A sceptical theory posed by some philosophers is based on the idea of an ‘evil genius’ that controls our lives and leaves us with very little free will. To expand, the theory suggests that life itself could just be a simulation in which our choices are not, or ever have been, our own. This leaves individuals usually in two mindsets; oh my god am I real? Are you real? Queue internal screaming. Conversely, you can take a ‘try not to think about it’ approach in which we blissfully continue with our lives. Here I’ll be looking at some optimistic criticism of the theory as well as looking into my own philosophy of life that helps me keep the internal screaming to a minimum, influenced through the medium of video games.
Firstly, it is important to question the theory itself. Is there really a plausible counter to the evil genius? Renes Descartes, a French philosopher of the 17th century, proposes that “I think, therefore I am”, suggesting the fool proof idea that our independent thought is our own. Thinking itself can be influenced but not entirely devoid of ourselves according to Descartes. Whilst not directly opposing the evil genius theory, it does at least answer one of its most unsettling aspects, we exist. However, there is not any real answer to the idea that we are in a simulation controlled by something else. I could question the idea logically, mainly in that it has never made much sense to me why a malevolent being would create an entire universe for me to live my life in, but it does not disprove the theory overall. In that case, let’s take the theory at face value; we might exist inside a simulation, but does that make any difference to how we should act and live our lives?
Living inside a simulation is best compared to many video games. In these simulations, we are fully aware as players (our own ‘evil genius’) that the world we play in is not real, and many gamers can attest to cruel things they have done in video games. From trapping our sims in inescapable pools of water, the boundless war simulators like Total War, or giving into the temptations of Undertale and carrying out the aptly named ‘genocide run’. The point for my view in life is that in those games we are fully aware that we have the power to reset everything, undo deeds, and perhaps play as a benevolent rather than malevolent ‘genius’. However, in the supposed simulation we might live in, it is exactly that; a supposed simulation. The world could be a simulation, but it could also be reality, or at least the only reality that matters to us, and we still feel the consequences of those actions.
Given then that we may only live in a simulation, why would we live any differently than we have done previously? The video game examples are more extreme, leaning in to the ‘malevolent’ part of the theory, but we can make many more everyday life problems that matter to us only because our thinking -the only guaranteed ‘real’ thing- gives them meaning. Even if that exam -the true malicious villain- is just part of the simulation, I place value on it as something worth achieving. Back in the fictional universe of games, films, and books we still place value on things that are not real. So then, should we care about the ‘real’ world? For me it is a definite yes. Just like the fictional worlds where we become the ‘evil genius’ that we fear so much ourselves, ultimately it is the value we place on things that makes us care for the world we live in, whether it is real or not.
[Mitchell Welsh – he/him]
[Photo credit: cottonbro]