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Sci-Fi Science

Scientist Suggests We Explore 'Universe is a VR Simulation' Theory 1144

holy_calamity writes "A New Zealand physicist has written a paper saying that physicists should seriously explore the possibility the universe is a giant virtual reality simulation. He says that the existence of quantum phenomena could be due to the underlying digital nature of the simulation and also claims his VR hypothesis can explain relativity, the big bang and more. It should be possible to perform experiments to prove the hypothesis too. He reasons that if reality was to do something that information processing cannot, then it cannot be virtual."
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Scientist Suggests We Explore 'Universe is a VR Simulation' Theory

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  • In a word: Crap.

    Philosophers have been pondering this nonsense for centuries, and have gotten nowhere...It's an argumentative blackhole, a solipsim. It's not testable...his "testable" experiments are like the sort of thing you see an idiot do to try and demonstrate that they have free will (e.g. "See? I just punched myself in the face, no way would anyone make me do that, so I must have free will!") If our reality is virtual, then all data is suspect, and it would be impossible to trust any sort of experimental data. Even if you come up with a clever test that would pierce the illusion, one would have to assume whoever maintains the illusion would simply fix it so that didn't work a second time. Nothing would be repeatable.

    It's just not a useful avenue for speculation. This guy brings nothing new to the table except the kinda crap the ID people bring..."Hey, if the universe was a simulation, it would explain why everything tastes like chicken!" Just because there is no currently workable theory for some occurrence, there is no reason to invent a wild explanation that just makes it go away.

    Without some compelling proof (which he lacks) this is nothing more than a conversational topic over a bag of weed.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by somersault ( 912633 )
      Yeah, you could explain *anything* by saying "it's this way because it's programmed to be this way". It's the same convenience of saying there is a God (sure I believe in God myself so I'm not slagging beliefs, but this guy is just saying in a different way that he thinks that some superior beings made the universe).
      • by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @02:01PM (#21911496)
        Actually, I don't think that's a valid point.

        Just because you believe some programmer in a 'higher' level of reality created this one, doesn't mean you don't believe he did it with rules that we see as the Laws of Nature. You can still investigate those Laws and try to figure them out.

        This is different from the ID crowd, who apparently feel that 'God did it' means you actively refuse to even think about the rules.
      • by kebes ( 861706 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @02:10PM (#21911666) Journal
        A notable difference being that this scientist [massey.ac.nz] is proposing means by which one could potentially distinguish between a "simulation reality" and a "real reality". That is, he is presenting a theory that makes falsifiable predictions. In his abstract [arxiv.org] he puts it as:

        It is suggested that whether the world is an objective reality or a virtual reality is a matter for science to resolve.
        He also readily admits that the idea is "strange" but says that it is still worthy of investigation:

        This article argues that the idea that our physical world is a virtual reality, which is normally a topic of science fiction, religion or philosophy, should be considered as a possible theory of physics. Whether this is true or not, the reader is asked to keep an open mind, as one has to at least consider a theory to reject it. ... The paper asks if a world that behaves just like the world we live in could arise from a VR simulation, and whether physical data from this world supports (or denies) this possibility. The first considers if VR theory is logically possible, and the second if it explains known facts better than other theories.
        Now having said all that, I'm not convinced that his idea is really sound. Fundamentally he is arguing that if our reality is the result of information processing, then there will be effects that cannot be computed/simulated within our reality. He says:

        a VR processor cannot logically exist within the virtual reality its processing creates. It is logically impossible for a processor to create itself because the virtual world creation could not start if a processor did not initially exist outside it.
        I'm not sure I understand or agree with this. The reality we see appears to arise because of the 'laws of physics' acting on certain 'initial conditions.' Simulating the entire universe would require precise knowledge of those initial conditions (location of every particle at the big bang) but it is possible (but as yet unproven) that the laws of physics are quite simple and computable and could be simulated by a (quantum) computer within our universe. I think this would hold whether reality is real or virtual (you can simulate a universe inside reality; and a computer can simulate itself).

        A much more lucid and convincing discussion of these ideas is presented by Max Tegmark in his paper "The Mathematical Universe" (preprint available here [arxiv.org]). In it, he discusses this idea of whether we could detect being inside a virtual reality and provides arguments for why there may be no meaningful difference between a "simulation of reality" and "reality itself". His overall argument, that the universe may be fundamentally mathematical, is quite interesting, and again he provides some means by which we could determine to what extent his arguments actually apply to our universe. Worth a read.
        • by ChronosWS ( 706209 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @02:56PM (#21912418)
          Um, no :)

          Assume that the Universe is a VR simulation running on some machine. What we experience as time is a sequence of calculations produced by this machine. We are only aware of those parts of the calculation which the simulation specifically makes us aware of. No experiment can prove or disprove this because the calculations which the VR machine makes need not be 1-to-1 with our experiences. For example, the VR machine could 'suspend' the reality simulation while it performs some complex task, and we would be none the wiser.

          Further, since the sum of our existence is contained within the VR simulation, and it can be paused OR ALTERED at will, the VR simulation could self-correct for any flaw we discover by simply rewriting the memories of any experiences we had, or deleting and replaying that part of the simulation with different variables. Again, since our experience is wholly under the control of the simulation, we again would be none the wiser.

          Finally, since all information within the VR machine is controlled by the VR machine, any experiment we design is itself fully under the control of the VR machine. All data we perceive is perceived because the VR machine has elected to let us perceive it. Ergo, no experiment we could produce would allow us to discern the reality of the VR machine unless it chose to reveal itself to us.

          There is nothing new here.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            could self-correct for any flaw we discover by simply rewriting the memories of any experiences we had, or deleting and replaying that part of the simulation with different variables. Again, since our experience is wholly under the control of the simulation, we again would be none the wiser.

            The Flying Spaghetti Monster does this every instant of every day. This makes Pastafarianism logically sound while other religions are a mass of contradictions.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          A much more lucid and convincing discussion of these ideas is presented by Max Tegmark in his paper "The Mathematical Universe" (preprint available here [arxiv.org]). In it, he discusses this idea of whether we could detect being inside a virtual reality and provides arguments for why there may be no meaningful difference between a "simulation of reality" and "reality itself". His overall argument, that the universe may be fundamentally mathematical, is quite interesting, and again he provides some means by
    • by explosivejared ( 1186049 ) <hagan@jared.gmail@com> on Friday January 04, 2008 @01:52PM (#21911320)
      So how would we be able to tell if our universe was a simulation? Whitworth says that if reality was to do something that information processing cannot, then it cannot be virtual. But he falls short of suggesting what this might be.

      This is the failure of reconciling the metaphysical with the physical. I agree with you completely. There is no way for us to remove ourselves from the universe at large to observe it. Whitworth is not a scientist when he speaks of this. He is a philosopher exploring metaphysics and ontology.

      I can come up with a number of theories about reality myself, and without being able to experiment on them they are just as valid. Therefore I propose that the universe we experience is really just the eye of an aether system. Once you get beyond the aether, it really is turtles all the way down. That's just as valid, without relevant experimentation, as the universe being a vr sim. Metaphysics is cool and all, but just don't call it science or its practitioners scientists.
      • by Spazmania ( 174582 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @03:13PM (#21912670) Homepage
        This is the failure of reconciling the metaphysical with the physical.

        No, no! He's on to something. Consider this example:

        When routing TCP/IP packets, the best available software algorithms are tree-based. You step down the branches of the tree until you find the most specific route known for the destination address. Its O(log n).

        However, if you step out of the software universe running on a general-purpose computer, you can design a hardware device called a "TCAM." A TCAM is a special kind of static ram where a request is processed across all cells in the same cycle in order to produce the best match. Not only does it return a routing decision in O(1), it returns that decision in exactly one clock cycle.

        Now, we could describe how a TCAM works within software and we could even simulate it but the simulation would run in O(n) because the simulation would have to activate each cell in sequence instead of activating all cells at once the way a real TCAM does.

        So the challenge for detecting whether we're in a virtual reality is this: find a mathematical problem which is conceptually simple (e.g. factoring the product of large primes) but which we know to be hard ( O(x^n) ) and then construct a simulation of a finite ur-universe in which the problem is easy. The simulation itself won't run any faster than the best known factoring algorithms but it would be able to prove that given the physical rules of the ur-universe the factoring would have completed in O(1).

        Successfully constructing such a simulation wouldn't prove that we're actually in a virtual reality, but proving that such a simulation can't be constructed would prove that we're not. Thus the theory is falsifiable. Thus it is science, not philosophy.

    • by Raindance ( 680694 ) * <johnsonmx.gmail@com> on Friday January 04, 2008 @01:53PM (#21911336) Homepage Journal
      I completely disagree. The calculus on the simulation argument is surprisingly solid when you think about it (Bostrom, for instance, has some pretty good arguments for it). You say, "It's just not a useful avenue for speculation. This guy brings nothing new to the table except the kinda crap the ID people bring." Did you read the paper? This guy Whitworth says some interesting stuff... personally I think the most interesting part of his paper is near the end, where he compares "Virtual Property" with "Physical Outcome".

      Diversity of effort in science is good. This guy has a diverse approach to trying to understand the universe. He also says some interesting things and is looking for predictive qualities in his theory. That's good.

      The problem is that we know nearly nothing about what simulations "have to be" or "cannot be" in the case of a system advanced enough to simulate our universe. So he might have a long road ahead of him. But it's an approach worth pursuing, if damn difficult to do so.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ChronosWS ( 706209 )
        Any VR simulation of the Universe also controls every aspect of our experience of it. We will only experience that which the VR simulation allows us to experience, and *all* information in this Universe is fundamentally controlled by that simulation. No test can be constructed whose outcome is itself not wholly determined by the VR simulation. Further, any flaw exposed in the VR simulation could be corrected without our knowing, because our experiences, including our memories and even the flow of time, a
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by sm62704 ( 957197 )
        I completely disagree. The calculus on the simulation argument is surprisingly solid when you think about it (Bostrom, for instance, has some pretty good arguments for it).

        And the answer to the equation is, of course, 42.
      • I completely disagree. The calculus on the simulation argument is surprisingly solid when you think about it (Bostrom, for instance, has some pretty good arguments for it). You say, "It's just not a useful avenue for speculation. ..."

        Hear hear!

        One interesting avenue for speculation: What if there are bugs in the simulation? Perhaps algorithmic, perhaps the equivalent of the "pentium floating-point bug" or the lack of denormals in the Weitek floating-point acceleration coprocessor chip that was used in the
    • If "the universe is a giant virtual reality simulation", then this virtual reality must have been created somewhere, let's call it "the real universe".. but wait, what if that real universe is just a virtual reality simulation.. and on and on and on..

      just an old idea with a simple scifi twist
      • by multisync ( 218450 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @02:35PM (#21912096) Journal

        but wait, what if that real universe is just a virtual reality simulation.. and on and on and on..


        Yup. Just turtles, all the way down ...
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tompaulco ( 629533 )
        If you paint a painting, should that painting expect that someone painted you? Assuming we were created by some being that exists outside our universe, it does not necessarily follow that the fact that we were created implies that the being was also created.
        If you write a computer program with certain restraints, that certainly does not mean that those restraints apply to you outside of that program.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by inviolet ( 797804 )

      It's just not a useful avenue for speculation. This guy brings nothing new to the table except the kinda crap the ID people bring..."Hey, if the universe was a simulation, it would explain why everything tastes like chicken!" Just because there is no currently workable theory for some occurrence, there is no reason to invent a wild explanation that just makes it go away.

      I would not be surprised at all to learn that reality is a simulation. Many of my brethren seem to be bots, executing fairly simple scrip

    • I disagree (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday January 04, 2008 @02:02PM (#21911520) Homepage Journal
      I believe it is testable. All computers ultimately reduce to the Turing Machine. This includes neural networks and at least some classes of quantum computer. (Heresy, I know. Terrible. Now go find a medium-rare steak to burn me on.) However, not all problems reduce to computable problems. If there is a non-computable system that exists in the real world, then it cannot be the product of a simulation, no matter how advanced the computer is.

      Do such problems exist? Well, chaos theory is full of them. You cannot have a system that is truly chaotic and computable at the same time - the two are mutually exclusive. Both are deterministic, but only one is predictable.

      • Re:I disagree (Score:5, Insightful)

        by roggg ( 1184871 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @02:12PM (#21911702)

        I believe it is testable. All computers ultimately reduce to the Turing Machine. This includes neural networks and at least some classes of quantum computer. (Heresy, I know. Terrible. Now go find a medium-rare steak to burn me on.) However, not all problems reduce to computable problems. If there is a non-computable system that exists in the real world, then it cannot be the product of a simulation, no matter how advanced the computer is.
        The problem with this is that computers, computability, Turing, and the entire field of theoretical computer science are fabrications made possible by the rules of the simulation we are running inside of. No correspondence to uber-reality is assumed or implied. You cant prove anything from inside the box.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by asuffield ( 111848 )
          The Church-Turing thesis is unprovable even alone - it's a philosophical observation of something that ought to be true and appears to be, but it is mathematically impossible to prove that it is true (because it has an arbitrary self-referential definition in the middle of it). You do not need to posit that the universe is a simulation in order to question the thesis - it's just that nobody who has pursued that line of thinking has found that it leads to any kind of meaningful conclusions.

          In the absence of
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by teslar ( 706653 )

        All computers ultimately reduce to the Turing Machine.

        And you can prove this, of course. Let's rephrase this to be more realistic and correct:
        All currently known computers can ultimately be related to the classical Turing Machine

        That being said, your general argument is of course an allusion to von Neumann's quote "Anyone attempting to produce random numbers by purely arithmetic means is, of course, in a state of sin." - saying basically that since the universe contains true randomness, it cannot be the pro

      • Re:I disagree (Score:4, Insightful)

        by rasputin465 ( 1032646 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @03:18PM (#21912738)
        Do such problems exist? Well, chaos theory is full of them. You cannot have a system that is truly chaotic and computable at the same time - the two are mutually exclusive. Both are deterministic, but only one is predictable.

        While this isn't the main point of your comment, I should call a red card on your reference to chaos theory, determinism, and predictability. First of all, I'm not sure you understand the meaning of the word "deterministic". If a system is deterministic, then by definition it is, at least at some level, predictable. In terms of physics, the alternative to a deterministic system is a probabilistic system (which is the general interpretation of quantum mechanics). But even probabilistic systems are predictable to a degree (one can predict the probability of certain outcomes).

        But when one talks of chaos theory, and a chaotic system, this has nothing to do with its predictability. A chaotic system is in fact predictable. The 'chaos' label refers to the system's sensitivity to initial conditions. But given a set of initial conditions, the later dynamics of that system can be computed.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I believe it is testable. All computers ultimately reduce to the Turing Machine. This includes neural networks and at least some classes of quantum computer. (Heresy, I know. Terrible. Now go find a medium-rare steak to burn me on.) However, not all problems reduce to computable problems. If there is a non-computable system that exists in the real world, then it cannot be the product of a simulation, no matter how advanced the computer is.

        How do you distinguish a deterministic system governed by a non-comp

      • I've read your description of the "halting problem", which is fairly interesting, but it doesn't save you here.

        Put simply, let's suppose you do prove that it's a simulation. You write a paper about it, and you publish it in a major scientific journal.

        Fine, then the simulation notices. It subtly alters your results, inserting fnords [wikipedia.org] (which really work, as they can directly control anyone's brain) into every published copy, and altering everyone's memory to suggest that your experiment had either failed utter
    • We are all aware that the senses can be deceived, the eyes fooled. But how can we be sure our senses are not being deceived at any particular time, or even all the time? Might I just be a brain in a tank somewhere, tricked all my life into believing in the events of this world by some insane computer? And does my life gain or lose meaning based on my reaction to such solipsism?

      Project PYRRHO, Specimen 46, Vat 7
      Activity Recorded M.Y. 2302.22467
      TERMINATION OF SPECIMEN ADVISED
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ours ( 596171 )
      I'd go beyond saying that thing wouldn't be repeatable. If you discover a bug in the "simulation", then why not fix it and then "rewind" back to the time just before this guy found the bug. That way in our time-line we never saw the bug. In that same mater, if this was a simulation, retroactively delete this guy before he was conceived,and all of the sudden he never existed or wrote any theories. The only way a simulation scenario would be found is if the simulation allowed for it (simulation QA, ancestor p
    • by Bogtha ( 906264 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @02:12PM (#21911692)

      Even if you come up with a clever test that would pierce the illusion, one would have to assume whoever maintains the illusion would simply fix it so that didn't work a second time.

      Not necessarily. As a developer, when you run a bunch of testcases, if you find a bug, you don't halt everything in the debugger and fix the bug immediately, you just wait until it's all over, fix the bug, and re-start the test run. If this guy's theory is correct, then I would assume that any such flaws would persist until the end of our universe and then get fixed for the next one.

      Personally, when I first read about the double-slit experiment, it reminded me of short-circuiting in if statements, so I can see the appeal of this line of thought. But I think it's silly to purposefully investigate it rather than simply wait and see what we can deduct from the ToE, if and when we figure it out.

      Just because there is no currently workable theory for some occurrence, there is no reason to invent a wild explanation that just makes it go away.

      Without some compelling proof (which he lacks) this is nothing more than a conversational topic over a bag of weed.

      Er, that's exactly how science is supposed to work. You don't have a theory for some occurrence, so you invent an explanation, you don't have proof, so you perform experiments to get evidence.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) *
      If our reality is virtual, then all data is suspect, and it would be impossible to trust any sort of experimental data.

      False. You can do experiments within virtual worlds to determine the rules under which it operates, just like you can in the real world. For example, in second life, if you don't RTFM, you can still do scientific tests with your avatars to learn the internal physics of that virtual world.

      Even if you come up with a clever test that would pierce the illusion, one would have to assume whoeve
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by rhombic ( 140326 )

        we piece the illusion via overloading the system with computations it must perform, the creator may be forced to start "simplifying" the laws of physics in observable ways.

        When I'm running a simulation, I don't change the "rules" in mid-run if it goes wonky, I kill it & re-start after fixing the problem. So let's not run this particular experiment, m'kay?

    • Even if you come up with a clever test that would pierce the illusion, one would have to assume whoever maintains the illusion would simply fix it so that didn't work a second time.

      That, or they call it a "feature".
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Thelasko ( 1196535 )
      I believe the generally accepted answer to this question was René Descartes'. Cogito ergo sum. [wikipedia.org] "But there is a deceiver of supreme power and cunning who is deliberately and constantly deceiving me. In that case I too undoubtedly exist, if he is deceiving me; and let him deceive me as much as he can, he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am something. So, after considering everything very thoroughly, I must finally conclude that the proposition, I am, I exist, is nec
    • What you say is (mostly) true enough, but it doesn't follow that Simulism [simulism.org] is nonsense. It is non-testable, at least as far as we know from our perspective, and therefore falls outside of the realm of science. But it may nonetheless be true.

      Not only that, but it seems like a distinct possibility. Who among us would not set up such a simulation if we had the capability? And who among us, watching the progress of technology over recent decades, seriously doubts that we will soon have the capability to se

  • by carpe_noctem ( 457178 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @01:46PM (#21911222) Homepage Journal
    Before I can explore this theory, I need to re-pack the bong...

    *cough*

    Ok, ready!
  • by Mr. Bad Example ( 31092 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @01:46PM (#21911226) Homepage
    Do they give out Nobel prizes in the "Dude, I Am So Fucking High Right Now" category?
    • by DRAGONWEEZEL ( 125809 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @02:02PM (#21911508) Homepage
      The thing about all this is (preps Karma Shield) Who cares?

      Ahhh good shield...
      Uh oh detecting anomolies... Captain we need to reroute power from the phasers & the warp drives to the shield deflectors.
      Make it so.
      Ahhh it worked. Good job!

      K now that my Karma is safe... Please understand what I mean.

      Philosophical, unprovable arguements are by nature not worth more than discussion, and can not by nature lead to any outcome other than heated debate, War, or in this guys situation, a bad case of the munchies. I totally agree that this is like a conversation over a bowl of weed after watching the Matrix.

      Personally, I believe in God because of certain situations in my life where I should have died or been seriously injured but was preppared by a "voice." But if god is just a program to inject thoughts in my head that save my life, then my belief in God is still valid, because from my perspective that program IS GOD.

      Secondly if this is a VR sim, than there must be some Reality sufficiently advanced to where we could get replicated in RL from our VR selves after we proved our worth here! (another reason to be good!)

      • Philosophical, unprovable arguements are by nature not worth more than discussion, and can not by nature lead to any outcome ...

        However if the simulation is buggy it could lead to some useful special-cases in the (simulated) natural laws. "Special cases" that violate, say, conservation of momentum, or mass/energy, or a host of other stuff. Think of the technologies you could build on exploiting such bugs: Free power. Teleportation. Duplication of organized matter. Etc.

        Such bugs might have a form that
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 04, 2008 @02:14PM (#21911724)

      Do they give out Nobel prizes in the "Dude, I Am So Fucking High Right Now" category?
      It would seem so [nobelprize.org]
  • Vacation (Score:4, Funny)

    by Facetious ( 710885 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @01:46PM (#21911228) Journal
    I propose that we, the /. community, establish a vacation fund for New Zealand physicists.
  • bad idea (Score:5, Funny)

    by syrinx ( 106469 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @01:47PM (#21911238) Homepage
    Seems to me that if the universe is a simulation, then the obvious ending condition would be "when the residents figure out they're in a simulation". The creator of the simulation could be stretching his noodly appendages out towards the 'killall -9 universe' keys right now, now that this guy has gone and blabbed about it to everyone.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Blakey Rat ( 99501 )
      He began to feel dizzy, and in his confusion he even started wondering if the old fellow was right, and he really was a computer. He felt a pang of worry about how he would tell Jill. The room around him was dissolving away. He felt himself flung into a void, and from somewhere close by, he heard someone calling his name, "Perry Simm...Perry Simm...P'ry Simm...Prisim...PRISM...PRISM..."

      http://infocom.elsewhere.org/gallery/amfv/amfv.html [elsewhere.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Locklin ( 1074657 )
      Only human arrogance would lead one to believe that the [subject of the simulation] are humans.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Floody ( 153869 )

        Only human arrogance would lead one to believe that the [subject of the simulation] are humans.

        Agreed. Although, perhaps, the "point" of the simulation/experiment is to evolve intelligence to a given (as yet unknown) level.

        Consider that there are between 200 and 400 billion stars in the Milky Way, 27 galaxies (IIRC) in our local group alone and (probably) over 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. That's a lot of opportunity for all kinds of interesting things to happen over 13+ billion yea

  • it's called paranoid schizophrenia
  • by pezpunk ( 205653 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @01:53PM (#21911328) Homepage

    We are all aware that the senses can be deceived, the eyes fooled. But how can we be sure our senses are not being deceived at any particular time, or even all the time? Might I just be a brain in a tank somewhere, tricked all my life into believing in the events of this world by some insane computer? And does my life gain or lose meaning based on my reaction to such solipsism?

    - Project PYRRHO, Specimen 46, Vat 7 (Subject termination advised)
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Man's unfailing capacity to believe what he prefers to be true rather than what the evidence shows to be likely and possible has always astounded me. We long for a caring Universe which will save us from our childish mistakes, and in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary we will pin all our hopes on the slimmest of doubts. God has not been proven not to exist, therefore he must exist.

      Academician Prokhor Zakharov
      "For I Have Tasted The Fruit"
  • Proving that... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by techpawn ( 969834 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @01:54PM (#21911354) Journal
    is like trying to prove that there is no gravity, everything just continually expands at the same rate until they collide. You can't provide outside neutral observation, anything you try to observe it with will be part of the experiment. This isn't Physics it's philosophy. Sorry sir, but your cat is dead.
  • by WibbleOnMars ( 1129233 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @01:55PM (#21911390)
    To extend the hypothesis:

    The entity[ies] running the simulation created it to find out whether their creations could work out that they're in a simulation. As soon as we come up with a definite proof, they will have achieved the goals of the simulation, and will shut it down.

    Possibly.

    Or they might just replace it with something even more baffling.
  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @01:56PM (#21911410) Homepage Journal
    Why?
    Space is big, you may think it is a log way to the Chemists but that is just peanuts compared to space.
    And just how we simulate the computer running the simulation of the universe in the simulated universe?
    The price of RAM will go through the roof.

  • by Connie_Lingus ( 317691 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @02:02PM (#21911510) Homepage
    This idea is not new...mathematicians have been exploring this for years now, and the "theory" is based on these three ideas and how "true" they may be;

    1. the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a posthuman stage.
    2. any post-human civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof).
    3. we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.

    It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become post-humans who run ancestor-simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation.


    It all breaks down to probability...if any "post-human" species with enough computer power to model our universe down to the quantum level decides to run Sim-like models, there would almost assuredly be many many simulations run. Now, it might require a computer the size of a small planet to run the estimated 10^42 ops/second that modeling our universe may require, but it is not totally unbelievable that 200-500 years from now we, as a species, will harness this type of computer power.

    The real problem is...who cares? Even if it were possible to discover this "truth" what difference would it make in our lives?

  • by VE3MTM ( 635378 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @02:05PM (#21911560)
    You can't disprove this theory for the same reasons you can't "prove" that God doesn't exist with ontological arguments. There's no way to prove that we're not living in a simulation, because for every test you come up with, some weeny can say, "well, of course you get that result, it's part of the simulation!"

    It's bad science. Hell, it's not science.
  • Trippy, duuude (Score:5, Interesting)

    by longacre ( 1090157 ) * on Friday January 04, 2008 @02:17PM (#21911778) Homepage
    "Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves. Here's Tom with the weather." --Bill Hicks
  • by quadong ( 52475 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @02:17PM (#21911784) Homepage
    Brian Whitworth, the author of the paper, is a senior lecturer in information technology at Massey University in New Zealand.

    http://www.massey.ac.nz/~wwiims/people/b.whitworth/ [massey.ac.nz]

    Here are his degrees: BSc (Maths), BA (Psych), MA (Hons), IS Doctorate
    Masters Thesis: Brian Systems and the Concept of Self
    PhD Thesis: Generating Group Agreement in Cooperative Computer Mediated Groups

    He also suggests that our universe could be running on a "three-dimensional space-time screen", which doesn't make any sense given that space-time is 4 dimensional. The verbiage on page 2 of his paper continues to make it clear that besides not having any formal training in physics, he seems to only have a layperson's understanding of the modern physical concepts that would be needed to begin to make a coherent argument on this topic. The idea isn't total crap, but this guy does not seem qualified to champion it.
  • by jayhawk88 ( 160512 ) <jayhawk88@gmail.com> on Friday January 04, 2008 @02:21PM (#21911852)
    Tech: Sir, Universe #4598232 has achieved self awareness. Bringing up it's stats on the monitor now.

    God: Hmmmm.....15.5 billion years? Took them long enough.

    Tech: Yes sir. Shall I transfer them over with the other sentients?

    God: What's the status of the species that figured it out?

    Tech: They call themselves "Humans" sir, a bipedal mammalian race. They've been out of the trees for a few hundred thousand years so far, can control fission but not fusion, only live for about 100 years, and have just recently had unmanned spacecraft pierce their own solar system.

    God: Good Me, is that it? What the hell have they been doing this whole time?

    Tech: Mostly fighting amongst themselves judging by their media.

    God: Yes, I see. Nasty little buggers aren't they? No, we can't risk contaminating the other sentients with this lot, schedule the universe for wiping and reload the OS. Let's go ahead and move this one from the mammalian test group to energy beings, it's looking like energy-based lifeforms might be the way to go, I'd like to get a larger sampling.
  • Run our own (Score:3, Interesting)

    by matt me ( 850665 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @02:39PM (#21912180)
    It is difficult to take this seriously until we are capable of running our own simulated universes. Then real consideration would be needed:

    What would our subjects think? Would they ask the question we do? Would they run their own simulated universe? Would their subjects ask if they live in a simulated universe in a simulated universe?

    If you were to devise a test that our universe is simulated, and we were to test positive, you would never be able to test if our hosting universe simulated. It's turtles all the way down.

    What is a non simulated universe like?

    I think if we were in a simulated universe, our gods would be having much more fun messin' with us. By likelihood, we wouldn't be a scientific simulation, but in some curious kids' basement. Now that's scary.

  • by tgibbs ( 83782 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @03:29PM (#21912930)
    There doesn't seem to be anything particularly new or profound in the paper. None of the "tests" suggest any practical experiments, so it seems to me little more than amusing speculation.

    However, along those lines:

    The notion that the apparent quantized nature of physics could be an approximation--a way for a simulation to limit memory requirements--occurred to me some years ago. It has some potentially disturbing implications (at least if you take it seriously).

    This idea is meaningful only if the simulation is embedded in a universe is not itself quantized. Of course, our universe could be an accurate simulation of a quantized universe, but then our universe's quantal nature is not any kind of evidence for our universe being a VR.

    This leads to some concerns about the motivations of the creators of the simulation. Generally, one constructs a simulation to answer questions about one's own world, so we may speculate that the developers of the simulation presumed that quantizing reality at such a tiny scale would not be a major source of error.

    Yet here we are, developing technologies that work only because of the quantal nature of physics, happily exploiting what are really "bugs" in the simulation. If the developers happen to notice what we are doing, they might not be too happy about this--potentially, the use of quantum technology to any major extent would undermine the validity of their simulation in terms of making predictions regarding their (presumably non-quantum) universe. What if they notice, realize that their simulation is faulty and decide to turn us off?

  • by caseih ( 160668 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @03:37PM (#21913042)
    I don't think it particularly matters if we are in some kind of metaphysical simulation or not. If there is some sort of uber virtual reality, the simulation, and thus simulator, would have to be so large and so complex that it would also itself be reality. On a smaller scale, if you want to simulate every single aspect of a system (and I do mean *everything* about it), then you've pretty much created the system itself again, albeit in some sort of equivalent way. Supposing such a simulation existed, and it was in some sort of computer, for argument's sake, and being in a computer it allowed reality of size x to be modeled in a much smaller, finite space, then if you run multiple realities in parallel, that's pretty much the equivalent of the multiple universe theory. So as far as we're concerned it's the exact same thing!

    Additionally, reality being some kind of "VR" begs all kinds of questions. Like how was the VR created (it's existence as a simulation implies it was created). What is the "reality" that the simulator resides in? If the VR was created, how was it created? Does this imply some sort of intelligence at work here? The only possible interesting thing that could come about if reality is some sort of simulation is whether or not there are glitches in the simulation. Everything else, if it ran perfectly, is irrelevant because the simulation would be indistinguishable from any form of reality.
  • by theJML ( 911853 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @03:42PM (#21913110) Homepage
    Just say "Computer, Arch!". Damn, no arch. Must not be a simulation.
  • Hmm (Score:3, Funny)

    by jeffxbaker ( 1209402 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @03:48PM (#21913186)
    where do i click to change my wifes avatar
  • by jurt1235 ( 834677 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @03:55PM (#21913286) Homepage
    Does it run under linux?
  • by flappinbooger ( 574405 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @05:34PM (#21915178) Homepage
    There are a lot of people saying the universe is really something like 10 dimensions.

    But, we live in 3, and are constrained in one direction in the 4th (time).

    So, the universe is compressed, and the quantum weirdness is a (digital?) artifact resulting from the compression.

    It's like we're an mp3, and it works well until you look too closely and then the weirdness and approximations start to show up.

    I feel like I'm a .WAV living in an MP3!
  • by SnarfQuest ( 469614 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @07:46PM (#21916874)
    There I was, installing "Duke Nukem Forever" on my PC, and then suddenly here I am. And I didn't even get a shotgun.
  • Here's one (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DynaSoar ( 714234 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @08:26PM (#21917334) Journal
    > He reasons that if reality was to do something that information processing cannot, then it cannot be virtual.

    Some of the material falling into a black hole escapes as Hawking radiation, and also adds to the mass, spin and and/or or charge of the hole, but there's no evidence these are increased by an amount equal to the infalling matter/energy according to E=MC^2. Disappearance of the time dimension at the event horizon also 'freezes' processing and any information there gets locked up.

    Does information processing theory (by itself) provide a mechanism for complete loss of some information?

    Even if the hole later 'explodes' and becomes a naked singularity (something I can't hold with) there's no indication that what's already in the singularity can affect what's outside other than by the forces noted above.

  • Suggestions (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JoeInnes ( 1025257 ) on Friday January 04, 2008 @08:51PM (#21917588)
    There are four possible scenarios (simplifying a little):
    o We are living in a VR and don't know it
    o We are living in a VR and come to realise it
    o We are not living in a VR and do not believe we are
    o We are not living in a VR but believe we are

    In case one: No problems.
    In case two: Either the simulation ends, or the simulation is not geared towards working out how long we take to find out. Either way, there is no higher level of understanding in either, as we still wouldn't know the goal of the simulation, and there would be know way of knowing until the simulation ended, meaning we would not profit from it.
    In case three: No problems.
    In case four: We progress to trying to work out what this simulation is aimed at, failing miserably. The only thing wasted is time (and money, in the form of research grants).

    As I look it at, it's no different to religion, really. Believe what you like; it doesn't really affect the environment in which we live.

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. -- F. Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month"

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