by Gordon Lamont
Suitable for Key Stage 4/5
To explore the idea that we could all be living in a virtual universe and encourage inquisitive thinking.
Preparation and materials
- If possible, have available the equipment to show the three-minute film at: www.youtube.com/edit?video_id=44cVoyMchq8&ns=1&feature=vm&o=U or http://youtu.be/44cVoyMchq8
If you are unable to show the film, the script is provided below.
- Find the piece of music ‘Also sprach Zarathrustra’ by Richard Strauss or the version used as the theme for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and have the means to play it at the end of the assembly.
Show the film or use the script below to explain and explore the ideas of Dr Nick Bostrom and others.
There are lots of theories about the universe we live in. Here’s one.
In the 1999 film The Matrix, the big idea was that everything people felt was real was in fact a computer simulation and so was everyone living in that world.
The Matrix was a huge hit and just maybe its central idea wasn’t so far fetched. Dr Nick Bostrom, Director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, has proposed that we could all be living in a computer simulation.
The argument goes like this.
In the future we may create matrix-like artificial worlds in which virtual people live and think and feel and eat and do all this believing that their world is ‘real’. Sounds like The Matrix but in this version the virtual people won’t be able to wake up and find their real bodies because they won’t have them.
If this sounds too fantastic to be true, consider this: if there are alien civilizations, as many scientists think, then the advanced ones may have invented computers long ago and moved on to advanced virtual worlds; and there may be thousands of such civilizations and one of them could have built a virtual universe . . . and we could be living in it!
So perhaps the chances that you are not who you think you are and the world isn’t what you think it is are quite high.
Nick Bostrom himself says, ‘My gut feeling, and it’s nothing more than that, is that there’s a 20 per cent chance we’re living in a computer simulation’, but many other scientists and philosophers think it much more likely, while others dismiss the theory altogether.
Time for reflection
These are big questions about the nature of reality, but perhaps the most important is . . . what do you think?
Is it possible that we are living in a virtual world created by advanced civilizations?
Is it possible to prove or disprove this theory?
Do you consider thinking about such questions to be a valuable use of time?
What are your core beliefs about the nature of reality?
‘Also sprach Zarathrustra’ by Richard Strauss or the version used as the theme for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)