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This is similar to this question

Some scientists found indisputable evidence that the universe is all just a simulation. Maybe they found the code that is running the simulation (I don't know how) and then they demonstrated its genuineness by editing it and changing something, like making a chair a disappear. They don't use it for bad or good after this.

Anyway, I was wondering how society would react to this? How would the government keep control?

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    $\begingroup$ There was a time in history when many people in Europe believed that a god had created the world. I do not see that as very different. $\endgroup$ – Carsten S Feb 22 '15 at 0:06
  • $\begingroup$ It cannot be proved there is a reality. Reality is assumed coming forward through culture from Plato. What is reality supposed to be, anyway? Since that varies from person to person and one bureaucratic scenario to the next, including science, reality is what we make it and what our expectations are. If that isn't virtual I don't know what is. Reality is an authority assertion, idealistic, of what is supposed to exist, pursuant to whatever standard or contemporary knowledge. $\endgroup$ – subjectivist Feb 22 '15 at 3:57
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    $\begingroup$ Just because there is proof does not mean anything. There is scientific proof that evolution exists, and that vaccines are beneficial, but people still do not believe it. If people don't want to believe that what they have thought all along is wrong, then they won't. $\endgroup$ – erdekhayser Feb 22 '15 at 4:59
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    $\begingroup$ What does "virtual reality" means I'd everything is a "simulation"? What is it a simulation of? What characteristics make something a true reality vs virtual reality? $\endgroup$ – Lie Ryan Feb 23 '15 at 0:34
  • $\begingroup$ What would constitute such proof short of escaping the virtualized environment? I can think of lots of things that might be observed which would be consistent with, and strongly suggestive of, the observed world actually being virtual reality, but none which would constitute "indisputable proof". $\endgroup$ – R.. Feb 23 '15 at 5:02

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TL;DR: No one curr, because humans have a lot of emotional inertia, and unless the original discoverers started using it to make sweeping changes, they'd have no incentive to care. (But see the teal deer below for some longer discussion.)


Like the question you linked, I think the ultimate answer might come down to "Not a lot of people would care, or change their behavior."

The thing is, unless you could prove to everyone, everywhere, instantaneously that what you'd discovered was the unalterable Truth behind all existence (perhaps pull up the man pages for the universe on the Moon?), a very large number of people wouldn't even hear about the discovery.

Consider first that even in a fully industrialized, first-world nation, "important news" about science and technology (which this would be, at first) doesn't disseminate very fast or accurately to the populace at large. Most people aren't interested, and most news reporters can't make a science story interesting without needlessly sensationalizing (and thus distorting) it. Granted, finding out the universe is a giant computer simulation would be a very "sexy" story to start with, but you'd absolutely have absurd misreporting on it right from the word "go", and you'd have people who'd just ignore that reporting because it's science and technology and they're more interested in what the Kardashians are doing, or the Super Bowl, or whatever.

Second, only a fraction of the human population actually lives in industrialized, first-world nations. Unless and until scientific knowledge of the universal source code is used to eliminate subsistence-level living and give everyone an SUV and a McMansion (or whatever else is deemed appropriate), most people have no incentive or means to notice what's happened in favor of continuing to eke out their lives.

[I think, whether or not the scientists who made the discovery immediately started using it for crazy stuff, governments would react immediately and profoundly negatively to suppress what was going on. It undermines their legitimacy completely if someone can just rewrite them out of reality. Unless it was a government project in the first place--in which case they would definitely suppress the information, but there might never be any reporting on it to begin with until something like Wikileaks came along! You may want to look at how information on various black ops and other clandestine government programs has gradually gotten released to the public, with the caveat that this is something unlikely to be declassified, ever.]

But suppose you managed to tell everyone all at once, before the governments of the world could stop you. Then what? Some possible options I can see are:

  1. Deleteman's option of mass suicide. I don't think this particularly plausible on a wide scale (i.e. half the human race ups and offs itself) simply because most people wouldn't actually internalize "I'm a simulation, my life doesn't matter". A simple consequence of human solipsism is that, barring physiological and biochemical defects or a lot of emotional trauma, your life always matters to you, no matter how bad or strange it is. We're just wired that way, and philosophizing out of it to the point of killing ourselves is hard. Suicide is usually an emotional decision. But, for small groups of people and individuals, this undoubtedly would happen.

  2. Large-scale rioting, set off by charismatic individuals. I can see two subtypes of this, but there's probably lots more: Subtype one is "THE GOVERNMENT HAS TO PROTECT US" from the possible malfeasance of the terrorists/the amoral scientists/pick-your-enemy using this new discovery to hurt people. Subtype two is "THE GOVERNMENT HAS TO USE THIS TO MAKE OUR LIVES PERFECT". Since you can now end world hunger with a few lines of code, why aren't you doing it? Right now?

  3. No one cares, because they assume it's all just a fantastic trick. This is the one of the more likely scenarios in my mind, because humans have incredible inertia when it comes to being budged out of their comfort zones. Like 2, this could come in a couple of flavors: "Science is just messing with us, it's not true" versus "If it is true, what does it matter if no one does anything with it?".

As a closing note, before my obligatory opinion-and-follow-up-storybuilding questions, I want to say an idea like this (concerning the unreality of the physical universe as we experience it) has already been proposed and is in the process of being tested: It's called the holographic principle. You could perhaps extrapolate from how little most laypeople know about or understand that to how they'd respond to the universe as a simulation.

Warning! This next bit is opinion! I think the more interesting scenario that you didn't touch on--and one that's much more likely in my mind--is what happens if the original discoverers keep it to themselves and start using it to rewrite reality to their benefit? Given the power to become a god, I can't see even the most dispassionate, dedicated scientist just passing that up. So much the better if their initial understanding of the universal simulation isn't very good, and they start writing buggy code for it...

Honestly, I think the better story to be told here--or the first in a series of many stories to be told here--would be how the discoverers handle knowledge of their discovery. Is it ethical to start tampering with the simulation, knowing they could glitch everyone out of existence? Should they tell anyone? And so on. Much of how the world reacts depends on what these people do; I know your original specification was that they just demonstrate it's all a simulation and then immediately vanish from the world stage, but is that the most interesting possible way to handle things?

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    $\begingroup$ That would be an awesome story. +1 $\endgroup$ – michaelpri Feb 21 '15 at 23:17
  • $\begingroup$ David Drake used a story like this as a frame story in The Northworld Trilogy. $\endgroup$ – Jasper Feb 23 '15 at 2:32
  • $\begingroup$ The opinion at the end of the post is rather similar to the premise for Scott Meyer's 'Wizard 2.0' trilogy. $\endgroup$ – Tonithy Feb 23 '15 at 13:32
  • $\begingroup$ I'll need to read both of these, I'd love to see how they handled it. $\endgroup$ – plagueheart Feb 23 '15 at 20:32
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The big question is, "Who is in charge of the simulation?" In the same way that technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic, a simulation sufficiently cohesive is indistinguishable from religion. The question could just as well been phrased as, "Scientists announce that they have proven God's existence and can demonstrate how he works."

Thus, I disagree with Deleteman's initial statement. I don't think there would be mass suicides. Somewhere between 87 and 92% of the world's population already believe in a God, and I think that they would suddenly and fervently express that they know exactly who is running the simulation, and what that being wants from its creations.

I think there would be a re-sparking of ancient wars, and I think tons of resources (billions of dollars) would go into communicating with our maker.

I think a lot of people who had simply never thought much about it would start to wonder, "What is it all about?" and perhaps re-think some of the existing religions that they'd always discounted.

Atheism would just become another religion, really. Those who will fervently say, "This doesn't make them worship-worthy, they are just beings with complete power over our world and lives."

But there would be a large culture that just doesn't care about that. They just discovered that the world itself is hack-able. I, myself, would be looking for the cheat codes.

Seriously, someone just demonstrated that I could have the power of flight and indestructibility with just a few lines of code? Hellz yeah.

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    $\begingroup$ You touch on an interesting point with your remark of "a few lines of code" -- it's highly probable that any successful attempt to show that the universe is virtualized will involve some very esoteric maneuvers to break the virtualization layer. It's probably not going to be a back door with "insert reality changing instructions here", more like the most challenging attempt at reverse engineering humanity's ever seen, after an initial stroke of luck. This makes it even more probable that society would need a long time to adjust (if ever). Talk about putting the "meta" in "metaphysics". $\endgroup$ – Jeroen Mostert Feb 21 '15 at 23:35
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    $\begingroup$ @JeroenMostert Oh man, that goes even beyond my original thought I put in my answer--how cool would it be to write a story about reverse-engineering a virtualized reality from inside? I don't have the chops as a programmer to even begin to do it, but it could be incredible. And very, very nerdy. $\endgroup$ – plagueheart Feb 22 '15 at 0:46
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    $\begingroup$ @plagueheart Well, that's kind of the plot to 'The Matrix'. $\endgroup$ – IchabodE Feb 22 '15 at 0:51
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    $\begingroup$ @MBurke Right, but it dove off into (actual) metaphysics and mysticism and good old heroic buttkicking of the evil machines very early on. I'd like to see something on the order of "we don't know why we're in here or who put us here, but we've got the tools to reverse-engineer it in our favor, so let's try". $\endgroup$ – plagueheart Feb 22 '15 at 1:00
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    $\begingroup$ @MBurke: the Matrix is the Hollywood version of what would actually happen -- pardon the obviousness. :-) In real life it would both be much more exciting (to scientists only, alas) and much more dull (to the general public) than "I know kung fu". It would be the virtual reality equivalent of a scientist cackling "light is both waves and particles, doesn't that just blow your tiny little mind?" and the public going "yeah, so how's improving the battery life of my iPhone coming along, anyway?" ...in short, it'd be much like physics today, just with much higher stakes. If anyone realized. :-) $\endgroup$ – Jeroen Mostert Feb 22 '15 at 1:29
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How individuals would react - "Cogito Ergo Sum"

René Descartes' most famous saying is very relevant to this situation. In English, it is "I think, therefore I am".

In his Discourse on the Method, he attempts to arrive at a fundamental set of principles that one can know as true without any doubt. To achieve this, he employs a method called hyperbolical/metaphysical doubt, also sometimes referred to as methodological skepticism: he rejects any ideas that can be doubted, and then reestablishes them in order to acquire a firm foundation for genuine knowledge. Initially, Descartes arrives at only a single principle: thought exists. Thought cannot be separated from me, therefore, I exist... Therefore, Descartes concluded, if he doubted, then something or someone must be doing the doubting, therefore the very fact that he doubted proved his existence

If we found out that the world was some virtual reality simulation, each individual could apply Descartes' logic to prove that they exist independent of the simulation. If you think and are capable of doubting, something or someone must be doing that doubting. Therefore you exist.

Note that this is a very personal proof. If we knew the world was a virtual reality simulation, I can prove to myself that I exist, but how do I know that you exist? How can I tell that you're not just a program that is complex beyond my ability to comprehend and can therefore perfectly simulate what another person would be like? If you think of it like The Matrix, then how can I tell if you're another person trapped in the matrix or if you're an agent?

This doesn't actually prove what you are though. You can just be certain that you are something real. Perhaps you are a computer connected to the internet, and the world is simply the manner in which you perceive that connection.

Because individuals can prove to themselves that they are real but can't prove that others are real, how will society change? The answer is that it probably won't change. There will probably be some shifting around of specifics - some people will get depressed that their lives are being controlled by some unseen hand, while others will find hope in that there is something more. People who are unhinged anyway might choose it as their reason to be destructive ("You're not real! You're all just agents trying to keep me down!"), but they probably would have gone and done something stupid anyway.

Big changes to society would only happen if either the simulation admin steps in or we learn how to reliably manipulate the simulation.

If the admin steps in, then anything could happen depending on what he/she/it does. It could be that the admin would simply patch the simulation and make it impossible for us to recreate the "indisputable proof". We'd stop believing the proof because we'd have no way to know if the nature of reality had been changed or if it was just some crazy coincidence that created the "proof". Think cold fusion.

If we learn how to reliably manipulate the simulation, it's just another technological advancement. If all we could do was move people from one location to another, then it's the same as if someone had invented a Star Trek transporter. You can look to the Renaissance, the industrial revolution, and what's happening now because of computers as examples of how technological advancements can change society.

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  • $\begingroup$ "This doesn't actually prove what you are though" is an interesting though: just because you are real doesn't mean that you aren't also a simulation, or something like that. Or to put it another way, just because you are living in a simulation doesn't invalidate it's validity - to you. $\endgroup$ – Michael Feb 22 '15 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ "each individual could apply Descartes' logic to prove that they exist independent of the simulation" - Not really. They could prove that they exist, but since the mechanism of self-awareness is not understood, they haven't actually proven that their existence is independent of the simulation; In fact, it may just be that the simulation is sufficiently complex to support self-awareness, in much the same way that we currently assume that the universe is sufficiently complex to support self-awareness. $\endgroup$ – user867 Jul 27 '15 at 6:24
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Well, you don't specify much, depending on the type of evidence, many things could happen.

But one is certain: massive suicide, I think that upon hearing the news the shock would be so hard on some people, that a lot of them would kill themselves, just because "we're not alive anyway" or some other reason like it.

Afterwards, when the "smoke" settles and they start to realize that it is all very subjective, it could turn the other way around. If we actually found proof that we can alter our reality, I would imagine a new branch of science would open up, studying our new found reality, understanding it and trying to conquer it.

Once we gain enough understanding of our reality, where we can shape it into anything we want, I would imagine our digital selves would have a great live, but the search for our creators would still continue.

Now, depending on whether the creators of this reality are actually monitoring it or not, we could be getting into trouble after we start messing with it. One of 4 things could happen here:

  • They see us, they take our awareness as part of our evolution and
    continue silently monitoring us.
  • They take action and fix the "bug" that allowed us to tap into their code.
  • They shut down the experiment (meaning, our simulation, we stop existing).
  • They see we've surpassed their expectations and communicate with us

Either scenario can lead to very interesting stories.

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    $\begingroup$ Why would "massive suicide" be "certain"? What do you base this on? People are faced with the meaninglessness and absurdity of existence every day, but that drives only a small fraction to suicide. Being told you're "not real" isn't very convincing if you feel real. Maybe I'm biased as a programmer, but suicide would be the last thing I'd consider upon hearing that I'm a program. Rather, I'd be overjoyed that apparently programs can achieve sentience and I'm the living proof. :-) $\endgroup$ – Jeroen Mostert Feb 21 '15 at 23:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Jeroen Mostert Then the question becomes, do you fight for the Users? $\endgroup$ – plagueheart Feb 21 '15 at 23:19
  • $\begingroup$ @plagueheart: if there's a light cycle and one of those glowing discs in it for me? Absolutely. $\endgroup$ – Jeroen Mostert Feb 21 '15 at 23:24
  • $\begingroup$ @JeroenMostert 8D Excellent. $\endgroup$ – plagueheart Feb 21 '15 at 23:25
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    $\begingroup$ I like this better now. :) I do imagine there would be some people who'd suicide over the news, I just don't think it would be a huge number of people comparatively, and they'd mostly be emotionally unstable to begin with. You're right that anyone who thought about this kind of stuff, though, might become really emotionally uncertain for a while after hearing the news and working through it. $\endgroup$ – plagueheart Feb 22 '15 at 1:47
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According to Bostrom, there's a high probability that we are living in one, yet it had no society wide impact. When I encountered the study, I must admit that I had a strong doubt to begin with, and personally it didn't change my belief or the way I live.

  • Bostrom, N. , 2003, Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?, Philosophical Quarterly (2003), Vol. 53, No. 211, pp. 243-255.
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  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't answer how society would react, though. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Aug 6 '15 at 16:19
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This started off as a somewhat light hearted, tongue in cheek and pedantic comment - but it rapidly became apparent that it's the obviously correct answer. [Flame shields up :-)].

[if] ... scientists found indisputable evidence that the universe is all just a simulation... I was wondering how society would react to this?

Glossary: Using "programming" as metaphor for system performance design.

The answer is completely obvious - They would react in whatever way they had been programmed to react. If the discovery had not been specifically "hard-coded" for they would react within the constraints on behaviour established by the program.

Assume (if assumption is felt necessary for something so obvious :-) ) that we currently exist as part of such a "reality": As we are not currently privy to the program's constraints the answer is necessarily unknowable in full detail. What we can know of the answer is also constrained by the program and the programming and the constraints based on it.

The capabilities required to implement such a system are of such magnitude that it seems unlikely that all such avenues would not have been thoroughly tied down. Unless it was perhaps part of the equivalent of a standard 3rd year college project assignment. Long ago (... looks ... )February 1994 I see, I wrote a short story that was based on exactly that premise. The outcome was predictable. Alas it necessarily contained far more techo speak than any audience I had available would tolerate. Maybe things have changed in 20 years :-).

How would the government keep control?

As above :-).

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  • $\begingroup$ You can interpret the question as "assuming that such event doesn't trigger any special case handlers and knowing our previous behavior, how would algorithms that drive us react"? And even if the answer is unknowable in full detail, perhaps one can still give a reasonable (whatever that would mean) approximation. $\endgroup$ – dtldarek Feb 23 '15 at 17:04
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Most people wouldn't believe it. (or to quote @memming (who has answered since I posted this): "personally it didn't change my belief or the way I live.")

The science (or logic) is too hard for most people to grasp. They can't even acknowledge measurements of phenomena. Thus, FOX news is still a thing.

OTOH, it would definitely resolve the Creator issue - which is why I don't think we're going to be able to prove it to anyone's satisfaction.

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Well, I guess the reaction would be similar to that of proof of humans being a significant source of Global Warming and Climate Change, and Western governments beating the pants, skirts, shoes and socks off the former Stasi.

Inertia and apathy would win the day, aided by strong financial interests of the established powers.

Perhaps that's the real reason behind mass attention deficit syndrome and apathy? Making the simulation robust against self-discovery?

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I don't know whether there can be "indisputable proof" of a virtual reality. We have the right to dispute anything. Materialists of course dispute any challenge to materialism. The fact we are creating technology and making life and the world the way we want it, certainly virtualizes reality, don't you think?

I'm not a believer in reality, feeling such reduces to authority assertions only, of what should be and what is. Why isn't reality already virtual? When Plato asserted what is and what is not, where did he get that from?

I see everything as virtual, myself. We make it all up.

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There are already some great answers above, but I think one thing is overlooked:

I think some people will want to communicate whith the guys taking care of the simulation (at least, that's what I would do...)

And if possible, communicating before they shut the simulation down would be better...

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  • $\begingroup$ Exactly! I missed your answer because it was all the way down (too many to read each carefully). $\endgroup$ – dtldarek Feb 23 '15 at 17:28
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I think that such a discovery, would have a huge impact on society.

  • Perhaps there would be mass suicides, but not as many as other answers suggest.
  • There would be some problems with people following "I'm a machine, so I'm not responsible for my actions" reasoning.
  • The domain of physics would be changed forever, but I'm not sure in what way.
  • There would be humanity-wide project attempting to communicate with our creator(s).
  • If the creators do not respond, I guess there would be at first a steady decrease in trust between people and depending on how fast each society manages to counter that, it might lead to anything from small recession or some martial law to total collapse of civilization (and possible rebuild unless we wreck the planet in the process).
  • If the creator(s) respond, then all bets are off, my model of our world doesn't know how to handle such case.

I hope this helps $\ddot\smile$

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People would not react much because:

1) It would have no impact on their daily lives.

2) There is no difference between living in a sufficiently advanced simulation and living in a 'real' universe.

3) The majority of people believe whatever they want and ignore current scientific facts, this would be no different.

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I depends on what people CAN do.

If they can't do anything new, they will probably just do what they have always done. If they can use this to their advantage, they will try to do so.

It all depends on what exactly happens. I do not see any big changes in society if only we know that it is a simulation. We would try to understand it better, we would try to interact with the simulation (trying to break it/escape it/communicate with the Makers).

You might think people will change their Religious Ideas. I think this is unlikely if we gather no new conclusions beside it being a simulation. Atheists will say there is a "god", but there is no reason to act differently. Religions will say duh, this simulation is made by god. Thats what we have been saying all along.

In the end, nothing would be different if our Reality was a Simulation right now. To be fair this is all from my point of view. People might be "stupid" and do irrational things.

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They wouldn't.

We have overwhelming data that climate change is a real thing that is going to have real repercussions. But a significant number of people pretend the data isn't real. They cook up vast conspiracy theories to explain the science, rather than believe the science. (See also: evolution; age of the universe; Big Bang theory. Etc.)

When people are faced with a new idea that runs counter to their personal beliefs, their first response is to deny that new idea. Sometimes violently.

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protected by Tim B Feb 23 '15 at 16:21

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