Author: Beck Dacus

I was alone on a park bench, far-ish from the city lights, eating a sandwich in the dark. It was a peaceful ritual, and in such a low-crime-rate area, not a very risky one. I started to question that when a random stranger walked along and took a seat next to me. He kept to the other end of the bench, but it still weirded me out.
I tried to dispel the tension. “The stars are pretty. So clear.” I ended up sounding like I was flirting.
“And quiet,” he replied.
“The stars?”
I could just barely see him nod. I didn’t know what to say to that.
“Are you familiar with Fermi’s paradox?” he asked me.
“Oh, that. You mean no one’s talking to us from space? Is that unusual…?”
“No, no. But it’s been on my mind.”
I decided to engage him; when he was talking, he wasn’t murdering me. “Is that what you do? You look for aliens? As a job, I mean.”
“No. I’m a… programmer.”
I sat up a little. “Me too! Well, I’m a web developer, but they’re adjacent.”
He just nodded.
“…So which answer is your favorite? To the paradox.”
He shrugged. “They only really cover a spectrum from depressing to disturbing. Do you have a favorite?”
“As far as which one makes the most sense…. I know ‘absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence’ and all that, but the answer Occam’s razor gives is that nobody’s home. Not anywhere near us, at least. But being in the computer business, I can’t ignore the simulation hypothesis argument.”
Silently, he turned. I wasn’t sure if this meant he was interested or ready to finally stab me, but I kept talking.
“The idea is, if we’re being simulated on a computer, maybe the people running it didn’t want to include life on other planets. Maybe they wanted to specifically study an isolated civilization, or maybe they couldn’t spare the processing power for life on other worlds.”
He nodded. “Could be. Seems flimsy, though.”
“Yeah. Really, the whole premise of the simulation hypothesis is speculative at best. I don’t care what Elon—”
“I can think of one way it might work, though,” he continued. “The only plausible reason I can see that anyone would simulate a large portion of the cosmos at the resolution of individual conscious minds would be to look at conscious minds across the cosmos.”
“…So then there is alien life in the simulation? But that doesn’t resolve the paradox.”
“Not for us. But it does provide a plausible motivation for simulating a universe. Because if they can see the whole simulation, and their simulation can reproduce the apparent paradox for the civilizations in it, they may be able to figure out the solution in their own universe.”
“Oh,” I breathed. “That… sounds more likely. A little spooky, though. As soon as the simulators found the answer, they would have no reason to keep running the simulation. They would probably figure out the answer before any of the simulated people could, and then they would just cease to exist, never knowing why….”
As I said this, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. I looked up and saw the stars getting fuzzier, then fully pixelating. They disappeared in square sections, each one larger than the last. I looked back at the man on the bench; he was staring dead ahead, unaffected by the sight of the dissolving sky.
“Trust me. You’re better off not knowing.”