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Are We Living in a RICK AND MORTY-Style Simulation?

How confident are you that this is base reality, that we are living in the real world? If you’ve heard the musings of luminaries like Elon Musk, you may not be so sure that this world isn’t a Matrix-like dream world. But the so-called “simulation theory” goes further than that. It posits that you’re not only living in a simulation, you are a simulation. And the theory might be right.

In my latest Because Science, I’m outlining simulation theory, as popularized by philosopher Nick Bostrom in his 2003 essay, “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?,” and as riffed upon most recently by Rick and Morty. The theory starts by asking you to accept three things:

1. Everything we see and experience could in theory be simulated
2. We will eventually have enough processing power and expertise to do so
3. Once we can perfectly simulate human experience, we might run simulations of people

If you accept those three propositions, you’re then presented with a “trilemma.”


Either humanity never reaches this point of technological mastery (e.g., goes extinct), humanity can run these simulations of whole lives and environments but chooses not to for ethical reasons (a fully simulated person would have sentience, and therefore rights), or humanity does run these simulations. If the last situation is correct, then the number of simulated realities would quickly outnumber the single “base” reality.

Not knowing anything else, each of these options should have around a one-third probability of being true. Therefore, unless humanity in the future never runs simulations of people like us, we are likely simulations living inside a simulation thinking about how we are simulated.

Having an existential crisis yet? Join me in the video above.

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