by Pastor Doug Kings
In case you aren’t aware, many of your fellow citizens don’t believe that you’re real. But then they don’t believe that they’re real either. In their view, everyone, and everything we are aware of, are part of a simulation. Reality, as we experience it, is actually a virtual reality. We are all, not playing a video game, but in a video game.
This notion was first introduced to the public in a major way in the movie The Matrix (1999), starring Keanu Reeves. The simulated world of the Matrix is a grim one. Reeves’ character Neo is a Christ-like figure on a mission to free humanity from the control of the super-intelligent machines running the simulation.
The movie built on ideas already percolating in various works of fiction and philosophy. Since then, it has become a topic of serious interest among people in many fields, including scientists. An article in the latest Wired magazine by Senior Editor Jason Kehe, titled Of Course We’re Living in a Simulation, surveys the current state of the discussion.
Kehe says many scientists actually “hate” the idea because it seems to diminish the value of their work and of the universe itself. Yet it is their discoveries, especially by physicists, which are providing some the of best support for the theory. Frankly, reality-as-simulation makes as much or more sense than current theories about the Big Bang (quantum foam? multiverse?).
An important new book makes the case for a simulated universe. Reality+ by philosopher David Chalmers is and attempt, Kehe says, to dispel the notion that a simulated world is necessarily dark or pointless. Rather, there is no reason not see a virtual world, as much as a physical world, as “sacred.” Kehe writes:
The paradox of Chalmers’ “simulation realism,” in fact, is that, once you embrace it, there does not follow from it some corollary disenchanting of reality. On the contrary, so many isms that in modern times have been dismissed as mystical, supernatural—dualism, panpsychism, animism—here find themselves reenchanted, imbued with a profound new vitality. We and everything around us become not less real but, in a way, more real, animated pan-psychically by forces both here and, dualistically, there, somewhere else, somewhere, let’s say, above. This line of thinking extends, as you might have already guessed, to the ultimate ism of all, theism, the belief in a creator, and isn’t that what all simulation theory, in the final analysis, really is? Religion by a new, technological name?
Many of the books, movies, and other speculations about simulation assume it is run by aliens or other-dimensional beings, who usually are not very nice. But Chalmer recognizes this as shallow and unimaginative. Kehe continues:
It’s been said that the simulation hypothesis is the best argument we moderns have for the existence of a godlike being. Chalmers agrees: “I’ve considered myself an atheist for as long as I can remember,” he writes. “Still, the simulation hypothesis has made me take the existence of a god more seriously than I ever had before.”
I don’t know if a simulation reality make sense. I can’t even say I understand it. Yet I find it fascinating that supposedly nonreligious people are independently coming to at least a semi-religious or probably better, spiritual perspective on reality. For if we are living in a computer game, the inevitable question is: Who is running it? One possible answer would have to be: God.
In recent years I’ve become aware that such an idea long predates the modern world. Many ancient civilizations had the idea that the world was a dream of God, or a game played by the gods. The notion that reality as we perceive it is an illusion is also common, and not unknow even among the biblical religions. In this understanding, salvation is enlightenment or waking up from our illusions to know the truth of reality.
And then there is the question of why humans are so fascinated with games and fictional realities, “simulated” in myths, tales, books, plays, movies, and yes, video games. At some point in life, many of us feel we are “playing a part”, and that somehow our real self is something other than the role we we are playing. What significance is there in the fact that our word for ourselves, person, comes from the ancient Greek word persona, their word for the mask worn by an actor in a play?
This all may be wild speculation but somehow, I don’t think is—at least, it’s not just that. Indeed, I hope isn’t. Rather, I think it is a hopeful sign of people trying to develop a new understanding of a world that for many has become confusing and even alien.
In many ways our world is careening out of control. It is a world a growing number, and all of us to some degree, struggle to know where we fit in. Rampant depression and anxiety, our dysfunctional relationship with what we eat and drink, our obsession with entertainment and accumulation, and our continued pursuit of lifestyles unsupportable by the planet all point to our need for a major reset in our understanding of ourselves, of life, of purpose and value, and of our place in the universe.
Reality may not be a simulation. But if we are to continue living in this beautiful world we’ve been given, we need to develop soon a better understanding of who we are, why we are here, and where we are going.
Blessings in your life and ministry.