by Gary Vey for viewzone
What Do Scientists Think About The Simulation Argument?
I have to be honest. I never believed the claims that “We are all living in a computer simulation!” Even after seeing The Matrix I was convinced that it was all just good science fiction. I mean, even if it was true, how would we prove it?
Like me, you probably did not spend a lot of time in school learning about quantum mechanics. Most of what I was taught was stuff I needed to find a job and make a life. I was protected from the paradoxical and unsettling experiences that greets one when they explore the realm of the very small stuff that makes up this world.
Thanks to viewzone I eventually landed the assignment to write a story about The Ultimate Mystery: Light and became familiar with some of these anomalies that make the quantum world such a weird place. It’s worth re-reading that short article, paying special attention to the phenomenon of “observation.”
The Copenhagen Interpretation
The current model of how stuff is pieced together on the smallest possible scale is known as the Copenhagen Interpretation. It’s named after the city where all the physicists came together to agree on what we knew about the very fabric of time and space. Without contradicting the Copenhagen model, there are some accepted facts that seem to suggest that we are, in fact, inside a computer simulation.
Bear with me. One of the first big surprises is that, like pixels on a computer screen, everything in our world is made from discrete, individual pieces. While there is some confusion as to what to call these basic bits, there is agreement on their size — a Planck length, which is the smallest size anything can be.
There is also a basic unit of time called the Planck time. No, time is not continuous. It is made up of individual moments that only seem continuous to our minds much the same way as the 24 frames per second of a movie projector (or the processing cycles in your computer). But the similarities to a computer simulation — a game — don’t stop there.
In physics, the Planck time (tP) is the unit of time in the system of natural units known as Planck units. It is the time required for light to travel, in a vacuum, a distance of 1 Planck length. The unit is named after Max Planck, who was the first to propose it. It’s commonly referred to as a “jiffy”.
In computer animation the various elements (the environment and other characters) are modeled only when they are looked at by the player. The program carefully calculates the perspective and renders the correct angles, shadows and light. The program does not model scenes that are not being observed, although the mathematics to render them (if, say, the character went to another room) exist within the program in a formula or function.
In quantum mechanics we know that a photon, the basic unit of light, exists in what physicists call a probability wave (mathematics) until it is transformed to a particle when it is observed by a conscious mind.
Another piece of the puzzle…
Particles like photons (a member of the boson particle family) are fairly identical in every respect. Electrons on the other hand (a member of the fermion particle family) are all unique.
Every electron in the entire universe is a unique entity. This uniqueness can be described by a number (called the quantum number) which represents the energy level and spin characteristics of that electron. No two electrons in the universe have the same quantum number at any instance of Planck time.
In a way, the number could be considered a kind of ID# of that electron. When an electron needs to change its energy or spin, it must do so such that it obtains a new and unique quantum number.
No two electrons (fermions) can have the same quantum number at the same (Planck) time.
The unique quantum number is only valid for that tiniest chunk of time (Planck time) after which it may change, or not, in the subsequent chunk of time.
Somehow, the electron has information about which quantum numbers are already taken in the universe and which can be recycled and used again! If you think I am making this up, watch this video [below]. Professor Brian Cox explains the phenomenon (called Pauli’s Exclusion Principle) better than I can in this 2011 presentation.
It seems that the part of his presentation that they criticized was his simplification of Pauli’s Exclusion Principle. The actual theory, part of that Copenhagen Interpretation, applies to the domain of a single atom; however most physicists concede that what Cox said is true with the inclusion of other discoveries that expanded on Pauli’s work, which Cox ommitted. Cox replied that he simplified the presentation for his audience, who were not scientists.
The idea that an electron has a special quantum number, managed and enforced by some entity, is strengthened by studies of dying stars, called White-Dwarfs. As the fuel of a sun expires, gravity takes over and compresses the ionized core material. But at a certain density the compression stops. The electrons are so close that their unique quantum numbers begin to be similar. The inability of electrons to obtain new and unique quantum numbers prevents them from changing their energy states any further. It’s Pauli’s Principle at work. But how it works remains a mystery.
It is as if something external to this time-space reality keeps track of all the electrons (and other fermions) in the universe, making them obey this law of physics. This suggests that our reality is running on some other substrate, much like a computer.
The Philosophical Argument for Simulation (or not)
Without getting involved with quantum physics, philosophers have developed an argument against this reality, including you and I, being nothing more than a damned good artificial intelligence program. It’s a bit weird. They describe three distinct possibilities:
1. That humanity will evolve to a technologically mature state where they will have the computer power to simulate conscious entities in a simulated environment. It is postulated that they will do this simply out of curiosity and the desire to experience their origins in past history.
In 2003, British philosopher Nick Bostrom published a paper that proposed the universe we live in might in fact really be a numerical computer simulation. To give this a bizarre Twilight Zone twist, he suggested that our far-evolved distant descendants might construct such a program to simulate the past and recreate how their remote ancestors lived. Hence, you and I really could be inside one of these simulated worlds.
2. Humanity will develop the computer power and technological maturity to make reality simulations possible but they will have developed other interests and will not bother to pursue the experiment to emulate their ancestors.
3. Humanity will strive to obtain the computer power needed to produce a simulated world but there will be some kind of “filter” that blocks their progress beyond a certain level.
Since there are two possibilities that negate the possibility of a simulation (numbers 2 and 3), they say they are less than 50% certain that we are in a simulation. But it’s a close call.
Others argue that if a civilization is capable of making a simulation, the characte(s) inside the simulation would be able to create its own computers and simulation, and on and on… So, there are likely many simulations which, they say, increases the probability that we ARE in one of those simulations rather than a “real” world of the future.
What if we are a simulation…
An artificial universe would solve the Fermi Paradox, affirming that we really are alone in the universe — in fact, it could be that you or I are the only players in this game. Everyone else could be simulated.
Space aliens and UFOs are part of the program also. Perhaps they are avatars for the system administrator.
God suddenly becomes “god” since what we think of as our “Creator” could be a group of highly intelligent programmers, curious about humanity in 2013.
But maybe we will not need a “god” if we can learn to work with the program, creating our own realities and manipulating the system. A hint of this process is seen in such doctrines as “the power of positive thinking” and “The Secret”, in which the belief of the observer can change the outcomes and bring success.
Jesus is said to have proclaimed this secret to manipulating our reality:
Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.
Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
What do you think? How would you feel if the simulated reality theory is proven correct? How will that change the way you act and think? Please send me your thoughts.