You are not going to like this, but the odds are uncomfortable high that your physical reality is not physical at all, but virtual. In other words, you do not exist with the substance and structure you think you exhibit. Even though you may play various simulation or video games, you in turn are being played, or at least programmed, by persons or things unknown. So here is the Simulation Hypothesis, otherwise known as the Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe scenario, in review.
Premise: There exists technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations (the exact number is of no consequence) and / or our descendants qualify as having constructed an advanced terrestrial civilization, way in advance of that in the early 21st Century.
Premise: Such civilizations, ours or heads, not only possess advanced technology, but have and do experience exponential growth in those and ever newer technologies.
Premise: Such civilizations do not become extinct.
Premise: Such civilizations build and run simulations, just as we in the early 21st Century do. The reasons are numerous. There are simulations for research purposes, fun and profit, educational training, etc.
Premise: There are vastly more simulated worlds and beings than there are real worlds and befits if our own here and now is anything to go by given the ever prolongation of video games, etc.
Premise: Consciousness or awareness can be simulated. Consciousness or awareness is what you are, but you are just information, a code, an alphabet constructed out of letters that form words that form sentences that form paragraphs that form chapters that extremely form you – you're a book in human form. You can reduce any life form down to its genetic code – information. Information can be coded as bits and bytes. In essence your uniqueness is just a barcode and your consciousness or awareness is just the interactions of your barcode with all the rest of the sets of software that comprise the Simulation (Virtual Reality) Universe scenario.
If the above six are granted, then the conclusion is that it is highly likely that we are 'living' in a simulation. The logic is sound. If you reject the conclusion, you must reject one or more of the six initial promises and there could be no if, ands or buts about your objection. There could be no possible counter objections or exceptions to your objection or rejection of any one or more of the concessions. For example, you might object and say that such civilizations do go extinct before developing advanced simulation technologies, but that would have to apply 100% across the board.
Let's start with the assumption that you do not really exist in a really real reality. Instead, you are virtual reality, a creation (along with the rest of life, the Universe and everything) by a flesh-and-blood fallible Supreme Programmer that created software that resulted in our Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe. What sorts of things might follow from such a scenario?
In case that idea freaks you out, reflect that even if you have just excelled as bits and bytes (instead of a collection of elementary particles and forces), it does not alter one jot anything you did or did not do in your past , whether or not you are pleased with anything you have or have not completed. Whatever runs you have on the board are still there.
Being a virtual being will not alter one jot anything about your future. Since the software controls life, the Universe and everything, once the initial parameters were set, everything became deterministic, even if not predictable to mortals (of which the Supreme Programmer is one). The Universe, of which you are a part, is unfolding as it should. The fact that the income is not predictable should not be surprising since that's the point of doing a simulation. What's the point of doing a simulation if you already know what the income is going to be?
Free Will: A software generated universe would not give you the option of free will. Even for quite different reasons, many people believe that they do not have any free will and yet they still go through life quite content with whatever their deterministic runs are on the board happened to be, so a sudden discover that you do not have free will because you are pre-programmed bits and bytes should not unplug your heating pad. If you stop and reflect on things, even if you do have free will it is so constrained by physics, chemistry and biology and by society that you might as well stuff most of it in a box and bury it.
If you're still freaked out, it does not quite matter what your chair is made of tiny strings; electrons, neutrons and protons; a quantum wave function; or bits and bytes? You can still sit in it! That's your bottom's line! If your simulation is as good (or better) that really real reality, what's the difference?
Billions and billions of people have come and gone never ever even conceiving of the possibility of a virtual reality world, and though none the wiser, their virtual reality had absolutely no bearing on what they thought they were, what kind of life they thought they had led, and all the things they completed and patted themselves on the back for.
So what are some of the opportunities of the Simulation (Virtual Reality) Universe scenario?
For starters, you have an explanation of why there is something rather than nothing – a philosophical quandary that ranks right up there with the Big Questions of reality. Software is a something and you can not have a virtual reality or a simulation without those bits and bytes.
Ageing: At the moment of your conception your aging process began yet there would appear to be no theoretical reason for the aging process Regardless, there appears to be nothing you can do about this or its inevitable conclusion. Your health will decline with aging until you die. Even if you spend your existence in some sort of 'safe house' free from accidents and deliberate acts of malice against you; even if all the air you breathed was filtered free from harmful bacteria and viruses and pollutants; even if you ate a perfectly balanced diet of three meals a day with all foods free of artificial colors, flavors and ingredients and everything was 100% 'organic' with lots of fruits and vegetables; even if your water was distilled and absolutely pure; even if you took no drugs like caffeine or nicotine or alcohol; even if every moment of every day was absolutely stress free; even if you got your eight hours of sleep a day; even if you got lots of exercise, both mental and physical, you will still age and go downhill toward that bucket which you will kick. You can not prevent that complex biochemical aging time bomb that's inherently inside you and which emerged from the simplicity of your conception. As I said, there does not appear to be any physical, chemical or biological reasons why you should age. On the other hand, that could have considered one of the consequences or subroutines of your software program
Death: If life is an emergent property of the cosmos, then death is an emergent property of life, though if you can stay clear of accidents, murder, or disease, there would appear to be little reason for one to kick the bucket since there is no theoretical reason why a living organism has to die a natural death providing the body continuously receives an adequate supply of all resources required for life (food, oxygen or carbon dioxide (if a plant), water, etc.). However, entropy will not be denied and there is nothing you can do (at least in the here and now) about it no matter how well you follow doctor's orders. Again, sometimes death is just one of those programmed in subroutines of your software programming.
Afterlife: Although many people believe in an afterlife, or at least would like to, they would be hard-pressed to come with logical or scientific reasons how it could actually come to pass other than God says so. However, in the Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe, an afterlife is just a software program away, as 'easy' as constructing as your normal programmed virtual 'life'. It's just end software subroutine Jane Doe's 'life'; begin software subroutine Jane Doe's 'afterlife'. The other interesting possibility here is that the sort of afterlife your culture instilled into you will be the one that you receive, even though concepts of the afterlife broadly from culture to culture.
God: The Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe scenario has no impact on theological belief systems. If you believe in God, then you argue that God created the Supreme Programmer. If your theology is flexible, you could believe that the Supreme Programmer is a 'god' or passes for a deity. If you're an atheist, you still have your faith against the existence of a supernatural being, of which the Supreme Programmer is not – supernatural that is. You can give God the big thumbs down while acknowledging ET having some fun with a software program. But you've got to wonder how the major organized trilogy of monotheistic religions are going to react when they discover that their God is actually some teenage computer geek who actually created our life, the universe and, well, virtual everything as a science project!
External Reality: There would reliably little effect on what you perceive about your external reality. It would probably be a reflection of really real reality (RRR). That is without you came across an anomaly or a miracle, something that most would say "it can not be there it is not" to counter your "I know what I saw". I mean witnessing such an out of the ordinary things as crop circles, Sasquatch (Bigfoot), the Loch Ness Monster or a sea serpent, a ghost or a host of other paranormal or pseudoscientific mysteries that are unexplained phenomena.
Quantum Physics: Quantum physics is all around (and inside) of you, and has to be counted as part of your really real reality (RRR). Quantum physics would have to qualify as one of those 'paranormal' anomalies. Any physicist who tells you with a straight face that quantum physics is not highly anomalous is a very good actor and superb liar. However, you are illegally to detect the anomalies unless you are conversant with quantum physics and look for the anomalies as a matter of course. Everything appears normal, but looks can be very deceiving.
Fine-Tuning: It's been noted by many that quite a few of the laws, principles and relationships of physics, and chemistry too, have values such that if those values varied by even a small amount, biology would not be possible. In fact, in some cases chemistry would not be possible, nor even much of physics. This calls for an explanation. The first is that it's all blind luck – sometimes you get dilet a royal flush on the very first hand of your very first poker game. The second explanation is that there exists a Multiverse – thousands, millions, billions, even trillion of universes each with a different set of those laws, principles and relationships of physics. 99.999% of those universes will not be suitable for biology (as we know it) or even chemistry or much of physics for that matter, but just based on sheer probability, a tiny few will turn out to be a Goldilocks (bio-friendly) universe. The initial objection I have is not with the concept of a Multiverse, but with the idea that the laws, principles and relationships of physics will be different in each of the various universes. There's no explanation of why this must be so. Of course that does not alter why our Universe is bio-friendly, and that's what counts, otherwise we would not be here, would we? Explanation number three is of course God and intelligent design. We're here because God designed in the beginning a bio-friendly Universe and a bio-friendly Planet Earth. The concept of God has so much baggage that I have lots of trouble accepting that explanation. But I do like the variation on the theme – the Supreme Programmer. If you are going to design software for a simulation or a video game, etc. you have got to intelligently design that software to keep those inconsistencies or oops to an absolute minimum, if not ideally zero. The simulation or video game has to be a viable simulation or video game, or in other words, a Goldilocks simulation or a bio-friendly video game.
SETI: Why can not radio or other astronomers find any evidence for ET? – Because because extraterrestrials were never programmed into the VR software.
The End: Computers (or CD and DVD players which run 'software' in the form of CDs or DVDs) come with all manner of controls. You can hit the 'pause' bottom to freeze the action in time or the 'stop' button to recycle the action back to the beginning. You can hit 'enter' or 'play' to unfreeze the action or to start or restart the action. In many cases you can hit the 'delete' button. If our simulated world is embedded in software in a typical computer (we're unlikely to be encoded on a CD or DVD but who knows) then 'The End' can come at any moment (sort of like what Christians keep saying about their Second Coming, the apocalypse or Armageddon).
The Supreme Programmer could hit 'pause' which means life, the Universe and everything just freezes until the Supreme Programmer hits 'play' again. We'd never be aware of that 'missing time' any more than the characters in a DVD film are aware of the time lapse if you hit the pause button to go answer the phone while watching their film. The Supreme Programmer could hit the 'stop' button to recycle everything back to the beginning. We would not be aware of that until sometimes such time as our recycles moment in the sun came around again and we got that feeling of déjà vu. The Supreme Programmer could possibly tweak his software with a downloadable update which might also serve to wipe our memories of 'before the tweak' so that we would not notice any discrepancies between the 'before' and the 'after'. Or, if our virtual memory was not wiped with the upgrade, then that account for some of our physical 'constants' do not seem to be quite so constant after all. Rewritten over software may also account for phantoms, both animate (like ghosts) and inanimate. Lastly, the Supreme Programmer is finished and the program ends. Of course the Supreme Programmer could now rerun the program, or tweak / upgrade it and rerun it. It's interesting to note how many cosmologies, especially ancient ones like the Maya and Hindus, have a recycling cosmology: cosmic Birth – cosmic existence – cosmic death; cosmic birth – cosmic existence – cosmic death. Even Christianity promises a new heaven and a new earth after those 'end of days' or the 'end times'. Of course the Supreme Programmer could just hit the 'delete' button and that's just the End of our virtual life, the virtual Universe and the virtual everything; or perhaps accidently drop the computer smashing it to smithereens; or spill his coffee over the keyboard; Egypt may the hard-drive crashes; or maybe the Supreme Programmer just turns the computer off and dies before ever turning it back on. This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a fade-to-black.