Since I was young I’ve had a strong interest in astronomy and cosmology. It’s always a mind trip to read about, and leaves me with a sense of awe and wonder. While I like hiking and getting out in nature, for me it’s calming, but reading cosmology is the closet thing I have to a spiritual experience. It’s just incredible to think about this world existing. To me, that this exists just because and was not created is beautiful. I started reading Carl Sagan when I was 13 and have always been heavily influenced by his view of the universe and his lovely ideas of how we are all “star stuff.”
Today I saw this article positing the idea that we are in a computer simulation.It’s an idea that comes up every now and then, and I think will continue to do so, not because the ideas are valid (I have a hard time buying it, but more on that later), but because the knowledge that we exist is so confounding to think about. It boils down to the question of why is there something rather than nothing question.
Yet, this is one of many areas where our minds, and what comes intuitively to our minds, seems ill equipped to understand the universe, because according to the discoveries of physics and quantum mechanics, nothing is unstable. Even a perfect vacuum is flooded with subatomic particles that we’ve yet to find a way to get rid of. So it seem that the natural state of the universe is for something to be here.
This is a counterintuitive, mind boggling idea, yet the math and research points to this. And just because it’s counterintutive doesn’t mean it’s not true. For instance, when I was a little girl I remember thinking that we lived inside the Earth. It didn’t make sense to me how we could be on the Earth’s surface without falling off. I thought the sky was the outer shell of the Earth (don’t ask how I thought the sun shone through, I guess I didn’t think about that). My mom tried to explain gravity to me, but it’s a hard concept to grasp when you’re little. But now I can see how this works, and how the true nature of the world can appear counterintuitive. Quantum mechanisms involves particles and math that is even more difficult for people to understand because of the small scale that subatomic particles operate on, hence, why we’re still working on it.
It seems to me that to resolve this counterintuitiveness, people put in place some sort of creator, be it a supernatural being (and not even a personal loving deity, but an apathetic one) or a computer simulation. Yet to me, this answers nothing about the fundamental question of why there is something rather than nothing, because then you have to ask, “how did the programmers/supernatural being/creator come into being?”
And if the programmer/supernatural being/creator can just exist, then why can’t the universe? I can see that the universe is here, but I’ve yet to see a creator anywhere, so I’ll start with what is observable and measureable.
So while I will entertain that it is possible that we are a computer simulation (though I don’t know why it would be so detailed) or an apathetic creator (there’s no way in hell you can convince me there is a creator who gives a damn about us, though), to me it’s an unnecessary complication. You have one more thing to explain. Worse, that thing you have to explain you have no evidence exists, so how are you going to explain it?
When you read about the history of cosmology (and I highly recommend it) you will find that science at times took a lot of dead ends, often because our technology was not advanced enough to give us a clear picture of what was happening. For instance, astronomers were aware of the existence of the Andromeda Galaxy, but for a long time didn’t realize it was a galaxy outside of our Milky Way Galaxy. They thought it was a some interstellar space dust or the whatnot floating through our galaxy. This affected the calculations for the age of the universe, making the universe appear younger than it was for reasons that are more complex than I want to go into here. However, as telescopes became more powerful, astronomers found that there were stars in the Andromeda Galaxy, and realized what it was. As technology advances, things become clearer, and we get a better understanding of our universe. And the important thing is that we keep investigating.
Answers such as “a creator did it” are unfulfilling to me, because it’s never been proven and because it’s a dead end. If we’d accepted that lightening struck because Jupiter was throwing lightning bolts from the sky, think of where we’d be! It is a dead end to free inquiry and exploration.
Which is what I think I find particularly distasteful about the computer simulation idea, in addition to it being unnecessary. How are we ever going to find out anything about the world that the computer simulation was created in? We certainly won’t find out the answer to how there is something instead of nothing.
Now if there’s compelling evidence, then I’ll re-evaluation. But for now it’s seems like the tired God of the Gaps and a redressing of well worn out Creationist fine-tuning arguments. At the most it’s an interesting philosophical exercise, and if you ever had played video games such as the Sims, you do wonder a bit. Yet there’s no evidence, and the person making the claim is the one who had to deliver the goods.
So until that happens, I wouldn’t worry about someone pulling the plug.