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Our Virtual Reality Universe

15 Jan , 2008

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What if the Universe was in fact a simulation? A product of some information processor, creating space and time, energy and matter? What if the Big Bang was the whole simulation booting up, beginning billions of years of space and time calculations? Can we possibly understand our consciousness as a subroutine in an advanced number crunching machine? A new paper published by the Centre for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science, University of Auckland, asks us to keep an open mind and suggests if we look at the complexity of physical laws of our known universe, many paradoxes may be explained if we view our physical reality as a virtual reality.

Virtual reality is a term that has been used frequently in sci-fi novels and movies since the early 1980’s but the term artificial reality can be traced back to the 1970’s. Movies such as Tron, The Matrix and Lawnmower Man centre around the possibility of fully immersible virtual realities. It is only very recently however, with advanced interactive gaming systems and the design of complex virtual worlds online and on home computers, that we can experience worlds of sufficient detail that we can be fooled into believing what we are experiencing approximates physical reality. Additional systems have been engineered to provide the user with feedback from the virtual world they are interacting with (whether it is a rumble in the joypad or wired gloves giving the user a sense of touch), enhancing the experience beyond purely a visual one.

Taking a look at physics in our universe, many paradoxes and uncertainties exist. Quantum physics is one such field highlighted in Brian Whitworth’s research and considered to be “strange” physics, giving some justification to his theory we might actually be immersed in a virtual reality world:

While virtual reality theory seems strange, so do other current theories of physics, e.g. the many-world view of quantum physics proposes that each quantum choice divides the universe into parallel universes. […] Even relatively main-stream physics theories are quite strange.” – The Physical World as a Virtual Reality.

Although this research pushes the envelope of the most outlandish physics theories, it is not so hard to imagine that advanced information processing may be complex enough to govern the dynamics of an entire universe (if the information processor was advanced enough). Our physical universe, after all, is approximated through physical equations and mathematical reasoning, why can’t the laws of our “physical” reality be approximated by virtual reality? If this can be done, do we actually exist in a virtual world?

Source: arXiv.org publication (abstract and full paper download)

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tacitus
Member
January 15, 2008 4:26 PM

I believe that some people have argued that if intelligent life is at all possible in the Universe (or perhaps that should be Multiverse these days?) then it is *more* likely that we are living in a simulated universe than a real one, arguing that once a single civilization reaches the point where simulating universes is possible, then they will generate a whole bunch of them (or something like that).

Of course, since we probably would never be able to tell the difference (sim vs real) then I see little point in worrying about it!

Rory
Guest
Rory
January 15, 2008 4:27 PM

Not too hard to believe, at least for me. But its not really an answer to life, the universe, and everything. It still leaves open the question of who made the computer, why was it made etc…
Funny, we are really good at answering the hows but never they whys. Its still a really fun theory though

Adrian
Guest
Adrian
January 15, 2008 5:29 PM

So, is this website real? Am I really typing? How do I know this guy exists. I’ve never met him. Then again, that wouldn’t matter if I’m biological pixels would it?

Rubbish! Certainly we can contemplate our own navels more intellegently than this?

Shuggaloaf
Guest
Shuggaloaf
January 15, 2008 6:32 PM

This is an interesting theory.

I’d have to think that as physics (and ourselves) progress, we would begin to unravel the “code” of the universe. We could possibly even add our own “sub-routines” to this code.

This could allow us to overcome many, if not all, all of the problems we see in physics today. Overcoming the light speed barrier, time travel, even harnessing energy and resources on a galactic scale!

Not to mention the cheat codes we could add in to give ourselves infinite lives smile

Shuggaloaf
Guest
Shuggaloaf
January 15, 2008 6:37 PM

(con’t from above…)

Perhaps once we get to the level that we could re-program the universe’s code, the level that the creators of the simulation themselves are at, maybe we “win” (or lose, depending on how you look at it) and it’s game over…

Johnny Blues
Guest
Johnny Blues
January 16, 2008 5:44 AM

LOL, that was indeed funny Kevin. Thanks for the lift out of the heavy thinking! Funny though, nobody has mentioned String Theory which is quite agreeable with virtual actualities.

igrnemo
Guest
igrnemo
January 16, 2008 12:58 AM

Arthur C. Clarke wrote an extremely short Sci-Fi story once. It goes like this:

***************************
God said: ‘End program.’
Then the Universe ceased to exist.
God spoke again: ‘Delete program.’
And the Universe has never been in existence.
***************************

bugzzz
Member
bugzzz
January 16, 2008 1:43 AM

in response to rory, it might matter a lot whether the universe was made with great intentionally or more experimentally like a video game. When humans are able to create fully immerseable virtual worlds that are as convincing as our physical reality we might casually spin off virtual worlds with no forethought of the inhabitants’ experiences.

Making any potential God a “great designer” or a computer programmer just knocking out a convincing simulation.

Haplo
Guest
Haplo
January 16, 2008 9:29 AM

Mmm interesting…

I note two “curious” things:

1. Speed limit. As the paper goes, the light speed limit is set by “processor speed”. If we were indeed in a VR universe, then this limit would increase eventually. Or the processors in the reality outside our VR aren’t upgradeable?

2. As in a videogame, in wich everything is created as you turn to see it, our universe is created as we measure it. To “save resources” in the supposed processor. Well, what about alien life? Is more than likely that the universe is plagued with life, so, at any given point, all the universe must be created because any number of aliens will be observing all of it at the same time.

Martin
Guest
Martin
January 16, 2008 3:40 AM

For me was one of concepts, besides game or playground of some programmers or etc, of our existence in virtual world – to solve problems, which are confused our creators. for example if they can create thousands of virtual worlds, then they can experiment with so much different concepts and ideas. and if our virtual world reaches point, where we are beginning to create our virtual world, then maybe we are able to solve or help solve puzzles of our gods. for example an ability of some being to understand himself from the higher level, than it’s existence level.

we solving our existence, when we are just SPORE game in someone’s hands smile

paulw
Member
paulw
January 16, 2008 5:23 AM

Someone once suggested that all those times when you are looking for something that you cannot find like a teapot or a pair of shoes that then suddenly turn up right where you were looking previously maybe evidence that the universe has just had a glitch in a sub routine. If everyone logs when these experiences occur then we can check to see if there is any correlation. This being a tentative first step to proving whether we are real or not.

Underlings
Member
January 16, 2008 12:23 PM

There are at least two possibilities for our identities, using this thought experiment: either we’re beings in another universe experiencing a virtual world, or we’re virtual beings ourselves. The latter would require vastly more computing power, but since we don’t know the conditions of the universe that has created our simulation, that’s not necessarily a problem.

Ending the VR program would have markedly different effects upon each scenario–we’d either “wake up” in another universe or we’d simply cease to exist.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin
January 16, 2008 5:37 AM

Well there is one way to find out if life is just a simulation

/End Program

pedro varon
Guest
pedro varon
January 16, 2008 5:55 AM

i guess religion is not far from the truth then, we die to awaken in the real world. right?

Fabio Knopf
Guest
Fabio Knopf
January 16, 2008 6:16 AM

Actually, as Tacitus pointed in the first post, what would be the diference?

alastair
Guest
January 16, 2008 6:37 AM

Well one difference would be that, in a simulation, one would expect the universe to exhibit quantisation effects (oh… it does). In a “real” universe, while there’s no reason quantisation effects could not exist, there’s also no reason to suppose that they would.

Additionally if we are indeed in a virtual universe, there’s the interesting possibility of being able to contact whoever built it. I find it extremely unlikely that such a possibility exists for the “real” universe (whether that happens to be ours, or some other universe in which ours is being simulated).

Carlos
Guest
Carlos
January 16, 2008 6:41 AM

It’s The Brain in a jar all over again. A little updated but the same concept. Think about this, the entire population of the world is involved in this simulation? If not then I just Imagined you guys out there wrote all of the above for my amussement. Which one of you Is’nt Real?

Lew
Guest
Lew
January 16, 2008 7:48 AM

Neo where are you when we need you? Maybe we are a simulation within a simulation within a simulation, in an endless chain folding back on itself. If we were to awake from our present simulation, we’d have to do it all over again in the next. If we have any control over how the simulation goes, I’m up for lots of money, willing women, and fast cars in the next level up. C U there!

John in Missouri
Guest
John in Missouri
January 16, 2008 10:35 AM
I actually scanned this paper. A few notes: Whitworth is not a cosmologist, he’s an information specialist. This doesn’t invalidate his theory, but I found the detail at least a little interesting. This is not a new idea (and Whitworth admits the same in his paper, citing The Matrix at a couple points in the paper. David Brin also wrote a rather fun novella on the same idea, where the narrator-hero finds out that he is one of several computer programs competing to be the best–and whoever wins will be lifted up to the next level of competition. Greg Bear also wrote a marvelous novel called MOVING MARS where the universe was just a bunch of data. Flip… Read more »
georgem571
Member
georgem571
January 16, 2008 11:19 AM
A scientific theory should be verifiable. What possible experiment would prove this theory? Also, it assumes consciousness is nothing but computation (so if a computer is sufficently fast, it will be conscious.) I find this assumption more than a little strange. Finally, running windows in a virtual machine is less efficient than running it in on bare hardware. And even a vm requires a real physical computer to run on, unless the vm is running on a vm, etc. but even in that case, you can’t get away from paying for an actual computer! So even if the theory is assumed, it doesn’t eliminate physical reality; just moves it elsewhere (or elsewhen?) Consciousness and reality exist; just maybe… Read more »
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