Ming the Mechanic:
The universe as a virtual reality

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 The universe as a virtual reality2008-02-20 16:39
picture by Flemming Funch

Fun article by Linda Moulton Howe: "Could Our Universe Be A Virtual Reality Processed By Other Intelligence?" about a professor in Auckland who wrote a paper about that. That's not a new discussion, but it is always stimulating. In part because it makes us question a number of things about our existence. Which is a bit dangerous, of course. Quote by John Vacca from "The World’s 20 Greatest Unsolved Problems":
“Quantum physicists who work with quantum theory every day don’t really know quite what to make of it. They fill blackboards with quantum calculations and acknowledge that it is probably the most powerful, accurate and predictive scientific theory ever developed, but the very suggestion that it might be literally true as a description of Nature is still greeted with cynicism, incomprehension and even anger.”
Theoretical scientists can propose outrageous theories about how the universe works, but you easily get in a bit of trouble if you propose that it might have something to do with our everyday existence.

Anyway, Professor Whitworth there has worked for years on finding analogies in the computer world for how the world works, and he also has some interesting answers for how certain qualities of the physics we discover seem to back up the idea that the universe is a simulation. Whis is the subject of the interview in the article.

So, how would, for example, the limited speed of light indicate that the universe is a simulation?
There is a fixed amount of processing available, let’s say, in space. So, if an object is being passed from point to point in space, there’s only a certain amount of processing available to each point in space, OK? And if that processing is involved in the calculation of movement, that changes the processing. The smaller and smaller amount that is left makes the mass seem greater and greater.
Or, expressed in a computer screen refresh metaphor:
Your screen has a certain rate with which it refreshes, which depends upon the little points that make up the screen. And each of these points can only flash on and off at a certain rate. So when a pixel moves across the screen, what it means is that it starts off and one point flashes. Then that point turns off and the next point flashes and so on. So, the rate of movement depends on the rate of flashing of the screen. It’s the refresh rate and it might be 70 megahertz; it might be 80 megahertz ... But whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. That’s going to mean that a dot can move across your screen so fast and no faster.
So, the speed of light is just the screen refresh rate, that is fun. What about the Big Bang?
The Big Bang is when the simulation was started, when the virtual processing began...

A lot of people have trouble with the idea that Time began at the Big Bang. I know I certainly did – and that space began. How can Time begin? Surely something must have caused Time to begin, but how can you cause anything if there is no Time to have a prior event?

But if you say we’re in a virtual reality, or local reality, then the Big Bang is when our Time began and our Space began. That is perfectly reasonable. So, if you go online to Second Life or something, when you switch on your computer and enter the reality. That’s when that Time - or perhaps when Second Life was created – that’s when its Time began.
And here's an angle I like:
Now, if the physical world is a virtual reality that does not necessarily imply that our consciousness is in the virtual reality. It could be exactly the same as your playing an avatar in a game. It’s conceivable that while everything you see and hear is definitely part of the pixels – or certainly, part of the virtual reality – it’s possible that you are not looking from inside the virtual reality.

This relates to very deep questions about whether a mechanical universe could create consciousness. I must admit I haven’t worked through all these things yet, but it’s certainly something that has concerned a lot of people from Descartes on.
Actually, if we imagine that the universe is a simulation, it makes it all the more unlikely that the consciousness which is you is fully generated by the simulation. There'd be no point to Second Life it you couldn't, from the outside, step into it and experience the simulation. You can change your hairstyle, or your body style, and you can redecorate your house, but if there's nobody there, there's just no point. Same thing with a universe.
The postulate is that the physical universe – if indeed it is a virtual reality – cannot create itself out of itself. It’s just not possible. So, there must be Something outside of it. Therefore, quantum mechanics is describing that Something. The equations of quantum mechanics, which are quite different from our concepts of physical reality, are describing this Something. The idea is that what we are seeing as we walk around is just an interface which is calculated at the moment when we look, sort of an on-demand thing.
Now we're talking.

Of course, even if we conclude that the universe is a virtual reality, it doesn't necessarily mean it is running inside some huge computer. It means there's processing going on, but what medium it exists in, that's another matter.

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20 Feb 2008 @ 19:47 by stombi @ : Virtual comment
Hi Flemming,

Very interesting article, huge software I guess, many lines of code ;-)

BTW the source is easy to find using a search engine but the link at the beginning of your post is missing  

21 Feb 2008 @ 00:19 by ming : Link
Oops, there it is. Yeah, I'm glad I didn't have to debug that program. And I sure hope it is not written in Cobol.  

21 Feb 2008 @ 13:14 by Jewels Solheim @ : YES
you're welcome for sending you the link love! was that on the skype facebook email or the eternal Ethernet?? xx  

21 Feb 2008 @ 14:50 by ming : Virtual
Oh, you sent it to me too. Well, thank you then, Sweetie! The one I noticed was from Roan.  

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1 Mar 2008 @ 16:27 by Taranga @ : Hitch hiker's guide
So may be Douglas Adams was right - think through the consequences when you set those mouse traps!  

5 Mar 2008 @ 12:11 by sam @ : vertual theory
i think this allready before ...............and i was keen to know more as i think the same ..........trully this is gud to know ...  

28 Jun 2008 @ 13:01 by 50 cent lyrics @ : 'Multiverse Theory' Holds That the Unive
He wonders whether the entire physical universe might be an exercise in virtual reality, so that "we're in the matrix rather than the physics itself  

1 Jul 2008 @ 11:15 by Deepwater @ : VR analogy
See [link] for more in depth analysis of this fascinating alternative understanding.  

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2008-06-29 16:47: Complicated and Complex
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