“Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”, as the famous song starts, but could it be just a fantasy? Could we all be living in a simulated reality?

It’s certainly a possibility that Tesla & Space X CEO, Elon Musk, believes we cannot dismiss.

Elon Musk took to the stage this week at Recode to talk about the Space X plan to send a one-way rocket to Mars in 2018, but when asked about whether we could all be living in a computer generated simulation, Elon was open to the fact that it could be entirely possible.

Many of us would have first been introduced to the idea that everything we see as ‘reality’ is really just some complex computer simulation in the film The Matrix. If you’ve not seen it (where have you been by the way?) Neo is freed from the ‘dream world’ which is perceived as reality by everyone. This reality is really just a simulated reality called “the Matrix”, created by sentient machines to subdue humanity. But this is by no means the first time that the idea of ‘simulated reality’ has been discussed.

ICYMI, Plato talks about the idea of a potentially simulated reality in his work The Republic. Written in around 380 BC The Republic is a Socratic dialogue about the order and character of the just city state and the just man, but in this Plato writes that reality may be no more than shadows in a cave but the human species, having never left the cave, may not be aware of it.

So this is a long running debate and its clear why Musk and his brother have “finally agreed that we would ban such conversations if we were ever in a hot tub”.

The Argument for Simulated Reality

According to Musk the strongest argument for us probably being in a simulation centres around our own technological growth.

In 1972 Atari released Pong. With 2 rectangles and a dot you essentially played tennis. Fast forward to 2016 and we now have photo realistic simulations with millions of people playing together across the globe via the web. The scope, size and graphics of these games are getting bigger and better year on year. We’re now also exploring VR with devices like Oculus Rift and even Augmented Reality, where you can touch and feel the virtual environment around you.

As Musk says,” If you assume any rate of improvement at all (in these technologies), then the games will become indistinguishable from reality”. Now were getting into the realms of another sci-fi movie, Inception. A simulation within a simulation. Wait have we just explored parallel universes?

On any timeline, if the games we create go on to become so realistic that they are indistinguishable from reality, and they are playable on any device by billions of people, it would seem to follow that the odds that we are in base reality is 1 in billions.

Is that a terrifying future? Likely not, because such simulations are necessary for society to evolve and exist. But as technology we create, such as Harvard’s Odyssey computer that can create 14 billion simulated years of cosmic evolution just in three months, and the Teslasuit with let you touch a VR world, we could get there quicker than we think?

So stop. Look around you. Are you such everything is real? Or not? Whether you consider the idea or not, either way it’s an interesting philosophical argument. Watch Elon Musk’s answer in the video below and make up your own mind.