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Is life a dream?

  • GCSE
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Group discussion
Topic: Galaxies & Universe

There's something odd about our universe. It's just too perfect! Everything about it seems tailor-made to make sure humans would evolve. Could an advanced civilization have "fixed it" for us? Might we be "The Sims" in a mammoth simulation? Some top scientists think it's a serious possibility. Are they right? We may never know. In this discussion activity, pupils rate the arguments for and against this controversial idea.

14-16 How Science Works:
How Science Works
1d. that there are some questions that science cannot currently answer, and some that science cannot address

Published: 18th January 2005
Reviews & Comments: 5

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Learning objectives

Pupils will judge the merits of competing arguments about a question that science can't answer at the moment. In doing so, they will gain an appreciation of the difference between scientific questions, that can generate testable theories, and philosophical ones that can't.

Try the activity

You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

How Science Works
1d. that there are some questions that science cannot currently answer, and some that science cannot address

Running the activity

Timing: starter - 5 minutes; main - 15 minutes; plenary - 5 minutes

Starter activity: Page 1 is designed to be projected. It poses a controversial question. Is what we perceive around us really there? Or is it just virtual reality - a dream world? Can scientists prove that the universe is real? Or is it just a figment of the human imagination? Pupils will need time to discuss these ideas.

Main activity: Page 1 introduces the Dream Debate. Pupils judge arguments for and against the assertion that we live in a dream. They award points to each idea using the scoring system on page 2. This is best done in small groups. The arguments themselves are set out on separate cards on page 3. Each group will need their own copies of both pages. They begin by matching the arguments to the opposing scientists. Then they read each one in turn and decide how convinced they are by it. The outcome of the debate is decided by totalling the scores for each scientist.

Extension: Pupils could come up with their own arguments to add to those provided.

Plenary: Groups could compare their final results and discuss the ideas that were most persuasive.
A final summing up will be needed to convey some key ideas. The main point is that science can give clues, but cannot decide the outcome of the debate. The question goes beyond the boundary of science into philosophy. However, the boundaries of science are changing. Many physicists, like cosmologist Stephen Hawking, are now using science to provide answers to questions that used to be considered philosophy.

Background Notes:
Basic physics predicts that many parallel universes should exist - an infinite number in fact. That idea suits cosmologists. They are finding the universe too perfect. The strength of gravity, and five other numbers, controlled cosmic evolution. If their values had been slightly different, life could not have arisen. Is this evidence for a designer? It's not out of the question. An advanced civilisation could create matrices of the past - where people were like us. There would be more simulations than real humans? So we are more likely to be "Sims" than real. If we were "Sims", would we be able to tell?

News links

Barrow Sim
Living in a Simulated Universe
Sunday Times
Web link to a news article on the story, from The Sunday Times
Are You Living In a Computer Simulation
A useful synopsis of the arguments for this proposition.
Multiverse Theory
Multiverse Theory holds that the Universe is a Virtual Reality Matrix

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?


Sep 9th, 2010

4 Star

I am going to give it a whirl. To make it more engaging and topical I am going to show the Inception trailer which is a 12 so students may have seen it. Inception is all about dreams mixing with reality.

Reviewer: ben mcmanners

Is life a dream? review

Jun 8th, 2008

2 Star

not much info on the universe

Reviewer: komal patel

Resources from upd8

Mar 25th, 2008

5 Star

The resources are very gripping. They 'hook' pupils with the graphics.The techer notes make good sense as well.

Reviewer: Derrick Shortridge

Difficult but rewarding

Nov 30th, 2006

4 Star

I have tried this activity with several groups and had very mixed reception. My top set Y8 found it fascinating and even spotted that it was a disguised version of the God vs Big Bang question and the debate is still running 3 weeks later! On the other hand my middle year 10 quiet frankly could care less "If we can't prove it, what's the point of the question?" was their reaction.

Reviewer: Michael Proudman

Is life a dream? with low achieving Yr 10

May 5th, 2006

4 Star

On a friday morning, my poor behaviour group class ranges from 2 to 6 pupils, so I tend to use UPD8 quite a bit. This one really got them thinking and we had a huge discussion about dreaming and reality which if nothing else, switched their brains on for the rest of the day! thanks again!

Reviewer: Sarah Kononowicz

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