Apparently, some researchers have happened upon an old philosophy class notion: namely, that we can’t actually know whether or not the world around us is real. This, combined with the ongoing increase in computing power, led them to the conclusion that humans may eventually decide to model the whole world in much the same way millions play with Sims. Denizens therein would not be aware that they weren’t real, natch (see also the works of the Wachowski brothers).
This all ties into Cartesian thought; ol’ Rene is the one who gave us “Cogito, ergo sum,” or “I think, therefore I am.” It’s less a statement of being than an affirmation that this, in fact, is all we can really know. If we can think, we must exist in some form, somehow, somewhere. We take everything else on faith.
Our first exposure to this was, like many others’, in a freshman philosophy class 20 years ago. Dr. Hestevold asked us one morning something along the lines of how much we trusted our senses and perceptions, and how firm we were in our conviction that we were actually sitting in ten Hoor Hall, on the campus of the University of Alabama, in the year 1987. Virtually everyone agreed that, yes, this was the truth, so he passed out a letter (mimeographed blue ink on ever-so-slightly damn paper!) that we paraphrase for you now:
I’m sure you’ll agree the simulation is a smashing success! Every aspect of late-20th-century life has been modeled with the greatest degree of accuracy possible, right down to my old colleague Scott Hestevold, who tragically passed away in 2006. You are, of course, safe and sound on a table in my laboratory in Switzerland, though we’ve conditioned your brain to view this information as only slightly more credible than the ravings of a streetcorner madman.
We’ll have a fine meal when you emerge, which we’ve planned for a few hours from now as you perceive time.