Are We Living in the Matrix? One Professor Is Considering It


Courtesy of David Chalmers

NYU Philosophy Professor David Chalmers responses to The New Yorker regarding whether or not humans are living in a simulation. Chalmers emphasizes that though the probability is not high, it is notable that there is no method to prove that humans aren’t in a simulation.

Sarah Jackson, Contributing Writer

There’s a possibility that we are all living in a human simulation — that’s something Professor of Philosophy David Chalmers has considered. This viewpoint has now been widely circulated after The New Yorker article “Did the Oscars Just Prove That We are Living in a Computer Simulation?” by Adam Gopnik referenced this theory.

Between the Oscars’ Best Picture mix-up, the Patriots’ last-minute comeback at this year’s Super Bowl and even Trump’s unforeseen election win, Gopnik entertains in his article the possibility that these recent anomalies suggest we are living in a simulation gone wrong, and cites Chalmers as an expert opinion.

What is happening lately, [Chalmers] says, is support for the hypothesis that we are living in a computer simulation and that something has recently gone haywire within it,” Gopnik wrote in the article.

But Chalmers said to Washington Square News that The New Yorker exaggerated his views on the possibility of a simulated reality.

“The article suggests that all of the weird things happening lately are signs that we are living in a simulation,” Chalmers said. “But this isn’t an idea I would put too much emphasis on. I’d say the likelihood that we are living in a simulation is between 10-50 percent. But we could never prove that we’re not in a simulation because any evidence we could get would probably be simulated in the simulations.”

Chalmer’s credentials suggest that readers should give the possibility of a worldwide simulation more thought. As an undergraduate, Chalmers studied mathematics at the University of Adelaide. He went on to earn his Masters in mathematics at Oxford University before his inquiries about consciousness drove him to pursue a Ph.D. in Philosophy and Cognitive Science, which he completed at Indiana University in 1993.

Chalmers has worked at universities across the country and even internationally, teaching at Australian National University for 10 years. He began teaching part-time at NYU in 2009 and transitioned to his current full-time position in 2014.

Chalmers originally appeared in The New Yorker in the 2013 article “The Riddle of Consciousness,” by Gary Marcus. The piece tackles one of philosophy’s perennial questions and one of Chalmers’ greatest interests in the field.

“David Chalmers, my colleague at NYU, famously distinguished between what he has called the ‘hard problem’ and the ‘easy problems’ of consciousness,” Marcus wrote in the piece. “Easy problems include, say, explaining the difference between wakefulness and sleep. The hard problem, Chalmers suggested, was that of understanding the nature of experience itself.”

Even though Chalmers himself would not emphasize the matrix idea, CAS freshman Leonard Tjondro won’t rule out Chalmer’s theory.

“Who’s to say what is possible or impossible in the world?” Tjondro said. “There is so much we still don’t know — maybe we really are living in a computer simulation.”

Email Sarah Jackson at [email protected].