pp 1–21 | Cite as

The Termination Risks of Simulation Science

  • Preston GreeneEmail author
Original Research


Historically, the hypothesis that our world is a computer simulation has struck many as just another improbable-but-possible “skeptical hypothesis” about the nature of reality. Recently, however, the simulation hypothesis has received significant attention from philosophers, physicists, and the popular press. This is due to the discovery of an epistemic dependency: If we believe that our civilization will one day run many simulations concerning its ancestry, then we should believe that we are probably in an ancestor simulation right now. This essay examines a troubling but underexplored feature of the ancestor-simulation hypothesis: the termination risk posed by both ancestor-simulation technology and experimental probes into whether our world is an ancestor simulation. This essay evaluates the termination risk by using extrapolations from current computing practices and simulation technology. The conclusions, while provisional, have great implications for debates concerning the fundamental nature of reality and the safety of contemporary physics.


  1. Ahmed, A. (2014). Dicing with death. Analysis, 74(4), 587–592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arntzenius, F. (2008). No regrets, or: Edith Piaf revamps decision theory. Erkenntnis, 68(2), 277–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Auerhahn, K. (2008). Using simulation modeling to evaluate sentencing reform in California: Choosing the future. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 4(3), 241–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beane, S., Davoudi, Z., & Savage, M. (2014). Constraints on the universe as a numerical simulation. The European Physical Journal A, 50(148). arXiv:1210.1847.
  5. Birch, J. (2013). On the ‘simulation argument’ and selective scepticism. Erkenntnis, 78, 95–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bostrom, N. (2002). Existential risks: Analyzing human extinction scenarios and related hazards. Journal of Evolution and Technology, 9(1), 1–30.Google Scholar
  7. Bostrom, N. (2003a). Astronomical waste: The opportunity cost of delayed technological development. Utilitas, 15(3), 308–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bostrom, N. (2003b). Are we living in a computer simulation? The Philosophical Quarterly, 53(211), 243–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bostrom, N. (2005). The simulation argument: Reply to Weatherson. The Philosophical Quarterly, 55(218), 90–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bostrom, N. (2006). Do we live in a computer simulation? New Scientist, 192, 8–39.Google Scholar
  11. Bostrom, N. (2009). The simulation argument: Some explanations. Analysis, 69(3), 459–461.Google Scholar
  12. Bostrom, N. (2011). Infinite ethics. Analysis and Metaphysics, 10, 9–59.Google Scholar
  13. Briggs, R. (2010). Decision-theoretic paradoxes as voting paradoxes. The Philosophical Review, 119(1), 1–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chalmers, D. (2010). The Matrix as metaphysics. In The character of consciousness (pp. 455–479). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Ćirković, M. (2008). Observation selection effects and global catastrophic risks. In N. Bostrom & M. Ćirković (Eds.), Global catastrophic risks (pp. 120–145). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Diderot, D. (2009; 1746). Pensées Philosophiques. Reprinted by Kessinger Publishing.Google Scholar
  17. Eck, A. (2017). Physicists confirm that we’re not living in a computer simulation. PBS. Retrieved from
  18. Egan, A. (2007). Some counterexamples to causal decision theory. The Philosophical Review, 116(1), 93–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. El Skaf, R., & Imbert, C. (2013). Unfolding in the empirical sciences: Experiments, thought experiments and computer simulations. Synthese, 190(16), 3451–3474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Greene, P. (2018). Success-first decision theories. In A. Ahmed (Ed.), Newcomb’s problem. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Grüne-Yanoff, T. (2009). The explanatory potential of artificial societies. Synthese, 169(3), 539–555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Grüne-Yanoff, T. (2011). Artificial worlds and agent-based simulation. In I. Jarvie & J. Zamora-Bonilla (Eds.), The Sage handbook of the philosophy of the social sciences (pp. 613–631). Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  23. Grüne-Yanoff, T., & Weirich, P. (2010). The philosophy and epistemology of simulation: A review. Simulation and Gaming, 41(1), 20–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hájek, A. (2003). Waging war on Pascal’s wager. The Philosophical Review, 112(1), 27–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hanson, R. (2001). How to live in a simulation. Journal of Evolution and Technology, 7(1).Google Scholar
  26. James, W. (1896). The will to believe. In J. J. McDermott (Ed.), The writings of William James. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  27. Jeffrey, R. (1983). The logic of decision. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  28. Jenkins, P. (2006). Historical simulations—motivational, ethical and legal issues. Journal of Futures Studies, 11(1), 23–42.Google Scholar
  29. Joyce, J. (2012). Regret and instability in causal decision theory. Synthese, 187(1), 123–145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lewis, D. (1981). Causal decision theory. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 59(1), 5–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. LHC Safety Study Group. (2003). Study of potentially dangerous events during heavy-ion collisions at the LHC. CERN.Google Scholar
  32. McClennen, E. (1994). Pascal’s wager and finite decision theory. In J. Jordan (Ed.), Gambling on God: Essays on Pascal’s Wager (pp. 115–137). Lanham: Rowan & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  33. Nozick, R. (1981). Philosophical explanations. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Peterson, M. (2009). An introduction to decision theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Putnam, H. (1981). Reason, truth, and history. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rescher, N. (1985). Pascal’s Wager. Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Ringel, Z. & Kovrizhin, D. (2017). Quantized gravitational responses, the sign problem, and quantum complexity. Science Advances, 3(9), 1–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Stricherz, V. (2012). Do we live in a computer simulation? UW researchers say idea can be tested. The University of Washington [Press Release], Retrieved from
  39. Tierney, J. (2007). Our lives, controlled from some guy’s couch. The New York Times. Retrieved from
  40. Torres, P. (2017). Morality, foresight, and human flourishing: An introduction to existential risks. Durham: Pitchstone Publishing.Google Scholar
  41. Weatherson, B. (2003). Are you a sim? The Philosophical Quarterly, 53, 425–431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Wedgwood, R. (2013). Gandalf’s solution to the Newcomb problem. Synthese, 190(14), 2643–2675.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy ProgrammeNTU SingaporeSingaporeSingapore

Personalised recommendations