Is This Universe Real Or Just A Simulation?

Do we live inside a simulation?

I was just reading about the news that the first experiment to try to test whether or not we live in a hologram had published its results. They did not find any evidence to support the idea one that, being honest, I can’t really comprehend. That despite the fact that I tried to do a blog post on essentially the same principal a couple of months back.

It did remind me, however, of the fact that we live in a simulation of the universe. That’s right, you read that correctly, we don’t live in the actual real universe, just a simulation of it. As silly as that sounds there’s really no way to prove otherwise and it is more likely than us being in the proper universe. Here’s how.

Scientists today are developing ever more accurate models of the universe, both on very large (cosmological) and very small (quantum) scales. They’re getting better and more detailed and more accurate with every iteration but obviously, in the grand scheme of things, they’re still pretty crude. But, it is theoretically conceivable that, many years from now, science will have advanced to such a sophisticated degree that it will be able to model an entire universe down to a quantum level.

Within that simulation it seems likely that on some random rock in one random galaxy a simulation of life will also arise. That simulation of life will simulate an evolutionary path that will lead to an intelligent, self-aware species that will in turn start asking questions of the universe. You can probably see where I’m going with this. That simulation of intelligent life will itself start modelling the universe and will, in turn, form it’s own perfect simulation of the universe as a whole.

And so it goes ad infinitum. So all we need to produce an infinite series of universe simulations is for one organism to pull it off just once. If that feat were achieved, just that once, it then becomes far more likely that we’re living inside one of the simulations than in the one real universe, and that’s how I can get away with saying that we don’t live in the real universe.

Personally, I have a few problems with this theory. Firstly, it’s not science because it’s an untestable hypothesis. There is no way for us to know whether we are in the real universe or a perfect simulation of it. If a theory isn’t testable then it isn’t science, it’s philosophy. Second, who cares? It makes no difference to any of us whether we’re real or simulated. You might ask: what if they turn the experiment off? They’re bound to run out of funding eventually. But we could be hit by an asteroid/super-volcano/gamma ray burst at any moment so it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.

Maybe, though, there is a fatal flaw to the idea? To create a simulation of an infinite universe right down to the quantum scale would require an infinite amount of information, an infinite amount of computing power and so on; and you can’t have infinite amounts of those or, indeed, of anything. I guess there is also one last possibility: that the simulation isn’t quite perfect, that there is a way to tell whether we live in a simulation or not but that we don’t know what it is. Perhaps we’ll figure it out in the future, perhaps we won’t. I like to think about this every now and then, I find it an interesting idea, but to me it is just that. An idea. I very much doubt it’s a question that will be answered in my life time; either way, though, I’m very much in the Who Cares? camp.


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