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Math Science

Mathematician: Is Our Universe a Simulation? 745

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Mathematician Edward Frenkel writes in the NYT that one fanciful possibility that explains why mathematics seems to permeate our universe is that we live in a computer simulation based on the laws of mathematics — not in what we commonly take to be the real world. According to this theory, some highly advanced computer programmer of the future has devised this simulation, and we are unknowingly part of it. Thus when we discover a mathematical truth, we are simply discovering aspects of the code that the programmer used. This may strike you as very unlikely writes Frenkel but physicists have been creating their own computer simulations of the forces of nature for years — on a tiny scale, the size of an atomic nucleus. They use a three-dimensional grid to model a little chunk of the universe; then they run the program to see what happens. 'Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom has argued that we are more likely to be in such a simulation than not,' writes Frenkel. 'If such simulations are possible in theory, he reasons, then eventually humans will create them — presumably many of them. If this is so, in time there will be many more simulated worlds than nonsimulated ones. Statistically speaking, therefore, we are more likely to be living in a simulated world than the real one.' The question now becomes is there any way to empirically test this hypothesis and the answer surprisingly is yes. In a recent paper, 'Constraints on the Universe as a Numerical Simulation,' the physicists Silas R. Beane, Zohreh Davoudi and Martin J. Savage outline a possible method for detecting that our world is actually a computer simulation (PDF). Savage and his colleagues assume that any future simulators would use some of the same techniques current scientists use to run simulations, with the same constraints. The future simulators, Savage indicated, would map their universe on a mathematical lattice or grid, consisting of points and lines. But computer simulations generate slight but distinctive anomalies — certain kinds of asymmetries and they suggest that a closer look at cosmic rays may reveal similar asymmetries. If so, this would indicate that we might — just might — ourselves be in someone else's computer simulation."
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Mathematician: Is Our Universe a Simulation?

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  • Future? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jcr ( 53032 ) < .ta. .rcj.> on Sunday February 16, 2014 @05:03PM (#46261459) Journal

    According to this theory, some highly advanced computer programmer of the future has devised this simulation, and we are unknowingly part of it.

    Wouldn't he have to be a computer programmer of the present, if he wrote this simulation and we're in it RIGHT NOW?


  • by TrollstonButterbeans ( 2914995 ) on Sunday February 16, 2014 @05:07PM (#46261491)
    What is the definition of "not a simulation".

    If I am in a simulation and it seems real to me, what is the opposite of this?
  • Flawed premise. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 16, 2014 @05:16PM (#46261561)

    First: humans observed the universe.
    Next, humans invented mathematics to model these observations.
    Then, humans refined mathematics over time, to even better model these observations.
    Then, humans became surprised at how well their model fit the universe, seeming to have forgotten how hard they worked to make it so.
    Then, humans started coming with very silly ideas about the model actually being the reality it models.

    The inclination to have faith in something fanciful doesn't always come from the religious.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 16, 2014 @05:28PM (#46261659)

    Even older news:
    World on a Wire - 1973 ("The Thirteenth floor" - see parent - is a remake of this one)

  • Statistical basis (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CODiNE ( 27417 ) on Sunday February 16, 2014 @05:35PM (#46261703) Homepage

    Many people dream every night. Statistically there would be many more dream worlds than real worlds. So therefore this world is more likely to be a dream world than a real world.

  • Not very plausible (Score:5, Insightful)

    by yesterdaystomorrow ( 1766850 ) on Sunday February 16, 2014 @05:43PM (#46261751)
    Mathematics, especially simulation, is actually a very weak approach to physical phenomena in themselves. It's good for human insight *about* the phenomena, but in most cases the equations are intractable and a simulation is miserably inefficient at getting the specifics right. A small molecule can assemble itself in picoseconds without mathematics, but a simulation takes a huge supercomputer run. If you'd like to simulate something bigger, you'll find that simulation scales very badly.
  • by Powercntrl ( 458442 ) on Sunday February 16, 2014 @06:22PM (#46262083)

    I find it hilarious, though, that people are open to this possibility but so hostile to the idea of creationism.

    If you ask me, it's the same shit in a different package. Throughout most of early history, man had a pretty bad understanding of scientific principles and "God made everything" was an answer that fit what was observable at the time. As advances in scientific understanding were made, we've come up with theories as to why we're here that are have a higher likelyhood of being true based on observations (the Big Bang, for example). It's also just as likely we were observing some advance's alien race's fireworks show that predated our known universe, but just because that fits the observation, does not mean it's true.

    For example, if I put you in a completely darkened room and you heard meowing, would you know for absolute certain that there was a cat in the room? It could've been a recording of a cat, a person making a meow noise or even a parrot that was trained to meow. You could've said that "I heard a cat, so there is a cat in the room." and it would've fit your observation, but it could still be entirely incorrect. Likewise, these scientists may believe "the universe is a simulation" fits their observations. Just remember, until you can turn on the lights and see for sure - all that meows may not be a cat.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 16, 2014 @07:12PM (#46262413)

    Can you count to 100? Of course you can. We all can. Can you count to one billion? You could, but you don't have to. You know it's out there. Every number is out there in the grand continuum of numbers.

    Consider how much RAM and disk space you have in your computer. It's finite, right? There are a finite number of possible combinations of all those ones and zeroes.

    So every possible memory state of your PC is a really big number that's already out there. You don't need to program your PC to count that high to make those numbers real; they're real numbers by definition - and this holds true no matter how much RAM you can imagine.

    That means that the outcome of every possible computer simulation is already out there, regardless of whether or not a computer even exists. The idea that a machine exists and is running the simulation as well is completely unnecessary. It's like postulating that there's no such number as 1,000,000,000 unless some intelligent being actually counts that high.

    We can just say "the universe may be pure math" and be done with it.

  • Re:Flawed premise. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 16, 2014 @07:35PM (#46262569)
    You seem to fundamentally misunderstand the foundations of mathematics.

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.