One NASA Scientist's Quest To Prove We're All Trapped Inside A Video Game

I've seen The Matrix. You've seen The Matrix. And so we've both had the same thought: "Woah, bro, maybe we really are living inside a computer!"

Well, at least one scientist is actually trying to prove this to be true. In a new interview at Vice, NASA's Rich Terrile talks about his quest to prove that we are living inside of a computer program created by a programmer from the future.

By Terrile's reckoning, Moore's Law supports the idea that computers will grow advanced enough that this kind of thing will be possible. Among other things, Terrile supports his theory by pointing out "the observable pixelation of the tiniest matter and the eerie similarities between quantum mechanics, the mathematical rules that govern our universe, and the creation of video game environments."

Terrile cites the ever-improving PlayStation as his example of the speed of computational advances:

Now brace yourself: In 30 years we expect that a PlayStation-they come out with a new PlayStation every six to eight years, so this would be a PlayStation 7-will be able to compute about 10,000 human lifetimes simultaneously in real time, or about a human lifetime in an hour.

There's how many PlayStations worldwide? More than 100 million, certainly. So think of 100 million consoles, each one containing 10,000 humans. That means, by that time, conceptually, you could have more humans living in PlayStations than you have humans living on earth today.

That is indeed a lot of PlayStations! Terrile, who says he enjoys playing video games, goes on to explain how he's figured out the relative size of Grand Theft Auto IV's Liberty City as compared to his PlayStation 3. He then explains how that jibes with theories of quantum mechanics.

The other interesting thing is that the natural world behaves exactly the same way as the environment of Grand Theft Auto IV. In the game, you can explore Liberty City seamlessly in phenomenal detail. I made a calculation of how big that city is, and it turns out it's a million times larger than my PlayStation 3. You see exactly what you need to see of Liberty City when you need to see it, abbreviating the entire game universe into the console. The universe behaves in the exact same way. In quantum mechanics, particles do not have a definite state unless they're being observed. Many theorists have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how you explain this. One explanation is that we're living within a simulation, seeing what we need to see when we need to see it.

Awesomely, Terrile doesn't seem all that bummed out by the idea that we're all just figments of a really really really ridiculously advanced computer's imagination. I always kinda felt that way too, back in college when I'd have those deep Matrix-inspired philosophical conversations. After all, I get joy and sadness out of life — I love life! So who cares if it's all real or not?

I think Cypher said it best, as he sat in that restaurant with Agent Smith:

"You know, I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss."

Woah, Dude, Are We Inside A Computer Right Now? [Vice via Mr. Mike]


    Well whoever is playing as me sure sucks at this game!

      +1 for you


    I've tried and tried to wrap my mind around quantum mechanics, but my tiny inferior brain will have no part in it. Through The Wormhole did a fairly good job at simplifying it for the plebs


        hopefully EB will break the 2013 edition street date.

      you know what they say... if u think u understand quantum mechanics, u don't understand quantum mechanics

    I love the idea that we're all AI in some kind of virtual history book, labelled as " Earth: 1950-2050". We're all programmed to behave exactly as people did back then, so in reality we believe that we are actually in know, before Civilization ends in December.

      Look up the "Holographic Principle".
      There's a chance that everything you see is a 3D hologram projected from a 2D plane of information.

    Someone get Philip K. Dick on the line! I have a great idea for a new book he'd just LOVE to hear!

    In all seriousness though, The Matrix? C'mon. If we're purely digital, technically we'd be more like the characters in The 13th Floor since there's no physical counterpart to ourselves in 'reality'.

    Sometimes I think, what if people from the future are using a time machine to watch our lives as a TV show? Then I say something crazy just so anyone watching gets freaked out and wonders what the heck is up. Why are you looking at me like that? I'm not weird.

      Haha that is awesome. I too sometimes share those thoughts ...

      Nah, that won't happen until you die and then get resurrected along with the rest of civilization as a whole on a single alien planet as a social experiment. (

      So save your crazy thoughts 'til then ;)

      I think that was an episode of south park, only with aliens instead of the future.

    It's interesting how there's sort of this assumption that whatever program we're in is some form of computing. If it's true we're in a simulation from some advanced civilization eons beyond our own.... then maybe they don't require some sort of technology to create this. Maybe all they have to do is imagine it.... and it becomes real, and they're able to enter any body they choose from birth till death as an intense experience to learn from.

    This article is listed under "in real life"... Clearly a misrepresentation. It should be listed under "in real life... OR IS IT?"

      +1 internets for you good sir

    I read this a while ago, on this exact topic: a more expansive exploration of the theory, the openning lines to the paper are great, "This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation..." Enjoy!

    I think the pic sums this well:

    So does that mean 21/12/2012 is actually just the server shut down date? What if dreams were really just us trying to reference invalid memory addresses, resulting in the garbled form of whatever bytes had been put there previously? Can I blame my clumsiness on poor pathfinding AI, or an inexperienced player? Does that mean that after I turn the video game off, the people really do continue to live on in the box?

    ** Initialising headExplode.exe
    ** Error: head not found. a/r/f?

    But how did Cypher get into The Matrix without an operator?

    the tree falling in the forest not only did not make a sound, it didn't even happen!

    *shuffles off the mortal coil with a Blue Screen of Death!*

    Anybody got the cheat codes?

    The jokes on the programmers though though since they're just living in a simulation being run by a more advanced society

    Sounds like he has taken a few red and blue pills in his time...
    So this is how i understand it.. There is real life(1) but I live in a video game(2), i play video games, in those video games(3) sometimes i have my character play video games(4).. Thats 4 layers of inception right there... If i go another layer that will bring me to Limbo which is one of my favorite video games of all time.... My head hurts

    The answer is 42.

    Cypher's steak looked good.....really good. Ignorance is Bliss people! The more you know the more complicated things get....especially if you have a conscience and morals.

    There have been many scifi stories of humans downloading into computers to live for ever in a type of matrix/holo deck , and then that was the end of the civilisation evolving. Once they downloaded they would want for nothing

    I fight for the user!

    What about when someone gets bitten by a spider and doesn't notice? You still get sick.

    It sounds like he's trying to offer the possibility that we're in a Plato's Cave/Matrix/whatever-else type world, rather than "prove" that "reality" as we experience it is real or not real. It does seem strange that if we were in a computer program, the inventors of the program would put us in an era with powerful computers, where we could speculate about how we might actually be in a program. Although, people speculated about it before there were computers e.g. a demon causing hallucinations, so maybe this era is as good as any.

    I wonder what OS we'd be running on? Surely not Windows 8?

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