Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine — Sir Arthur Edington
Are we, in fact, digital beings living in a vast computer simulation created by our own future descendants or future post human civilization? Recently, a number of philosophers, futurists, science-fiction writers, and technologists — people who share a strong faith in technological progress, have come to believe that the simulation argument is not just plausible, but inevitable.
They argue that if consciousness can be simulated in a computer and the advanced civilizations are bound to have access to truly stupendous amounts of computing power, then, the notion that the present physical world itself is virtual is quite reasonable.
While never commonly held, the idea that the world is a virtual reality has a long pedigree. Perhaps the oldest human story is that the world and whatever we see and know is the product of a creator. Ancients firmly believed in an eternal, all-powerful, and all- knowing God. So there’s a kind of religious element to the notion of a giant simulation, a sense that there is a higher, purer reality, if we could only but grasp it.
- Hinduism aptly considers the entire creation as God’s ‘play’ or ‘Lila’.
- Buddhism emphatically says the world is an illusion.
- Plato, Descartes and many other noted philosophers postulated the world as an illusion rather than the reality.
- Over two thousand years ago, Pythagoras thought numbers were the non-material essence from which the physical world was created.
- Legendary science fiction author Isaac Asimov, In his 1956 short story “The Last Question,” described a computer smart enough to bootstrap new computers smarter than itself. These machines keep on growing super smarter and super bigger until they act as a single giant computer filling the whole universe. The story ends when human minds merge into the ultimate computer mind, which takes over the entire mass and energy of the universe. In the end, the universal computer figures out how to reverse entropy and create a universe.
- In 1967, German scientist Konrad Zuse outlined the idea that the universe ran on a grid of cellular automata, or CA.
- In 1973 mathematician John Conway unveiled the Game of Life which was a version of the very idea of cellular automata.
- Noted scientist John Archibald Wheeler (coiner of the term “black hole”) claimed that, fundamentally, atoms are made up of bits of information. As he put it in a 1989 lecture, “Its are from bits.” Every particle, every force feild and even the space-time continuum arises in the analysis from the posing of yes/no questions.’
- Stephen Wolfram in his 2002 controversial book ‘A new kind of science’ argued that the key to the universe is computation: The entire cosmos, from quantum particles to the formation of galaxies, was a perpetual runtime flowing from simple rules.
- In 2003 Swedish philosopher and futurist Nick Bostrom wrote a paper ‘ARE YOU LIVING IN A COMPUTER SIMULATION?’ which stated that at least one of the following statements is very likely to be true:
- The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a post human stage is very close to zero;
- The fraction of post human civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero;
- The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one(almost 20%).
The idea has influenced the views of Elon Musk the founder, CEO, lead designer of SpaceX and CEO of Tesla, Inc.
He says “The strongest argument for us probably being in a simulation I think is the following…
40 years ago we had Pong — two rectangles and a dot. Now 40 years later we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it’s getting better every year.
And soon virtual reality will be followed by augmented reality.
If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then soon the games will become indistinguishable from reality, just indistinguishable, and because we will not be able to distinguish real from unreal, It would seem to follow that the odds that we’re in ‘base reality’ is one in billions.
We are seeing rapid progress in computer science, including the development of quantum computers, whose vastly increased potential capacity would be vital for a large-scale simulation. At the same time there is continued progress in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, biotechnology and other areas that would help create more convincing simulations. And we can see that with each new breakthrough in technology, we tend to make better, more convincing representations of the world, both now and in the past.
While virtual reality theory seems strange, so do the current theories of physics! Following are the Eight baffling facts of physics that suggest we may be living in a virtual reality…
- Big Bang: This first event began not only our universe but also its space and time. Yet a complete physical universe can’t begin as by definition there is nothing outside it to create it. And to create itself, it would have to exist before it began. In contrast, every virtual reality has a boot up that creates its pixels and its space-time operating system.
2. Universe has a maximum speed: Einstein proved that the speed of light is a maximum but gave no reason for it. In contrast, a screen pixel can only move point-to-point as fast as the screen refresh rate allows. This defines a maximum “speed” for the pixel.
3. Quantum tunneling: When an electron suddenly appears outside a field barrier, like a coin in a perfectly sealed glass bottle suddenly appearing outside it. Science fails to explain this phenomenon. In contrast, a digital reality can “cut” between one probabilistic frame and another.
4. Entangled entities: Entangled photons maintain opposite spins no matter how far apart they are. Einstein called this spooky action at a distance. In contrast, a program can instantly change any pixel anywhere on a screen. So for the screen of our universe, all points on it are at equal distance to a server.
5. A space that curves: The sun keeps the earth in orbit by “curving” the space around it, but what can space curve into? In virtual reality our space is a 3D “surface” that can curve into a fourth dimension.
6. A time that dilates: In Einstein’s twin paradox, one twin who travels the universe for a year returns to find his brother on earth an old man of eighty! Relativity tells us that time slows down when you travel at high speeds. Yet we know that when the computer is busy the frame-rate drops, giving a slow-motion screen.
7. Dark matter and Dark energy: Our space exerts a pressure! How can vacuum exert pressure? Quantum processing can be a simple explanation.
8. Anti-matter. Scientists predicted the existence of anti-matter, but no reason has ever been given why matter inherently needs an inverse of the same mass but opposite charge. In virtual reality though, matter created by processing inevitably implies anti-matter created by anti-processing.
MIT professor Seth Lloyd says, “We may need only 600 years before all the available energy in the universe is taken up in computing. Of course, if one takes the perspective that the universe is already essentially performing a computation, then we don’t have to wait at all.”
“In the end, the entire cosmos and its contents will be the computer. The universe will in the end consist, literally, of transcendental intelligent thought processes,”
An ever-expanding digital matrix that may in the end resemble Asimov’s universal machine, seems inevitable. And considering that at the very outset of computing, mankind is obsessed with creating virtual worlds, it doesn’t sound too crazy does it?
All this being said, some physicists say that we won’t ever be able to prove definitively that we’re not in a simulation, because any evidence we collect could itself be simulated evidence!
This is the last article of the short series — ‘How real is the Reality as we know it?’.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing this.