The other day I was at the Small Dog Park. It's a fenced area where dogs under 20 pounds can frolic with each other. I was chatting with a friend, whose dog is named Indy, about a movie I just watched involving a dog named Marley. After my friend left, I met a guy who has two Italian Greyhounds, coincidentally named Marley and Indy.

I don't know the odds of discussing two dogs named Marley and Indy, immediately followed by an unrelated discussion of two different dogs named Marley and Indy. I'm thinking it is in the smallish category.

Speaking of coincidences, I have started noticing that all movies are about me personally. For example, the Marley and Me movie is about a guy who writes humorous columns about his dog. My last blog post prior to watching the movie was a humorous piece about my own dog. (See below.) The writer in the movie worked in a cubicle at one point, and if you look closely at the comic hanging on his wall, it's Dilbert.

There's a bit of selection bias in this coincidence. I did know it was about a dog. But I wasn't aware it was about a writer who writes humorous bits about his dog. And I didn't expect to see one of my drawings in it.

Still, it seems that every time I watch a movie or a TV show lately there is at least one element that is yanked directly from my life. And I don't mean the obvious stuff such as "we are both humans." The connections are usually pretty obscure.

I have to remain true to my skeptical roots and explain these coincidences away with references to selective memory, and pointing out that it would be even stranger if there were no coincidences at all, given the richness of life's experiences. But it got me wondering if there is any way to design an experiment to test the theory that life is an illusion.

Obviously the illusion could be so well designed that all testing of it would be cleverly thwarted. So a negative result would mean nothing. But suppose this illusion was providing a fire hose of ongoing clues. What would those clues look like?

One possible clue is that your life might have what I will call a theme. For example, Steve Jobs' theme is that he can turn any business into a huge winner. You might call that skill, but he still had to be in exactly the right places at exactly the right times for his particular skill to be useful. I don't think he would have been much of a hunter/gatherer.

You probably know people who are the opposite of Steve Jobs, able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory again and again, through no obvious fault of their own. It looks like extraordinary bad luck. That's a theme.

If your name is Kennedy, you might have good luck with love and money and power, but bad luck with transportation. Stay away from PT boats, convertibles in Dallas, cars in rivers, and small aircraft. That's a theme.

Some people are lucky in love, but unlucky in health. That's a theme. You get the picture. So ask yourself if your life would look entirely random from an objective viewpoint or is there a recurring theme. If you have a theme, you might be a product of design.

Another clue that life is an illusion is that perceived reality might have inexplicable dead ends or cracks. Consider the physics study of entanglement, where particles influence each other at any distance, which is seemingly impossible. Or consider that light is both a particle and a wave. Physics is full of examples where reality seems to have cracks and dead ends.

How would you test to see if life is an illusion?

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Feb 6, 2009
By the way, in my post two down from here about the strong logical argument that we are in fact living in a simulation...I forgot to mention the person that came up with it, Nick Bostrom, is a professor at Oxford University - not some nutcase.

Just thought that might be important.


+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 26, 2009
Scott - I am a little late to this party but I read all the comments and nobody directed you to this web site:


This guy has a pretty strong logical argument that we *are* living in a simulation! I think you would find this VERY interesting just on it's bulletproof logical reasoning alone. I was dumbstruck by it.

I expect to see blog entry about this! :-)
Jan 26, 2009
Experiments seem like a wasted effort. One could look for all the signs that were revealed in The Matrix. Things like glitches, instances where physical rules did not apply, instances where perception controlled reality. The downfall to this strategy is that the better the simulation is, the better these limitations are masked.

Here is an idea. Let's consult the wisdom of crowds. Here is an estimate of the religious beliefs of the world population:

Christians 33.32%
Muslims 21.01%
Hindus 13.26%
Buddhists 5.84%
Sikhs 0.35%
Jews 0.23%
Baha'is 0.12%
other religions 11.78%
non-religious 11.77%
atheists 2.32%
(2007 estimates from cia.gov)

The first two groups give us over 50%. As luck would have it, both of those religions believe that this life is a simulation. Your behavior in this simulation determines your destiny in the next. You go to heaven or hell, depending on how you conduct yourself. Many other religions not in the first two groups share similar beliefs, so I think we can agree it's not a small margin deserving of a recount. The majority of the world population has a stated belief that includes a belief that we live in a simulation.

There is the small matter of a reporting bias here. However this data was collected, at some point, people reported themselves as members of the groups that hold these beliefs. There is no practical way to confirm each reported case can lead us to conclude that every person in that group believes the mortal life is a simulation and the life after death is the one that matters.

For this, we can turn to the great, modern-day philosopher Scott Adams. In one of his fictional work, he proposed a test of people's commitment to beliefs like this. I am paraphrasing here, but his ideation boiled down to this: If people really believed that their life-span in this simulation dictated their fate in the eternal life, wouldn't they spend this brief stage of their entire existence following the rules exactly? 72 years is a short time in the grand scheme of things. Couldn't you spend that brief time living exactly as your book of choice tells you to live?

There are no CIA statistics that report how many people follow the 10 commandments as if their eternal life depended on it, so I can only introduce hearsay and anecdotal evidence. I would venture to guess that a statistically insignificant number of people behave as if they truly believe that we live in the simulation. Faced with the stated belief contrasted against the belief revealed by behavior, I would conclude that people have given great thought to the simulation hypothesis and rejected it.

So I'm saying the wisdom of crowds points towards a conclusion that we do not live in a simulation.
Jan 17, 2009
I don't know why, but the comment I posted just now displays the word c-i-r-c-u-m-s-t-a-n-c-e-s as if it's a bad word, like %#^&$#.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 17, 2009
Every life has a theme. For 99.99% of people, that theme is the one of repeating the same mistakes over and over again and subtly learning from those mistakes until they stop making those mistakes or else reach the end of life and come back to earth in the next incarnation to more or less pick up where they left off. The !$%*!$%*!$%*! of one's life (genetics, environment) are the !$%*!$%*!$%*! that best give them opportunities to learn the lessons that they still have outstanding, and it's all finally an illusion. This is the substance of Hinduism, Buddhism, and related philosophies.
Jan 8, 2009
Is there not close to an infinity of themes one might concoct to explain their life's experiences?

As to your examples pointing toward life being an illusion, perhaps our "models" explaining realty are deficient. That light behaves like our models predict waves AND particles depending on the context convinces me we as yet haven't found the bedrock explanation for light. Just because we don't understand it doesn't mean illusion or magic is the explanation.
Jan 8, 2009
Every time I read one of your articles, I cannot but realize a strong undercurrent of the basic philosophy in Hinduism in it.

In this article you talk about finding(knowing, looking for) a theme for your life and ancient Hindu texts talk about identifying one's purpose in his life. Some heavy handed explanation of "identifying one's purpose in life" has lead people to believe that it is indeed some thing divine which noble men practice and lay men strive for.
Add to that, the english word purpose which isn't exactly the same as karma.

What else is it other than fulfilling ones purpose in case of Steve Jobs? He has realised that he has a knack for having a different perspective of things. He uses this to his benefit and is where he is now because of that.

Similarly, one can say the same about people who aren't successful in what they do. Its just that they have found their purpose in life in exactly the same way as those who are successful.

And then off course I could also site the similarity between maya and illusion that you have mentioned.

I am sure you will have a lot more to offer, if you do readup something along these lines.
I am keen on reading it.

Jan 7, 2009
This is f*cking ridiculous.

This is stupid, you might be going crazy, maybe you should see "someone".
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 6, 2009
Particles and waves aren't "real", they're just models we use in order to explain some characteristics we observe in the real world. Light turned out to be too complicated for these simplistic models, and since we don't have a better model to fill in the gap yet, we sort of glue one together from the bits and pieces that we have to work with.

That being said, what exactly is the difference between an illusion and reality? To formulate a conclusive test, you'd need explicit definitions of the two terms. Likely, while attempting to come up with definitions, it will become evident why a test is impossible.

The theme of my life is getting what I want only to find out I might have just as well not bothered.
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 6, 2009
Hey, on a semi-related note, check out today's (1-6-09) Urban Dictionary word of the day.
Jan 6, 2009
I see the slope of your descent into solipsism syndrome is steepening...
Jan 6, 2009
Robert Anton Wilson used to speculate about these kinds of things in his books. He could "try on" so many kinds of beliefs that the reader couldn't ever be sure exactly what he believed in. I think he must have felt that life was an illusion because he spent so much time pondering the hows, whys, futilities, and stupidities of it. I think I recall him saying that beliefs were like clothes. Put a new set on and see what sort of world you inhabit. ...perception creates "reality" sort of notion. Though he said ...you really gotta wear those clothes. You can't put 'em on over the old set. One specific experiment he thought up was trying to get Quarters "from heaven". It was objective so it should be easy to see if believing in it and visualizing it really got the ole holographic, yet illusory universe churning to create you a steady supply of quarters appearing in your daily life.

I've never gotten around to trying it. I seem a bit fixed in my beliefs, so until I can swap 'em out with impunity, the universe keeps looking pretty concrete to me. Though I just finished the book "Quantum Enigma" and it really got me thinking about how observation seems to be required for the microscopic to become real.
Jan 6, 2009
All I have to say is, for a self-proclaimed atheist, you sure spend a lot of time thinking about yourself and our reality being a 'product of design'. That seem to me to be conflicting ideas. Maybe you're having a 'crisis of faith'.
Jan 6, 2009
If that movie had a cubicle worker without a Dilbert cartoon on the wall I'd be suspicious.
I work part-time for a security firm at a high-tech company. The cubes without an example your life's work in them have either just been downsized or just been hired via the H1B visa. No exceptions!
I do agree with a previous post in that they should have gotten permission from you or your syndicate for that scene. Whereas you may not need the money, a barely readable line in the trailing credits might be nice...
Jan 6, 2009
Due to hundreds of times of this happening, I think my theme is losing things when i most need it. Fore example:

On Sunday, I went to Borders Book Store. This Hanukkah, I had gotten a $20 gift card there. Coincidence? Anyhow, I had stored my gift card in a very specific spot where nothing could happen to it (I have been aware of this "talent" for some time now). I swore to myself that I would not move it from that spot. On Sunday, I went to the spot where I had kept it, and TADAA! It was gone, as usual. I don't really know if life is an illusion, but if so, I would be a clue.
Jan 6, 2009
You once discussed the possibility that you were the most ripped-off person in history. Did the movie makers pay you royalties for the use of your strip?
Jan 6, 2009
"The writer in the movie worked in a cubicle at one point, and if you look closely at the comic hanging on his wall, it's Dilbert"

Could there be anything LESS coincidental? Dilbert - a strip known all round the world, the mascot of cubicle dwellers. There will be Dilbert cartoons hanging off cubicle walls in damn near ever office in the land. So when the set dressers are building a cubicle that will look "right"......guess what they stick on the wall?

It's (almost) like saying "I build PCs for a living....and this guy in the movie who works in a cubicle had a PC in his office! How spooky is that!?!"
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 6, 2009
How does a dream know it is a dream? You need a real person with independent thought in the dream, and hope he can figure it out. If life was an illusion, the only way you (remember - you are only an illusion) could find out was if the illusionist told you.

For me, the pinch test works fine. If i can feel it, its real enough for me. Which brings me to another point...I always forget to pinch myself in a dream. Has anyone done it (not pinch me in your dream...pinch yourself). Does it hurt?
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 6, 2009

I was just reading the comment by Dazeden and thought - hmmm, I would also like to get a dog.

At that very moment an email arrived from a friend, announcing that a four years old labrador needs a home, for its previous owners died in a car accident.

And this happens after reading a blog about coincidences.

Pale illusion.
Jan 5, 2009
Well, it seems that if life is a simulation, my brain would do a much better job of making things up.

Where I think the problem or issue lies is in mentally ill people. I doubt someone's brain would force medicate them and stick them in a lockup ward. Certainly not where they want to be, for doing what they feel like doing.
Bad interface? So when you're playing half-life is that a simulation of a simulation? How would you tell the difference?
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