

Now, to the second part that is more interesting.

If we are indeed in a simulation, then everything that we do isn't really under our control. Consider your own actions for that matter. You are convinced you have free will because you can go have a bowl of ice cream if you feel like it, you can skip office if you so desire, you can hit snooze on the alarm and sleep in for an extra hour if you think that is what you want to do.

But do you really have control over that choice itself? Do you control how that choice originates indicating your desire to have a bowl of ice cream or skip work?

This is the question Yuval Noah Harari raises in his book, Homo Deus. And he does it without invoking the simulation theory, although his arguments are all very much in line with it. He even points out to research done on lab rats where these desires can be induced in them through artificial signals to the brain. So, when stimulated this way, the rats have a desire to turn right and they follow their desire and convince themselves they have free will, but the origin of that desire was a signal triggered by their human overlords.

This is an even scarier proposition. One that makes the question of whether we're living in a simulation meaningless. Because, even in base reality, we don't really have true free will, and it is possible to completely control every action of an individual without them realising for a second that their desires to do the things they like aren't really coming from themselves, but from someone else outside of them that is stimulating their brain.

This isn't practical today, but theoretically possible and empirically proven in the laboratory. Which means it is only a matter of time before it becomes practical. 

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