In this article, I will explore how The Simulation Hypothesis, the idea that we live inside a giant video game, can bring order to chaos by explaining unexplainable phenomena.
These include UFO reports (often by credible witnesses), mind over matter (including experiments with quantum random number generators and spoon bending), remote viewing, out of body experiences, accounts of telepathy, near death experience, even ghosts and other spectral phenomenon.
For more about whether these phenomena exist, there are thousands of reported cases, and studies as well as literature from from places like the University of Virgina, the Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF), SRI International (formerly Stanford Research Institute) , The Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), Princeton’s PEAR Lab, MUFON and many others.
For more about simulation theory itself, you can read my book, The Simulation Hypothesis: An MIT Computer Scientist Shows Why AI, Quantum Physics and Eastern Mystics Agree We Are In a Video Game, or read one of numerous interviews and articles.
When Our Existing Models Don’t Work
The standard scientific viewpoint is to ignore these phenomena because they cannot be reproduced or explained. The Simulation Hypothesis, on the other hand, gives us a framework to understand how these things might not just be possible, but might be built into the fabric of what we call “physical reality”.
Several hundred years ago, scientists dismissed anecdotal evidence of “rocks falling from the sky.” It was considered absurd because everyone knew that there were no “rocks in the sky”, so how could they possibly be falling to Earth?
The problem wasn’t that there wasn’t any evidence, it was just anecdotal. In fact, there had been numerous reports of rocks falling from the sky since the beginning of time, and in some cases, there were even dark rocks as physical evidence (like the cornerstone of the Kaaba in Mecca, for example). The real issue was that the most popular cosmological model bought into by the majority of scientists in those days didn’t have a mechanism or explanation for how such a thing could happen, so scientists dismissed it outright.
It wasn’t until a widely seen meteor shower in 1803, with thousands of rocks falling from the sky in France, that the French National Academy of Science seriously investigated and was forced to reconsider its underlying assumptions. They had to admit that their prevailing model was incomplete.
The problem today is also not simply a lack of evidence. Once again, it is that our dominant cosmological model – the one favored by most scientists – a type of realistic materialism, doesn’t provide a mechanism for these types of events – therefore it’s absurd to think they could exist.
Even though the baffling findings of quantum mechanics have started to create cracks in the solidity of the wall of the current model, the meaning of its results are still being debated. This means that in the prevailing model, physicality, separateness and mind-body duality are the core obstacles in understanding unexplained phenomenon. Separateness assumes that physical objects and beings and locations across the galaxy are separate entities, separated by the gulfs of space and time. Mind-body duality implies, that there is no way that our consciousness or our thoughts can play a part in the clock-work like physical world. And despite quantum physics findings tot he contrary, physicality assumes such a clock-like physical, material world.
Enter the Matrix
The model presented by simulation theory is that we all live in inside a computer generated reality, like the sophisticated video game. The operations system and commands render what we see around us based on information that lives “in the cloud” on a distant server somewhere, and each of us can access some subset of this information.
If we drill down on this model, one of the distinctions that becomes apparent is that there are really multiple versions of simulation theory. These are 1) the NPC version (non-player characters, or AIs within games) and 2) the RPG version (Role Playing Game) version, which I also like to call the Matrix Version.
In the NPC version, we are all simulated beings (AI) running on a sophisticated computer, and we have no independent existence outside of the running of the game. In the RPG version, just as in the Matrix, the individual players exist outside the game, but play “avatars’ inside the simulation.
You’ll notice that these aren’t mutually exclusive (you can have both NPCs and Avatars in an MMORPG like World of Warcraft, for example). Most academics who consider simulation theory – including Oxford’s Nick Bostrom, whose simulation argument in his 2003 paper, Are You Living in a Computer Simulation, kicked off the recent spate of interest in simulation theory – imply strongly that we should focus on the NPC version. They don’t always say this outright, but the statistics at the core of the simulation argument imply that most, if not all of us, are NPCs.
On the other hand, the RPG version of simulation theory, where we exist as both “players” and “avatars”, is potentially more interesting and explains many more things about our physical universe, so we can move beyond a statistical argument into a whole new way of looking at and understanding the world around us.
Armed with this new model, we can start to make sense of things which previously seemed “impossible” or “unexplainable”.
Let’s look at some of these phenomena and see how the Simulation Hypothesis might be the answer that we have been looking for all along, bringing explanations.
Remote Viewing, OBEs and Telepathy:
One area that is impossible according to the standard materialist model of the universe, is to perceive, without an apparent mechanism (like a telescope or a television) what is happening somewhere in the physical world other than where our physical body is.
Two areas that are related are “remote viewing” and “out of body experiences” (or OBE’s). Again, despite there being quite a bit of information from experiments run by SRI (the Stanford Research Institute) in the 1970’s for the CIA that remote viewing sometimes works and has provided actionable data for both the intelligence community and local law enforcement which turned out to be correct, the standard response is to simply ignore or dismiss this evidence.
Similarly, there are many OBE cases, which is often, coincidentally, the first step in a Near Death Experience, where the person finds themselves out of their body, looking down on their body and the doctors and others in the room. There is evidence that patients have been able to recall things being said by the doctors and nurses, and to describe scenes occurring both inside and outside of the room when they were under general anesthesia (including by some individuals that were born blind, describing objects on the outside of hte building that weren’t visible from the room).
However, when we adopt the Simulation Hypothesis, both of these experiences, OBEs and Remote Viewing, becomes not only easy to explain, but a natural consequence of how the “game” is implemented.
In video games, our character (or avatar) is located at a particular set of x,y,z coordinates in an expansive three-dimensional world. The whole world consists of information and coordinates that theoretically go out to infinity, but our avatars are only able to perceive the coordinates around them. However, in many video games, it turns out that it’s very possible to change the location of the virtual camera to any x,y,z coordinate in the entire 3d world.
The rendering engine doesn’t care which coordinates it is rendering, it’s just been told to render only the area around your avatar. One very good explanation of how Remote viewing and OBE’s works is that our virtual camera is detached from our avatar, and we are able to move it around the three dimensional world and “see” what is happening elsewhere.
A related experience, and even more confounding experience is when a person gets knowledge of an event that is occurring many miles away in a dream. Interesting enough, one of the most common experiences of mental telepathy seems to happen around the death of a loved one. In the RPG version of the simulation hypothesis, this means that one of your friends has left the game … and you are being notified in some way from those that run the game. Since our “instant messaging” is clearer when we are in the dream state, they are visiting us there rather than in our waking life.
NDEs, the Life Review
There has been a considerable amount of research regarding Near Death Experiences- and much of the descriptions are similar. In his 1976 book, Life after Life, Raymond Moody catalogued a number of similar stages that were reported by people that had near death experiences. Subsequent studies of thousands of cases, including those from different parts fo the world and from children, have confirmed many of the elements and stages that Moody found in his initial research.
One of the most commonly reported and most incredible aspects of NDE’s is the Life Review. When I wrote The Simulation Hypothesis, I interviewed Dannion Brinkley, who wrote Saved by the Light and described a particularly vivid NDE when he was struck by lightning. He called it a “panoramic 360 degree life review” and said that he had to experience every moment in his life, but he had to experience it from the other persons perspective. It is like a 3D broadcast where you can step into the emotions of others in your life. This was an incredible experience, which changed his perspective about the meaning and purpose of life. He was in the military and had to actually experience what it was like to be the victim of a shooting.
This of course makes no sense from a materialist point of view. The materialist explanation is that NDE’s are just random neurons firing. This doesn’t hold up when you look at the consistency of the reports and the testimony of neuroscientists who say that in some cases, there is no way there is any electrical activity in the brain whatsoever.
In the Simulation Hypothesis, particularly the RPG version, this could be easily explained by you “waking up” out of this simulated game, and that there have been processes which are running which have been recording not just our actions, but the results. In computer science, we define daemons, using the Greek term for demons, which are processes which run on the server without needing any intervention. In video games, we can record every part of a 3D game like Call of Duty or League of Legends. In fact, a few years ago I was part of a video game company that recorded a 3D game, and you could put on virtual reality glasses and you could literally experience any scene, or ever scene of a gameplay that already happened.
In the western religious traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), this process is normally handled by recording angels, who write down in a “book” (the Book of Life or the Scroll of Deeds), everything that you have done. In the Islamic traditions these angels even have names and these deeds are reviewed with us after we die. Interestingly, we not only see the “deeds” we have done but their impact on those around us and how these deeds may have echoed in the lives of countless other people. this sounds a lot like the Life Review that NDErs report.
In the Eastern religious traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism, there is also an idea that every act has been recorded and stored, and will have to be accounting for in the more complex version of Karma, stored in some incomprehensive global database called “the Akashic Records”. Of course, 3d recording and video games didn’t exist at the times these philosophies were articulated, but if they were, they probably wouldn’t call it the Book of Life or the Scroll of Deeds, but rather the “database where scenes of the video game” are recorded.
The Life Review, whether that reported by NDErs or in the religious settings, sounds a lot like what we do when we review video game performance. Clearly we don’t have the technology to understand how other players felt, but as video games introduce brain computer and haptic interfaces, the possibility that we might develop similar technology in the future is quite likely.
The Simulation Hypothesis provides us with the cosmological model that is the key to understanding what all of the religions have been telling us all along. They have been telling us that there is a world beyond the physical, that we are being watched by supernatural beings, and that everything we do is being recorded, and that we will have to account for our actions after we die …
UFOs and UAPs:
One of the biggest mysteries since the end of World War II (and before) is the appearance of technological craft in the sky exhibiting behavior that seems to defy the laws of physics as we know them. The subject is getting attention (again) since the New York Times did a prominent story in 2017, which included release of several unexplainable videos. The Navy recently admitted that the items shown in the videos weren’t military technology and they were classified as UAPs (or Unexplained Aerial Phenomenon), the newer, less loaded term for UFOs.
In the materialistic worldview, there may be aliens on planets far far away, but it’s highly unlikely they are here. Why not? Because our technology and understanding of the laws of physics does allow it! Once again, we are back to modern science ignoring things “in the sky” because they don’t’ fit our current cosmological model.
What might be needed to give the subject more serious consideration would be an event like the French meteor shower of 1803, which was witnessed by thousands of people. Actually, it turns out it’s already happened, multiple times – in Washington DC in the 1950s and in Phoenix in the 1990s. Even a little bit of serious investigation and talking to witnesses (which many materialists aren’t willing to do) of these two mass sightings (not to mention the recent Navy pilot sightings reported by the New York Times and others) would reveal that the conventional explanations (temperature inversions, flares) fall far short of the data.
However, one of the most troubling aspects of UFOs goes beyond the fact that these craft exhibit properties that no known aircraft (based on our present understanding of aerodynamics and gravity) could achieve. These even more “absurd” or “baffling” elements come into play with reports of objects in the sky, and in the even stranger “abduction” reports, which were made famous in the 1990s in the X-Files. In both of these types of alien-y experience, there seems to be a material as well as non-material aspect. In the case of abduction reports, strange beings seem to “move through walls”, communicate with people telepathically and otherwise defy any ideas of our understanding of the material world. This sounds so absurd that it’s no wonder that most scientists don’t take them seriously, right?
When I first met with Dr. Jacques Vallee, who has been investigating these phenomena longer than just about anyone else alive (he was involved with Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s investigation into UFOs in the 1960s), he explicitly made the point that UFO’s can not be seen only as a “nuts and bolts” phenomenon. Many reports that he investigated seem to have a consciousness element to them. He told me that there were many cases where two people standing together where one sees the UFO and one doesn’t, as if they can be seen “selectively”, and as if these events were being staged for us in some way to “gauge our reactions”. He calls this a level of “absurdity” in UFO reports, which make them much harder to investigate and understand than even rocks falling from the sky were for eighteenth century scientists.
Even the “nuts and bolts” view of UFOs is too much outside of our existing cosmological model for most modern scientists to study it seriously. In this view, UFOs are either advanced terrestrial or extra-terrestrial craft. But if, like Dr. Vallee, you start to look more deeply into UFO reports, you start to realize that we may need a bigger paradigm shift than that!
The conventional scientific model would be ascribe known airborne objects (weather balloons, swamp gas) to some reports, and discard the reports which involve an element of consciousness completely. After all, in a standard materialistic view of the universe, either an object is there, or it isn’t!
But this phenomenon is so widespread, and with such similar reports from around the globe, that it requires deeper investigation into what’s going on. It occurred to me that this kind of “conditional rendering” is something we do often in video games and may not be so “absurd” after all. If you are a level 30 character vs. a level 2 character, even if you are in the same scene, we might show your avatar something that the other avatar doesn’t see. We might even send you a little private message (outside the rendered world) about this object, communication that would seem telepathic to another avatar since they couldn’t measure or observe it.
The idea that we are living in a world that is conditionally rendered fits the UFO data much better than either conventional explanation (that they don’t exist, or that they are misidentifications of terrestrial craft).
The rendering idea doesn’t contradict the materialist world view – once they are fully rendered, they are considered “physical” objects. And anyone who has played Second Life or an MMORPG can realize that sometimes you can move your hand through the wall or walk right through it, while the rendering process is still on-going.
When you have a better model, suddenly things go from “impossible” to almost “trivial”. Armed with the simulation hypothesis, the most baffling and difficult to understand aspects of UFOs begin to make much more sense.
Ghosts and Apparitions
Ghosts and spectral phenomenon have been reported in almost every country on earth for thousands of years. Sometimes, the reports include seeing the image of a person who died (often violently) at the particular location.
While some sightings might be classified as “interactive”, there are many more cases of sights and sounds which seem to come from another time, but the same place. These reports often are related to a person who died and sound like seeing a “replay”.
Investigative journalist Leslie Kean, in her 2017 book, Surviving Death, provides many examples. She says: “People perceive figures, sounds, and voices related to people or activity, smells, and even sensations that they conclude are caused by a ‘ghost’ … However, these ghosts seem to be acting in a repetitive patterns and are essentially locked to a location such as a house, bar, restaurant, hotel, plot of land, or on rare occasion to an object … These phenomenon are called hauntings, or alternatively, place memory.”
In the materialistic world view, there is no basis for these reports, and so they should be ignored as “imagination”, a much less than satisfactory explanation (in fact, no explanation at all, really). But the universality of these reports is what makes them interesting.
The simulation hypothesis, on the other hand, provides a reasonable explanation of what is happening: the scene that is recorded is simply stuck in a “playback” mode, and the pixels/hologram of the scene are being projected into the same physical space. However, since the physical space doesn’t actually exist, but is being rendered by our brains based on data, it’s very possible that we are picking up data from another time – a bug in the system if you will. Keane further explains: “However, these are more like holograms .. they are like a loop of a videotape playing itself over and over,” and she even refers to them as “recordings.”
One scientists who thinks this is possible is University of North Carolina at Wilmington computer scientist Curry Guinn, who made news in late 2019 by suggesting that ghosts could be “glitches in the matrix” from a simulated reality. “Glitches in the system. Deja Vu, such as in the Matrix movie when a character sees a cat crossing a doorway repeatedly, may be one glitch. Ghosts, ESP, coincidences may be others.” Curry said, according to WRAL Techwire.
But there are even stranger aspects to apparitions that are interactive and respond to living beings. In some cases, they apparitions are deceased family members who seem to be “looking in” on the grandkids, for example. In general, children seem to be more susceptible to interacting with these apparitions.
As an example, Kean documents a case in Livermore, CA, of a family who moved into a house that they later learned was “haunted”. The son, Chris had been seeing and talking to the ghost of a woman, Lois. Upon research, Lois turned out to be the previous owner of the house who had been born in the house in 1917 and died in 1980. The ghost even told Chris that she had “let” the parents see her sometimes, but not as often or as interactively as she did with Chris. This “friendly ghost” case got even more complicated when Kean brought in a psychic to communicate with Lois, and Lois said that she had the ability to decide if “everyone” could see her, or if only “certain people” can see her.
This seems to imply that, separate from the “playback” scenario, there is another scenario: where some players of the game are making decisions about who can see them or not. Based on their “advanced” level, they can decide who can see them, and who they can interact with. The Simulation Hypothesis provides a reasonable explanation of how this could work.
Mind over Matter, Telekinesis and Spoon Bending
Finally, we come to another baffling set of phenomena that are so outside of our standard model that scientists can clearly dismiss them without listening or investigating. Can consciousness actually influence physical objects and processes?
Of course, we don’t need to go back 200 years to find scientists who would dismiss this idea outright. Even 50 years ago, the idea that mental stress could impact a physical disease seemed “absurd”. The “machine” model of the human body had no place for consciousness or stress or emotional states. Everything was physical so of course your state of mind cannot play a role in whether you get a certain disease or not! This model has, grudgingly started to change, with the acceptance that activities, including mental activities which reduce stress can influence the body. The mechanism isn’t fully understood, but at least there is a mechanism (thoughts influence the immune system, the immune system then influences the physical body). Alongside of this realization, western medical science is still (also very grudgingly) beginning to admit that practices that storied doctors of the past may have dismissed as “absurd”, like Meditation, Yoga, Visualization, as well as body oriented therapies like Acupuncture and Massage, could actually have a material impact on the body.
These results alone should give scientists pause with their certainly that consciousness is unable to influence matter. Of course, thus far we were only talking about influencing matter one’s own body, which is much easier to accept in the standard model.
In peer-reviewed research conducted at Princetons’ PEAR Lab, which was started to explore anomalies like telekinesis, experiments found that individuals could influence quantum random number generators. These are processes, which according to the laws of quantum mechanics might be the only true random things in our universe.
In the basic experiment, the quantum random number generators were translated into bits of information (simulating a quantum coin toss), which theoretically should even out over time to 50% for each value as the number of trials went up. The experiments were run with control groups and with individuals who were told to try to “influence” the RNGs with just their thoughts.=
The results varied significantly from what chance might allow, varying from one in a million to one in a trillion. The results of this experiment were not only peer reviewed, in some cases they were reproduced such as by Dr. Dean Radin at IONS. In his experiments, the evidence that individuals can influence quantum states of matter with only thoughts is stronger, for example, than evidence that you should take a daily dose of aspirin to help prevent heart attacks.
To be clear, in both the Princeton and the IONs experiments , while the results exceeded what chance would allow, there was high variability based on the individual. Some people could influence quantum phenomenon in laboratory settings much more than others. Our current scientific models of reality don’t allow for different effects based on individual talents or proclivities, which is why these results are still “controversial” in mainstream circles.
Speaking of controversial, this brings us to the most odd example of mind over matter that viewers of the Matrix will be most familiar with: the phenomenon of spoon-bending. This phenomenon recalls the famous scene where Neo is trying to bend the spoon and is told by a young, bald kid the secret to spoon-bending: Remember, there is no spoon!
When I spoke at Google and showed a picture of this scene, it drew chuckles. Then I showed a picture of a spoon-bending party that had been conducted at the IONS conference just the week before down the road in Santa Clara who writes about it (here ), there was shock and disbelief that I could be suggesting anything other than spoon-bending was all a hoax.
The protocol for PK Parties like this one was set up by aerospace engineer Jack Houck, who came up with the idea after meeting researchers from SRI and hearing about their results on remote viewing.
How does it work? The physics aren’t understood, but Houck claimed that there was something about a group intention that allowed the metal to become pliable for a “short period of time”. In fact, Houck states (on a website setup that the “fun” of a party is important not just in having the intention but making it light and playful so that people can “let go” of their inner beliefs.
He states that the worst PK party he ever had was at Los Alamos, where there was a group of nine PhD physicists who worked together, along with their wives families. He found that none of the physicists were able to achieve any results. At the same party, though, their wives, and many of their children, were able to bend the silverware! He ascribes this not to their being physicists but the fact that they all worked together – since individually without their co-workers present, physicists didn’t have an issue producing results.
These results don’t make sense in a world fully described by the materialist point of view. On the other hand, if we are conscious agents playing a video game, rendering objects around us, then we can, with our thoughts, which exist outside of the rendered world, influence what gets rendered. It’s like issuing a super-user command into the game while watching the scene.
These anomalous results – the spoon bending, the quantum random number generators, and others like them, suggest that not only is our “material” reality not all there is, but that it can be manipulated by our thoughts.
Science has always relied on models of the universe to make sense of it. As we have been able to put together precise mathematical descriptions, we have been able to make incredible progress. Unfortunately, models are, by their nature, incomplete. They try to describe some aspect of reality, and by doing so, almost always leave out other aspect of the real world that cannot be explained, reproduced.
The best example of this was rocks falling from the sky, which were dismissed outright by scientists because the models of the time didn’t acknowledge that there were any rocks in the sky – so of course they couldn’t be falling from the sky! This is similar to the reaction that most scientists give to the unexplained phenomenon explored here – life after death, ESP, ghosts, remote viewing and even telekinesis.
The Simulation Hypothesis provides an alternate model that could push us light years forward in understanding these phenomena. If we view “the physical universe” as a rendered version of information that is stored somewhere on the “cloud”, then many of the things which are currently labeled “impossible” or “unexplainable” become not only “possible” but “explainable”.
In other words, there is no matter, only information.
This would mean that there is no spoon, after all. There never was.
Rizwan Virk is the founder of Play Labs @ MIT and the author of The Simulation Hypothesis: An MIT Computer Scientist Shows Why AI, Quantum Physics and Eastern Mystics All Agree We Are in a Video Game. Visit his website at www.zenentrepreneur.com