Were Life But a Dream

The genesis of this entry is a thought experiment of mine today. There is a quasi-elite, mildly popular idea of our universe being a computer simulation. Of course, far more gifted philosophers and thinkers than I have played with this idea, which at least used to be en vogue among Silicon Valley types. But what I was playing with in my thought experiment is how such a belief could become, effectively, a religion.

The borderline between cult and religion is subjective, but for the sake of this concept, I am going to treat the concept as one which gains enough adherents quickly enough so that it becomes a religion or faith community, and one that interacts on a fairly commonplace basis with society at large. So, from that baseline, what would the “theology” or organizing principle of this religion be?

Because a lot of the new adherents would likely, or at least potentially, come from a materialist background, in some ways you would have to cater to their lack of early childhood exposure to concepts of human religion such as the soul, or at least their rejection of that idea. As a replacement concept, you might have a tenet that each being (for a broad definition of being) that has a genetic code has a unique or nearly unique “code stack.” Extrapolating this could lead to an early split over arguments regarding genetic determinism vs. epigenetic “free will”, but for the sake of coherence let’s leave that side trail unexplored in this blog post.

I think at the heart of any religion based around the idea of the universe as a simulation being run by beings existing outside of it would be a desire to understand the end goal or desired data for extraction from said simulation. That would have to be one of the central mysteries of various offshoots, and would, I imagine, lead to some very different practices. One strain of belief could be that you are a player character – and one line of faith would be that your goal is to gain as much power, knowledge, and success as possible in order to assist your player in the rankings. Of course, that’s predicated on a fundamental idea that material/social success is the “victory points” of the game or simulation. This could easily become a dark philosophy, also, should someone become convinced that they are really in a first-person shooter, etc. Even that idea itself kind of blurs the line between belief and schizophrenia, but then, so does the idea of the world as a simulation.

An alternative philosophical avenue that could arise in such a religious movement would be that you are function more or less as an NPC, aiding and smoothing out the greater quests of hero characters that your theological betters may identify. This would be one of the more cult-like manifestations, but one that I could see attracting a disturbing number of followers who want the universe-as-simulation faith to obviate their need for self-determination.

I plan on returning to this topic another time, but I wanted to post this here rather than write it down for myself in case anyone stumbles on this blog and would like to put in their ideas towards the thought experiment.