(Originally published on the Nerdic Vikings website on 21st March 2016)
You may have heard of the Simulation Hypothesis, which postulates that our reality is in fact a computer-generated simulation of which we, as the simulants, are unaware. It’s actually a rather intriguing thought and has been explored in many movies, tv shows and fiction books. You’ve all seen The Matrix, right?
Much of the hypothesis itself is based in physics, quantum physics and mathematics, but hey, I’m not going to get all scientific on you. So just for the fun of it, let’s see if we can solve some earthly mysteries using the computer games (and their errors) that we already know and love. Ready?
1. Ghosts & Shadow People
Most of today’s computer games don’t run in real time – Assassins Creed, Grand Theft Auto, Skyrim, Plague Inc. and Sid Meier’s Civilization (to name a few off the top of my head) all run in simulated time, meaning that a day in the game is much shorter than one of our own. As an example, twenty-four hours of game-time in open world adventure games is generally equal to about forty-eight minutes of real-time but, of course, it can vary.
If you were going to create an Earth simulation and had the phenomenal processing power to do it, it stands to reason that you wouldn’t want to wait eight billion years for the results, so you instead decide to condense that into one month, which works out to roughly 258 million Earth years to one of your days.
When people die in your simulation their bodies remain but the program controlling their sentience is deleted – it takes your computer only a nanosecond to do this, because it’s extremely fast and futuristic even though it’s running an enormous program. That deletion would equate to about 1.6 minutes in the simulated world. But suppose that your computer had a lot of people to delete due to a catastrophe or a war, or was a wee bit slower due to a system glitch? If the deletion time slips to just half a second that would bump up the time for someone’s program to be deleted from your simulated world to about 1,493 years!
And perhaps that’s what the ghosts and shadow people are – they’re actually people in the process of being deleted, but at a slower rate for whatever reason. And why can we see them? Simply because the program controlling their sentience includes memories of how they looked while they were alive, albeit memories that are slowly being deleted. This is why shadow people appear blank and featureless to us – their self-image information has already been removed by the deletion process.
Finally, Ricky Gervais once asked ‘Why is it we never see any caveman ghosts?’ Easy, Ricky. Even those with a slower deletion rate have long since been removed from the simulation.
2. Mysterious Disappearances
People vanish from our world every day, and while the majority of these are down to a personal choice, there are some disappearances that cannot be explained.
Setting aside the fact that people in the simulation who become fatally glitched would have to be entirely removed in order not to give the game away, what other reason could there be for unexplained disappearances?
If we are, in fact, living in a simulated world it could be down to a simple matter of collision detection failure. Collision detection is used in our computer games today to detect when one object has interacted with another, which allows characters to pick up objects or negotiate obstacles and prevents them from falling through the ground or walking through walls and scenery.
When the collision detection fails, your character can find itself embedded in a tree, or another character, or in worst cases falling through the ground to the uncoded space beneath the map. That’s quite an adventure, I can tell you!
Could it be possible that our Earth contains fleeting glitches in the collision detection that causes people to literally fall out of the world?
In 1873, the Bristol Daily Post and the London Times published the story of Mr and Mrs Thomas B Cumpston, who had been staying at the Victoria Hotel in Bristol. During the night they heard loud noises in their bedroom accompanied by the sensation that the floor was giving way beneath them, with Mr Cumpston stating that the floor opened up and he felt as if he was being dragged downwards. They shouted for help, but their voices sounded to them to be strange and echoing weirdly. Finally, Mrs Cumpston managed to pull her husband free and they escaped through a window.
While we’re on the subject of disappearances, let’s not forget the infamous Bermuda Triangle. Flight 19, a group of five bombers, disappeared there in 1945 and the last words received from them are reported as:
“We can’t find west. Everything is wrong. We can’t be sure of any direction. Everything looks strange, even the ocean. We can’t tell where we are, everything is … can’t make out anything. It looks like we are entering white water. We’re completely lost.”
Another pilot, who disappeared there in 1980, radioed in his last message as:
“We are going from Santo Domingo to San Juan International but we found a weird object in our course. About three different times we got it right in front of us… our present heading is now three hundred, we are right again in the same stuff, sir…”
In these cases, it’s worth mentioning that, as a space-saving technique, some games include uncoded areas which are marked as being off-limits to the player. For example, Assassins Creed: Black Flag uses a barrier that looks like a wibbly-wobbly wall of smoky energy which will stay in front on you, even if you turn left or right, until you retreat from it completely. You can actually move through this barrier, but if you stay on the wrong side of it, you’ve had it.
So could it be that the Bermuda Triangle has a bug which causes an area within it to intermittently become uncoded space, causing the pilots to see an object similar to an energy barrier, or a wall of ‘white water’ in their path?
3. Mysterious Creatures
Our world is rife with mysterious creatures and out-of-place animals – there’s Bigfoot, the Yeti, Mothman, the Chupacabra, Skin Walkers, Black Shuck, the list goes on and on, and every country has a legend or two. But can we apply a computer game bug to explain the cause of these strange and fantastic creations? Of course!
Computer games use a technique called texture mapping to apply features and detail to objects, people and scenery, and while it increases the realism it can sometimes go very, very wrong. The best-known case of this happening was in Rockstar’s 2010 game ‘Red Dead Redemption’, where players would randomly encounter creatures dubbed as Manimals – these terrifying abominations included animals with the texture mapping of humans, such as Cougar-Men, Snake-Men and Bird-Men, and also humans with animal features, like the Donkey-Lady, the Talking-Horse and the wonderful, shotgun-toting Gunslinger-Dog.
But I digress.
Even a highly sophisticated and advanced computer system with ridiculous processing power could still be prone to bugs and programming errors, so it’s quite possible that the legendary creatures we experience in our world are merely bugged animals or people, doomed to roam our planet with the wrong coding.
Out-of-place animals could also be the victims of incorrect texture mapping. The famous Surrey Puma (first reported in 1959) and The Beast of Exmoor (first reported in the 1970’s) may just be indigenous animals with erroneous big cat mapping instead of their own.
And this raises another point. The characters in the computer games we know and love today are all basically the same body model inside, and it’s only the exterior texture mapping and their programming which make them distinguishable from each other. As humans, we are all basically the same internally, and it’s only our exterior texture mapping and life experiences which make us distinguishable from each other.
Our physical appearance is a result of the information contained within our DNA, so is it plausible that DNA is basically just a texture mapping program designed to generate our unique and individual characteristics?
When you think about it, there are many more mysteries out there that could be solved if the Earth were, in fact, a computer simulation. UFOs could merely be objects that have spawned incorrectly in mid-air, something which happens in a lot of today’s computer games. Perhaps the dinosaurs died out because they developed a fatal bug and had to have their programs terminated. And déjà vu might be created when you are reset to your last known position following a minor glitch.
Finally, bear these unsettling little thoughts in mind:
You know when you pause your favourite game to go and make a cup of tea and a sandwich? If we’re all living in a simulation, that could actually happen to us. Our world could effectively be paused for thousands of years, and yet we, as the simulants within that world, would never even realise. And the even bigger question is… how many people out there are not really people at all, but computer-controlled NPCs?