Musk’s Matrix Is Malodorous


Elon Musk has said that there is only a ‘one in billions’ chance that we’re not living in a computer simulation.”

Since all probability is conditional on the assumed premises, the natural question is what premises Musk had in mind to calculate the near certainty that he is but a computer simulation. I mean, beyond blaming Descartes.

Here is his argument, which many find, if not convincing, at least intriguing.

“The strongest argument for us probably being in a simulation I think is the following,” he told the Code Conference. “40 years ago we had Pong — two rectangles and a dot. That’s where we were.

“Now 40 years later we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it’s getting better every year. And soon we’ll have virtual reality, we’ll have augmented reality.

“If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, just indistinguishable.”

He said that even if the speed of those advancements dropped by 1000, we would still be moving forward at an intense speed relative to the age of life.

Since that would lead to games that would be indistinguishable from reality that could be played anywhere, “it would seem to follow that the odds that we’re in ‘base reality’ is one in billions”, Mr Musk said.

In a fundamental sense, if we’re in a simulation, then it must be that we don’t exist. We can’t be entirely simulations, for, because our intellects are not material (explanations here), there is no material way to simulate them such that the simulations come alive and have non-material intellects. There is no free will for simulants—the indigenous populants of a simulation—but there is for us.

But that’s too easy. So let’s ignore the fatal flaw and look at why Musk, who evidently hasn’t heard this objection, thinks we’re in a matrix.

To be in a matrix implies there is a matrix builder. Now this Builder (let’s promote him with capitalization) is clever enough to have created a system which fools the simulants into thinking the bits in which they swim is the real world. If the simulants are as characters in a novel, this is problem free. The Builder simply writes a line of code which says, “The simulants think they are in the real world.” Nothing more is needed.

And, indeed, the simulants can’t be more than this. They are characters in a novel, a novel of electric potentials and silicon. They cannot be fooled into thinking they have free will. No creature that doesn’t already have free will can think he has it. It takes free will to think about free will. No matter how you look at it, the pure simulation matrix cannot work and we cannot be in one.

What about the movie version? Although it appears to the astute mind asinine, suppose the Builder hooks up genuine people to electrodes which, through superior processing power, fools people into thinking they are in Disneyland, or wherever. The Builder fed on the captives’ vibrations. Or whatever. Dumb movie. Skip it.

This “simulation”—actually reality plus code—might work, in the sense that it appears that is it not logically impossible. Not everything that is logically impossible happens, though. Thirteen-legged Spanish-speaking lava-breathing orange dragons who crap flaming gold ingots for pets are logically possible. But don’t fork over hard cash for dragon chow.

As evidence for this Demon Builder, Musk points to Pong. I am a child of the 70s: we had a set. Maybe you had to be there to realize how those of us who saw it in its infancy never thought then that it would lead to virtual enslavement. But whatever.

Don’t forget we are now supposed to be in a simulation. If that is so, Musk is saying that the Builder allowed the real-but-tricked-humans into thinking they invented Pong, then Javascript then distributed computing then whatever else that follows. Why? To encourage the simulates to wake and escape? Maybe. The Builder is a nut to begin with, so why not program a jail break, even though he has the power to keep his prisoners trapped in Womyn’s Studies departments forever, with no hint that computers are even a possibility.

Or maybe the Builder allowed the prisoners these inventions to encourage them to think that they could build their own matrix in a matrix. Beware, then, of Musk minions looking for “volunteers” for this virtual reality “experiment.”

All logically possible. All equally silly.


  1. Joe

    If he can really offer me a ticket to Mars in the next decade, though, I’ll be happy to nod and smile at whatever nutty metaphysics he finds amusing…

  2. Ken

    BRIGGS: “…let’s ignore the fatal flaw and look at why Musk, who evidently hasn’t heard this objection, thinks we’re in a matrix…”

    WHY??? Musk, in saying we’re probably just a simulation, is very likely pranking every geek in his audience. Just like that surgeon that helped create the myth of the Lock Ness monster ( Those of us that like to do such things find it quite amusing.

    That, or Musk is simply a crank himself that knew enough about something at the right time to get lucky, and wealthy.

    Regardless, why bother analyzing a 21st century variation of, “How many angels can sit on a pin?”

  3. Joy

    LOCH Ness,
    ~~~n~n~r~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  4. Joy

    No this,

  5. Joy

    “I go, I come back!”

  6. Sander van der Wal

    This could be one of Pratchett’s Diskworld one in a billion chances, the ones that happen 1 out of ten times.

    Why Discworld?

    Because this is a turtles-All-the-way-down kind of argument.

  7. Gary

    Since all probability is conditional on the assumed premises, the natural question is what premises Musk had in mind to calculate the near certainty that he is but a computer simulation.

    Unstated Premise 1: Musk knows what he’s talking about.
    Unstated Premise 2: He’s read, understands, and is applying the wisdom explained in your book.
    Unstated Premise 3: The rate of increase in “advancement” always goes up.
    Unstated Premise 4: Indistinguishable = Actual.

    My guess is that at least one of those is false.

  8. MattS

    @Joy and Ken.

    Interesting bit about the Lock Ness monster.

    The ~~~n~n~r~~~ version of the monster originates with the surgeon’s hoax.

    That isn’t what the local residents of the area have reported seeing.

    What the locals report seeing is a single hump, no neck, something that is shaped like an overturned row boat, but looks organic and moves under it’s own power. These sightings go back to at least the 13th century.

    The Animal Planet show River Monsters looked into the Lock Ness monster and actually came up with a plausible suspect: The Greenland Shark.

    There is a river that connects Lock Ness to the sea and that river occasionally floods in way that would allow a large shark to swim upstream to the lock.

    Seal are known to occasionally come upstream to the lock to catch the eels that are the locks only known inhabitants. When the river floods a shark could follow looking to catch the seals.

    The Greenland Shark lacks the distinctive dorsal fin that identifies most sharks. At the surface, it would look like a small overturned boat.

  9. Joy

    You’re absolutely right but I thought Ken might want to continue to think it was the intellectual surgeon, naturally.
    Nessie’s definately a she.

  10. arationofreason

    Do people actually invest money in nut cases like Musk?

  11. MattS


    PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors.

    Those are just three of the companies that Musk has founded. So unfortunately, the answer is yes.

  12. DAV

    PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors.
    Those are just three of the companies that Musk has founded. So unfortunately, the answer is yes.

    Why is it unfortunate? None of them, BTW, are outstanding or new ideas (well, maybe PayPal). The battery powered car is not a novel idea. Neither is SpaceX. Orbital Systems was around long before PayPal. If their was any genius in these it was in the selling.

    So what if he has an odd idea of how the Universe works on a fundamental level? People once thought the forces of nature were actions of gods. Some still do. This blog post is effectively saying so using essentially the same argument.

  13. Stephen

    My question to people who support the idea that our universe is pretty simple. They base their claim on the notion that if we can create a simulation so realistic that the people inside it are similar to us, then the chance that we’re also a simulation is pretty high since we have a proof of concept. If we really are living inside a series of near infinite nested simluations, wouldn’t the chance that at least one of the earlier simulations would have shut off or been destroyed at some point be almost 100%? And if that is so, then all subordinate simulations should have gone with it. I’ve never gotten an answer to that and I’ve raised the question a few times.

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