My wrist is still in pain, so I will have a brief post today and then wait until I review Ancient Aliens on Friday to write again so that I can give it some time to heal. (I will have a special brief post Friday morning, so stay tuned.) Today, I’d like to talk a bit about some weird speculation that occurred at the Cucalorus Connect festival at the University of North Carolina Wilmington this past weekend. At the festival, two professors entertained the possibility that we are living inside a computer simulation. So far, so boring. But when it came time for computer science professor Curry Guinn to provide some evidence for the speculation, he first reached for an argument from authority—Elon Musk believes it!—and then turned to the paranormal, according to WRAL.
“[Julian] Keith talked about the science of the mind,[”] Curry said. “I’m going to be a bit more speculative. We may be actually living in a computer simulation. I’m not the only one who says this. Elon Musk of Telsa and Space X has said there is a billion to one chance we are living in a computer simulation.” […]
Regardless of how much credence you give the philosophical argument for a simulated reality, I have trouble with advocates turning to fake science to support it. Since there is no evidence for ghosts, no compelling proof of ESP, and no statistical evidence for an anomalous number of coincidences (whose meaning, incidentally, is subjective to the observer), the supernatural evidence for “glitches” in the simulation is non-existent, no more compelling than claiming that witchcraft, lycanthropy, and blood-drinking corpses—all onetime beliefs with exactly as much evidence in their favor—prove an occult layer beneath consensus reality. It is, however, part of a disturbing trend that New Age folk mythology is increasingly assumed true by dint of the generation that grew up exposed to midcentury pseudoscience aging into power and repeating faulty claims for each generation that followed. Today’s kids are the fourth generation (if you believe that numerological pseudoscience, invented only three decades ago) to grow up soaked in such claims since their revival in the 1960s, and they have now taken on the hallowed air of legitimacy for being older than their grandparents.
There must also be some deeper sociological meaning to the prevalence of alternate realities in today’s philosophy and entertainment. Since Fringe introduced its alternate worlds a decade ago, the theme has exploded across the media, and I can’t imagine that the popularity of simulated reality and multiverse quasi-scientific speculation is unrelated. How many TV shows, movies, comic books, etc. use this theme? It has been percolating in literature and the arts for a few decades (comics loved it to reset continuity, and Sliders made a fetish of it), but I can’t recall a time when there were so many multiverses and parallel worlds depicted in every form of media. A decade ago, fears of cultural decay and invasion manifested as an obsession with zombies, and now we have a desire to escape from what Community once called “the darkest timeline.” Ours isn’t really that dark—it’s not The Man in the High Castle’s Nazi world, for example—but there seems to be a fatalism in our culture that now believes a better world is beyond the reach and power of this one, to be found only by fleeing the accursed darkness rather lighting a candle.
I imagine that the joy people like Guinn seem to take in concluding that reality is fictitious is related to the almost Gnostic desire to see the world and its injustices as evil and false, and to believe that a better world waits for us.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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