A friend asks 'Are we in a simulation? If so, how would we find out?'

In 1875 Georges Bizet wrote an opera, Carmen. The title character is a Romani woman in Spain. She works in a cigarette factory by day while moonlighting as a member of a gang of smugglers.

Carmen  (Maria Ewing)

She may be taken as an exemplar of some questions artists encounter in aesthetic philosophy.


Does Carmen know she's in an opera?
No. She would say she's in Spain.

Does Carmen know she's singing?
The singer who portrays Carmen is singing. Carmen herself sometimes sings and sometimes doesn't. Sometimes she's got a little melody going ('la la la') but sometimes she's just telling somebody off.
Carmen does know when she is singing and when she is not.

Is Carmen free?
No. She's a character. Her lines and story are set.
In those lines, of course, she says she is free.

Is Carmen at least free in her own universe?
She insists to other characters that she is free. Her actions, though, suggest a person who is fiercely driven. Tragedy results when she encounters another personality as driven as hers.
Meanwhile, the view she expresses in private is fatalistic. Everything that happens, she says, is already present in the cards you are dealt.
For all her talk about freedom Carmen seems to feel she never really chooses anything.

How can Carmen find out she's a character in an opera?
She can't. The only way she could find out is if her opera was about a character who finds out.


Carmen exists in a universe that obeys certain laws. Her world is one in which people go around singing as atoms in ours go around forming molecules. No one thinks anything of it. It's just how the universe works.

Carmen will always come to a tragic end. The events of her life are built into the structure of her universe. It's a closed loop.

Carmen suspects as much. But she will never discover this for a fact, because the only existence she has is in a place where she is not a character at all. She is a real person.