February 23, 2014

Don't worry, this is all just a simulation

Many mathematicians, when pressed, admit to being Platonists. The great logician Kurt Gödel argued that mathematical concepts and ideas “form an objective reality of their own, which we cannot create or change, but only perceive and describe.” But if this is true, how do humans manage to access this hidden reality?

We don’t know. But one fanciful possibility is that we live in a computer simulation based on the laws of mathematics — not in what we commonly take to be the real world. According to this theory, some highly advanced computer programmer of the future has devised this simulation, and we are unknowingly part of it. Thus when we discover a mathematical truth, we are simply discovering aspects of the code that the programmer used.

This may strike you as very unlikely. But the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom has argued that we are more likely to be in such a simulation than not. If such simulations are possible in theory, he reasons, then eventually humans will create them — presumably many of them. If this is so, in time there will be many more simulated worlds than nonsimulated ones. Statistically speaking, therefore, we are more likely to be living in a simulated world than the real one.

Very clever. But is there any way to empirically test this hypothesis?
Is the universe a simulation
Indeed, there may be.


  1. Anonymous11:41 PM

    Like string theory it can't be tested empirically, not at present anyway, but one would expect if it's a computer simulation it would have crashed by now.

    Nevertheless physics has become a very interesting place over the past 100 years. It has been proven empirically that observation does have an effect on the behaviour of sub atomic particles, and those particles have "spooky" (to quote Einstein) relationships of their own - think entanglement - something that has also been empirically tested, which means information can travel faster than the speed of light - in fact it would appear "relationship" can travel from one side of the universe to the other instantly - get ya head around that.

    Do a bit of homework on the on the observer effect and entanglement then let the imagination go wild.

    You never know Bishop Berkley may have been right all along.


  2. I'm long familiar with the observer effect, Jason.

    And I know a lot of men, in particular, who operate as if this a proven thing ... that is, unless they're right there, they seem to think the world doesn't exist. It's like an extreme compartmentalization, or something.

  3. I have long suspected this. At least since the age of four when I first came to suspect that I may be the only real person in the universe and everyone else was a cleverly contrived plastic piece of talking space. Except the dog.

    I was a troubled child.

    WTF is Bishop Berkley?

  4. George Berkeley, also known as Bishop Berkeley, was an Anglo-Irish philosopher whose primary achievement was the advancement of a theory he called "immaterialism.

  5. I was a troubled child.

    Yes. Yes you were that.

  6. Anonymous10:58 PM

    If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?" George Berkeley

    That is a familiar quote, even Lisa Simpson knows it.

    George was an empiricist who claimed that without observation things did not exist, at least not in the material world. However, he did claim that they did exist, the reason being that God was the ever present observer, the creator of the material world.

    In the quantum world there is an arguement that goes something like this: everything remains in a state of flux, potential, probability if you like, until it is actually observed, that is when waves become particles, or matter as we sense it. It is the act of observation that causes wave function collapse, such as lifting the lid that houses Schrodinger's Cat.

    It would appear quantum physics has left the door open for a Berkeley type interpretation of our universe.

    But who is the ever present observer?

    Think about it, if just for fun.


    Me too Geoffff, I understand.