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The Universe as a Computer Simulation

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The Universe as a Computer Simulation

Postby skynet » Thu Oct 11, 2012 7:40 pm

Heard this before. Don't remember when but read a couple articles years ago. How could we know either way? We still have yet to prove anything absolutely beyond doubt.

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Physicists say they may have evidence that the universe is a computer simulation.

How? They made a computer simulation of the universe. And it looks sort of like us.

A long-proposed thought experiment, put forward by both philosophers and popular culture, points out that any civilisation of sufficient size and intelligence would eventually create a simulation universe if such a thing were possible.

And since there would therefore be many more simulations (within simulations, within simulations) than real universes, it is therefore more likely than not that our world is artificial.

Now a team of researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany led by Silas Beane say they have evidence this may be true.

In a paper named 'Constraints on the Universe as a Numerical Simulation', they point out that current simulations of the universe - which do exist, but which are extremely weak and small - naturally put limits on physical laws.

Technology Review explains that "the problem with all simulations is that the laws of physics, which appear continuous, have to be superimposed onto a discrete three dimensional lattice which advances in steps of time."

What that basically means is that by just being a simulation, the computer would put limits on, for instance, the energy that particles can have within the program.

These limits would be experienced by those living within the sim - and as it turns out, something which looks just like these limits do in fact exist.

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Re: The Universe as a Computer Simulation

Postby skynet » Tue Nov 20, 2012 7:34 pm

If it turned out to be true, the shock would drive most people insane.

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One of modern physics' most cherished ideas is quantum chromodynamics, the theory that describes the strong nuclear force, how it binds quarks and gluons into protons and neutrons, how these form nuclei that themselves interact. This is the universe at its most fundamental.

So an interesting pursuit is to simulate quantum chromodynamics on a computer to see what kind of complexity arises. The promise is that simulating physics on such a fundamental level is more or less equivalent to simulating the universe itself.

There are one or two challenges of course. The physics is mind-bogglingly complex and operates on a vanishingly small scale. So even using the world's most powerful supercomputers, physicists have only managed to simulate tiny corners of the cosmos just a few femtometers across. (A femtometer is 10^-15 metres.)

That may not sound like much but the significant point is that the simulation is essentially indistinguishable from the real thing (at least as far as we understand it).

It's not hard to imagine that Moore's Law-type progress will allow physicists to simulate significantly larger regions of space. A region just a few micrometres across could encapsulate the entire workings of a human cell.

Again, the behaviour of this human cell would be indistinguishable from the real thing.

It's this kind of thinking that forces physicists to consider the possibility that our entire cosmos could be running on a vastly powerful computer. If so, is there any way we could ever know?

Today, we get an answer of sorts from Silas Beane, at the University of Bonn in Germany, and a few pals. They say there is a way to see evidence that we are being simulated, at least in certain scenarios.

First, some background. The problem with all simulations is that the laws of physics, which appear continuous, have to be superimposed onto a discrete three dimensional lattice which advances in steps of time.

The question that Beane and co ask is whether the lattice spacing imposes any kind of limitation on the physical processes we see in the universe. They examine, in particular, high energy processes, which probe smaller regions of space as they get more energetic

What they find is interesting. They say that the lattice spacing imposes a fundamental limit on the energy that particles can have. That's because nothing can exist that is smaller than the lattice itself.

So if our cosmos is merely a simulation, there ought to be a cut off in the spectrum of high energy particles.

It turns out there is exactly this kind of cut off in the energy of cosmic ray particles, a limit known as the Greisen–Zatsepin–Kuzmin or GZK cut off.


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