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Physicists hope to test whether we live in a computer sim

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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.

Hmmm.

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.

8 Replies to “Physicists hope to test whether we live in a computer sim

  1. 1
    Mapou says:

    What if the aliens who are simulating our universe are themselves being simulated by even more advanced aliens? And what if the meta-simulators are themselves being simulated by meta-meta-simulators? Would this means simulations all the way down?

    Is our tax money funding this all of this useless hogwash?

  2. 2
    Bruce David says:

    There are many, the most notable (but certainly not the only) being the great British empiricist Bishop Berkeley, who believe that the truth is that we live in a kind of virtual reality like that postulated in the OP or popularized in The Matrix. However, the function of the computer that manages it is performed by God rather than a physical machine. In this system of belief, there is no material reality at all. There are only minds—our minds and God’s mind—which are all connected by virtue of being part of (or the whole of in God’s case) the One Existence. Consciousness is all there is. The physical universe is a grand illusion. The laws of physics are merely some of the rules by which the virtual reality operates.
    There are a number of advantages to this point of view from a philosophical perspective. For one, the mind-body problem that bedevils any form of dualism disappears. Also, it obviates the question of how God could create a physical universe when He/She/It is not physical. It also satisfies the constraint of Occam’s razor for any theist: If God and consciousness exist, and if there is no way to distinguish empirically between a physical universe that is virtual and one that has independent existence, then postulating such a physical universe is unnecessary and should not be done. It also allows easy explanation for phenomena that violate the laws of physics, such as psychic phenomena of all types, miraculous events, out of body travel, NDEs, etc. Quantum weirdness is also easy to deal with when one accepts that there are no actual physical particles out there to begin with. (In fact a number of quantum physicists are adopting this position or positions very close to this, as you can see in several of BA77 quotes.) Finally, the impossibility of accounting for the existence of consciousness in a materialist metaphysics disappears as well.

  3. 3
    Mapou says:

    Bruce David:

    Consciousness is all there is.

    This makes no much sense to me, only because I am a firm believer in duality, i.e., in a yin-yang reality. It takes two opposite and complementary entities for consciousness to exist: the knower and the known. Since they are opposites, the knower cannot be known and the known cannot know. Besides, who says that the conscious (spiritual?) realm is not material? Opposites are of the same nature. They are just opposites.

    Furthermore, declaring that everything is consciousness does not solve the problem of determining what consciousness is. What is it made of? What is its substance?

  4. 4
    Box says:

    Bruce David #2: There are a number of advantages to this point of view from a philosophical perspective. For one, the mind-body problem that bedevils any form of dualism disappears. Also, it obviates the question of how God could create a physical universe when He/She/It is not physical.

    Bruce,

    allow me some questions about the mind-body problem, which you mentioned several times as being a major concern to you.
    Isn’t our increased understanding of information , as a non-material phenomenon capable of directing material processes, helpful in solving the issue?
    Secondly, when looking at matter at quantum-level the concept of matter becomes rather vague. For instance the concept of particle-wave duality seems to blur our good old concept of matter. And wasn’t it the latter concept that contributed to the mind-body problem?

    ———–

    Mapou,
    How about the knower who knows the knower, IOW self-consciousness?

  5. 5
    Bruce David says:

    Mapou, re. #3:

    This makes no much sense to me, only because I am a firm believer in duality, i.e., in a yin-yang reality. It takes two opposite and complementary entities for consciousness to exist: the knower and the known. Since they are opposites, the knower cannot be known and the known cannot know.

    So how then do you account for dreams? Where is the duality there? Do you claim that you are not conscious when you dream? Can you prove, even to yourself, that you are not dreaming at this very moment?

    Besides, who says that the conscious (spiritual?) realm is not material? Opposites are of the same nature. They are just opposites.

    By “material” I mean a physical reality existing independently of our minds. This, if it exists, is of a quite different nature than consciousness.

    Furthermore, declaring that everything is consciousness does not solve the problem of determining what consciousness is. What is it made of? What is its substance?

    We know what consciousness is because we are conscious. We experience it directly. It isn’t made of anything and it has no substance other than itself.

  6. 6
    Bruce David says:

    Box, re. #4

    allow me some questions about the mind-body problem, which you mentioned several times as being a major concern to you.
    Isn’t our increased understanding of information , as a non-material phenomenon capable of directing material processes, helpful in solving the issue?

    In my opinion, no. The mind body problem, stated simply, lies in the question of how can a non-material substance (mind) affect a qualitatively different substance (matter) and vice versa? In other words, how can mind cause any effects in the physical brain and through it the body? And how can changes in the brain affect our thoughts and emotions? How does the concept of information help with this basic difficulty?

    Secondly, when looking at matter at quantum-level the concept of matter becomes rather vague. For instance the concept of particle-wave duality seems to blur our good old concept of matter. And wasn’t it the latter concept that contributed to the mind-body problem?

    Well, yes, but as long as we conceive of matter, whether in quantum or classical form, as existing independently of our minds and being qualitatively different from them, then the problem still remains.

  7. 7
    idnet.com.au says:

    Check out this video that claims we are a simulation and that this proves there is a God.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2Xsp4FRgas

  8. 8
    Bruce David says:

    idnet, re. #7,

    Thanks for the link. That’s a great video. It doesn’t prove it of course, but it certainly makes the idea reasonable, and indeed perhaps the “best explanation” that fits the data.

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