SCIENCE Scientists (kinda) disprove theory that we’re all just living inside a computer simulation

Mike Wehner

What if the classic late 90s sci-fi flick The Matrix actually had it right? What if we’re all just living inside of a computer simulation? That’s the idea behind a 2003 paper by Nick Bostrom, a philosopher from the University of Oxford. Since he published his work, countless scientists have jumped on board and supported his theory, and even Elon Musk says it’s near-certain that this is all just a computer program. Now, a pair of physicists have done the math and determined that it’s pretty much impossible.

The research, which was published in the journal Science Advances, centers on the required computational resources for supporting such a massive simulation as our own reality. In short, the researchers suggest that simulating and storing the data from even the tiniest aspects of what we know as reality would require a computer system so massive it would be unfathomable.

“Even just to store the information about a few hundred electrons on a computer one would require a memory built from more atoms than there are in the universe,” the researchers explain. The exponential increase in the amount of memory and processing power needed for each additional particle added to the simulation makes it not just impractical, but as far as we know, impossible.

However, that’s not quite the end of the debate. As the scientists acknowledge, we can’t account for advances in computer technology that haven’t yet occurred, and with quantum computing breaking new ground on a regular basis, it’s impossible to predict what lies ahead. A computer system capable of such a simulation might one day look a lot more plausible, but at the moment it’s nothing more than a science fiction dream.

Of course, there’s also the little issue of using our own universe as the model on which we’re judging such a computer system. If we’re to suggest that a computer system is simulating all of what we experience, why would we use our own models of physics and computing — which, if the simulation theory is correct, is just that, a simulation — to judge whether or not it’s possible?


Simulation Hypothesis

Ancestor simulation

In 2003, philosopher Nick Bostrom proposed a trilemma that he called “the simulation argument”. Despite the name, Bostrom’s “simulation argument” does not directly argue that we live in a simulation; instead, Bostrom’s trilemma argues that one of three unlikely-seeming propositions is almost certainly true:

  1. “The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage (that is, one capable of running high-fidelity ancestor simulations) is very close to zero”, or
  2. “The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero”, or
  3. “The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one”

The trilemma points out that a technologically mature “posthuman” civilization would have enormous computing power; if even a tiny percentage of them were to run “ancestor simulations” (that is, “high-fidelity” simulations of ancestral life that would be indistinguishable from reality to the simulated ancestor), the total number of simulated ancestors, or “Sims”, in the universe (or multiverse, if it exists) would greatly exceed the total number of actual ancestors.

Bostrom goes on to use a type of anthropic reasoning to claim that, if the third proposition is the one of those three that is true, and almost all people with our kind of experiences live in simulations, then we are almost certainly living in a simulation.

Bostrom claims his argument goes beyond the classical ancient “skeptical hypothesis“, claiming that “…we have interesting empirical reasons to believe that a certain disjunctive claim about the world is true”, the third of the three disjunctive propositions being that we are almost certainly living in a simulation. Thus, Bostrom, and writers in agreement with Bostrom such as David Chalmers, argue there might be empirical reasons for the “simulation hypothesis”, and that therefore the simulation hypothesis is not a skeptical hypothesis but rather a “metaphysical hypothesis“. Bostrom states he personally sees no strong argument for which of the three trilemma propositions is the true one: “If (1) is true, then we will almost certainly go extinct before reaching posthumanity. If (2) is true, then there must be a strong convergence among the courses of advanced civilizations so that virtually none contains any relatively wealthy individuals who desire to run ancestor-simulations and are free to do so. If (3) is true, then we almost certainly live in a simulation. In the dark forest of our current ignorance, it seems sensible to apportion one’s credence roughly evenly between (1), (2), and (3)… I note that people who hear about the simulation argument often react by saying, ‘Yes, I accept the argument, and it is obvious that it is possibility #n that obtains.’ But different people pick a different n. Some think it obvious that (1) is true, others that (2) is true, yet others that (3) is true.”

As a corollary to the trilemma, Bostrom states that “Unless we are now living in a simulation, our descendants will almost certainly never run an ancestor-simulation.”[3][4][5][6]

Why a Larger Multiverse Shouldn’t Make You Feel Small | Max Tegmark


The Higgs Boson was predicted with the same tool as the planet Neptune and the radio wave: with mathematics. Why does our universe seem so mathematical, and what does it mean? In my new book, Our Mathematical Universe, which comes out today, I argue that it means that our universe isn’t just described by math, but that it is math in the sense that we’re all parts of a giant mathematical object, which in turn is part of a multiverse so huge that it makes the other multiverses debated in recent years seem puny in comparison.

via Why a Larger Multiverse Shouldn’t Make You Feel Small | Max Tegmark.

Max Tegmark’s post at HuffPost promoting his new book, which discusses his theory that the universe is mathematics, not described by mathematics, but is mathematics.  Of course, the observational difference between being fully described by mathematics and actually being mathematics…

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Je ne sais QUALIA

That word has come up quite a bit this week. Talking about how it feels to be newly married compared to just living in sin for a decade and the difference is qualia. What Aristotle said was that which need no demonstration- a known truth, qualia is understood personally, without science or physicality to define it. It was different before we were married. It was just different.

I realize now that I didn’t understand what it was. I had thought it was a characteristic. As it turns out, qualia is another way of seeing the object. A piece of the puzzle that when perceived enriches the entire conscious experience. It heightens comprehension, understanding, compassion and could be described as a step toward enlightenment.

A hip-hop cosmology | Galileos Pendulum

Reposted from Galileo’s Pendulum – by Matthew Francis

Every day until December 25, I’m posting a science-related image or video and description.

Day 13Science, art, math, and music commonly inspire each other: Kepler sought patterns in the Solar System from music, Charles Mingus wrote a composition about human evolution, M.C. Escher and Roger Penrose exchanged ideas about art and geometry. Many scientists are musicians including myself, in a small way.A growing movement is even more explicit about bringing music and science together, using hip-hop to help kids learn about science. My friend Danielle “The Urban Scientist” Lee has written and spoken extensively on the topic, and you can find all sorts of examples of high school kids writing their own science raps — some of which are really great. I’m possibly the worst rapper in existence, so I’m merely a listener, not a creator.Now we will soon have an album from Wu-Tang member GZA, who has been working to help increase access and interest in science to New York schools. The album is called Dark Matter, which you know got my attention. The video above is one of the songs from the album rendered as poetry, in which he describes the Big Bang and the origin of matter. He takes some artistic license, but not much — the science is sound, and even more, GZA is obviously an artist struck by the wonder of the cosmos.

via hip-hop | Search Results | Galileos Pendulum.