How to test whether we live in a computer simulation?


Melvin M. Vopson – The Conversation – 12/01/2022

How to test if

universe a simulation

Physicists have long tried to explain why the Universe emerged with the right conditions for life to evolve.

Why do the laws and constants of physics take on exactly the specific values ​​that allow stars, planets, and ultimately life to develop? Dark energy, for example, which is the expanding force of the Universe, is much weaker than theories suggest, which allows matter to clump together instead of falling apart.

A common answer to this question is that we live in an infinite multiverse composed of many universes. So it wouldn’t be a surprise if at least one of those universes turned out like ours.

But another answer is that our Universe is a computer simulation, with someone (perhaps an advanced alien species) fine-tuning its conditions.

This last option is supported by a branch of science called information physics, which suggests that spacetime and matter are not fundamental phenomena. Rather, physical reality is fundamentally made up of bits of information, from which our experience of space-time “emerges”. For comparison, temperature “emerges” from the collective motion of atoms; fundamentally, no atom has temperature.

How to test if

This brings us to the extraordinary possibility that our entire Universe may actually be a computer simulation. The idea is not new. In 1989, the renowned American physicist John Archibald Wheeler [1911-2008] suggested that the Universe is fundamentally mathematical and can be seen as emerging from information. He coined the famous aphorism “it from bitπŸ‡§πŸ‡· [Isso, ou cada partcula, vem de um bit]πŸ‡§πŸ‡·

In 2003, philosopher Nick Bostrom, from the University of Oxford, in the United Kingdom, formulated his simulation hypothesis. This hypothesis argues that, in fact, it is highly likely that we live in a simulation. This is because an advanced civilization must reach a point at which its technology is so sophisticated that the simulations will be indistinguishable from reality, and the participants would not be aware that they are in a simulation.

Physicist Seth Lloyd, from MIT, in the United States, took the simulation hypothesis to the next level, suggesting that the entire Universe could be a gigantic quantum computer.

How to test if

empirical evidence

There is some evidence to suggest that our physical reality may be a simulated virtual reality, rather than an objective world that exists independently of the observer.

Any virtual reality world would be based on information processing. This means that everything is ultimately digitized or divided into pixels down to a minimum size that cannot be further subdivided: bits. This seems to mimic our reality as described by the theory of quantum mechanics, which governs the world of atoms and particles. It postulates that there are minimal, discrete units of energy, distance, and time. Likewise, elementary particles, which make up all visible matter in the Universe, are the smallest units of matter. To put it simply, our pixelated world.

The laws of physics that govern everything in the Universe are also like lines of computer code that a simulation must follow when running the program. Furthermore, mathematical equations, numbers and geometric patterns are present everywhere – the world appears to be entirely mathematical.

How to test if

Another curiosity in physics that supports the hypothesis of the simulation is the maximum speed limit of the Universe, which is the speed of light. In virtual reality, this limit would correspond to the processor speed limit or processing power limit. We know that an overloaded processor slows down the computer’s processing speed in a simulation. Likewise, Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity showed that time slows down in the vicinity of a black hole.

But perhaps the strongest evidence for the simulation hypothesis comes from quantum mechanics. It suggests that nature is not “real”: Particles in certain states, such as specific locations, apparently do not exist unless you actually observe and measure them. Rather, they are in a number of different states simultaneously. Likewise, virtual reality needs an observer or programmer to make things happen.

Quantum entanglement also allows two particles to be spookily connected, so that when you manipulate one, you also automatically and immediately manipulate the other, no matter how far away one is from the other – with the effect appearing to be faster than the speed of light, which should be impossible.

However, this could also be explained by the fact that, within a virtual reality code, all “locations” (points) must be approximately the same distance from a central processor. Therefore, we might think that two particles are millions of light-years apart, but they would not be that far apart if they were created in a simulation.

How to test if

Possible experiments

Assuming that the Universe is, in fact, a simulation, what kind of experiments can we perform within the simulation to prove this?

It is reasonable to assume that a simulated Universe would contain lots of bits of information everywhere around us. These bits of information would represent the programming code itself. Therefore, detecting these bits of information would prove the simulation hypothesis. The recently proposed principle of equivalence between mass, energy and information (M/E/I) – which suggests that mass can be expressed as energy or information, or vice versa – proposes that bits of information should have a small pasta. It gives us something to look for.

I defended [Prof. Melvin Vopson, autor deste artigo] that information is actually a fifth form of matter in the Universe. I even calculated the expected information content per elementary particle.

These studies led to the publication, in 2022, of an experimental protocol to test these predictions. The experiment involves erasing the information contained within elementary particles, letting them and their antiparticles (all particles have “anti” versions of themselves, which are identical but oppositely charged) annihilate each other by emitting a blast of energy – emitting photons, or particles of light.

How to test if

I predicted the exact expected frequency range of the resulting photons based on the physics of the information. The experiment can be conducted with the tools we already have, and we have launched a crowdfunding site for its realization.

There are also other approaches. British physicist John Barrow [1952-2020] argued that the simulation would accumulate small computational errors that the programmer would need to fix in order for it to continue. He suggested that we might experience these corrections in the form of contradictory experimental results that would suddenly appear, such as changes in the constants of nature. Therefore, monitoring the values ​​of these constants would be another option.

The nature of our reality is one of the greatest mysteries there is. The more seriously we take the simulation hypothesis, the greater the chances are that one day we will be able to prove or dismiss it.

This article was republished from the magazine The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. πŸ‡§πŸ‡·


Article: Experimental protocol for testing the mass-energy-information equivalence principle
Authors: Melvin M. Vopson
Magazine: AIP Advances
Vol.: 12, 035311
DOI: 10.1063/5.0087175

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