Is reality a simulation?

virtual reality simulation

image: iStock photo

You know I like to write on the fusion of science, self-help, and spirituality. Well I think this article pretty much spices things up a bit so try to soak it up in a light-hearted way.

The pace of development of computer technology is phenomenal. Have you heard of Moore’s Law? In 1965, Gordon E. Moore, co-founder of Intel, predicted that “the number of transistors incorporated in a chip will approximately double every 24 months.” The law has held true for the past half century. In the early 70s, the average chip had a couple of thousand transistors. Modern chips have around 5-10 billion.

There’s more power in a pocket calculator than in the guidance computer used by the first Apollo manned lunar program, for instance; more power in a smart phone than in the first Space Shuttle.


Computers have become smaller yet their power is increasing exponentially. For the purpose if this article, it’s important I explain what exponential is. If you know then feel free to skip this wee section. If you don’t, you might find it fascinating.

Exponential growth basically means that growth appears to accelerate to infinity in the relatively near future. Think of it this way. Linear growth is where you continue to add a number to another number, like this:

If we start with 0 and keep adding 2, we get the series: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16,18…62 (after 30 additions)… 102 (after 50 additions)

But with exponential, we are doubling each time instead of adding. The result is very different. Starting with 1 we get:

1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024 (10 doublings), 2048, 4096, 8192, 16384, 32786, 65536, 131072, 262144, 524288, 1048576, (i.e. about 1 million after 20 doublings)… 109 (i.e. 1 billion, after 30 doublings), 1012 (1 trillion after 40 doublings)… 1015 (after 50 doublings), which is 1,000,000,000,000,000.

Compare the number ‘102’ after 50 additions (linear growth) with ‘1,000,000,000,000,000’ after 50 doublings (exponential growth) and you can see the difference between linear and exponential growth. Computing power is growing exponentially like this and has been for the past 50 years. As you get to bigger numbers, that is, faster computing power, developments seem to accelerate. You might have noticed! Look at the pace of development of computer technology in the past decade compared to the decade before. It appears to have accelerated.

From our simple perspective of thinking of things linearly – i.e. adding one thing to another – exponential growth literally appears to ‘explode’ into infinity.

What does that actually mean for computing power and how does it relate to the question of whether reality is a simulation or not?

I don’t mean to screw with your head here so please just take what I write with a pinch of salt. Much of it is just me having some fun with ideas.

Doubling of computing power is what’s occurring every 2 years. At the moment our best technology has the computing power approximately equal to an insect brain. It sounds like we’re quite primitive! But in a few years of exponential growth, we should have surpassed the power of a rodent brain. By around 2025 we’re looking at reaching the power of a human brain. That’s where artificial intelligence (AI) should surpass us in computing power. But just 25 years later, around 2050, if exponential growth keeps up, AI should have the computing power of every single human brain combined. That kind of computing power is unimaginable to us right now. It would be like downloading the entire current Internet plus everything that’s ever been written in recorded human history into a device the size of a small molecule in an infinitesimally tiny fraction of a second.

And that power will double again just two years after that, and double again two years after that… and so on into apparent infinity.

Where will we be in by end of the century? What about by the 24th century? OK, here’s where I’m going with my playful train of thought.

We currently have technology where a pilot can fly a plane with his mind, where simple thoughts are read through activation of brain regions. We have technology that can map the brain into a kind of grid where it’s easy to ‘read’ which brain regions are activated when a person thinks a particular thought. In the piloting example, the grid is integrated into the plane’s controls. A pilot simply thinks ‘left’ and this activates, say, region C7 of the grid. Since the grid is part of the navigation controls, the computer simply reads C7 as an instruction to veer the plane to the left. The same technology is being incorporated into state-of-the-art prosthetic devices. The suggestion of this, say, 20 years ago would have seemed preposterous. A glimpse of the future would have appeared supernatural.

We also have holographic technology and virtual reality simulators that appear astonishingly real. I don’t think it will be very long at all before our computing power will give us virtual reality (VR) simulators that appear like reality. It’s just a matter of computing speed, like how the ZX-81 with its block graphics in the 80s gradually evolved into streaming live HD TV on a tablet.

All it would take to make physical objects seem completely solid in a VR simulator is an electrical current applied to regions of the body as a person ‘touches’ an object, like to the finger when a person touches something solid. There’s nothing actually there at all, but to all intents and purposes, our senses would tell us there was. Then we have VR as indistinguishable from actual reality.

At our current exponential rate of development, I predict we’ll have more than surpassed this in 50 years from now. A person could then live an entire lifetime inside a VR simulator that would appear completely real to her or him.

So here’s a playful thought. Given the age of the universe (13.8 billion years) and the 300 billion or so known galaxies, each with their roughly 300 billion stars, and then multiply that by a truly astronomical number representing the estimated number of universes (if you take up-to-date cosmological theories), I think it almost inconceivable that an advanced civilization has not already reached such a place. We’re talking of VR as indistinguishable from actual reality in 50 years… the universe has existed for 13.8 billion years and other universes (again taking up-to-date cosmology theories) might have been around trillions and trillions and trillions of years.

If I were creating such technology I’d want to make it the most real it could be. I’d have us enter the simulator and experience ourselves as a single fertilized cell, so that by the time that cell has grown into a human fetus, a player’s consciousness would be fully integrated into the idea of a physical form. As it’s just been a few months, the player will remember his or her previous life outside of the simulator, but maybe they’d start to forget after living as a human for a few years with the constant stimulus around them. By the time they learn to speak as a toddler, a player would likely have completely forgotten where she or he came from; they might have completely forgotten their existence before ‘birth’ and so spend an entire lifetime living their new life.

Perhaps some players would get fragments of memories of their time before entering the simulation, where they chose where they wanted to start their ‘life’. They would have chosen lines of code to become their genetic code so they’d have certain characteristics. Maybe players would enter the simulator with some family or friends and live together in varying relationships.

And let me stretch my playful idea a little further, just for fun.

How do we even know that human form is our ‘real’ form, if we are existing in some kind of simulation where human form is simply a consequence of computer (aka, genetic) code?

Given the age of the universe, life could have evolved so that no physical body is even needed and consciousness is free to attach itself to a single atom or any particular bunch of atoms. In that sense, we would all be truly infinite. The true description of yourself would be ‘I Am’. Not ‘I am this’ or ‘I am that’; ‘this’ or ‘that’ would be temporary forms. Your ‘universal’ description would be ‘I am’… and that’s it.

Computers by this time would be quantum computers (scientists are building those today) that simply involve arranging subatomic particles into patterns. And since consciousness could attach itself to atoms and particles, consciousness would control the quantum computers and, in a sense, the computers would be part of us.

If such a thing were true, the simulation we humans currently find ourselves in is merely a projection of our own consciousness and ‘life’, in many ways for us, resembles a cinematic projection in 3D but one that is controlled by our conscious and unconscious thoughts and beliefs. In human life we have no idea of who or what we are.

If I were such a consciousness, seemingly infinite, I think it would be quite fun to forget who and what I am for a while and create a simulation of ‘primitive’ human life.

Anyway, I did say I was having a play with some ideas. Don’t take this too seriously. 🙂

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  1. Linda on June 8, 2015 at 10:40 am

    Hey David, I loved this blog! I’m looking forward to reading more of what you have to say on this fascinating subject. It’s not often a topic of conversation in our day to day lives, but one I love contemplating… Thank you. :-).

  2. Christine on June 8, 2015 at 10:43 am

    Thank you David! Only yesterday my daughter sent me a message after arriving at their holiday villa in Greece that my four year old grandson instantly told his mummy that” he had been to Greece before ( they have never taken him to Greece before ) with his old mummy and daddy but had wished for her ( his now mummy ) and got her!!! He then told her they were very mean! ( perhaps explains his now and again vivid nightmares ) my daughter also had much difficulty in conceiving so he was indeed a precious gift!!! This is not the first time I seem to have an answer, as I see it , from one of your newsletters virtually the day after. Thank you David, I will definitely pass onto my daughter.
    Many thanks for your insights!!!

  3. Marléne on June 8, 2015 at 10:56 am

    What an interesting article, and there is something very liberating about the concept that ‘consciousness is free to attach itself to a single atom or any particular bunch of atoms.’ a reminder.

  4. Julie Smith on June 8, 2015 at 12:43 pm

    (a message for David rather than a post)
    A wonderful hypothetical projection David to remind people that this is of course the true nature of our current reality.
    It’s like being in a video game, and forgetting we inserted ourselves in it.
    I love your work, and your writing which I share liberally. I particularly love it when you write about time….. and how we can change our past and our future in the present and those tantalising topics you’ve sometimes touched on. I hope you can now write a book where you jump to the ‘pointy end’ – rip away your veils and filters – and share more of the richest parts of your understandings.
    This comes with thanks and great regard from an appreciative reader “Downunder” .. (and a great lover of Scotland!)
    Julie Smith, Australia.

  5. Beverly on June 8, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    I LOVE your musings about reality, David! It is a very clever metaphor to describe our true nature – which is pure consciousness. Reading your article gives me another way of remembering what I truly am. Thank you! x

  6. jean k washbourne on June 8, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    David, WOW!
    Thank you for sharing your musings/ thoughts.
    I have similar thoughts, frequently, especially when using the power of thought myself, and sitting back and observing the result.
    However, you explained it so clearly, especially exponential growth, somehow I c onlyonnect that with the economy.
    All simulation who can tell, it’s a pretty good simulation though.
    Most impressive.
    I am

  7. Karen on June 8, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    I am reading My Big TOE by Thomas Campbell. He describes exactly what you’re saying here. And he’s a scientist!
    Very interesting but mind boggling!

  8. Ann on June 8, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    Back in the ’60s and ’70s, Seth was saying this but without the technospeak. It’s STILL cool…….

  9. Josephine Ricerra Torrijos on June 9, 2015 at 7:37 am

    I believe the Universe has no beginning nor an ending. This is infinity. I also believe that we are not victims of our genetic make-up, that we can, in fact, change our genes through an exponential growth in consciousness.
    I am 68 years old and a Secretarial graduate but I am passionate about transforming this Body-Ego-Personality of mine into becoming like Soul-SPirit which is, for me, undefinable. I also Believe in the “I Am” just that . . . without the ‘this’ and ‘that’.
    Thank you for your most interesting article “Is Reality a Simulation?”. I actually enjoyed it.

  10. Simon Casciano on June 9, 2015 at 8:07 am

    Dear David,

    I just want to say I absolutely loved your DARING latest blog! It completely coincides with what I have just heard from the recent videocast from David Icke called “what you ‘see’ is what you get” (only without the dark side 😉 Coincidence?

    Here’s the link to the trailer of that videocast for a taster

    Thanks for getting my contemplative juices really going now! It makes life fascinating!

    Simon Casciano BSC MBAcC
    Licensed Acupuncturist
    Stress Illness

    M: 07816 113967
    E: [email protected]

  11. Scarlett on June 9, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    I would say you were spot on in your musings

  12. Robert V Gerhardt (nom de plume - Armer Wayck) on August 27, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    Wonderful stuff! Belatedly found. I have ordered a couple of your books and your Quantum Healing CD, but in the meantime;-
    It seems more likely that the nature of things, (as revealed by both relativity laws and quantum theory – thanks to Einstein, Planck, and Heisenberg), is that the wave/particle duality of matter is more weighted toward wave – that is, towards the electro-magnetic spectrum. As shown by Feynman through his Quantum Electro-Dynamics, subatomic entities just seem to spring into existence, and even then are more vague clouds of potential existence than actual solid matter (whatever that may be).
    This tentative nature of the reality of matter, allied to the phenomenon that no one seems to be able to say much about the ‘how’ or the ‘why’ of light, could lead us to conclude that light is all that there is. Further we could speculate that the light of consciousness is the same as that which our sensory system knows as the electro-magnetic spectrum.
    So you and I, as well wombats, dahlias and clouds are then no more than ‘perturbations’ (or variations) in the universal consciousness (or mind of God). While these ‘perturbations’ show self-awareness (they know that they think) they are discoloured or contaminated by an illusion known as spacetime, which makes it difficult for them to perceive reality (truth). It is this thought which gives me a different insight into the biblical verse which says that God is in Jesus, Jesus in me (John 17:21-23) – so the universe and eternity is in me. We don’t know whether self-awareness and perceiving truth is known to occur in wombats, dahlias, and clouds, even though they too are types of variations in God’s mind. This state of affairs is best put by Peter Russell (the quantum physicist, turned psychologist, turned transcendental meditator) noting ‘…..we no longer have to think of consciousness sensing matter (with all the difficulties that involves of how the physical influences the mental), consciousness is now sensing consciousness directly. Interaction might now be thought of as perception — the perception of one region in the mind-field by another.’
    Thus you, from your discoloured, contaminated ‘variation’, can try to communicate with my discoloured, contaminated ‘perturbation’ some knowledge of your experience of the universal consciousness – even though we are both part of the same thing, our knowledge varies, but if (however improbably) passed on can help the other (say, by shining on the other side of the coin).

  13. Ron Spilsbury on May 18, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    With the exponential growth of Moore’s law automation of existing jobs will start to increase exponentially also. I propose a new paradigm of reality. The ability to automate existing jobs will epotentially increase every 2 years as computing power increases. Eventially there will be no job that cannot be done robitically better than an actual human. Artificial intelligence will eventually be so superior to actual human intelligence that there will be no need for human life forms. The question then becomes who will own and operate these AI programs or robots? Will anyone even be able to control such a superior artificial being which exponentially doubles it’s intelligence and computing power every two years? The exponential decrease in jobs will conitate social support programs to increase exponentially also. Society will have only one choice but to move from a capitalist economy to a socialistic economy. This potential out come does not have to be all doom and gloom. With more free time humans could devote more to time to the arts instead of war. The creation of art could actually become the most valuable tool any person could ever develop. Leaving the world a very beutiful place to be.

  14. […] I wrote about this in an earlier blog, around the notion of reaching a singularity, a point when computing power becomes almost infinite, where computers might be able to download and process the entire current internet, including every song ever written, every movie ever made, and book ever written, a trillion times a second into a device the size of a human cell. It’s been predicted to possibly reach such a point between 2050 and 2060. […]

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