Your mind simulates external reality even if external reality isn’t in and of itself a simulation. Even if you are convinced that your external reality is THE reality, you’d be wrong. So why is your version of reality any more real or accurate than that of any other species? You may think you know reality but from the point of view of every other species your reality is NOT their reality. Anyone who doubts that should read the famous philosophical essay “What is it like to be a bat?” (In “The Philosophical Review”, October 1974) by American philosopher Thomas Nagel. Other species aside, and by the way their version of external reality isn’t any more correct than yours is, why is your reality (and their reality) still a simulated reality?
Watching the monitor on your desktop PC / tablet / smart-phone, or a show on your TV, or a movie on the silver screen, you are viewing a simulation. Even in a real-time live-action event, say a news broadcast or a sporting contest, you’re not actually seeing the real reality or the real people up-close-and-personal, just a simulation composed of electrically-generated images.
Alas, even up-close-and-personal reality is also a simulation. You’ve only ever experienced a simulation. That’s because each and every thing you have ever experienced has been experienced inside your mind even though the actual reality, the stimulus, was outside of your mind. So your mental experience is once, twice, thrice removed from the actual stimulus. You have to have absolute faith that the translations from external reality to internal reality is totally accurate, yet you know that isn’t always the case (advanced age, drugs, injury, disease) and in fact can’t be the case since your mind differs from every other mind that has been, is, or ever will be. No two minds and associated brain chemistries are ever 100% identical, therefore your reality is actually quite unique to you and you alone.
Let’s imagine a woman, let’s call her Jane. She’s been married to Clive for say 40 or so years. Jane obviously believes that she has experienced Clive, warts and all. Wrong! Jane has never seen or heard or touched or smelled or even tasted Clive. Take sight. Jane has never seen Clive, only the photons* that have reflected off of Clive. In fact Jane hasn’t even directly seen and experienced the photons since they cease to have impact once reaching the optic nerve. The translation continues now via electrical impulses.
Ultimately everything Jane has ever seen, heard, touched, smelled or tasted has only been in the form of an electrical impulse(s) that has travelled from Jane’s external surface or her internals via her sensory apparatus (eyes, ears, etc.) to her brain where those impulses are somehow via some sort of electro-chemical wizardry perceived as being something Jane identifies as, for example, Clive. Jane has seen (reality once removed) photons reflecting off of Clive that have entered her eye and (reality now twice removed) converted into electrical impulses which the brain (reality thrice removed) processes resulting in an image, sound or other experience that resides 100% inside, and only inside of Jane’s brain. What is perceived inside Jane’s brain is only a simulation of Jane’s external reality, part of which is Clive. By a similar form of reasoning, Jane has never ever seen the true really real version of her own self! As an aside, this might imply that distance or depth is really an illusion**.
Jane never experiences Clive directly, only indirectly. If Clive can only be perceived indirectly (reality several times removed), then maybe there is no Clive since Jane cannot prove even to herself that Clive really exists and thus Clive might be a total figment of Jane’s mind and imagination.
One other point needs noting here. If your brain accepted and processed all of the experiences you could be experiencing, you’d go nuts (that’s a medical term)! You are bombarded with way more stimuli than your brain can cope with. The brain has to filter out most of what it’s bombarded with, probably by eliminating much of the duplication. So for example, if one billion light photons reflect off of my cat and enter my eye every second, then my brain might process only one thousands of those photons, but that’s enough for me to ‘see’ my cat. At least I hope that’s what’s happening otherwise there might be aspects to my visual cat that I’ve never experienced.
It does seem a sort of paradox by the way that we ‘see’ what the brain / mind perceives after all of those photons, electrical impulses and electro-chemical wizardry have done their thing, even though the mind / brain is in total pitch-black inky darkness.
Is this weird or what? Here’s an interesting experience. You’re in a room with one light on. You flick off the light then flick on the light in pretty quick-smart fashion. You’ll have a certain visual sensation experience. Now, with the light on, close your eyes (shutting out or ‘off’ the light) and then open them again (letting in or turning ‘on’ the light) in that same quick-smart fashion. You will experience quite a different visual sensation experience, yet in both cases you spent an identical time interval in the dark. Why is this – the difference in visual experiences – so?
If you step on a thumb-tack, you feel pain in your foot. Yet, what actually happens is that an electrical signal travels on up your nervous system to your brain and it’s your brain that ‘feels’ the pain but tells you that the pain is really located in your foot. But it’s not. Your brain is simulating the pain your foot should feel if the foot were actually capable of feeling pain. I mean if you somehow amputated your big toe then stuck pins in your amputated big toe, would it feel any pain?
Further to the mind as processing simulations of reality, your dreams are also a mental construct or a simulation, and for that matter so are your daydreams. You are aware that there are other realities actual and potential, from our own virtual reality simulations (actual) which you cannot deny and wish away, to what might lurk inside a Black Hole (actual) to those extra dimensions postulated in string theory (potential). But most telling of all are your very own dream worlds. Your dream worlds are landscape simulations that exist inside your skull. You cannot deny them or their existence. They can be extremely realistic. You cannot deny that either. They can contain ‘oops’ as in dreaming things that violate the laws, principles and relations of physics. Finally they are most certainly not one-on-one recreations. That dream world landscape and dream world characters couldn’t really fit inside your skull, so they have been compactified down to an appropriate size but you don’t realize that when you are dreaming.
Of course maybe there’s a sixth sense, a psychic sense, by which you might know really real reality, but again, you can’t ever be sure that your mental faculties are reading the received text on a one-to-one basis. Things can and do get lost in translation or mistranslations, and your brain translates all that it receives in the form of one ‘language’ into your ‘language’ in order to make things meaningful for you, the brain’s ‘owner’.
Translated, the absolutely only thing you can ever be 100% absolutely sure about in this entire Cosmos as being really real reality is your own mind***. Not even death and taxes are as absolutely certain as “I think, therefore I am”. Everything around you changes, but the only constant is you yourself. Of course the possible variation on that theme is “someone else is thinking, therefore you are”!
*As British writer and YouTube personality Anthony Peake has pointed out by analogy, if you compare the photons that collectively make up the entire electromagnetic spectrum to the length of the Mississippi River, then what part of that spectrum you actually perceive (i.e. – visible light photons) is equivalent to about just a couple of feet (or less) in length of that entire Mississippi River, located somewhere roughly in the middle between origin and delta.
**100% of everything you have ever seen, are seeing now and ever will see in the future is actually perceived or experienced in the brain. A copy of external reality (assuming an external reality) is just an interpretation lodged in your brain, not the external reality itself. All you actually ‘see’ or ‘hear’ are just electrical signals****. You might think that you reside inside the Universe, but in a very real way the Universe resides within you (you being defined as your mind-set that’s encoded within your brain). Since the Universe cannot literally fit inside your skull, your brain has to do some sleight-of-hand ‘magic’ act to get the external Universe inside of your head. Your perception of life, the Universe and everything may seem to be life-sized and 3-D but it is really shrunk down to something mind-sized and 2-D. It’s kind of seems like there is a little person sitting down inside your brain watching the movie you are constructing through your senses in real time. But maybe all was really 2-D from the get-go.
***Jane can always pretend that there no external reality; she can always pretend that she has no body. But Jane cannot ever pretend that she has no mind as it takes a mind to make-believe or pretend or imagine in the first place.
****What if those electrical signals come from an artificial source like the brain-in-a-vat scenario beloved in sci-fi plots?