Have you ever looked at the news and wondered if anything around you could possibly be real after what you just saw? Maybe it feels like the world just keeps repeating the same mistakes over and over again; or perhaps you’ve realised that there’s no way things could get stranger but whoops! They just did?

Well you’re not alone, and some people actually think these are signs of being a normal, functioning human being. We know better, of course. That’s why we think these five signs that we are all actually living inside a simulated reality may be precisely what you need to hear right now.

5. You Can’t Look At Subatomic Particles

“Well, duh! Of course you can’t, they’re very small.”

Someone who is very smart and also missing the point

As anyone who has sat too close to the screen when growing up will know (because as adults we absolutely never do this, oh no, and especially not when browsing the web on my phone at night…) there is only so much extra detail you can get from an image by getting closer to it. Even if we zoom in on a computer, there comes a point where you actually start seeing less than you did before because now the screen is just covered in enormous pixels and there isn’t a person in the world that can make head nor tail from that.

Well it turns out that the universe might work in the same way; and if it does, we need to know why.

Look what happens when you smash gold atoms together!

Subatomic particles should exist – and if they exist, we should be able to see them with our amazing microscopes. We can work out where these particles should be and what they do thanks to our amazing particle physics equations (and speaking as a particle physicist, they are great and more people should study them. No, I’m not biased, you’re biased.). We can detect them using technology that wouldn’t look out of place in the average science-fiction film. We just can’t look at them.

Why not?

Well one theory is that they don’t exist as particles in the way that we understand particles. Quantum physics is full of absurdities like this but the thing is, many particles that demonstrate odd properties can still be seen if you know how to look at them. Another theory is that we just haven’t got the fine quality of equipment to actually see these things yet, and that may turn out to be true as well; although not everyone is convinced.

The final theory is that we can’t see them because they don’t exist – but they must exist because we can detect them. So if their effects can be detected but they still don’t exist, what does that mean for the universe? Well… it means the universe isn’t real, in the purest sense of the word. We see the effects of the particles because the universe is coded to have those effects but whoever coded it obviously didn’t expect us to look quite that closely at everything, so they never bothered to code in the physical appearance of subatomic particles.

We may well have detected the existence of the simulation we live in simple because someone, at some point, decided “screw it, nobody’s going to check” and clocked off early one night. Quite frankly that’s as hilarious as it is scary.

4. We May Have Found The Universe’s Pixels

Have you ever heard of the Planck Length? No, it’s not a term in construction (although it probably is, nobody here bothered to check), it is instead the smallest distance possible in the universe over which the laws of physics actually seem to apply. If you try to go smaller than a Planck Length, well… you can’t. Distance stops having any meaning and physics as you know it gives way to the weirdness of quantum gravity effects.

We are back to Quantum Physics here, so buckle up. I had to study this stuff at 9AM on a Monday morning while nursing a hangover when I was at university because although I could calculate the age of the universe using a photograph (that’s a real thing, yes), I apparently couldn’t work out that drinking heavily on a Sunday night wasn’t a good idea. Yes, that’s off topic. What’s your point?

Oh, right. Quantum Physics. Well you see, quantum physics has, at its core, the proven principle that when you get down to the very small things in the universe (like subatomic particles) it turns out angular momentum, energy levels and similar properties of that subatomic matter can only exist at discrete, quantifiable levels. Why is that? Good question.

Well, you remember a that whole “Screw it, nobody’s going to check” thing from a few paragraphs ago? This looks an awful lot like the rules which govern how those subatomic particles someone didn’t bother to code in actually work. In computer games and the models we use for making sure bridges hold up and roller coasters don’t fall apart, we tend to use clearly defined values to make everything work just well enough to get the job done. Computers don’t actually model reality, they use principles and values the coder input into the system in order to emulate the real world accurately enough to pull off whatever the program is supposed to do. The Planck Length seems to be where that happens in the universe.

It’s the smallest level, where we see the information everything else is built up from. In computer game terms, it’s the set of base values that everything else works off. In terms of your computer screen, the Planck Length is the size of the pixels; and when enough are stuck together and set at the right values, you can see every colour under the Sun; but each pixel can still only show you one of a very small number of colours in and of itself.

Welcome to the Matrix, it’s built from hardly anything but it all seems real as long as you don’t look too closely.

3. You Can Store Computer Viruses In DNA

Guys, I swear I’m not making this up. It’s long been known that any computer hooked up to the Internet is vulnerable to attack; and one of the best ways to attack those computers is to inject information into whatever data they are streaming into themselves at the time. A malicious hacker could be sniffing around on Netflix, or YouTube, or BoxFacedTubester or wherever you get the latest in super-cool moving images that you watch when you should be doing something productive with your life.

Once inside that site, they can embed code into those video streams (or even simply into the website that is serving the data, which is probably the easier way to do it) and your computer will take that code in and run it while it shows you the latest antics of The Cuddly, Furry, Cool Guys (look, I don’t know what you’re into, I’m just guessing here.).

Viruses have propagated across the entire Internet by adding themselves into files that are passed between computers, it’s a real problem. What’s new is that now even computers that aren’t connected to the Internet and don’t even have a drive to insert code from are also vulnerable to attack. How? Through our DNA.

At the USENIX Security Conference in 2017, researchers from the University of Washington announced that they had infected a gene sequencing computer with a virus by encoding that virus in a strand of DNA and having the computer sequence the strand.

Now the original point of that research was to demonstrate that gene sequencers were just as open to exploits as any other computer but the fact still remains that humans have demonstrated that there is no clear line between DNA and computer code (and also that there’s no limit to how deep the cyberpunk rabbit hole goes).

We are, if this research is to be believed, walking computer code given flesh. Feel free to be terrified by that if you wish; although personally I think it’s pretty awesome. When can I get scanned in and live forever inside Second Life?

2. The Big Bang Makes No Sense

“In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded.”

Sir Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies

While this isn’t an exact explanation of how the universe got started, it’s certainly a good line. The fact is, we don’t know what happened to cause the Big Bang that created our universe but we do know that not all of the laws of physics seem to have arrived at the same time. They appeared in stages, popping up here and there as our universe as we know it came to be.

That in itself doesn’t make sense to the average person and it’s not hard to understand why. It’s relatively simple to image a universe where gravity does not exist (we’ve seen people float about in space, after all) but how about a universe where time doesn’t exist? Where length doesn’t exist? All these (and more!) happened at one point, during the earliest stages of the formation of the universe.

None of our physical laws can account for the super-dense universe at the time of the Big Bang. That doesn’t mean we won’t develop physical laws that do explain the Big Bang at a later date (the smart money is on some form of quantum gravity model, or maybe a form of the Grand Unified Theory of Everything but I wouldn’t hold my breath while waiting for that to come along) but right now, it seems the Standard Model of Physics, which is the set of laws that govern how the universe works, didn’t come into effect at the start of the universe.

The concept of a set of laws that govern how the universe works not governing how the universe works is, ultimately, one of the weirdest things imaginable. Now okay, we are talking about a period of time lasting from the Big Bang itself (which we’ll say happened at 0.0 seconds because it makes things easier that way) to a time of about 0.000000001 seconds but that tiny amount of time is still significant.

What laws ran the universe during that time? Will we ever know? Possibly… or possibly not. The answer could well be that our models of physical laws aren’t accurate enough to deal with the mess the universe was in back when subatomic particles couldn’t even form. It’s also possible that the reason we can’t account for that time is very simple: it never happened, because the universe came into existence with the current physical laws already in place. Why? Because it’s a simulation and the Big Bang never actually happened.

1. We Can Make Simulations

If we can do it, why can’t someone else? That’s the founding principle of this section. Humans are able to build simulated worlds, which proves the construction of simulated worlds is possible. That’s cool in some ways, because hey we can build entire worlds and that makes us gods of a sort, but it’s also not cool, because oh dear, simulated worlds actually are possible after all.

Look, I know what you’re thinking: the simulations we have aren’t perfect and that’s true. The fact is though, only a few decades ago we couldn’t make simulations at all. We are getting better at this stuff all the time and now that we’ve shown it’s possible to simulate a world, or multiple worlds, or an entire universe, there’s one big question we need to answer: are we the only ones who have done that?

If we are the only creatures in history – actual history, not just the kings and battles you were taught at school – the entire history of the universe – why are we the only ones who did it? What stopped everyone else? It’s an important question because right now there are only two answers: either the answer is “we are the first creatures to gain that level of intelligence & skill”, or the answer is “nothing stopped them”.

If nothing stopped any other species creating a simulation, the chances are almost an absolute certainty that at some point in all of time, a simulation has been run. If that simulation is perfect (or perfect enough, at least) then the chances of a creature evolving inside that simulation building and running a simulation of their own quickly reaches an absolute certainty. If they make a perfect, or near-perfect, simulation of their own then this rabbit hole just keeps getting deeper.

But here’s the real kicker for you: the more simulations there are in that matryoshka doll of simulations, the smaller your chance of being in the real world. We could be hundreds of simulations deep by this point and not even know it.

Sleep tight.