Freethinker’s Forum: Is our universe just an alien video game? |

Freethinker’s Forum: Is our universe just an alien video game?

Imagine yourself being controlled by a pimple-faced teenager from an intelligent alien race. I’m not referring to an omnipotent, godlike controller, but more like an alien that spends its Saturday nights in the basement playing a computer version of “Dungeons and Dragons.” Sounds kind of outlandish, right? Well, some scientists working in the field of virtual reality believe it to be a “mathematical certainty that we are living in someone else’s computer simulation.”

The evidence behind this disturbing idea lies with modern virtual-reality research and, in particular, with arguments made by robotics researcher Hans Moravec. Moravec believes there will come a time when we can develop computer simulations so powerful, so real, such that the virtual characters will have their own form of consciousness. And since the artificial world surrounding these digital beings would be equally complex, the characters would be unable to tell that they are living inside a computer game.

It gets even stranger. If intelligent aliens were able to develop such a simulation, Moravec argues, then it’s likely they would make a lot of them. Just look at our own production history for great technologies. When Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created the first fully assembled personal computer (Apple), they didn’t make just one – no, they made thousands; and eventually, when people finally realized that Windows is atrocious, they produced millions.

Assuming that the aliens would, in fact, follow this pattern and make multiple VR simulations, then the number of artificial universes would greatly outweigh the number of real universes. So the chance that our universe is real, and not just a perverse alien video game, is alarmingly small. (Disclaimer: These odds are dependent upon the “many worlds theory of quantum physics” not being proved anytime soon.)

I imagine some people will say, “Ah-ha! A universe created by an advanced alien is no different from a universe designed by God.” Although an advanced creature might be indistinguishable from a god to a lesser-developed culture, that doesn’t actually make it a god. The Aztecs believed Cortés and the Spaniards were gods when they sailed in on gigantic brigantine ships dressed in iron, but they were just as fallible as any other mortal, and they, too, evolved like every other creature. After all, omnipotence does not require heavy chest armor.

As sexy as the idea is (or disturbing, depending on what types of video games you have played), I remain skeptical about Moravec’s video-game theory of the universe. However, I do recognize the logic behind the theory, and I desperately hope that quantum physics will rescue us from the hands of an antisocial alien teenager. If the theory does turn out to be true, what I want to know is, “Why would an advanced alien creature get kicks out of hiding my car keys?”

– Damian Sowers can be reached at

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