In his book “The Fabric of Reality”, renowned theoretical physicist David Deutsch describes a world view that he arrives at through a deep and thoughtful consideration of quantum physics and the theories of knowledge, computation and evolution. It is a fascinating read, and demonstrates some of the clearest, most rigorous and elegantly argued thinking I have come across.
One of the concepts he explores in some detail is virtual reality, and one of the conclusions he comes to is that it is not possible for us ever to know with certainty whether or not we exist in an externally controlled virtual reality simulation. As a summary to one the chapters of the book, he says the following.
Virtual reality is not just a technology in which computers simulate the behaviour of physical environments. The fact that virtual reality is possible is an important fact about the fabric of reality. It is the basis not only of computation, but of human imagination and external experience, science and mathematics, art and fiction.
And from this, the essential point I would like to extract is that he is saying that virtual reality is the basis of human imagination and external experience.
If you have any argument with this point, as you may well do if you have an active and enquiring mind, then I highly recommend that you read the book to see exactly how he reaches this conclusion. It is quite compelling.
There is a very interesting overlap with the teachings of Advaita (non-duality) here. One of the tenets of non-duality is, of course, that any experience of duality that we think we may have is illusory ie. imaginary or dreamed. And here we have a scientist whose world view seems to be compatible with this, despite the very widespread belief system that reality is external to and independent of ourselves, and that our perceived reality is not virtual.
The wonderful thing about this is that he arrives at this conclusion through a careful and stringent consideration of the facts of our existence and experience, and attempts to avoid all assumptions that the less disciplined thinkers amongst us would normally make. And what this seems to demonstrate is that through the attempted use of pure reason, a physicist and a spiritual enquirer may well come to similar, if not actually the same, conclusions about the nature of reality itself.
Indeed, the Advaita teachings indicate that the main obstacle to the much sought “enlightenment” experience (the experience of the deeper truth of reality, rather than the dream), is our own ignorance ie. due to false beliefs we hold about the nature of reality, as a result of our failure to question and explore the reality of our own experience more deeply than we already do.
So apparently, the requisite questioning and exploration can apparently be either of a spiritual nature (for example, by a thorough and persistent investigation of who you are or what you may be) as carried out by the sages of the world, or it can be purely scientific, as carried out by the more advanced scientists, such as David Deutsch.
From someone with a strong interest in both of these approaches, it is inspiring to see such a rapprochement!