Nick Bostrom’s argument might be right, but our simulated lives may be much shorter than we think.

At this point, you have likely heard of the 2003 paper called “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” If you haven’t, you can read it at that link or the slightly less dense Wikipedia version.

The main takeaway is that it is both possible and likely that we are living in a computer simulation created by “posthumans”. You are born, you live your life, and you eventually die– except you were software the entire time, and everyone you’ve ever known and everywhere you’ve ever been is also part of the same program running on someone’s computer. Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson are on board with the idea, seems to check out.

If our entire universe is in fact such a simulation, why would one assume that the simulation itself is 13.8 billion years old? Surely, they could have just started it at the beginning of humankind, around 300,000 years ago and saved a whole lot of time.

But if they were going to do that, then why not start when we formed language, or maybe better yet when we started keeping records, so around 5,000 years ago. Way easier.

On the other hand, have we stopped to think about the purpose of this simulation? Do they want to run all of human history forward and see what happens? Or is the simulation you’re living in really about you? Maybe the point was to set up the prerequisite conditions and drop you in as a baby to see exactly what might happen to someone born into those conditions. Presumably there are many simulations going on, and this particular simulation has only been running since you were born.

But even a full human lifetime is kind of a long time to run an experiment. Maybe they would have started it when you were 4 or 5, when you were likely to start storing longterm memories. They could have just started the clock from there, with all the conditions set just as they would have been if you’d actually lived those first few years yourself.

If that is possibly true, then why not just run simulations that are even shorter in duration?

What if the simulation you are in started this morning when you woke up. Everything you think you remember from before today, everything you know– that was all loaded in. Your family, friends, school, job, and all your memories were set just right, as if you’d really lived it all, and then they hit “start” and boom you wake up in your bed. You live today, and they study you to see what happens. Just imagine the posthuman conversation…

“What if we did a whole pandemic thing and threw in a bunch of other political and societal issues.”

“And we could close the schools and offices, and then set it up like it was a year later and she was still dealing with all of it?”

“Ooh that’s good… that’s mean! I love it, let’s do it.”

“How long should we run it for?”

“Just a day is good. I think we’d get a lot from that.”

But why even do a whole day? You know that sensation when you leave the house, or get out of the shower, or any other sort of transitional moment in the day? What if that was the beginning of the simulation right there. You just got to Whole Foods, and while you vaguely remember walking there, how could you ever really prove or disprove that you did? Any evidence is just part of the simulation.

It might be so short that it started when you started reading this post, or even this sentence! I see no reason to believe that a true simulation would need to be any longer than a moment’s time. So use it wisely.