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Are We Living In Nick Bostrom’s Speculation?

Danila Medvedev




The rapid development of computing technologies can make

possible realistic computer simulations inhabited with
intelligent humans. The Simulation Argument, proposed by Nick
Bostrom[1] in the article Are You Living In a Computer
Simulation, states that if such simulations will be created by us
or our descendants, then we almost certainly live in a computer
simulation. This paper analyses serious mathematical and
logical errors in the Simulation Argument. It follows that the
Simulation Argument is incorrect and the reality of our world
remains a question of individual beliefs.

I. Introduction

The idea that our world might be a computer simulation is a

relatively recent one. The first ideas of full reality simulation
appeared only about 20 years ago. In 1989 Jaron Lanier coined
the term «virtual reality», but only since 1990s it became
conceivable that a whole world could be simulated. Computer
games, especially 3D ones, such as Doom, Quake and many
more recent titles, showed how the world (or at least a large part
of it) could be recreated on the computer monitor. Several
science fiction movies made in the end of 1990s and in the
beginning of the 21st century elaborated on these ideas,
developing some of the philosophical consequences of
simulations and, more importantly, communicating them to the
wide audience for the first time.

• Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes), 1997 [2] — The main
character in this movie signed a contract with a cryonics
company. After his death his body was frozen and his
mind placed into a computer simulation. In this story, the
personalities of all humans are simulated only to the extent
necessary for their interactions with the main character.
For example, one of the secondary characters, a
psychiatrist, has two daughters, but does not know their
• Dark City, 1998 [13] — This movie was also a mystery
thriller, hence it showed a more mystical picture of the
world and never explained the mechanism of the
simulation. However, it led to the Matrix and The
Thirteenth Floor films, which developed the idea of world
simulation more rigorously and in more details.
• The Matrix, 1999[2] [8] — In this film most of the humans are
connected to the large computer simulation (the Matrix)
from birth, but they do not know about it, unless someone
from outside the simulation can tell them the truth. The
machines that run the simulation can make arbitrary
changes to the simulation in real-time. Humans from the
real world can be inserted into the simulation as new
people. The Matrix became the first widely known film
about simulation and it introduced many people to the
ideas of simulated realities for the first time.
• The Thirteenth Floor, 1999 [13] — This movie introduced the
idea of nested simulations and travel from one level to
another. A simulation of the early 20th century city is
developed in a computer company (in the end of 20th
century). It turns out later that the real world is in fact also
a simulation, run from what appears to be 21st or 22nd
century. Characters can enter the simulation (or exit it)
only by being inserted into the body of existing human.
• Vanilla Sky, 2001 [15] — This is an American remake of
Abre lost ojos. The story has not changed much and basic
scientific and philosophical premises behind the story are
also the same.
An interesting theme that is present in The Thirteenth Floor, The
Matrix and Dark City is the idea of limited size of the simulated
world and of people coming to the literal end of the world (also
happens in The Truman Show, 1998) and perceiving the limits.

In addition to being presented in popular culture, these ideas are

being pursued by professional philosophers now. The
philosophical ideas behind The Matrix are further developed in
the “Philosophy of the Matrix” section of the film website [12].
But the most profound development related to these ideas was
the controversial theory, known as the Simulation Argument.

The main idea of the Simulation Argument, as proposed by Nick

Bostrom [1] is that “if we don’t think that we are currently
living in a computer simulation, we are not entitled to believe
that we will have descendants who will run lots of such
simulations of their forebears.”

This idea was further developed in the works of Robin Hanson

and Barry Dainton. In his paper How to Live in a Simulation [7]
Hanson gives some recommendations on optimal behaviour for
people who believe that they might be living in a simulation.
Unfortunately, his ideas are based on the wrong premises (as
will be shown in this paper) and his suggestions are far from
rational and effective. For example, at one place Hanson
speculates that “simulations [might] tend to be ended when
enough people in them become confident enough that they live
in a simulation” and therefore “you might want to prevent too
many others learning that they live in a simulation” [7]. This is
nothing more than a random speculation, demonstrating
disregard for likelihood, internal consistency and rationality of
the hypotheses. It could very well be possible that when enough
people realise that they live in a simulation, they will be taken to
the real world and simulation will be stopped. Later Hanson
suggests that seeking people who might be visitors from the
outside and making them interested in you can be beneficial. He
completely ignores a just as likely possibility that our world is a
GTA[3]-like game. Such speculations clearly have no use
except to satisfy people’s curiosity and entertain them.

In Innocence Lost: Simulation Scenarios: Prospects and

Consequences [2] Barry Dainton introduces several new
concepts, such as different modes of virtual life. Then he makes
the simulation argument in a way similar to Are You Living In a
Computer Simulation?, making the same mistakes. In the end of
the article he discusses several possible ethical arguments
against our simulation:

1. The Objection from Lesser Value — simulations should

not be created because life in a simulation is inherently
worse than life in reality.
2. The Deception Objection — simulations should not be
created because it involves mass deception.
3. The Self-Interest Consideration — simulations should be
prohibited to be sure that you are not in a simulation
The first two arguments are worth considering, but the last one
is clearly invalid, as it also suffers from the causation error and
circular reasoning fallacy.

The simulation argument is closely related to one of the

fundamental questions of philosophy — the choice between two
alternative world views, materialism and idealism. The
distinctive feature of the simulation argument is that some of its
aspects are materialistic and some agree with objective idealism.
In particular, the idealistic concept of the first cause reflects the
start of the simulation by its creators and the concepts of “ideas”
or “ideal numbers” corresponds with the simulation as a
computer program. The materialistic beliefs that the world is
understandable and that our senses reflect the reality accurately
are wrong. Simulation “is the world that has been pulled over…
[man’s] eyes to blind… [him] from the truth” [8].

It can be said that overall the metaphysical nature of the

simulation, as observed by its inhabitants is mostly idealistic. At
the same time, from the point of view of the creators of the
simulation, its nature is materialistic. The consciousness (and
intelligence) of a simulated human is the emerging property of
computer components, highly organised by means of complex
software programs. The base reality itself (and therefore the
metaverse) can be materialistic in nature.

Unfortunately, all papers on the topic of simulation argument

listed above contain a number of similar errors, namely circular
reasoning, auto-reference, ignoring observational bias, causality
errors and disregard for the control of the simulation by its
creators. The existing critique of the simulation argument
usually ignores the most serious errors and concentrates on
particularities. The level of logical argumentation is usually low.
I was not able to find any articles with a comprehensive analysis
of the simulation argument.

In this paper I provided a detailed analysis of the simulation

argument, demonstrated the logical errors in the original
reasoning, suggested several alternatives to the simulation ideas.
I also examined the ethical principles of posthuman civilisations
in regards to running simulations and formulated several
hypotheses about these principles that are not dependent on
qualities of our own civilisation.

Based on the conducted analysis it can be concluded that the

simulation argument is wrong. It seems to be impossible to
avoid logical mistakes made by Bostrom. It has to be admitted
that the reality of our world is still the matter of individual
belief. At the same time, the reality of our world does not
impose any limitations on the prospects of technological
development, the possibility of reaching the posthuman stage
and creating ancestor simulations.
In the first part of this paper I provide a summary of the original
paper by Nick Bostrom and list the tacit assumptions of the
simulation argument.

In the second part I examine the main formula for calculating

the probability of living a simulation is and demonstrate
calculation errors made by Bostrom.

In the third part I discuss the logical mistakes in the simulation

argument. In this part I also demonstrate the inconsistency
between Bostrom’s arguments and the scientific approach.

In the fourth part I give independent arguments against us living

in a simulation that are not related to the errors in the original

In the last part I comment on Bostrom’s original interpretation

of the simulation argument. I propose the idea that simulations
are fully controlled by the creators.


In this paper a number of special terms related to the problem of

world simulations are used. Terms suggested by other authors
are used in their original meanings.

Posthuman civilisation — a civilisation of human descendants,

who were changed to the degree when they no longer can be
considered humans. A posthuman civilisation would probably
possess advanced computational technologies, nanotechnology,
strong AI technologies and many others.

Simulation — a computer program modelling in some form the

intelligence and/or consciousness of one or several people, as
well as a physical environment that they can interact with.
Realistic simulations model the environment similar to the real
Ancestor simulation — a simulation of a part of past human

Base civilisation — a civilisation that exists in the real world

and not in the simulation.

First-level simulation — a simulation run by the base


Parent civilisation (with respect to some simulation) — the

civilisation that runs this simulation.

Metaverse — a hypothetical set of all existing universes. This

set includes all basic realities, as well as all simulations run
from any of the universes (both real and simulated) in this set.

II. Overview of the original article

In the first part of the paper (The Assumption of Substrate-

Independence), Bostrom describes the prerequisites for the
simulation argument. He first outlines the assumption of
substrate-independence, the idea that “it is not an essential
property of consciousness that it is implemented on carbon-
based biological neural networks inside a cranium” and “that
mental states can supervene on any of a broad class of physical
substrates” [1]. Although no references are provided and the
issue is not discussed at length, it appears consistent with
current scientific paradigms in the computer science and
biological sciences. There have been some opposition to this
idea from Roger Penrose [7] and a few other authors, who
suggested that consciousness is possible because of specific
quantum mechanisms in the human brain that cannot be
reproduced on other substrates, but these ideas are not accepted
by most of the scientists in these fields.

In the next section (The Technological Limits of Computation),

Bostrom gives a detailed analysis of the computational
requirements for the simulation of human mind and entire
civilisations. The most important indicators are the following:

• Computational complexity of the human brain: ~1016—1017

operations per second.
• Maximum human sensory input: ~108 bits per second.
• Computational cost of the realistic simulation of human
history: ~1033—1036 operations.
• Computational power of a nanotech-based computer: 1021
operations per second per cm3.
• Maximum computational power per 1 kg of mass: 5*1050
operations per second.
The estimates he provides appear sound and well-grounded.

It must be noted, however, that this analysis is irrelevant to the

simulation argument. As will be explained later, only capacities
of the base civilisation are significant. If we assume that we
might live in a computer simulation, only the capacities of the
parent civilisations are important, but there is no way to
determine them.

In the main section (The Core of the Simulation Argument),

Bostrom suggests a formula for calculating the probability for a
random person to live in a simulation. He concludes that at least
one of the following propositions must be true[4]:

• Share of civilisations that reach posthuman stage is close to

• Share of posthuman civilisations that are interested in running
ancestor-simulations is close to zero.
• The majority of people live in one of the simulations.
There are a number of serious mathematical errors in this
section. In addition, Bostrom makes several unwarranted
assumptions about variables used in these formulas. A detailed
explanation of these errors will be provided in part 3 of this

In the next section (A Bland Indifference Principle), Bostrom

explains and justifies the logic behind his calculations and
attempts to show that selecting a human from our world can be
considered random for the purposes of the simulation argument.
It is in this section that the major errors are made, including
using a false analogy in the example about DNA. Part 4 of this
paper deals with the reasoning errors in the simulation
argument, uncovering a fallacy of circular reasoning and other
mistakes. Additionally, in part 5 several reasons are given
against simulating a world similar to our own.

Finally in the last section (Interpretation), Bostrom gives various

explanations for the formulas derived in the main section. The
main mistake done there is ignoring the fundamental difference
of the simulations — that they are primarily governed by the
simulators and only secondary by various laws designed for the
simulation. In part 6, the errors in the interpretation are

Necessary assumptions

The original paper introduced certain basic ideas about

substrate-independence and computation possibilities, but failed
to mention necessary philosophical and world view assumptions
necessary for the simulation argument. Below, I try to provide
the most important hypotheses that should be true in order for
the simulation argument to be valid and logical.

1) There is a basic reality. Without it, the whole discussion

about realities and simulations would be pointless. We must also
note that assumption about reality existence is on a level similar
to the question of whether our universe is real or just a

2) It is possible to run a world simulation inside a reality. In

the original article this hypothesis was just taken for granted by
the author without even mentioning it. However we do not have
sufficient experience with simulations to be able to prove that a
simulation indistinguishable from the reality can be created at
all. The best simulations to date are modern computer games
and movies, but even the most advanced of them are only
partially realistic. Bostrom refers to the works of Drexler and
Kurzweil, but these authors mostly discuss the technical aspects
of reality simulations and not philosophical aspects of such

3) There are no simulation cycles, where some sequence of

nested simulations ends up with the original reality or part
of it. If cycles were possible we would be left without real
criteria for defining the world a simulation. Moreover, in such a
case our conception of reality would be shattered strongly
enough to make the simulation argument irrelevant.

4) The complexity of the simulation is less than the

complexity of the parent universe. This follows from the
mathematical principles of information encoding. The
importance of this assumption is that it leads to objective
differences between simulation on different nesting levels and
between simulations and reality.

5) The laws of logic and mathematics are absolute. If it is not

so, than it might be possible that the law of excluded third and
other laws of logic are false in our universe and simulation
argument (just like any other argument) is inherently invalid. It
must be noted that it is entirely possible to run a simulation
where logic does not work from a logical world.

6) There are a finite number of simulations. The simulation

argument relies heavily on calculations of probabilities and
average values for all universes. If there are an infinite number
of simulations (or an infinite number of universes), such
calculations are no longer valid.

Additionally, the simulation argument implies several less

general assumptions about the metaverse.

1. The base reality contains at least one human civilisation.

2. A human civilisation has non-zero probability of
becoming a posthuman civilisation. (No distinction is
made in simulation argument between those civilisations
that can become posthuman and those that cannot.)
3. A posthuman civilisation has non-zero chances to launch
at least one simulation.

III. Calculation errors in the original paper

In addition to the logical weaknesses, the formulas that are used

to calculate probability of living in a simulation have various
errors and shortcomings. Some of them are not very important
and do not affect the reasoning, while others are more serious.

Infinite universes

One minor error in the formulas concerns a possibility of

infinite number of civilisations. Frank Tipler [10] have shown
how infinite computational capacity can be possible near the
Omega Point, a hypothetical point prior to the Big Crunch
(collapse of the Universe). Other scientists [16] extended this
theory to the possibility of thermal death of the Universe
(another possible outcome — the infinite expansion). If infinite
computational capacity is possible, all variables used in the main
formula ( fP, and ) are invalid. This does not invalidate the
simulation argument, as the formula can easily be expanded to
cover the case of infinite number of simulations, but it might
affect some of the corollary arguments. A stronger objection is
the possibility of multiple universes in reality (not being
simulations) or multiple human civilisations in the base physical
universe. This leads to a wide range of possibilities, such as:

• The posthuman stage will only start after most of the human
civilisations on different planets meet together (see below
the arguments about posthuman stage being in the far
future). This allows a larger number of real humans than in
the case of one real civilisation and the same number of
simulated realities.
• Depending on the nature of the multiple universes, the
difference between civilisations simulated in different
universes might be negligible (see below arguments about
identical people in simulations), while the difference
between real civilisations in different universes is large
enough. By considering several simulations to be just
instances of the same one we reduce the number of
simulated humans. Real humans, on the other hand, are
still different in different universes.
Another aspect of using average values that Bostrom ignores is
that different civilisations are in different positions. If additional
assumptions listed above are valid (especially the one about
decreasing complexity of nested simulations), then those
civilisations that are “deeply” simulated (simulated in a
simulation in a simulation etc.) are less likely to reach a
posthuman stage (and therefore run simulations themselves). In
this case, using an average value of fP is misleading, because
there can be observable signs in the world indicating that the
civilisation is likely to be deeply simulated. We can speculate
that our ability to think about creating simulations is an
indicator that we are closer to reality (how close and whether we
actually are in reality is, of course, uncertain). Thisisanargument
(althoughnotadecidingone) againstindifferenceprinciple.

Number of individuals

Special attention must be paid to calculating the number of

individuals with human experiences (). It is possible that even
though the raw number of simulated people is large, the number
of unique simulated people will be much smaller. There is also a
possibility that a significant fraction of simulated people is
fundamentally different from us by lacking self-consciousness.

Identical people

In his paper, Bostrom does not mention any reasons for running
an ancestor simulation, taking the desire to do it for granted.
This lack of specific reasons given for running a simulation
means that currently no specific requirements for the
simulations are known. Thus it is entirely possible a posthuman
civilisation that will run many simulations will use identical
people for these simulations.

The possibility of having identical people in different

simulations raises a lot of questions. This is a serious
complication, because the issue of identity is far from simple
even in more basic cases. There can be strong arguments both
for regarding them as a single person and against it.

These people can have similar, indiscernible or even completely

identical personalities. The same can be said about their
experiences. The simulation rules, governing accumulation and
propagation of changes in time can be designed for the
convenience of the people running the simulation. There is no
reason why in a simulation dedicated to the medieval Japan
people in the rest of the world and in other epochs must be
different from people in other simulations.

The consequences of this possibility for the simulation argument

are not obvious. It is not clear whether these people should be
regarded as individuals or simply as instances of one individual.
In the latter case the total number of simulated individuals ever
can be comparable with the number of real individuals in the
base reality. This in turn means that fsim can attain a large value,
such as 0.5.

Non-conscious people

Another possibility that affects the simulation argument is

simulating non-conscious people. This can be done for ethical
reasons, because simulating a real world (supposedly similar to
our human history) necessarily causes harm and suffering for
simulated people. It can be argued that posthuman civilisations
will have a deep respect for conscious entities in any form and
are unlikely to cause suffering to them unless absolutely

These non-conscious people may nevertheless be intelligent. Or

they may be controlled by the central simulation program and
have no individual intelligence whatsoever. Bostrom discusses
this possibility, saying “The rest of humanity would then be
zombies or ‘shadow-people’ — humans simulated only at a
level sufficient for the fully simulated people not to notice
anything suspicious.” He talks about this only in relation to the
“me-simulations”, where a small number of people are fully
simulated and the rest are “shadow-people”. He then goes on to
say that this option can be safely ignored because the number of
people in full ancestor-simulation is necessarily much bigger, as
each one probably includes billions of people.

Bostrom mentions only one possible reason for creation of

“shadow-people” — that they might be “…cheaper… to
simulate than real people”. He completely ignores the ethical
aspect, which will undoubtedly be more important for the
posthuman civilisation than the material aspects. There exists a
real possibility that simulations with “shadow-people” may be
sufficient for all practical purposes and that posthuman
civilisation will not want to fully simulate real conscious people.
The main criteria for allowing the simulation will be the ability
of the simulated entity to have subjective experiences, including
ability to feel pain and suffering. If that is the case, then the fact
that we have conscious experiences proves that we most likely
do not live in a simulation.

Errors in the formula

First, it should be noted that most of the adjustments to the

formulas used in the original argument do not help to avoid
circular reasoning and other logical errors. Therefore, only most
important comments are given about the formulas in this paper.

Bostrom provides the following formula for calculating the

share of people living in a simulation:

where fP — is the fraction of all human-level technological

civilisations that survive to reach a posthuman stage, — is the
average number of ancestor-simulations run by a posthuman
civilisation and — is the average number of individuals that
have lived in a civilisation before it reaches a posthuman stage.

Bostrom claims that fsim — is “the actual fraction of all observers

with human-type experiences that live in simulations” [1], but
he is obviously mistaken. The formula, as it is written, makes
practically no sense. The numerator is equal to the average
number of people simulated by one civilisation and not to the
total number of simulated people (by all civilisations in the
metaverse). The denominator makes no mathematical sense but
it is similar to the average number of people living in a
civilisation and one level below (in simulations run in this
civilisation). Evidently, the value of fP will usually be very close
to 1, because


CPH — number of posthuman civilisations, Csim — number of


Therefore the value of fsim, calculated using the formula (1), will
be in most cases extremely close to 0.5, which obviously
contradicts Bostrom’s conclusions.

The first necessary change is adding the total number of

civilisations C to the formula:


The next problem is that the in the denominator of the formula

(1) is a wrong value for the number of individuals that have
lived in a base civilisation before it reaches a posthuman stage.
This is a specific number that has nothing whatsoever in
common with the average value for all civilisations in the
metaverse. Therefore the next change is a replacement of with
the new variable Hbase, the number of people that lived in the
base civilisation before it reached the posthuman stage:


A similar problem is that the number of simulations that the

base civilisation runs is probably different from the average as
well. An additional variable Nbase should be added. Assuming
that the number of individuals in the first-level simulations is
similar to the average for the simulations, the following change
should be made:


This formula is more correct than the one suggested by

Bostrom.However, even with all these changes there is still one
fundamental problem with the formula. The fP variable is
completely irrelevant for the base civilisation. As will be shown
later, the base civilisation is governed by different laws than the
simulated civilisations. Since the transition to the posthuman
stage by the base civilisation is a non-repeating event, whose
outcome is already determined (although it usually cannot be
obtained from within a simulation) and which directly
corresponds with the nature of the reality (existence of the
metaverse). With regards to the base civilisation, instead of
fPprobability a different variable have to be used that takes on
the values of 0 (base civilisation reaches the posthuman stage
and, if Nbase>0, the metaverse exists) and 1 (base civilisation does
not reach the posthuman stage, there is no metaverse and we live
in the real world).

Using the “probability” term

In most of the paper, Bostrom uses the term probability, which
can be misleading for the reader. In my opinion, a better term
would be “degree of certainty”. It is more correct, because
Bostrom speaks not about repeating random events and finding
the outcome of the future test, but about deducing whether a
certain statement about already occurred event is true or not.
The degrees of certainty can also be calculated using probability
theory (if they conform to the Kolmogorov axioms), but the
transition from probabilities to degrees of certainty that Bostrom
makes when switching from calculating the probabilities in the
metaverse to applying the found values to our existence is, in
my opinion, not entirely correct.

It is also questionable to what extent the probabilities can be

calculated for the completely deterministic world, such as a
computer simulation that does not use any input from the real
world after it is launched.

Another problem with the use of the “probability” term is that it

implies that if the mathematical calculations are correct, then the
outcome is governed by these probabilities. “Degree of
certainty” term, on the other hand, better shows that the final
answer is very much dependent on the additional information
that might be missing (as is the case with other philosophical
speculations about the nature of our world). By using
probability theory, it is not possible to get any fundamentally
new information that was not available before (one can only
modify the form in which this information is presented),
therefore the answer depends very much on the assumptions
about the nature of the metaverse that we make (as will be
shown in the next section).

Possibility of nested simulations

Bostrom says: “It may be possible for simulated civilisations to

become posthuman. They may then run their own ancestor-
simulations on powerful computers they build in their simulated
universe.” [1, p. 9]. Bostrom does not speak about this before,
but his earlier calculations actually directly depend on this

Bostrom claims: “Therefore, if we don’t think that we are

currently living in a computer simulation, we are not entitled to
believe that we will have descendants who will run lots of such
simulations of their forebears.” [1]. But if there are no nested
simulations than it is only possible to have simulations in the
base reality and we arrive at completely opposite conclusion. In
this case if we believe that our descendants (or ourselves) will
run simulations, we live in the real world.

It therefore makes sense to examine the probable reasons that

may cause simulated civilisations to be unable to run their own
simulations or become posthuman. There are several such
reasons possible.

1. It might be too expensive to run a nested simulation

(running nested simulations can increase the
computational cost of the first-level simulation very
2. It might be technically impossible due to the laws of
nature in the simulation.
3. The parent civilisation may unobtrusively prohibit running
the nested simulation or even thinking about doing that.
Since the base reality civilisation will have complete
control over the simulation, it can easily do that. The base
reality civilisation may have no interest in having nested
simulations. Since the purposes of creating simulations are
to a large extent selfish, if creation of nested simulations
does not serve these purposes, the base civilisation will
have an option to prohibit that.
In addition to the reasons against allowing nested simulations,
there are reasons against running simulations of the posthuman
civilisations in general. They will be examined later.

IV. Reasoning errors in the original paper

The main mistakes in the Bostrom article are related to circular
reasoning, auto-reference, observational bias and causation
errors. To sum it in a few words, it is not correct to derive
anything from our experience if we live in a simulation.

Circular reasoning

If we do not live in a simulation, the whole logic of using fI or fP

is invalid, because fsim is precisely zero. We know that we do not
run any simulations and therefore whole argument is flawed.
This is a common logical fallacy, known as a circular
reasoning[5]. It was used, for example, by Rene Descartes to
construct an argument that God exists, known as the Cartesian
Circle [3].

One may object to this by saying that even if we do not run any
simulations today, there might be simulations run in the future
and they must be accounted for. Clearly such argument is
without merit. Taking into account future simulation not only
makes no sense (if we assume that we live in a real world, the
simulation argument is useless), but also violates several
important philosophical and physical principles. First, it violates
the causality rules by allowing future events to affect our present
world. Second, it ignores the fact that uncertainty principle in
the quantum mechanics makes future effectively non-
deterministic and it is impossible, neither practically, nor in
theory to predict what simulations will be run by us in the

We can conclude that all probabilities used (explicitly or

implicitly) in the simulation argument, including the probability
of our own particular experiences being “implemented in vivo
rather than in machina” [1], depend on the qualities of the base
civilisation and thus on whether we are the base civilisation or

Observational bias
In trying to guess the nature of the metaverse there is significant
inherent observational bias that must be accounted for. The
problem of the simulation argument is that many assumptions
are made about the metaverse and all simulations based on our
present experience and the qualities of our civilisation.

There is no way to predict with confidence what kind of

ancestor simulations we will create in our posthuman future. It
might be possible that the transition to posthumanity will only
happen in hundreds of thousands of years and most of the
simulations will cover 1000th century and beyond. It is entirely
possible that if extraterrestrials land on Earth and give us
everything necessary to become a posthuman civilisation, we
will all change ourselves to become alien posthumans (because
the knowledge and technologies are alien, not human). We will
then have no reason to create ancestor simulations that look like
our 20th or 21st century, instead we will create simulations of
alien ancestors. There are countless other possibilities.

It is even less possible to predict the nature of the base

civilisation if we are not it. We have as much chances doing it
correctly as a monster from Quake correctly guessing what kind
of world Quake was programmed in.

Bostrom indirectly assumes the existence of the metaverse and

then draws his conclusions about the probabilities, but the main
premise of metaverse existence is not proven. The main problem
of the simulation argument is that to know whether we live in a
simulation or not is important in order to define the rules of the
metaverse. This in turn is used to calculate the probabilities of
living in a simulation. But if the argument bases the conditions
of the experiment on its outcome, it cannot be valid.

If we live in a simulation, then we do not define the rules of the

metaverse. Then any arguments such as “there are certainly
many humans who would like to run ancestor-simulations if
they could afford to do so” [1] are flawed. The moral, the laws
of nature, the concepts of consciousness, everything is defined
by the original civilisation. And if we are not it, there is no way
we can be sure about anything in the metaverse.

The effects of observational bias are not discussed in the

original paper. Bostrom completely ignores the impossibility of
deducing the nature of the metaverse from within a simulation.

Unscientific approach

In addition to the logical mistakes described above, there can be

some confusion about what the simulation argument actually
proves. As was shown above, it necessarily makes the
assumption of metaverse existence. Therefore we can say that
the simulation argument helps to determine where (in a
simulation or in a real world) a random person is, given that his
world is a part of the metaverse. The simulation argument
cannot be used to tell whether the metaverse exists and therefore
does not provide even the slightest hint as to whether we live in
a simulation or not.

Even if our civilisation is likely to get capacity and desire to run

simulations in the future, it says absolutely nothing about our
own origin. To put this into perspective, there are many
alternative hypotheses about the origins of our world: creation
by one of many gods, the Big Bang, living in a simulation, etc.,
and simulation argument does not help to make a choice
between them.

While there is evidence to support some of these hypotheses

(most notably, the Big Bang), there is no evidence to support or
refute the simulation hypothesis. The only evidence available to
us at this time — the subjective experience of our existence in
this world — is predicted equally well by the hypothesis that we
live in a simulation, as it is by the hypothesis that we live in a
real world. Philosophy or science in general do not allow
unwarranted assumptions about the nature of the world. We can
only judge the validity of these hypotheses by accumulating
additional evidence, not by using preconceived ideas about the

There may be some possible ways to determine the nature of the

metaverse or to test whether we are in a simulation or not from
within a simulation. But it is also possible that such information
can only be introduced to our world externally (or cannot at all
if we are living in a real world). This is closely related to the
idea of auto-reference or the ability to independently and clearly
perceive yourself. A detailed explanation of the issues related to
auto-reference can be found in Gödel, Escher, Bach. The Eternal
Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter [5].

Another important implication of the scientific approach is that

untestable hypotheses should be ignored. S. Novella [13] asks
“What can a scientific sceptic say about such claims? Only that
they are outside the realm of science, and that science can have
only an agnostic view towards untestable hypotheses.” For this
reason whether we live in a simulation or not should be a matter
of personal belief, not scientific enquiry, unless additional
evidence is uncovered.

V. Arguments against the simulation hypothesis

In addition to uncovering logical errors with the simulation

argument, it makes sense to point out several factors that can
affect whether we live in a simulation or not. They all have in
common an assumption that our civilisation might have some
special qualities that are unlikely to be present in a simulated

There are no reasons to be sure that the suggestions listed below

are correct. Still, they are interesting, because they do not
depend on the characteristics of our reality and are determined
purely by universal qualities of a posthuman civilisation capable
of running simulations.

It is possible that our time is usually not particularly interesting

to simulate. There can be various reasons:
• globalised world is less interesting than national and local
• the 20th-21st century technological society is still too
primitive to be worth simulating
• simulating large populations have no real benefits as opposed
to smaller ones
• multi-cultural civilisations are too random and simulating
them has no practical purpose.
If any one of these reasons is valid, the fact that we live in early
21st century means that our world most likely is a real one.

Another very likely possibility is that posthumans do not run

simulations with conscious individuals for moral reasons (as
discussed earlier), instead replacing them with intelligent, but
non-conscious entities. In this case the fact that we are
conscious (apparently we do have subjective experiences)
proves that we are not in a simulation. As was said earlier,
Bostrom only discusses the possibility of “shadow-people”
being used in “me-simulations”, but he ignores that they may be
most practical for the “ancestor-simulations” as well.

It is interesting to mention the Self-Interest Consideration,

proposed by Barry Dainton. He makes a ridiculous suggestion
that civilisation may decide not to create simulations as if this
can have any effect on the nature of their own world, but he
ignores a very real possibility of certain motivation that would
prevent any posthuman civilisations from creating simulations
with conscious people.

There is a possibility that simulations of posthuman civilisations

(or posthuman individuals) are not interesting. The posthumans
are unlikely to be significantly influenced by the society and
may not have a society at all. That would remove one of the
main points of simulating a civilisation — observation and
analysis of group dynamics. Many posthumans in the real world
might live in personal simulations and simulated posthumans
are unlikely to be significantly different. Posthumans will also
be capable of travelling between metaverse levels, moving from
a simulation to a parent world and vice versa.

This possibility significantly reduces the total number of

simulated people by eliminating nested simulations (as shown
earlier). Additional ethical and other considerations can lead to a
ban on simulating civilisations capable of reaching
posthumanity (because those running a simulation would have
to actively interfere or terminate such simulation). In this the
case the fact that we can think about becoming posthumans and
are certainly moving in this direction is an indicator that we do
not live in a simulation.

Posthuman stage in the far future

Bostrom says “[the] simulation argument works equally well for

those who think that it will take hundreds of thousands of years
to reach a “posthuman” stage of civilisation”. But this is not the
case. The development of posthuman civilisation in the base
reality may take much longer than in a simulation, for example
because all simulations have accelerated scientific and
technological development for convenience of the observers. If
that is the case, the HBASE value (the number of people who lived
in the base civilisation before it reached the posthuman stage)
can be much greater than . That would force fsim, to be much
lower, making the probability of living in a real world much

VI. Errors: Interpretation of Simulation Argument

Laws governing the simulations

In his article Bostrom almost always ignores the distinctive

feature of a simulation. It can be expected that in most cases
those running the simulation will have a complete control over
it. This means that any historical patterns, ethical considerations
and even laws of nature in a simulation are of secondary
importance. The events in the simulation will always primarily
depend on the will of the observers, who are running the

However, Bostrom ignores this and often incorrectly states that

the simulation will be governed by some specific laws. For
example, he says that in order for fI (the share of posthuman
civilisations interested in running simulations) to be very small
“there must be a strong convergence among the courses of
advanced civilisations” [1]. Then Bostrom describes two
possibilities — that posthuman civilisations will not run
simulations for ethical reasons or that they will simply lose the
desire to do it — but he says nothing about the possibility of
parent civilisation prohibiting its simulations from running
nested simulations.

It will be very easy for a posthuman civilisation to control all

first-level simulations and prohibit them from running any
additional simulations. It might also be possible that all
computers in simulations will not be simulated but (for
efficiency, security or for some other reasons) the software will
run directly on computers of the parent civilisation. This means
that nested simulations can be run, but they will not contain any
real (conscious or real by any other definition) people. At the
same time, the individuals from a first-level simulation will
have an impression of actually running a simulation.


Bostrom makes a similar mistake while speaking about

extinction of a simulated civilisation as a natural event. If there
are simulated civilisations then the majority of them will
probably not go extinct in a natural way, but will be terminated
by the simulators. The mechanisms for these two kinds of events
are obviously different, since simulators are not limited to
terminating civilisations in natural ways. There are many
possible alternatives. For example, simulated civilisations can
be slowed down (or even paused with saving the simulation
state) by simulators when these civilisations approach the
posthuman stage. It must be noted that being paused (with the
possibility of being launched again) is probably better than
going extinct.

The best alternative option is the one where upon the

termination of the simulation all humans will be transferred
from there to the parent universe. A less pleasant alternative is
an artificial termination. The simulation can just be stopped and
erased, regardless of the situation in the simulated world and
without apparent reason (from the point of view of simulated
humans, though they probably will not even notice the
termination). The simulated world can also be destroyed in any
way conceived by the simulators before the simulation itself will
be stopped. This can be perceived by the simulated humans as
apocalypse, Armageddon, Judgement Day or Ragnarok. But
again, these events will be caused not by the processes in the
simulation, but by outside forces.

Rewards, Punishments and Afterlife

In his article, in a naïve attempt “to draw some loose analogies

with religious conceptions of the world” [1, с. 10],
Bostromsuggests possible mechanisms for several religious
concepts.Based on the moral absolutism he proposes a
metaverse where parent civilisations impose rewards and
punishments on the simulated human beings and even provide
afterlife to them based on their behaviour in the simulated

As was discussed earlier, we have no reasons to make any

assumptions about the base civilisation if we are not one. Any
ideas about morals of the parent civilisations are by their nature
extremely speculative. In addition, the reasons for the existence
of the simulation can vary greatly. A simple illustration is the
difference between acceptable (as defined by simulators)
behaviour for Quake monsters and sims in the Sims game.

But there are even stronger objections against these pseudo-

religious ideas.

1. It is extremely irrational and plain silly to reward or punish

your own creations (especially if they are essentially
computer programs). The possible exception are
experiments with artificial selection or training, but that
has nothing to do with ethics and morals and criteria can
be totally arbitrary.
2. The idea of afterlife is somewhat logical, as explained
above in the, but there are no reasons to believe that there
will be any sort of reward or punishment. The posthuman
beings capable of running a simulation are very unlikely to
have an irrational and barbarous mentality necessary for


Bostrom’s formula for calculating the probability of living in a

simulation contains serious mathematical errors. The probability
theory is used in the original paper incorrectly and without
taking the philosophical aspects of the problem into
consideration. The arguments based on the mathematical
calculations have additional logical errors, such as circular
reasoning, and ignore the observational bias.

Based on the analysis done in this paper, we can infer that the
simulation argument is incorrect. It seems to be impossible to
avoid the logical errors made by Bostrom. In addition, there are
some reasons to concede that certain qualities of our
civilisations point to our existence in reality.

It can be concluded that the reality of our world remains the

question of personal beliefs. At the same time, the reality of our
world does not impose additional limitations on the prospects of
the technological progress, the possibility of reaching the
posthuman stage and running simulations.
VIII. References

1. Are You Living In a Computer Simulation? Nick Bostrom.

Philosophical Quarterly, 2003, Vol. 53, No. 211, pp. 243-

2. Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes). Alejandro Amenábar,


3. The Cartesian Circle. Philosophy


4. Dark City. Alex Proyas,


5. Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid. Douglas R.

Hofstadter. BasicBooks, 1979

6. Innocence Lost: Simulation Scenarios: Prospects and

Consequences. Barry Dainton, 2002,

7. How to Live in a Simulation. Robin Hanson, 2001, Journal

of Evolution and Technology, Vol. 7.

8. The Matrix. Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski,


9. Philosophy & The Matrix. John Partridge, Christopher

Grau, Colin McGinn, Kevin Warwick et

10. The Physics of Immortality. Frank Tipler. Doubleday,

1994Summary of the Omega Point theory:
11. Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of
Consciousness. Roger Penrose, Oxford University Press, 1994.

12. The Simulation Argumenthttp://www.simulation-


13. Skepticism and Religion Revisited. Steven Novella. The

New England Journal of Skepticism Vol. 1 Issue 3 (Summer

14. The Thirteenth Floor. Josef Rusnak, Daniel F. Galouye

(novel), 1999http://www.imdb.com/Title?0139809

15. Vanilla Sky, Cameron Crowe, Alejandro Amenábar,


16. Source unknown. An announcement by a group of British

scientists in 2001.

[1] Nick Bostrom — a researcher in the field of philosophy of

science, ethics of technology and science, transhumanism. From
2000 to 2002 a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy of Yale
University (USA), from 2003 a Research Fellow in Oxford
University (United Kingdom). Author of 16 articles on topics of
anthropic principle, technological development, artificial
intelligence and simulation argument. Author of the book
Anthropic Bias: Observation Selection Effects. 2002. Routledge,
New York.

Personal site: www.nickbostrom.com

[2] On 15 May 2003 Matrix: Reloaded, the second part of the

trilogy, was released. Third part, Matrix: The Revolutions, is
scheduled for November 2003. The actual simulation, the
MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game)
The Matrix Online, will be released in 2004.

[3] Player in GTA (Grand Theft Auto) game series usually

drives or runs around the city, causing mayhem and destruction
to the inhabitants of the city, killing pedestrians and shooting
policemen (www.grandtheftauto.com).

[4] This is an approximate interpretation of mathematical

formulas derived in this section of the original paper. Because of
the logical and mathematical errors made in the derivation, the
formulas are incorrect, thus making a strict interpretation
impossible. Bostrom gives his detailed interpretation of these
formulas in the corresponding section (Interpretation).

[5] An argument that uses circular reasoning (also known as

“begging the question”) makes a conclusion based on material
that has already been assumed in the argument.