WILMINGTON – Are we actually living in a computer simulation feeding us our sensory information? That was the question asked by two University of North Carolina at Wilmington professors at Cucalorus Connect.

Julian Keith, Ph.D and Curry Guinn, Ph.D, explored the possibility that we are actually in a computer generated world like that of the Matrix movie franchise without even knowing it during the 25th Cucalorus festival this weekend in Wilmington.

Keith began by noting that “All of us experience the world delivered to us in terms of a 3-pound package of fat, protein, and salt water, the brain, wired in a way that creates our sense of reality.”

Dr. Julian Keith. Photos by Renee Wright. Copyright Capitol Broadcasting Co. ARR

Our senses are the interfaces that feed us input, yet even they have limited access to what’s outside your skull. “Your vision only sees a sliver, a tiny range of the electromagnetic spectrum,” Keith said. “You are unaware of most of it.”

That’s not a bad thing. “If you had to interact with the world in the full range of what’s going on, you would be frozen,” Keith said. “So biology has developed a user interface that ultra simplifies what you are interacting with.”

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That interface, your mind, is constantly manufacturing the colors and sounds we experience. “It is constantly updating your model of reality and interacting with it. It is your matrix. You interact without knowing there is anything else out there.”

The problem with biology, Keith said, “is that the basic operating system of your mind was developed for a world that doesn’t exist anymore. A biological system builds things only very slowly. But cultural evolution occurs many magnitudes faster.”

That makes us vulnerable to technology and its algorithms. “How do you hack a mind with eyeballs and ears? Show it something that grabs its attention, something colorful and bright. Give it some social reward. Nothing pays off more than attention from someone else.”

Dr. Julian Keith, UNCW professor, explaining mind biology. Photo by Renee Wright.

That in turn results in a release of dopamine, making you feel good. “Heroin, crack cocaine or chocolate cake or even a smile will do it. Then you will do it again.”

What causes addiction is rewards that release dopamine on an intermittent variable response schedule. You don’t win at the slot machine every time. You don’t get likes or comments on Facebook every time you post and you don’t always see the right entertaining cat video.

“The guys at Amazon, Google and Facebook take your data and are ultra sensitive to certain types of stimulation and reinforcement. What do they want? Clicks.”

They create a “default trance state” where you just stare into your devices.

Curry says we may already be in the Matrix

“Keith talked about the science of the mind, Curry said. “I’m going to be a bit more speculative. We may be actually living in a computer simulation. I’m not the only one who says this. Elon Musk of Telsa and Space X has said there is a billion to one chance we are not living in a computer simulation.”

The arguments Musk used for this idea derived from a paper by Nick Bostrom, a professional philosopher in the United Kingdom. “He put some numbers together and suggested there is an ultra high possibility we are living in a computer simulation,” Curry said.

Dr. Curry Quinn, UNCW professor, says we may already be in the matrix. Photo by Renee Wright.

Look at where computer games are now compared to where they were 40 years ago in the era of Pong,” Curry said. Today’s are much more realistic, even though we still know we’re just playing a game.

“Where will they be 40 years from now? Or 500 years from now? Or 5,000 years from now?” he asked. Bostrom suggested these future computer games will be so similar to reality we won’t be able to tell the difference. They’ll be like the Star Trek Holodeck. And the characters in them may not realize they’re in a simulation. “It is inevitable that we will create realities indistinguishable from this reality,” Bostrom said.

How could we know we’re in the matrix? “Glitches in the system. Deja Vu, such as in the Matrix movie when a character sees a cat crossing a doorway repeatedly, may be one glitch. Ghosts, ESP, coincidences may be others. The laws of physics in our universe seem peculiarly designed with a set of constants that make carbon-based life possible. Where are the edges?” Curry asked.

Why would anyone run such simulations?

One clue may be quantum physics, where some things that seem impossible are true: an object that can be in two places at the same time. The phenomena Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.”

Why would we or anyone run these simulations, asked Curry. “We run a ton of them all the time,” he said. “Supercomputers run simulations for weather predictions. We use them to better understand our environment and make changes. We use them to study human activity and ask questions such as how does population grow? What things work best? It is us running these simulations.”

How should we live, then, if we are in the matrix, Curry asked. “We should act as if our lives are exemplars of what is possible,” he answered.