Our Simulation – A Taxonomy


There is much recent discussion about our living in a simulation:

I have studied the subject of whether or not we are living in a simulation for quite some time in a number of ways and I have never seen someone classify all the possibilities for those possible simulations. So here goes. If you need background on this idea, I’ll provide some links at the bottom of this paper.

Alternative Title: Living in a Simulation? – Let Me Count the Ways

First of All
First of all we need to talk about some generalities. These are properties of our simulation or the outer simulation, and the possible properties of our current simulation.

The Outer Simulation
We need to agree that this might be anything at all. The outer universe might have any properties, however remote from our own. Lets look at some “outlandish” [sic] examples.


2 Dimensions. I don’t see how we can rule out the possibility that the outer universe is actually 2 dimensional. After all, how can we rule out that the folks of DiscWorld wanted to live in 3 dimensions and so made a game to do just that?


An Explicit Computer Programming Environment? Can we really rule out that the outer simulation is a “platform” that makes creating simulated worlds very natural and easy? If we were to make a lower level platform for creating universes, mighten we make it easy to make universes within that. Think of this as a “Universe Platform” or “Universe Engine” in the way that games are produced on “Game Engines”. And just as we make Game Engines to allow us to easily create games, maybe folks “above” us are living in a universe where making sub-universes are very easy. Maybe the folks above us “know” that they are “programs” or “processes” in the simulation and have explicit access to a subroutine called “Create ‘Brane” or “Trigger Big Bang”.

It is clear that we can’t enumerate all the possibilities for the outer universe, or simulation if you will, since we have no way to test any such theory, but looking at these possibilities helps to free our minds from assumptions that we may have.

No Conclusions are Possible about the Outer World.
We need to free ourselves of any parochial thinking about this outer world. I have seen talks about this subject where Physicists on the panel try to conclude that “The Simulation Hypothesis” is impossible because the Universe does not have the energy or matter available to do such a simulation at the quantum level. This statement has so many problems that, on reflection, it appears laughable. Let me count some of the ways: We cannot assume that the outer world has the same energy, matter or quantum properties of our own. And, as we shall see in a later section, we cannot even conclude that our own universe actually has the properties or limitations that we observe, those limitations may only apply to our personal, instrumental observations and our experiments.

Conscious Awareness
It seems clear that whatever properties that the outer universe has, that the inhabitant entities are consciously aware of themselves. They are not zombie intelligences but have inner awareness and thoughtfully consider their own plight as entities, otherwise they would not seek to create simulations that might contain other aware beings. By zombies I mean highly intelligent beings that do not have, as we do, an inner awareness of self. See Thomas Metzinger’s work, including many talks on Youtube for a discussion of this concept. Many others contribute to the idea of self including Daniel Dennett. See the many talks and books by Dr. Dennett on Youtube and elsewhere.


I don’t see how one could argue that zombies would create simulations that would explicitly contain or cause the emergence of aware intelligences, unless by accident. I can’t see how zombies would be interested in “immersing” themselves in anything or studying the immersion of self. The definition of Zombie is “Lacking Self”. Nor can I see why they would create a simulation at all, but that is probably harder to justify.


Also, I’m not clear that a Hive Mind civilization would create simulations. The whole idea of needing or wanting to simulate a world with inner consciousness is predicated on being able to imagine “Separateness” and a hive mind cannot imagine what it is like to be “separate” in the way that we are. Or is it possible that they can “imagine” separateness and want to study it by simulating it? Isn’t it odd though, that we as “Separate” individuals, seem very interested in simulating Hive Minds – See Starcraft.


But, if we are “in a simulation” it is clear that the outer world is inhabited by beings that are controlling or observing it in some way, otherwise, we would not call it a “Simulation” but merely that the outer world is a property of the Universe. The physicists and cosmologists who theorize about ‘Branes, do not speak in terms of simulations. Moving on.

If We Are in a Game


If we are living in a simulation, then it may have the properties of the video games that we currently make. Let’s look at the properties of these games from the point of view of those living [Non-Player Characters or NPCs] or visiting [Players] in those worlds.
Video games use short cuts to avoid complexity, to improve performance, and to allow much larger worlds to be simulated than would otherwise be possible.
Clearly modern computers could not implement an MMORPG game if the environment were simulated down to the level of quantum foam, or even atoms. So the worlds are simulated to the level of solid objects and surfaces. These Objects in the game have only the properties that they need based on the range that they are being observed. This is called “Level of Detail”, so if observed from far away, the number of points and triangles used  to display the object is reduced since the detail is not apparent from the point of observation, the “camera position”.

How might this appear if we are living in a simulation?


What if there is really nothing beyond our Earth / Lunar orbit? Do we really know? What if all the input to our simulated eyes is simulated so that the universe beyond that is “convincing” but does not exist. If the Level of Detail Engine knows we are looking through a telescope [radio or optical] using instruments or our eyes, then the image is simply simulated as it would be, and the actual universe contains much simpler descriptions of what is there. So Jupiter does not exist, it is an entry in a database that is filled in when we look closer with telescopes or orbiters and only enough information is saved in that database entry to provide future consistent observations so that we are convincingly fooled. The atoms of the interior of Jupiter are never going to have to be simulated directly since there is no way to observe them directly. Same with the Sun.
Likewise, what if there is no actual level of detail beyond what we can observe with naked eyes? What if whenever we “look through” some instrument, the effect of that instrument is “simulated” by the game engine, convincingly, so that we believe that a world of very small things like microbes, atoms, and quanta exist? Such a game engine would be vastly easier to build than the world we think we see, and could we tell the difference?
If we assume this, then how much of the “world” might actually be compressed and simplified. Might the quantum properties and particle / wave duality be our observation of the lower limit of that “Level of Detail” simplification? Others are beginning to look into this. Oddly though, I have not yet seen them using the LOD analogy to video game engines in their discussions.

The Story So Far


So far, we have concluded three things:

  1. We can’t know the properties of the outer world, including the probability that it itself is a simulation. It may be very alien compared with our current “apparent” universe.
  2. We know that the outer world contains conscious beings, some of whom created this world.
  3. We don’t really know the properties of our own world. We can only observe the “apparent” properties of this world, and so we can draw no firm conclusions about how “difficult” it might be to simulate it.

A Brief Taxonomy of Universes


So now let’s list the types of universe simulations that we may inhabit. I’m confident that this is not exhaustive, but it will form a basis for further thinking. Let’s start with the most obvious from popular literature and move on from there:


A Matrix. We are enslaved members of a universe similar to our own. There may or may not be ways to “Break Out” of the simulation by some pill.


13th Floor. We are created characters in a simulation for the benefit of the beings in the outer world. They are aware of us and may, or might not, inhabit us for their own amusement or other needs. The original story by Daniel Francis Galouye, called Simulacron-3 (1964), was based on the idea that the simulated worlds provided additional consumers that allowed the economy of the outer world to continue to progress. The 13th Floor movie changed this concept to more like the motivations that we have today for video games. Although since we create video games, and more recently VR and AR in an effort to stimulate the economy, we appear to be moving toward Galouye’s vision in some sense. When we “sell” goods and services to simulated NPCs then we will have achieved his vision.


Emergent. We are emergent beings in a simulated world, and the beings in the outer world are not aware of us. If they are aware of us, that is (2). But in this case, they may have created a “Weather Simulator” and we might be emergent in that simulation without them being aware of or caring about our existence. Again, if and only if there are outside intelligences do we call this a “Simulation” in any sense. Of course, our current, scientific at least, “Theory” of existence is that we are emergent in a universe, which is possibly one of many. It seems clear that the “LOD” simplifications only apply if the outer simulation and therefore beings are aware of us. I cannot see how a “weather simulation” style simulation could also be aware of our observations of its details and simplify itself on that account.

This list seems quite short, but that’s because I have used phrases like “might or might not” which has collapsed some of the alternatives. But there is something more subtle here. Alternative (1) Matrix is actually quite different from (2). In (1) the assumption is that we are being explicitly used by a Malevolent force, and that it might be possible to “Wake Up” from the simulation.


In (2) the process of “moving outward” to the outer world [or simulation] is quite different. In (2) we have no Body in any outer world. To move outward, one would have to be created. The episode of Star Trek Next Generation “Ship in a Bottle” is another take on this (2) problem.

In (3), the outer beings are not aware of us, probably don’t care, and we have little hope of getting their attention. Possibly if we create a Dyson Sphere or Cluster, they might notice. So this alternative, in practice may be not at all different from other theories of cosmology that don’t talk about simulations. However, if we consider the possibility of simulation, then the whole thing might suddenly be shut down or rebooted. But then again, other theories speculate that we are due for a reboot in a few billion years anyway.


The Simulation Argument

The Matrix (1999)

The Thirteenth Floor (1999)

Daniel F. Galouye

Ship in a Bottle (Star Trek: TNG)

Thomas Metzinger

Daniel Dennett

Daniel Dennett – Illusion of Conscousness Ted Talk

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(images used without permission. None are my own.)