From Discover, we learn that some physicists want to test the idea that we live in a giant computer simulation, matrix:
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?”
But others soon realized that making an imperfect copy of the universe that’s just good enough to fool its inhabitants would take far less computational power. In such a makeshift cosmos, the fine details of the microscopic world and the farthest stars might only be filled in by the programmers on the rare occasions that people study them with scientific equipment. As soon as no one was looking, they’d simply vanish.
So the physicists hope to catch the extraterrestrial villains in the act.
For Beane, either outcome would be fine. “Learning we live in a simulation would make no more difference to my life than believing that the universe was seeded at the Big Bang,” he says.
Read the whole article for a glimpse into the mindset. The notion that we live in a giant sim is a newer variant on the Copernican Principle: According to the Principle, Earth must be a mediocre planet (therefore there must be life, and intelligent life, on many other planets). The Principle is not based on evidence, it is merely asserted as what a reasonable, up-to-date person should believe.
On face value, our experiences with the hunt for life on Mars would be just as satisfactory a guide as to what to expect from other planets in the habitable zone, but for some reason Mars is not covered by the Copernican Principle. Its barrenness is supposedly exceptional, whereas Earth’s fecundity is normal (mediocre).
In the same way, the notion that we live in a giant computer sim depends on the idea that we can’t evaluate the evidence we encounter on its face. After all, it might have been planted by super-intelligent space aliens who have so far managed to cover their tracks.
About a century and a half ago, Philip Henry Gosse (1810–1888), naturalist and originator of large aquariums, decided that God had (see his book Omphalos) that Earth was very young and that God had created the fossils as fossils. Gosse’s belief that God created fossils is treated as “not science,” but the belief that we live in a computer sim designed by intelligent aliens is treated as “science,” with about an equivalent amount of evidence available.
Welcome to the world of “Copernican Principle” science, where all the old wheezes are repackaged, with better graphics and more apps.
See also: Copernicus, you are not going to believe who is using your name. Or how.