Yup, it's likely that nothing matters. And that's just fine.
*A little heads up: I am not a philosopher nor an expert in philosophy. This post, full of holes as it may be, is simply an optimistic spin to a bleak conclusion about life. TL;DR : No matter how you splice it, nothing matters. And that's the most comforting realization you'll ever have.* Brace yourselves, this one is going to get weird. I was listening to Nick Bostrom on The Joe Rogan Experience this morning for what I had thought would be a little background noise in the gym. Now, if you're at all familiar with Dr. Bostrom, you'll know that the phrase "little background noise" likely wasn't what I ended up with. And you'd be right. Two-and-a-half hours, three Tylenol, and a very depressing bus-ride later put me in a bit of an introspective mood—and not in a good way. My mind was repeatedly bombarded with thoughts like "Great, in all probability nothing matters," with no way out of that conclusion.
Dr. Bostrom is a major proponent to "simulation theory," or the belief that everything as we know it—life, Earth, the universe, all of it—is an artificial simulation of some kind. This theory is ultimately derived from the idea that one of the three following statements needs to be true: 1. Humans will never reach a point of technology where realistic simulations would be possible, so simulation theory is false.
2. Humans will reach a point of technology where realistic simulations would be possible, but humans will have very little collective interest in running these simulations, so simulation theory is false.
3. Humans will reach a point of technology where realistic simulations will be possible and they will have an interest in doing so. If that is the case, it is more probable that we are currently living in a simulated reality right now. Like I said, a little "light background noise" for the gym.
Now, if this is your first time hearing or digesting these thoughts, it comes out insane. I get it. But when you break down Dr. Bostrom's arguments, they're not nearly as crazy as they seem. We can rule out statement #1 because we know the potential for artificial intelligence (AI) is there. At this point in time, that technology's development is a matter of "when," not "if." The same goes for creating virtual reality. I know VR systems like Oculus are limited now, but given 10 or 20 thousand years, you can see how they might be enhanced to the point of being perfectly "real." Finally, we can rule out statement #2 because we know that humans are naturally curious and would most likely run these realistic simulations when the technology allows them to. In other words, there's simply no reason why we wouldn't. As for statement #3, here's how it works: Over enough time, technology could be developed to run an infinite number of simulations meaning they are possible. If these simulations are run infinitely, then there would be an infinite number of versions of you out there, each believing (or at least questioning) that they were the original copy. The chances that any one of these is actually the original would be 1 out of infinity. In other words, the chances that you aren't just another version of yourself in a simulation is microscopically small. Here is where Joe Rogan was hitting a wall with Dr. Bostrom and wondering why the latter assumed we aren't the original right now and the technology just hasn't been invented yet. I believe Dr. Bostrom wanted to say, though never quite found the words, that we could all be the original versions of ourselves in material reality, but since all versions of you would believe that they were the original, the chances of being right would be close to null.
Alright, now you're starting to see why I needed those 3 Tylenol. It's a bottomless thought experiment that can't be disproven and can be logically shown to be most likely true. Thus, you're left with the logical conclusion that you're living in a simulated reality with no purpose. You'll repeat everything over and over again; buy the same groceries; have the same kids; get the same job; read this blog post—everything. Taken to it's furthest extreme, then, nothing you do or say here has any purpose or meaning. It isn't even real in the sense we've grown up believing it is. But the funny thing is that every philosophy that has ever tried to explain why we're here or the meaning of life reaches the same conclusion: our time on Earth isn't special and, ultimately, means nothing. Think about it. Most major religions (both Eastern and Western) make certain demands of their followers but recognize that life is just a means to the almighty end. You should do good to other people, help the helpless, and become a servant to the God you worship, but your actions are much less emphasized than what you genuinely believe in your heart of hearts. Atheists are no different. You live, you die, and just like you can't remember what happened before you were born, you won't even know what it is like to not exist after you die . You're a drop in the ocean of time and in 1,000 years (likely less) it will be as if you had never existed at all. The way you interact with people is created to help society function but there is no meta-physical punishment/reward so, really, there is no purpose to "doing good." That means that whether you're religious, atheist, or a simulationist, all roads point to the conclusion that in the big scheme of it all, nothing matters.
And that is one of the most comforting realizations you can ever have. Why? Because no matter what you believe, you can rest assured that you're probably taking life—and yourself—way too seriously. In other words, this realization finally gives you reason to stop sweating the small stuff. Please don't get the wrong idea, though. This isn't a free pass to go on a wild bender of drugs, sex, and booze thinking that since there are no eternal consequences, then there are no consequences at all. See, if nothing matters in the grand scheme, then all that really matters is on a smaller scale. And that small scale means your purpose in life is to do two things: a) Live your short time here using all of your potential to find personal fulfillment
b) Help others do the same prioritizing in this order: your family, your friends, your community, your country, and the world (environmental issues being an exception to this list because if those get serious enough, you won't be able to help anyone) And that's it. The key to life no matter what philosophy or belief you have. Don't worry about happiness, sadness, anger, grief, jealousy... all those petty emotions that leave just as fast as they came. You'll experience all of them, no doubt, but you can teach yourself to appreciate each one for what they are: a reminder that you're even here at all. Plus, none of these emotions should prevent you from finding personal fulfillment because, in the end, that's what counts. After all, if nothing you do matters in 1,000 years, then you have the luxury of picking and choosing what's important to you right here, right now. But choose wisely. Even if you are simulated into an infinite number of copies, die into nothingness, or float on up to heaven, the only thing that you can be sure of is that you've only got one shot to live this life. So make it count, even if it only counts to you and those you love.