After the tremendous gaffe that was the grand finale of the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony, an article began to float around Facebook titled “Did the Oscars Just Prove That We Are Living In a Computer Simulation“. While I scoffed at this idea at first, believing it to be pretty far out there for a New Yorker article, I began to recall my prior studies of Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation; a work which serves as the primary foundation for nearly every “computer simulation world” theory and The Matrix film trilogy.
According to Baudrillard’s theory, “Simulacra are copies that depict things that either had no original to begin with, or that no longer have an original,” and, “Simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time,” and that due to the fact that we live in such a photo-saturated, media-influenced world, there is nothing truly original anymore. We are all simply a simulacra of somebody else’s concept, which has led our world to become a simulation.
However, Adam Gopnik’s article mentioned above, takes the simulacra/simulation concept to the next level: “The people or machines or aliens who are supposed to be running our lives are having some kind of breakdown. There’s a glitch, and we are in it.” While this concept is tied to the Oscars, the Super Bowl, and, very transparently, the wild outcome of the 2016 Presidential Election, the idea ultimately runs quite deeper than social events and politics, as this theory is apparently very well-known, wide-spread, and accepted by certain circles of the academic communities.
According to Gopnik, the penultimate outcome of this discovery is that, “if we are among the simulated minds, then we exist in order to be stimulated minds: we exist in order for the controllers to run experiments,” meaning that all wars, genocides, and major world-changing events were caused on purpose by other beings just so that they could observe our reactions. However, my counterpoint to this theory is that what sense does it make to create beings that have such a strong sense of place? More so, how would this theory impact how we understand ideas such as the “hearth” and the “cosmos” and our overall attachment to certain places– is everything irrelevant, or are we wired the way we are for a reason?
While we may have a concept of creating simulated worlds– i.e. playing the Sims, Sim City, Zoo Tycoon, etc– these worlds that we create largely differ from this simulation that people believe we might be living in: avatars in these games are temporal and finite, they have no concept of space or place, and they are easily disposable. In terms of humanity, losing one of your Sims, while tragic and annoying, doesn’t have much affect on the game or the characters that they interact with, and if that Sim was married or another Sim’s child, the affected partner or parents don’t seem to grieve their dead. In terms of place, Sims don’t care about their homes much unless something is broken or messy– they eat, sleep, play with gadgets, and go to work, but the overall style of their homes isn’t pleasing to them as much as it is pleasing to its creator: you.
However, if we are essentially someone else’s Sims, why do we feel as strongly as we do? Why do we love as hard and get as attached to places? Is our sense of place now simply a simulacra of the places we knew of the past, or are we simply a simulation that has been planned and programmed to feel this way?