“They’re running their own simulation,” I whispered to myself in a sort of absent-minded befuddlement.
“They’re what, now, sir?” went the delayed echo of the anxious and now momentarily worried intern halfway across the room.
“They’re running their own simulation, just like ours. Just like we’re doing,” I replied significantly louder, though without looking away from the isolated piece of code on my left screen; the right screen constantly scrolling with the newly generated data.
“I’m sorry, professor, but…” There was a brief pause while the intern’s survival instinct demanded a brief moment of introspection on the part of her intellect before allowing her the will to challenge the one person who could revoke the scholarship that she had spent so many sleepless nights of study earning. “Isn’t that exactly what you would expect from this particular simulation, sir?
“Yes…” I responded rather vacantly as my gaze shifted thoughtfully over to the new code streaming across the right screen. “Yes, I suppose it is,” I muttered with regained focus as I glanced over at the intern for what must have been the first time in at least an hour. “I guess I just hadn’t really thought about it is all. Simulations within simulations, and such.”
The intern smiled, and then went about her work thinking that she must be absolutely brilliant if something that her professor hadn’t even thought about had seemed so obvious to her this whole time. I know that’s what she was thinking because the only other time I’ve ever seen her smile was the one time she corrected my assistant’s math in front of me. But even though I’m more than content to let her have that impression for the time being, the truth is that I actually had expected to see something akin to our simulation being run within our simulation… I just hadn’t really thought about how complex it might actually be. I hadn’t imagined it would be just like ours.
I’m what’s known as a Predictive Sociologist. It’s a multi-disciplinary field that blends social science and computer programming by utilizing extremely advanced and complex computer modeling to essentially predict what will be developing in our society and, perhaps more importantly, when. It’s like a weather forecast for the behaviors of human populations, or the inverse of history. Our computer models, our simulations of human life in our current society, are incredibly detailed. The rise of quantum computing allowed for Moore’s Law to continue unabated even after nanotechnology had brought us to the brink of how small we could construct a transistor, and the super-computers we use for Predictive Sociology are absolutely cutting edge. I can personally attest, from all my years spent staring at computer screens, both while earning my PhD and after, that our simulations contain such complexity and layers of information, that the encoded data and logic would so thoroughly resemble our own universe represented in code, most would find it next to impossible to distinguish between the two.
Our current project is a simulation designed to generate predictions about our society’s upcoming developments in innovation. Since most of the modern world’s innovation is technological, the computer model is generating, amidst a tremendous amount of other admittedly more pertinent data, code representing the activities of the simulation’s Predictive Sociologists. Here’s the thing: those Predictive Sociologists are running their own simulation for innovative developments, and the code in their computer model looks an awful lot like the code in our computer model. In fact, they’re almost identical. However, what got me, what really twisted my noodle for a second, was when I saw that the simulation being run within our own computer model was itself yielding more data from a simulation attempting to predict upcoming innovations via a computer model of Predictive Sociologists running a simulation predicting upcoming innovations, and so on, like a digital version of facing two mirrors directly at each other. But, that was just for a second, and my noodle promptly untwisted itself. As my currently overly proud intern had drummed up the courage to point out, such a microcosmic fractal should be all but expected in this particular simulation. And, in fact, it was. But expecting something like that, and standing face to face with the intellectual Doppler Effect of that kind of existential feedback loop, are two entirely different animals, and it had taken me a tad bit more than a moment to truly process, for lack of a better word, the whole absurdity of it all. However, having wound that experience in and out of the wheelhouse of my mind, I found that the one aspect of it all that I surprisingly couldn’t seem to shake was just how much the code in each layer of the simulation still seemed to look just like the code in the other layers, just like ours, just like what reality would look like in code. It was eerie. Almost a little too eerie, and the image of that code embedded layers deep on the screen had cut equally deeply into my mind.
Sometimes, I think I get a little too caught up in my work. Or… maybe it just seems that way. My wife says that I tend to overthink nearly everything. She suggested, last month, that I needed a break from all these computer screens and trying to bring to light the inherent and intangible kismet of space-time’s embedded algorithms, so to speak. It took more than a small amount of her insisting before my stubbornness wore off and I conceded that she might be right. I can’t even remember the last time I took some time off. Has it really been that long? Oh, well. It doesn’t matter anymore. The situation has been rectified. After the workday inches to its conclusion today, I’m officially on a “much needed” two week vacation, and tomorrow morning, after our eight year old son gets picked up by the grandparents he hasn’t gotten to see since he was five, my wife and I are off to Hawaii for a week, where we’ll be celebrating our seventeenth anniversary four days from now.
It’s a good life. No arguing with that.
I went about my work for another ninety minutes or so, eventually glancing up at the clock. Just forty-five minutes left in the workday, and then my vacation begins. I’m pretty sure I should be excited, or maybe just relaxed, but I’m neither for some reason. I’m tense, and I have this creepy, suspicious sensation that I just can’t seem to shake. I’d thought that if I just ignored it, it would go away before too long, but it’s not. It’s like an itch that just keeps getting worse, and it’s beginning to pupate into some sort of paranoid anxiety, and I just don’t understand where it’s all coming from.
But… I do, actually. Of course I do. I’m just trying extremely hard not to think about it, incredibly hard not to admit to myself what it might all mean if I just stop being afraid to look at it. But I can’t stop looking at it. It’s like an imprint superimposed over everything I see now. It’s everywhere.
It’s the code. The code that I saw embedded in the simulations being run within our own simulation. There are certain… implications to it all, and the more those implications sink into my gray matter, the more they haunt me. When I looked into that stream of code, into the fractal generated in the local region of the simulation we’re running, I saw a seemingly endless cascade of Predictive Sociologists all running their own versions of that same simulation while simultaneously existing in their own simulations made up of code that was not only virtually identical to the simulation they themselves were running, but also virtually identical to the coding for the simulation in which the simulation of their existence was running.
And it was all virtually the same as what our universe would look like in code.
So, are we just a part of the fractal? Are we… in a simulation?
It sounds crazy at first, I know. That’s why I had dismissed the entire notion the moment it found its way into my mind. But, it keeps creeping back in somehow, and I am finding myself at a loss when it comes to concrete evidence to dismiss it. Look, in theory, those Predictive Sociologists in the simulations have no way of knowing that they’re not me, so how can I be so certain that I’m me? Or, I mean, the Predictive Sociologist who’s running his simulation in reality, rather. It’s not so much a crisis of identity as an epistemological crisis. I don’t think I can prove to myself that I’m not just part of one of these simulations. Holy shit, that sounds crazy. But, I think it could also be true.
It’s a matter of proof, that’s all. I’m not jumping off the deep end here. I just realized that I’m currently lacking tangible and demonstrative evidence for the validity of an assumption that I made and then subsequently overlooked, and that’s just bad science. I need to think this out.
I should be able to just look to the code used in the simulations for evidence, but therein lies the problem. The code in each layer of the fractal of simulations is just too damn similar to the code in the other layers, and they’re all virtually identical to our own immensely complex code in a way that makes me abruptly trade in my prior lack of nausea for an enormous lump in my throat. Our code is the next best thing to reality, and for the life of me, I can barely, if at all, tell the difference between our code and the ones found in each simulation in each layer. There should be some kind of real difference. Exponential, linear, logarithmic, something! But, there’s not. And that means that I can’t just point to the code and say, “Look. Look at the code. There’s you’re proof, your evidence that we’re not just part of a simulation. Our code is not only the closest to what reality would look like, it’s functionally as close as you can possibly get. Q.E.D.”
The statistical probabilities get less and less assuring the more and more I think about them, too. If all these simulations are being run as a fractal within a singular reality, just one real universe, and I can’t distinguish ours from the others just by analyzing the code, then the odds are simply not in our favor that we would be that one real universe. We’re just one out of a veritable infinity. How could we just assume ourselves the original, and still call ourselves rational beings, let alone scientists?
More to the real point, how the hell am I supposed to deal with all of that? I mean, do I just forget everything that I know about cognitive dissonance and the anthropic principle, and against every shred of my scientific training, relegate myself to ad hoc reasoning and Kierkegaardian “leaps of faith” in some desperate act of Pragmatism?
….Maybe. Maybe I do.
I purposefully look at the clock as a way to yank myself out of my own head. The intern had wrapped up for the day about an hour ago, and the room was empty, with the exception of myself, of course. Ten more minutes. I can’t do anything about any of this in just ten minutes, so why stress myself out about it? Right?
Something like that? Right?
I’m trying. I really am.
I silently encourage my brain to get an early start on vacation. I try to imagine how good warm sunshine feels on my face, how good fresh pineapple tastes, and how good my wife looks in a bikini. I can feel myself just starting to relax and let it all go. I’m calm, I’m at ease, and as I imagine the sounds of ocean waves crashing around me and the sensation of a warm breeze on my arms, it suddenly occurs to me that the quantum weirdness intrinsic to our reality at the sub-atomic level is way too much like data compression. Way too much.
Damn it! I was so close to just letting this go.
It all makes sense, though. Too much sense. It’s Achilles and the tortoise: Zeno’s programmer paradox. Regardless of whether or not the universe is infinite, there’s an inescapable infinity within the minutiae of the microscopic that no programmer could ever manage to fully model. That means that beyond a certain threshold all the data would need to be stored in some kind of probabilistic function resembling a form of holographic sine wave. Could that threshold and the Planck Length be the same thing?
I need to formulate some kind of experiment here. I need to get some more data. I need to figure this out. I need to… I need to go on vacation.
I gaze slowly at the clock. My work day is officially over. I’m on vacation now, I guess. I think about my wife, and I let that thought linger. I think about how much I hate to see her disappointed, and I try again to just let it all go. Vacation time.
I begin entering the day’s closing report before signing out. I keep all my thoughts and any details about my potential… discovery to myself for the time being. I want to look into it on my own when I get back, and if I report anything that could be categorized as an “anomaly”, there’s a fairly decent chance that the simulation will have been prematurely shut down by the time I get back, and that would ruin everything.
Suddenly, my heart begins to race as cold sweat beads on my brow, and I mutter the word “anomaly” to myself in a voice that sounds more like a ghost’s than my own. I think excruciatingly hard for a moment about every possible implication of that word.
If someone reports anything that could be categorized as an “anomaly”, there’s a fairly decent chance that the simulation will be prematurely shut–