Are we living within a simulation? Some answers

A popular topic today1 is whether we live in a Matrix-like simulation or not2.

As usual, there are several answers.


If we take ourselves as primarily this human self or something else within the content of experience, then it becomes a vital and existential question. It becomes a matter of what we most fundamentally are.

Whether we’ll ever be able to find an answer is another question. I somehow doubt it.


If we take ourselves as primarily what our experience happens within and as, it may still be an interesting question but it’s not existential in the same way.

Our nature is the same anyway, whether it’s a simulation or not.

To myself, I am what the field of experience happens within and as. To myself, I am consciousness, and this consciousness forms itself into any content of experience.


As many point out: we already live within a simulation.

The consciousness I am forms itself into any and all content of experience. It creates a simulation of the world, and that simulation is all I ever know.

Said in a more limited and biological way, the brain takes sensory input and creates its world. We never experience the world directly. We experience a kind of synthesis created by our brain based on very limited sensory information.


Do we live within a Matrix-like simulation?

To me, what’s most interesting and useful about that question is that it can serve as a pointer to our nature.

Everything we know may be a Matrix-like simulation. We may not fundamentally be humans at all. That is a very real possibility.

In either case, we know that the world we experience – including this human self – is created as a kind of simulation by the consciousness we are. (Or the brain if we like more biological language.)

What does that say about what we more fundamentally are? This helps us open the door for the possibility that we are not fundamentally this human self or anything within the content of experience, including a doer or observer.

So what are we, more fundamentally?

At a thought level, we may realize that what we are is consciousness – independent of any particular content of experience.

That may lead us to explore it in direct noticing, and explore how it is to live from and as it, and also getting and living from it more viscerally.


Questions like these can remain an intellectual curiosity. Something we cannot find any conclusive answers to, and they may seem removed from and irrelevant to our daily lives.

I prefer to make practical use of these questions. I know I cannot know the answer to whether I live in a Matrix-like simulation, and it doesn’t matter so much. Other sides of that question are more important to me. For instance, it’s a pointer to and reminder of my more fundamental nature.


I should mention that there are different variations of this question.

For instance, when Chuang Tzu asked his question about butterflies and dreams, he pointed to our nature as consciousness. Night dreams and waking life both happen within and as the consciousness we are to ourselves.

When some today use the Matrix analogy and computer simulations, that’s a more updated version specific to our times and culture. It likely says more about us today than the nature of our world. And it too can be used to point to our more fundamental nature. (I suspect the Wachowski siblings were quite aware of that when they made the movie.)

(1) Among the few of us privileged enough to have the life and relative comfort to consider these things. Most people around the world have more immediate and important things to take care of.

(2) I regularly see articles on this topic even in mainstream media. The most recent one is from NRK in Norway: Flere anerkjente fysikere: Mener det er sannsynlig at vi lever i et dataspill (Several physicists say it’s likely we live in a computer game).

Image by me and Midjourney

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Do we live in a simulation? We already do, and it doesn’t matter so much when we discover our true nature

In the most recent episode of Judge John Hodgman, he rules on a case where a woman wants her husband to stop talking about how we all live in a simulation. It brings up existential angst in her. 

We already live in a kind of simulation, in a couple of different ways. 

We know from science that our physical sense organs only receive a very limited type and amount of information, this is organized and put together in the brain, and we add a large number of labels, interpretations, and stories to it. Our senses, brain, and consciousness work together to create a kind of simulation of the world that helps us navigate and function in it. It’s not absolutely real and it doesn’t reflect reality accurately, which is OK since it works well enough.

Many take themselves to most fundamentally be this human being in the world. But when we look, we may find that to ourselves, we are capacity for the world. We are what the world – the world as it appears to us, the world of phenomena – happens within and as. In that way, our waking experience is very similar to a dream. A dream happens within and as consciousness. And the world as it appears to us happens within and as consciousness. Here too, we find that the world to us appears a kind of simulation.

And ultimately, our true nature is what all our experiences happen within and as. If we take our most fundamental identity to be this human self, then it matters a lot whether we live in a simulation or not. It’s a question of our fundamental identity. If we find ourselves as capacity for it all, it matters less and it’s something we hold more lightly. It may be an interesting question, but it’s not a matter of what we fundamentally are to ourselves.

Are we in a simulation?

Some ask this question. As so often, the answer for me is yes, no, and don’t know.

In a conventional sense, the answer is: I don’t know. And that’s fine, I don’t really need to know.

When I look more closely, I also find that I can know something about it, and the answer is yes and no.

The world as it appears to me, happens within and as what I am. I am capacity for it. It happens within and as what a thought may label consciousness. And I perceive it through an overlay of thoughts that labels, interprets, and creates stories and generally makes sense of it. In that sense, it’s a kind of simulation. It’s like a dream to me since it happens within and as consciousness, and it’s filtered and interpreted by my mental images and stories.

At the same time, there is consensus reality. It seems that I perceive the world more or less as others, at least in a basic and everyday sense. I see a blue sky, walk on the ground, open doors, eat, talk, and so on. In the consensus reality and pragmatic sense, I live and function as if it’s not a simulation. For all practical purposes, it’s not a simulation.

So I cannot know if we are in a simulation, in the way most people talk about it. It’s a kind of simulation since my world happens within and as what I am and is interpreted and made sense of by a mental field overlay. And for all practical purposes, in consensus reality, it’s not a simulation.