Imagine you’re at a house party. It’s getting to that stage after 3AM where people are rummaging through cupboards looking for old bottles of squash to repurpose as a mixer, someone’s put their bookmarked Boiler Room mix on *again* and no one’s said a coherent sentence for 45 minutes. You’re in the living room, and hear a voice coming through from the kitchen. "If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then games will be indistinguishable from reality, or civilisation will end. One of those two things will occur. Therefore, we are most likely in a simulation, because we exist. I think most likely — this is just about probability — there are many, many simulations. You might as well call them reality, or you could call them multiverse.”
Surprise! Those words didn’t come from someone whose first name you’ll never recall, and whose saved number you most certainly will never text to arrange that brunch. Elon Musk said them, on a podcast in early September (you know, the one that produced this photo). And ever since, I’ve wondered what the average person on the street thinks about simulation theory (ie: the idea that we’re living in a simulated reality that just seems legit). So, in the interests of both Musk (and Kanye, who brought up simulations on Kimmel a month before that), I accosted some passersby to ask.
VICE: Hi there, are we living in a simulation?
Oh. But… but why do you say that so quickly?
Because I’m really hungover and my mind can’t comprehend anything on this scale ahaha.
Is it something you think about often?
No, not really, or at least I think so?, I just kind of get on with life.
VICE: Hey, how likely is it that we’re living in a simulation?
Joey: We may be, who knows? That’s a tough question. It depends on how you see the world and society. Some people would say we are in a simulation because we are in a society where all we do is what the government want us to do. But some people won’t see that, and will say we are free spirits and there is no simulation, I don’t know. It’s a tough question.
Do you think about this stuff a lot?
Nahh, I just live my life day-to-day man.
I’m noticing a trend here. Brilliant.
VICE: Quick question: are we living in a simulation?
Why do you say that? How can you be so sure?
Everything and everyone around me sort of feels real to me, like it’s here right in front of me.
But how do you know you are real? What if that were just how the simulation felt?
That’s a good question actually, how do I know? Man, I really don’t.
Do you consider this stuff a lot?
I try not to go too deep and question everything around me, I just tend to carry on.
Thanks a lot, Simon.
Jessie, 28, and Sharon, 30
VICE: Hey you two, do you mind if I stop you for a second? Okay great: are we living in a simulation?
Jessie: That’s deep, man.
Sharon: Yes, I would say we are.
Oh… oh I wasn- Why do you say that?
Sharon: What is reality, in its sense? I think there are lot of people who aren’t present and there are different levels of consciousness, like the here and now. So what makes everyone think this one is the real and present state? This is kind of like, The Matrix – that’s my fucking favourite film and it’s so real. We are in a simulation.
Jessie: Yeah well it could be the case but then again it couldn’t. But, like, with The Matrix: when you see that movie you think about stuff like that.
Maybe I shouldn’t have stopped you t–
Sharon: I’m totally on the yes side; I think we are in a simulation. It’s fun to imagine – like, if we are, what are we unplugged from?
Jessie: It’s scary though. What if we want to jump out of it?
Will we ever find out what we'd need to unplug ourselves from?
Sharon: Only if we find out where the off button is, haha.
Danai, 27, and Zak, 26
VICE: I’ve got one question for you: Are we living in a simulation?
Zak: Wow, I think we might have this conversation before, once or twice.
Danai: Yes, for sure.
Zak: Well, I feel today has not been simulated in any way – it’s just a normal day.
What about any other days?
Zak: Yeah, there have been other days where things haven’t been normal and I’ve been kind of like, ‘this isn’t right,’ haha.
Danai: Well, I do believe we are living in a simulation, a dimension. And it’s very easy to get stuck in that. It can happen if you live a very habitual life. I mean, we do follow a lot of routines, like working a 9 to 5 jobs, and there are systems in everything. So as human beings we have this ability to project simulations. We can close our eyes and visualise something we want, and if we chase after it in this manner we can become dormant as human beings, shifting through things like the matrix simulation. I think, like, 90 percent of the world is in a simulation.
Yeah, you two have definitely spoken about this before. So are you thinking about it more metaphorically, or do you think we are literally plugged into something?
Danai: Plugged in? Imagine, all wall of computers and shit. To be fair, maybe because I woke up from a dream once, and I saw a series of 1’s an 0’s raining down from the ceiling. So maybe we in a simulation, of a simulation of a simulation?
Danai: So simulations do exist, and people are definitely in them and there is a way out. There is artificial space outside of this.
Thank you for that very decisive take.