Planet Soul

Simulation Theory Should Be a Religion

As ‘scientific’ as our beliefs about reality may seem, they’re still beliefs

Here’s a belief I hold: What we consider reality is, most likely, a sensory rendering of a fractional slice of true reality, which is probably some computational network entity much like a laptop’s CPU or the neural network of a human brain.

My belief is close, but not identical, to the “simulation theory” Elon Musk popularized. Rather than believing we are necessarily living in some simulated video game programmed by a more advanced version of ourselves, I think our reality is probably something like a computer’s screen, and true reality is probably something like a computer’s processor — and I doubt that either the “screen” or the “processor” were made to be like a video game. In fact, I doubt they were made by anyone or anything. True reality, I believe, is something only a highly advanced algorithm could understand.

Here’s my problem: I have no idea what to do with this belief.

I believe it. I really do. There are many others who believe it (or something like it) too. But for some reason, it has near-zero effect on how I go about my daily life.

This conclusion I’ve reached should be life-altering. I literally think our reality is a tiny bit on a giant computer chip. Yet my approach to life is no different: I still spend lots of time on Instagram. I still want good grades. I still want validation from others. I’m still worried about my career. I still want to be seen as attractive. I still want to make lots of money. I still want to find true love. I still want my life to be some great, big, beautiful story with a happy, fulfilled, regretless ending.

In other words, even though my understanding of life has drastically changed, my execution of life remains staggeringly unaltered.

Now, compare my belief to that of a newly converted Catholic. With conversion comes a change in lifestyle, values, habits, perhaps dress, diet, hobbies, and so on. From Judaism to Buddhism to Islam, each religion entails a certain belief about “true reality” as well as a set of cultural habits and values. To be a Catholic, simply believing that Jesus was the son of God doesn’t cut it. You have to adopt a certain way of life, align your daily actions with your ideology, understand why those daily actions are important, and participate in a community of like-minded believers. That’s why we call Catholicism a “religion” and not a “theory” — through taking action as part of a community, Catholics demonstrate that their beliefs run deeper than mere conjecture.

On the other hand, we refer to the “simulation theory” and not the “simulation religion” because it’s totally bankrupt of ideology. It offers its believers nothing beyond an answer to the question of what true reality is. It lacks an identity, a community, a set of values, a leader — its name even sucks. Further, it’s hard to clearly define the belief itself. The first paragraph of this article was my best attempt at summarizing what I believe, and I know for a fact I did a shitty job of it. I even researched if my belief had a name, and the best I found was a philosophy called pancomputationalism. If someone asked me my religion, I might say I’m a capital-P “Pancomputationalist,” but even then I’d seem at best a nutcase and at worst a douche.

How could believing that fundamental reality is a network of computer signals improve our lives?

What’s most disappointing is that lots of people hold a similar belief, but they’re not easy to find. There is no Simulationist Mecca nor Pancomputationalist garb. There is no structured community at all, barring perhaps the comment sections of a handful of YouTube videos or a series of Reddit pages. So of course my lifestyle hasn’t changed. I have no guidance — be it a code of ethics, a moral leader, or otherwise.

In public life, this lack of structured community shows. There is not a single openly atheist member of the U.S. congress. Why? Because who the hell would vote for someone who doesn’t believe in anything? Meanwhile, at least 28% of the U.S. population doesn’t believe in God. Where’s our representation? Ah, that’s right — we don’t have an identity. And when you don’t have an identity, there is nothing to represent.

It’s time atheists start taking initiative just like other religions. What would an atheist, simulationist, and/or pancomputationalist church look like? Would it be a scientific research center that’s open to the public? Or a VR experience that offers a temporary escape for unhappy people? Who are our leaders? Elon Musk? Nick Bostrom? What about our values? If life is a simulation, what makes life worth living? How could believing that fundamental reality is a network of computer signals improve our lives?

Perhaps if I had these religious devices, my life would change in accordance with my beliefs. I might think harder about what makes me happy. I might draw new, profound meaning from my existence. I might care less about pleasing people. I might place less value on making money, and more value on the study of life itself — physics, philosophy, the natural sciences. The culture and community of organized religion opens doors to endless opportunity — but for whatever reason, we are reluctant to open them. Some atheists probably think they’re “above” religion, in which case I will gladly dissociate from them.

I invite those of you who are compassionate, curious, reasonable, self-aware, and who at the same time believe God does not exist and that reality might be a rendering/simulation, to form a community. Let’s figure out what makes life worth living and write it down. Let’s meet at a sacred location to talk about it. Let’s find a leader who can help us define a code of ethics. Let’s offer up legitimately helpful religious guidance to misplaced, disaffected, and unhappy people.

As “scientific” as our beliefs about a simulated reality may seem, they are still beliefs. It’s time we treated them that way.

Princeton University

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