“If we are living in a simulation, then the cosmos that we are observing is just a tiny piece of the totality of physical existence.”

Illustration of hands controlling people like marionettes.

Source: Dan Falk

What if everything around us — the people, the stars overhead, the ground beneath our feet, even our bodies and minds — were an elaborate illusion? What if our world were simply a hyper-realistic simulation, with all of us merely characters in some kind of sophisticated video game?

This, of course, is a familiar concept from science fiction books and films, including the 1999 blockbuster movie “The Matrix.” But some physicists and philosophers say it’s possible that we really do live in a simulation — even if that means casting aside what we know (or think we know) about the universe and our place in it.

“If we are living in a simulation, then the cosmos that we are observing is just a tiny piece of the totality of physical existence,” Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom said in a 2003 paper that jump-started the conversation about what has come to be known as the simulation hypothesis. “While the world we see is in some sense ‘real,’ it is not located at the fundamental level of reality.”

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