There’s a hypothesis that states that the entire universe might be a computer simulation.

Scientists argue about a lot of ideas — from the Big Bang model back in the roaring twenties to present-day theories like …, and who-knows-what-else. Right now, scientists are working on creating a simulation to the universe. That’s what scientists are cooking. What if this simulator gets so real that it’s able to fabricate our universe and all that there is. What if this is what’s actually happening (how can we tell?); and that we might be characters in such a simulation making us feel like we’re free. This is the Simulation Hypothesis — the heated debate of scientists right now.

Related media: Neil deGrasse Tyson Explains Simulation Hypothesis


The Cosmic PlayStation

The simulation hypothesis was proposed by University of Oxford’s philosopher Nick Bostrom. In his 2003 paper, he recounted it as: 

“If there were a substantial chance that our civilization will ever get to the posthuman stage and run many ancestor‐simulations, then how come you are not living in such a simulation?”

He later formularized it with the Fermi-paradox where he laid out all possible observers with human-type experiences based on the number of civilizations that could have survive a post-human stage, and possible number of simulations those civilizations could have created, and possible number of people who might have lived in one of those civilizations. Several proponents think its more than just probability. Classical physics doesn’t seem so different from a computer algorithm, and its likely that an advanced civilization could create a simulation that could mimic the existence of the universe.

“If you look at how these quarks move around, the rules are entirely mathematical as far as we can tell,” says Max Tegmark, a cosmologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) at the 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate on the topic.

“If I were a character in a computer game … I would also discover eventually that the rules seemed completely rigid and mathematical. I would just be discovering the computer program in which it was written. So, that kind of begs the question: How can I be sure that this mathematical reality isn’t actually some kind of game or simulation?”


Are We Some Kind Of “Grand Theft Auto?”

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Obviously, you might have guessed, others think this idea is preposterous. Sabine Hossenfelder, a theoretical physicist, is staunchly against the idea. In her 2017 article published on her own blog Backreaction plainly titled, “No, we probably don’t live in a computer simulation,” she writes:

“Among physicists, the simulation hypothesis is not popular and that’s for a good reason — we know that it is difficult to find consistent explanations for our observations, … After all, finding consistent explanations is what we get paid to do.”

Critically thinking about the details, Hossenfelder says, the hypothesis falls apart. If the universe is a computer simulation, then its made up of bits (binary digits) like any computer program. Here’s the catch: what kind of bits? Classical physics (the physics of the big) and quantum mechanics (the physics of the small) wouldn’t be applicable in our universe. If you use bits for classical physics, it won’t be able to produce quantum effects. You’d’ve to use qubits (quantum bits). Another physicist from the Perimeter Institute, Xiao-Gang Wen, has tried doing that exact thing to model the universe, but his models doesn’t jibe with Einstein’s theory of relativity.

“Our presently best theories are the standard model and general relativity, and whatever other explanation you have for our observations must first be able to reproduce these theories’ achievements,” Hossenfelder concludes. “‘The programmer did it’ isn’t science. It’s not even pseudoscience. It’s just words.”


How Do We Tell We’re Not A SimPlay?

Vector : Electronic circuit on world map on blue background
Image: Anueing / iStock / Getty Images Plus

That’s the biggest challenge with the simulation hypothesis: though it’s not possible to prove it wrong, its impractical and totally not within the realm of science.

“We’re certainly not going to get conclusive experimental proof that you’re not in a simulation,” David Chalmers, a philosophy professor from New York University said at the 2016 debate. “Because any evidence that we could ever get could be simulated.”

Some of Hossenfelder interlocutors agree on this point, including Scott Aaronson, a theoretical computer physicist, wrote on his blog at the time.

“… I agree with Sabine insofar as she argues that the simulation hypothesis is lazy, … it doesn’t pay its rent by doing real explanatory work, doesn’t even engage much with any of the deep things we’ve learned about the physical world. [though Aaronson still thinks it’s possible] Blame it for being unfalsifiable rather than for being falsified!”

The simulation hypothesis is starting to sound familiar with predestination as supposed in religion than science. If that’s the case, maybe Tegmark proposed the scientific version of Pascal’s Wager. Back in the 17th century, the French philosopher Blaise Pascal recounted that it would be in our best interest to believe that God exists. If he doesn’t exist and you believe he does, you don’t lose much. But If he does exist and you don’t believe he does, you lose everything.

At the 2016 debate, Tegmark said something similar:“My advice to you is go out there and live really interesting lives and do unexpected things so the simulators don’t shut you down.”

There are a million ways Ronaldo in FIFA won’t notice he’s a real person as well.


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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Thu, May 02, 2019.


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