As technology improves, the possibility that our world may be a simulated one is becoming more and more probable, argues Universe Today founder Fraser Cain. But can we ever prove that we live in a simulation of a reality?
RED PILL OR BLUE?
All the world’s a stage. Or is it a simulation?
The idea that what we consider reality is actually a simulation was first proposed by scientist Nick Bostrom, and it is frequently addressed in fiction (e.g., “The Matrix” trilogy) and by innovators and educators such as Elon Musk, who brought up the topic at the 2016 Code Conference.
Those who believe that we live in a simulation often cite Bostrom’s argument regarding what he calls ancestor simulations. “One thing that later generations might do with their super-powerful computers is run detailed simulations of their forebears or of people like their forebears,” write Bostrom. “Because their computers would be so powerful, they could run a great many such simulations.”
That prediction is becoming more and more a possible reality. Today’s computers are powerful enough to simulate things that we never witnessed, such as the Big Bang or the creation of the planets. Currently, scientific simulations seem to be better, though, with large-scale situations.
But will we ever know for sure if we live in a simulation?
CRACKING THE CODE
According to Fraser Cain from Universe Today, there is one way to find out, and that is to detect tricks that the simulation uses to approximate a reality that it can never copy exactly. A computer in a simulation will not have the same processing power as the computer that’s running the simulation, Cain explains, so there will be inconsistencies or tell-tale signs, perhaps glitches, that reveal the underlying grid on which our world or universe runs.
A team of scientists from the University of Washington, for example, believe that we can detect the resolution that our simulated world is running on by observing the energy limitations of ultra-high cosmic rays in the universe.
At this point, Cain argues, we can’t really tell, sort of like with the Kantian phenomenon/noumenon dichotomy. We’ll just have to “live our lives as if we’re real, until better evidence comes along, or our simulations get so good, their inhabitants start questioning their own existence,” says Cain.
Or maybe until someone offers you the red pill. If they did, would you take it?
What if tomorrow somebody tells you that the universe as we knew it was just an illusion and is actually a hologram? Get ready for it: this might not be sci-fi. We could all be in 2D, after all! Weird, isn’ it?
An ongoing experiment at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory – the so-called Holometer – has now begun collecting data that will answer questions about the very fabric of the universe, including whether or not we live in a 2-D reality – that is, a hologram. More precisely, if space-time itself is a quantum system – exactly just like matter – then it can be analysed down to its smallest units. As a result, its 2D “pixels” of information could demonstrate the same uncertainty of matter’s quantum building blocks, which, according to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, can’t be measured for their exact location and speed at the same time.
“The basic idea is to measure directly whether the fabric of space and time itself shares some of the same quantum uncertainty that we know exists in wave/particles like atoms and photons. Maybe all of reality has a limited amount of streaming information.” (Craig Hogan, Director of the Fermilab Center).
Maybe this is less unbelievable than it sounds. The idea itself of a reality manufactured by our brain is an ancient one, already present in Tibetan Buddhism. Since the 20th century, quantum physics has started providing a scientific foundation and a few books have been written on the concept of a Holographic Universe. But now scientists are trying to prove it at an experimental level.
“We want to find out whether space-time is a quantum system just like matter is,If we see something, it will completely change ideas about space we’ve used for thousands of years. If we find a noise we can’t get rid of, we might be detecting something fundamental about nature—a noise that is intrinsic to space-time. It’s an exciting moment for physics. A positive result will open a whole new avenue of questioning about how space works.” (Fermilab Press Release, 26 August 2014)