Everything you know is based on information you gather with your senses, compared to memories that are stored in your mind. You believe that this knowledge comes from your interaction with the real world and the objects and people which inhabit that world. Plato pointed out that a person who lived their entire life in a cave, seeing nothing but shadows and never seeing the objects which cast the shadows, would think the shadows are real, just like we think the world we see is real. But what if that’s all an illusion? Could you prove it?
Here are ten crazy theories about the universe which cannot be disproved.
#1 This life is really just a dream you’re having while you’re lying in a hospital bed somewhere, in a coma.
Every detail of your life, and every memory you think you have of it, is really just a highly detailed dream you’re having. None of it is real. Any minute now, you might wake up and find yourself lying in a hospital bed, in a world with a completely different history, and say to yourself “Oh, it was all a dream.” Right now, you think you’re a 32-year-old real estate agent with 2 kids but the truth is that you’re a 60-year-old school teacher who never got married, having a dream about being a 32-year-old real estate agent with 2 kids. Some dreams can seem very real when you’re in them and you never know for sure until you wake up.
#2 This life is really just a dream and Earth doesn’t exist at all.
Similar to #1 above, you’re in a coma having a dream but the hospital bed is on an alien planet which is very different from Earth. In fact, Earth doesn’t exist. You just dreamed it up. You think you’re a Homo Sapiens but you’re not. As the philosopher Chuang Tzu asked, if a man can have a dream about being a butterfly, how do you know that you aren’t really a butterfly who’s having a dream about being a man?
#3 The entire universe doesn’t exist, except for you.
This world is a dream all right, but you aren’t lying in a hospital bed on Earth or any other planet because there are no planets. You dreamed the very concept of stars and planets. The truth is that your mind is the only thing that exists in the cosmos and everything else (even your body) is just part of this dream you’re having. Rene DesCartes famously said Cogito Ergo Sum ( I think therefore I am ) but the only person you know for sure to be thinking is yourself, so you exist and maybe that’s all there is. Just you. Thinking and existing.
#4 The universe is real but it was created five minutes ago.
For reasons unknown, an omnipotent god decided to create a universe with you in it, complete with galaxies and stars and planet Earth, and everything on Earth, including other humans. But this god didn’t have the patience to spend 6 days creating the universe and then wait 6,000 years for history to unfold gradually, leading us to this exact moment in time. This impatient god decided instead to create the entire universe, just as you perceive it to be right now, five minutes ago. Any memories you have of things that happened more than five minutes ago are false memories. Those memories were created five minutes ago. Any artifacts you find which appear to be more than five minutes old were actually created five minutes ago, complete with features which give them the illusion of being much older, and those features were created five minutes ago.
#5 The world as we know it is just a computer simulation.
Remember the game The Sims? If computers keep getting better and better, it may become possible to program a simulation which is so detailed that the characters in the simulation become self-aware. The world they inhabit seems very real to them. It’s the only world they have ever known. It’s perfectly consistent for them, even if the rules are slightly different from those of the world inhabited by the programmer who wrote the simulation. Now, given the idea that there could be thousands of such simulations running on thousands of different computers, and only one real world, what are the odds that this world, which you think is real, is actually the one real world? Isn’t more likely that it’s one of the many many simulations? Perhaps it was created by a programmer in the far off future who wanted to see what life might have been like here in our time, which is the ancient past from the programmer’s point of view.
#6 You’re in a simulation which is running parallel to the real world, on trial for a crime you haven’t committed yet.
Similar to #5 above, you’re in a simulation, but it’s not the ancient past, it’s present day. There’s the real you who inhabits the real world, and there’s a thousand simulated yous who inhabits a thousand simulations. The real you has been arrested by the thought police who suspect you are about to commit a crime. They’ve programmed a thousand computers with a simulation of the real world, and put into each one a highly detailed simulation of you and your personality. They are monitoring the simulations to see what you’ll do. In each simulation, there will be a situation where simulated you will have an opportunity to commit a crime where simulated you thinks no one will ever find out. If the majority of the simulated yous go through with the crime, then the real you will be punished with horrific torture. So, dear reader, you think you’re real but actually you’re just a simulation and the real you is handcuffed in a police station awaiting the results of this test. If you, the simulation, commit a crime (which crime? impossible to say…) then the real you will be tortured for a very long time. So watch yourself.
#7 You’re in a parallel simulation, accused of treason and being tested for loyalty.
Similar to #6 above, you’re one of a thousand simulated yous whose actions will have dire consequences for the real you which is handcuffed in a police station. This simulation is your chance to prove your loyalty. The problem is… loyalty to whom? You don’t know. Perhaps the programmers are Nazis who are giving you this chance to prove your loyalty to the Nazi Party. If you denounce the Nazis in this simulation, the real you will suffer for it. Or maybe the programmers are Communists fighting the Nazis who are expecting you to denounce the Nazis and demonstrate your loyalty to Communism. There’s no way to tell what it is they want you do do or say. But if you make the wrong choice, the real you will tortured for a very long time.
#8 You’re in a simulation which appears to be 14 billion years old but really it was created just 6,000 years ago and you’re being tested for… something.
Is the simulation real, or does it just seem real? Either way, you find yourself on planet Earth, surrounded by people, a few of which are desperately trying to tell you that the universe is only 6,000 years old. You laugh at those people but actually they’re right. And you’re being tested. The creator/programmer wants to see how you will act. Certain actions will prove your loyalty and the real you will be rewarded, other actions will show your disloyalty and the real you will be tortured. But which actions are which? The creator/programmer has deliberately put false clues into the simulation regarding the age of the universe. What if there are other false clues telling us to do certain things and not do others when really that’s precisely what condemns us to torture? Does the creator reward people for being gullible? Does the creator reward people for being skeptical? There’s not way to cover all the bases. No matter what you do, there’s a risk that you’ve chosen the wrong answer. In the words of Bill Hicks, “Does that bother any of you? That God might be fucking with us?”.
#9 You are immortal.
The world is real, you are real, but you can never die. You see other people dying around you and you believe that some day you will die but the truth is that you’ll keep avoiding death, somehow. Every bullet fired at your head will miss by a few inches. Every disease you catch will just fail to kill you. You’ll keep getting older, of course, but no matter how bad your health gets, you never… quite… die. The only way to disprove this theory is to actually die but then if and when that happens you aren’t conscious anymore so you never have that “Aha!” moment where you can say “Look, I’m dead!”. So there’s no way to know for sure that you aren’t immortal.
#10 Everyone is immortal.
According to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, every event splits the world into two worlds, one where it happened and one where it didn’t happen. Suppose the real you branches into this world and a ghost you branches into the other world. This happens millions of times each second. At every single branch point, there is at least one branch which leads to a world where you survive. For example, someone points a loaded gun right at your head and pulls the trigger. Will the gun misfire, yes or no? That event splits the world into two worlds, one where you are alive and one where you are dead. The real you follows the branch into the world where you are alive and in the other world it’s just a ghost you. The ghost is dead. But the real you is still alive, in another world. So the real you is immortal, because every single event has some possible way that the real you could survive (even if the odds are astronomical), so the real you always will survive. In those other worlds, other people see you die but it’s not the real you, it’s a ghost you. And the same thing is true about other people! Their real selves always branch to a world where they survive, but it may not be the same one that the real you is in. So you see people dying, but it’s just ghost them. The real them is still alive. And they see you dying, but it’s not the real you either. Everyone is immortal. Again, the only way to disprove this would be to have an “Aha!” moment after you’re dead. But if you’re dead, it’s too late to have that moment.
None of these theories can be proven false. There aren’t any experiments that you could conduct whose outcome would confirm or deny the truth of these theories.
But hey, there’s probably nothing you can do about it anyway, so don’t waste time worrying about it.