Earlier this month, Elon Musk caused quite the hubbub on the internet when he claimed that we are almost definitely living in a simulated reality—i.e. that our reality isn’t “real” in the traditional sense, and we’re essentially living inside of a computer program. If you’ve never heard anyone say this before, it probably seems like a pretty bizarre thing to believe. “Eccentric Billionaire Thinks We Live in the Matrix” is a clickbait title you’d easily scroll right past on Facebook.
But I think Elon Musk stands a good chance of being right. I just think so for an entirely different reason.
Although philosophical debates about the nature of reality stretch all the way back to antiquity, Musk is getting his ideas from a specific and very influential paper called “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” written by philosopher Nick Bostrom in 2003. If you’ve never read it, you should. It’s a pretty mind-blowing piece of writing, and it was the first formal presentation of what Bostrom calls “the simulation argument.”
The argument basically says that because the technology that allows us to simulate virtual worlds (like video games) is constantly improving, eventually we’ll be able to simulate virtual worlds perfectly, so that they’ll be indistinguishable from reality. Even the people in those simulations will be indistinguishable from real people. At this point, when our descendants decide to run simulations, those simulations themselves will internally give rise to perfect simulations of their own: simulations within simulations. So …
In the very near future—possibly by the end of this decade—3D printers will become as cheap as regular printers, and about as ubiquitous. At that point, anyone with access to a 3D printer will be able to torrent the design for any type of weapon off of the internet, print that weapon’s parts, assemble them, and then use the resulting weapon however they wish. This includes mass shooters.
Different 3D printers use different materials, and print with different levels of detail. You wouldn’t use the same 3D printing machine to print big plastic blocks of uniform structure as you’d use to print some of the more intricate metal parts of a gun. But since all types of 3D printers will have myriad applications in every conceivable industry, all types of 3D printers will have a high level of ubiquity. So a potential mass shooter should have little problem accessing them, even if the one he uses at home can’t print quite all of the parts he needs.
The design of weapons is adaptable, too. No company would sell a gun (by which I mean a working, lethal gun) made of rubber, but given the breadth and depth of human knowledge, I guarantee you that someone on the internet can build a gun made exclusively of rubber that could kill a person. So if a killer has access to only one type of printing material, that won’t necessarily stop him from printing a gun. (Although I admit that a mass…
“Art is finally democratized! Anyone can access the tools of production! Sure it can be tough to reach an audience, but if you work hard and persevere, you have a legitimate shot of making a living doing what you love. The gatekeepers have been abolished! The indie revolution is here!”
So goes the common refrain.
And that refrain is certainly truer for more indie artists now than ever before in history. But all artistic mediums are not created equal. As someone who comes from the indie film world, who has friends in the indie music world, and who is now setting sail in the indie publishing world, I’m consistently surprised by how the indie revolution has manifested itself differently in each different medium. Although I do have more questions than answers about this.
For instance, why did the various indie revolutions start at different times? Indie music started taking off in the late 90s, indie film in the early 00s, indie games in the late 00s, and indie publishing not until the early 10s. This makes no sense to me, since publishing is the least technologically complex of all the artistic mediums listed above, and so it’s presumably the easiest to democratize, taking control away from The Man and putting it in your hands and mine. Publishing is essentially just printing words on a page. Shouldn’t the indie revolution have hit publishing first? But instead it hit publishing last.
But that’s beside the point. Perhaps my biggest question about the …
I’m beyond excited to announce my new series of books, the Thorn Saga. Thorn is a character I’ve been contemplating since 2007, and I typed the first words of the story in November 2012, so finally publishing these books feels like the end of a long and rewarding marathon to me. The Thorn Saga tells the story of Thorn, one of the most evil demons of all time, who is suddenly faced with not only the end of his reign, but also his own assassination. In the face of such an existential threat, the germ of a long-buried moral conscience appears in Thorn’s mind. But how could Thorn ever become good? His demonic peers hold him to a strict standard of wickedness. God, the tyrant that he is, despises Thorn and his kind, having cast them out of Heaven long ago. Even worse, some of Thorn’s “pet” humans will probably get caught in the crossfire if he tries to put up a fight… and he cares for some of them more than he’d like to admit. Then, just as he’s certain there’s no way out, he discovers something… something secret, something big. A conspiracy reaching back to the beginning of time…
I’ve always considered the Thorn Saga to be a fantasy story, but many of my beta readers have told me it’s a horror story. So I’ll call it a dark fantasy, with elements of mystery, action, and even a little romance thrown in the mix. If you …
Look at that.
Just look at that! Isn’t it incredible?
It’s not a digital painting created inside a computer. An actual human being sent an actual camera up into actual space, turned it around, and snapped this actual photograph—or rather, several photographs that were composited together to make this image. If you lived in North America at the time it was taken, then there you are somewhere in this picture. (Unless you chose to hide beneath a cloud, silly you.) This blue orb is a real, tangible place.
And so is that black space behind it.
When you look at a photo taken from much farther away, or at an incredible scale model of the solar system, you start to get a sense that the Earth is extremely small. Your body is the same size compared to Earth as Earth is when compared to the whole Solar System.
So the Solar System is unfathomably huge. I can’t even comprehend a distance that big. But then I look at this picture:
It’s a visualization of the Milky Way galaxy. (You can’t take a real picture from outside of the whole thing like this, because we haven’t been outside of it… yet.)
You can only see the very biggest, brightest stars. Everything else, including our own Sun, is just a luminous blur. Our sun is so tiny in this visualization that you can’t even see it. On this scale, the Sun is microscopic.
As if that doesn’t blow my mind …