At the 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, the seventeenth such event, hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the question was asked whether the universe as we know it, is in effect a simulation. Five esteemed panelists discussed the possibility that maybe everything that's happening is just a simulation being run on a computer by some smarter, higher order being (with a weird sense of humor).
It turns out that for these scientists, whose job it is to probe the nature of reality, the answer is actually: Maybe.
Depending on whether you want reality to be real or not, the answers from some panelists may be more comforting than the responses from others.
The question of whether we know that our universe is real has vexed thinkers going far back into history, long before Descartes made his famous "I think, therefore I am" statement. The same question has been explored in modern science-fiction films like "The Matrix" and David Cronenberg's "Existenz."
But most physicists and philosophers agree that it's impossible to prove definitively that we do not live in a simulation and that the universe is real.
One of the main arguments that physicists use to talk about what's known as the "simulation hypothesis" is that if we can prove that it's possible to simulate a universe — if we can figure out all the laws that govern how everything works, which physicists are trying to do — that makes it much more likely that it is actually simulated. If we know that it's possible to do something, it's much easier to think that thing is being done
We haven't been able to figure out how to simulate a universe — yet. But it's not too hard to imagine that some other creature out there is far smarter than us.
We humans have always defined ourselves as the smartest beings alive, orders of magnitude more intelligent than species like chimpanzees that share close to 99% of our DNA. We can create symphonies and do trigonometry and astrophysics — some of us, anyway.
Tyson uses a thought experiment to imagine a life-form that's as much smarter than us as we are than dogs, chimps, or other terrestrial mammals.
"What would we look like to them? We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence," he says.
Whatever that being is, it very well might be able to create a simulation of a universe.
"And if that's the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just the creation of some other entity for their entertainment," Tyson says. "I'm saying, the day we learn that it is true, I will be the only one in the room saying, 'I'm not surprised.'"
And maybe that means there's some chance of doing a reset at some point.
Check out the full American Museum of Natural History discussion here:
And, if you believe we might not be in a simulation, consider the following video: