by Allen Leigh, contributor
The December 2013 issue of Discover magazine has an interesting article titled Do we Live in the Matrix? This article is of interest to Transhumanists, because many of them believe we might be living in a simulation, a simulation so accurate that it is impossible to tell the difference between a real existence and a virtual existence. The article responds to the Transhumanists with the following .
Seth Lloyd, a quantum-mechanical engineer at MIT, estimated the number of “computer operations” our universe has performed since the Big Bang — basically, every event that has ever happened. To repeat them, and generate a perfect facsimile of reality down to the last atom, would take more energy than the universe has.
“The computer would have to be bigger than the universe, and time would tick more slowly in the program than in reality,” says Lloyd. “So why even bother building it?”
So, it seems, it is pretty much impossible to create a simulation that is so accurate that we can’t tell the difference between a real world and a virtual world. It might, however, be possible to create a simulation that is almost “perfect”, and the article discusses ways that scientists might recognize that our real world is a simulation.
In 2007, “John D. Barrow, professor of mathematical sciences at Cambridge University, suggested that an imperfect simulation of reality would contain detectable glitches. Just like your computer, the universe’s operating system would need updates to keep working.” For example, a simulation might cause the speed of light to drift slightly.
Last year, “Silas Beane, a nuclear physicist at the University of Washington in Seattle….[who] develops simulations that re-create how elementary protons and neutrons joined together to form ever larger atoms in our young universe”, suggested that the origins of cosmic rays might be a way of testing if our universe is a simulation or is real. The article explains this and concludes that “If cosmic rays don’t have random origins, it could be a sign that the universe is a simulation.”
The idea that we might be living in a simulation is an interesting idea. Currently, it seems, the amount of energy needed to create a “perfect” simulation is greater than all the energy in the universe, but future technology might make “perfect” simulations possible with significantly less energy needed. In the meantime, scientists will continue looking for ways to detect imperfect simulations.