Another day, another post. Today the topic is simulation – a more philosophical discussion, this one is left pretty open ended so feel free to post comments, questions or ideas.

A Simulated Universe

There is a theory that the universe as we know it is just a computer simulation inside another universe. This of course leads to the question, is the universe our simulation is in also a simulation? And so on ever upwards. You have probably come across this idea before, possibly from this xkcd comic. However the idea seems a little senseless at first – why does it matter if the universe is a simulation? We have no proof to suggest it is and furthermore it is partially a moot question. It still doesn’t answer the overall questions like why is their a universe at all. However I think there is some important merit in the idea which we should not take for granted.

A Simulating Machine

One thing we should think about is exactly what simulation requires. How can we build a simulating machine? Well for a start we know computers can make simulations, somehow the binary language of ones and zeros can become a world; a simulated existence. This is a pretty amazing concept when you think about it, all you need to create a world is a whole lot of ones and zeros occasionally switching from one state to the other in a way which the softwear behind such simulation finds meaningful.

I can think of one other notable simulation machine though – the human brain. We live our lives constantly simulating things. Whenever you are imagining something, perhaps the words from a book, or imagining what you’d rather be doing when sitting in a boring class or meeting; whenever you are doing things like these you are simulating. Another notable example is a dream, where your brain goes about simulating things without your explicit conscious input.

So both human brains and computers can simulate things, what about the neural systems of other animals? Well its a difficult thing to test and science suggests that only a few other species may be imbued with such cognitive powers. After all it is the imagination of humans which is meant to be one of our more defining features. And without the ability to simulate imagination is surely an impossible concept, they are innately linked.

Scaling Down

So we’ve seen that there is a theory that our universe is a simulated existence. And we’ve seen that various things within our universe have the ability to simulate. So maybe it is more important for us to look not whether we are simulated, but rather at what the effects and capabilities of our own simulation are. Our world feels real to us, maybe it is not “as” real as it could be, but most of us would be fairly content with our existence, content enough to be upset should the entire universe suddenly stop for example. So perhaps the simulations we ourselves are making everyday, in our minds and on our computers, perhaps these simulations are to an extent real. Perhaps the dream is just as real as the life. This would make our simulation machines a lot more important than we currently give them credit for, they are quite literally the custodians of worlds.

The Importance

Besides the obvious importances of this concept, we can draw further conclusions from these. For one this asks us to consider what exactly is the nature of existence? Is a person who exists in simulation any less real than one which exists in “our reality”? Is the man in your dream alive as long as you keep dreaming? And does that man’s life end when you stop? In a computer simulation has discrete time, you can divide time down to its lowest “frame rate”. During the spaces between those “frames” there is no world, and if someone in one of those frames were to move in space during the time in-between frames (essentially teleporting), should we consider him dead, alive or both?

Interesting questions and I’m sure I’ll come back to this topic again, but what do you think?


~ by Myles O'Neill on February 5, 2009.

5 Responses to “Simulation”

  1. While the ‘Simulation Hypothesis’ is and interesting concept, it is rendered moot by two things: firstly, even if we are a simulated reality, there is no way to be sure the beings running the simulation are not themselves a simulation, and the operators of that simulation are not a simulation, ad infinitum – rendering the point moot. Secondly, if the simulated reality is identical to ‘reality’ then it is reality. Furthermore, such of grand scale simulation would be impossible as there is NO consensus reality. Each one of us sees the world in a different way, hence one cannot perfectly simulate reality.

  2. If each of us sees the world in a different way (which I definitely agree with), perhaps this is in itself an act of simulation. When someone looks at the world they gather input data and use it to generate a picture in their mind, which is “their own” reality.

    This would however mean that organisms which do this are to an extent creating their own simulations as well, despite (presumably) not having the ability to imagine things.

    The connection between perceived reality and simulation are something I’ll definitely think about.

  3. Nice blog man. I’m ready to review it but we require donations sorry!! But love the layout.

  4. An interesting concept and one I don’t think you mentioned in our many talks (…wait…thinking…we might of actually but I’ve got more to add now)

    To start with I’d like to refer you your correlation between a digital computer’s binary coding and its consequent ability to project “a simulated reality”. Through my limited knowledge (I think I’ve got the basics down but please correct me if I’m wrong) of quantum mechanics, I understand that down at the quantum level every particle has a particular spin; 1/2,0, 1 or 2. This spin then determines whether it occurs as matter (1/2), gravitational force (2), electromagnetic (1) and then the weak and strong nuclear force (not sure what spin they have but they are related to the massive vector bosons W+, W- and Z0, which are theorized to have a 1 spin…it gets complicated…look at Weinberg-Salam theory). Anyway my point is that the last three forces that I mention act as communicators for matter, telling it how to behave and what is happening around it relative to it’s current location in space-time. In my view this is very similar to a computer but on a much more complicated scale, where the “operators” are not the spin of a quark but a 1 and a 0. In a computer simulation a series of 1’s and 0’s grouped together would define a specific object/particle, which would then respond to any messages sent by surrounding groups and change accordingly. For example in reality when an electron falls from an high energy state to a lower on it releases a photon (spin 1), which travels out a interacts with other electrons (transfer of energy). In a computer simulating a world, an object would be programed to emitt light through a specific set of 1’s and 0’s. The computer then checks whether any object would be light by this objects (we’re assuming that this “reality” is a simulation of our own), any object that would be hit then receives a packet of data (similar to the photon) which causes it’s own 1 0 combination to change, resulting in the object being rendered as a lighter shade of it’s original color. Thus in this respect our reality is simply a simulation using particles instead of 1’s and 0’s but putting that aside we ourselves cannot proclaim that we are a simulation because for us our reality is…well our reality. Though I’d like to suggest that people reading this might want to look into the “holographic universe theory”, which is similar and I wont go into it here.

    Moving on my second point contrary to popular belief time is not linear but discrete (according to current theories) with the smallest possible unit known as planck time and it is about 10^-32 s, although I should mention that recent data from the GEO600 (a gravitational wave detector) may show evidence that this is incorrect and that it is closer to around 10^-16 but this will take a while to accurately determine but if it is…well things could get interesting :). Anyway just thought I’d put that out there cause it’s another link with the computer simulated reality…we have a frame rate :D. Lets overclock reality!!

    Hope I made sense…sometimes I get distracted by something when I’m writing and move off course.

  5. I knew I had friends doing physics for something!

    I think you are right about the particle spin state being similar to the binary in a computer, although I’m no expert 😛 .

    As for time, I’m not entirely sure about linear vs. discrete time, I think I’ll post a new blog on it sometime in the future. The problem with discrete time is you get that “space” in between values (as defined by being discrete) – and if that is the case it seems to have a lot of possible consequences.

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