06/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Living in Sim

Is somebody with a joy stick guiding my hands as I type this? Are they making me want to go across the street to Starbucks right now? Are we all living in a computer simulation?


With Sims 3 coming out next month, it seems worth pondering. Sims, to help the uninitiated, is a sophisticated and addictive life simulation game. Millions of people are immersed in it, as well as in Second Life and World of Warcraft.

Me and my kids were once avid players of Sims. Then one day a Sims character got into her hot tub, became drained of life force and never got out. Her flesh-like hand rigor mortised to her silly umbrella drink. I was concerned about her, but more concerned about my children being exposed to this low life force person. Later on that year, I happened to interview the creator of the Sims universe, Will Wright. I told him that a dead Sims lady in her hot tub was freaking out my kids. He laughed, said it was a just a bug and asked that we try to ignore her. I stopped playing Sims. But perhaps Sims is still playing me.

Nick Bostrom, a researcher at Oxford, argues that we could be living in the Matrix. (Keanu, get me out of here!) As John Tierney wrote in the New York Times:

"Dr. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or "posthumans," could run "ancestor simulations" of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems."

Why does this totally suck? You could be a Sims lady floating in a hot tub for all eternity, victimized by a programming glitch. You could be compelled by some posthuman somebody to go to Starbucks before you finish writing your blog. Your life could lose a gig or more of meaning because you'd be at the whim of some super-geek future gamer who might go to a movie and then what? Unattended, you walk off a cliff and perish.

But hold on. Just because you're in a computer simulation doesn't mean that your feelings are any less than real and even if life is only pixel-deep, it could have meaning anyway. A look at the concept of maya might be helpful here.

In Hinduism, maya refers to life as a dream or illusion, since life is ever changing. The existence of an individual as a separate entity is also considered unreal. As long as you think you're different from the rest of creation and strive to work for your own ends, protecting and nurturing your own ego, you suffer from the illusion of individual separateness.

I kind of get that. It's a good thing to see oneself as interconnected to all things. Looking at things that way, you tend to be kinder to other people, treat Mother Earth with respect and know that even your most local actions have global implications.

Maybe maya isn't so bad. It might help me stop obsessing about The Sims.