Reality is a quantum computer

 Covers Large 978019 9780199237692
One of my favorite head trips is considering whether our reality is actually a control system of some kind. Quite a few people much smarter than me have theorized about the physics of this idea, that the entire universe may be made of information, of bits. Some physicists go as far as suggesting that the universe isn't like a computer, but rather it is a computer. One such person is Vlatko Vedral, a professor of quantum information science at Oxford University. Vedral has just published a new non-technical book about this mindbending field of inquiry, titled Decoding Reality: The Universe as Quantum Information. I haven't read Decoding Reality yet, but I'm always up for some quantum weirdness from those who've turned pro. Above is a video interview with Vedral from The Guardian. Decoding Reality: The Universe as Quantum Information (Amazon)


  1. I haven’t read the book, but after watching the interview I have a thought:

    I don’t get it.

    Physics needs an editor. Too many notes.

  2. Sigh, BoingBoing spoofed again.

    Clearly, “Vlatko Vedral” is none other than 13th-dimensional computational uber-being (and notorious prankster) Lardev Oktalv.

    Is reversing the letters in a name all it takes to get by lazy editors these days?

    Signed, “Tsilanoitar”

  3. Also of interest is D. Bekenstein’s paper Information in the Holographic Universe, published in Scientific American a few years back. You should be able to find a copy or three on the Internet…

    1. The quantum information could be the blueprint of the holographic universe. Why can’t you get half a proton? Always just 3 quarks… Is anything left over?

      For an even fuller treatment (I assume), check out the book “The Holographic Universe” by Michael Talbot. Brief info at

      It is also surmised in the book that the brain works in a similar manner of interference patterns.

      Additionally, the GEO600 gravitational wave detector may have stumbled upon something curious and interesting:

      For many months, the GEO600 team-members had been scratching their heads over inexplicable noise that is plaguing their giant detector. Then, out of the blue, a researcher approached them with an explanation. In fact, he had even predicted the noise before he knew they were detecting it. According to Craig Hogan, a physicist at the Fermilab particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois, GEO600 has stumbled upon the fundamental limit of space-time – the point where space-time stops behaving like the smooth continuum Einstein described and instead dissolves into “grains”, just as a newspaper photograph dissolves into dots as you zoom in. “It looks like GEO600 is being buffeted by the microscopic quantum convulsions of space-time,” says Hogan.


  4. One of the more fascinating recent discoveries in quantum physics / biology is that migratory birds have evolved a way of using quantum entanglement to navigate in the earths magnetic field.

    – when the blue receptor in a bird’s eye responds to light there are two microscopic pathways that the chemical reaction stimulated by the blue light could proceed along, which both ultimately result in the nerve cell firing.

    Paths that are indistinguishable are governed by quantum mechanics, and the earth’s magnetic field shifts the two paths between constructive and destructive interference.

    I imagine that if we were birds, the blue tint in the sky would look more brilliant and intense north-south than east-west. … we’d just see magnetic fields as plain as day, and wonder what the fuss was about.

    It’s amazing to find that Nature is already harnessing quantum effects that we’re still getting to grips with…

  5. Or you could go right to the source, and read a translation of Konrad Zuse’s 1967 paper “Rechnender Raum” (Computing the Cosmos).

    Here, try this one:

    Zuse independently invented the modern computer in 1936 and single-handedly created the field of digital physics, so he’s sort of required reading for anyone who is serious about this stuff.

    A very great man. Wikipedia says he was a Nazi collaborator, but I have always heard that he purposely downplayed the direct military applications of the Z-series computers because he was not ideologically committed to the Nazi cause, simply a German patriot.

  6. The “hmmmm” factor for me is the fact that so many fundamental laws of physics are the kind of thing you’d use in programming a simulation game to optimize it for limited memory and processing resources, from the limit of C, the uncertainty principle, the holographic principle, etc…

    Why bother with real-time updates and saves of the game-state at the zerg base until there’s contact?

    1. Are you sure that you’re getting cause and effect the right way around? In a sort of fundamental way, computers aren’t able to process all interactions in a simulation all at once because of the speed of light limit on information propagation, and have limited storage because of the physical limits on information density.

      1. The one thing I’m sure of is that I’m not sure of anything but my uncertainty ;)

        But that leads to an interesting recursive issue… if my protoss create their own universe simulators, do they stack additional laws of physics on top of ours? Do their efforts at a unified theory center around the first milliseconds of time, before the 4 fundamental forces split into the five harvestors on which their science is based?

    2. I’m with Anon. Arguing that the patterns we seen in computers is evidence that the universe is fundamentally a computing system is like arguing that the universe is so mind-boggling complex/beautiful that it must have been created by God.

      Just what, exactly, are you comparing to as a control?

      Also, I found this topic very interesting, but the interview itself unenlightening in the extreme. However, both participants are very pleasing configurations of information, so it was fun to watch anyway.

      1. Restate my assumptions:

        1. Mathematics is the language of nature.
        2. Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers.
        3. If you graph the numbers of any system, patterns emerge.

        Therefore, there are patterns everywhere in nature. Evidence: The cycling of disease epidemics;the wax and wane of caribou populations; sun spot cycles; the rise and fall of the Nile. So, what about the stock market? The universe of numbers that represents the global economy. Millions of hands at work, billions of minds. A vast network, screaming with life. An organism. A natural organism.

        If that doesn’t describe a quantum computer I don’t know what does.

        1. “If that doesn’t describe a quantum computer I don’t know what does.”

          I agree with your statement. That definitely *doesn’t* describe a quantum computer, and you certainly *don’t* know what does.

          1. sfazzios, he’s quoting a line from ‘Pi’ by Darren Aronofsky. — great film, go see it!


  7. So 50 years from now, everyone will be reading Mr. Adams in science class instead of those stuffy science books?

  8. The universe is some kind of a natural fractal which manifestates itself as a ‘real time’ simulation, obeying the mathematical laws that form the basis of this fractal. It’s not a 2D Mandelbrot, it goes far deeper than that, but basically we are seeing a manifestation of mathematical laws that would even be valid in a complete void, empty universe. The origin is beyond our universe although we see its fingerprint.

    Our universe is a kind of multiverse where we see the average, most probable outcome, including what we experience as universal time. In three ways. In the field of quantum mechanics, in the field of the macrocosmos at molecular level, and beyond up to the ‘boundaries’ of the observable universe. The fields overlap. There is no universal time in all these three fields, time progression is completely relative. From the tiniest building block to ‘the universe’ as a whole.

    Distance is time and visa versa. Inflation could be a by time/distance amplified change in time progression, maybe due to a decrease in mass. Now, our universe is probably endless, were it not for the edges of the observable universe and the limits of the speed of light. But apart from our universe there could be countless others. And not that weird really. Logic/mathematics would be the same. It’s even possible that the universe as we know it is the only valid outcome and we are living in a sea of universes. All with huge differences, but without consequences for us since the differences only really matter at quantum scale. Something is a particle, then it is a wave. Depending how you look at it. Something is here, then it is there. Or both.

    I don’t know, to me this is the most probable explanation really. And it would be good news for people who are silently afraid we are living in a more or less static deterministic universe. We wouldn’t. It would also be nice for the people many generations after us, they would be able to halt the expansion of spacetime. No good luck for people who dream of traveling through space at light speed and beyond. You cannot do that. Acceleration means an increase in ‘differences’ on quantum scale, whatever you try to confine your and your spaceship’s mass. You cannot cheat that with endless energy since these differences would grow exponentially with it, basically tearing everything apart. Way before you reach the speed of light.


  9. Reminds me of Dyson’s Eternal Intelligence or the Omega Point. Even in a finite universe, a computer can be built to perform infinitely many calculations.

    If physics is computable, and it is possible for a computer to simulate the universe, then we probably live in a simulation.

  10. It would really explain a lot, especially if it’s written half-assed with a lot of shortcuts and minimal documentation, and kludged by scope-creep, played by a sadistic adolescent with ADD.

    It would also explain why no matter how much I try to be a settler, I’m really just a scout.

  11. The observer colapses the system therefore the observer has the information. We are each an observer and we make our universes in our minds.
    It might be hard to find intelligent aliens with unique sense apparatti that will give us a different opinion on what the universe is made of. Any of our instrumentation is just sensed by our boring five.

  12. I saw this guy talk at a Café Scientifique here in Leeds. I’m no physicist but I am a scientist and I know when someone is gibbering. This guy is not a crazy person. He may be wrong, but he’s thinking seriously about it and not just free associating quantum theory words with other things (I’m looking at you, Roger Penrose).

  13. I’m surprised no one has mentioned Fotini Markopoulou and Lee Smolin. here is a recent paper she wrote

    “Space does not exist, so time can” Fotini Markopoulou PHD (Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics)

    she comes to the same conclusions. Reality is nothing but information. The implications are interesting, it would explain how the double slit experiment works and the role of the observer (the observer is part of the entire system..information percieved by the observer affect the entire system), it would prove xenos paradoxes of motion valid, and explain why we get irrational numbers from pi and the right angle triangle (physical geometry is not “real”)

  14. There’s only one thing I don’t like about this theory. I think people would get the idea that if it’s true, then reality is based on logic.

    I hold that logic is entirely a construct, an attempt to describe reality that can never succeed – so finding truth through mathematics or even science is really pretty absurd. They’re useful, of course, for investigating and manipulating reality. Reality however is ultimately relational, not logical.

    A lot of mathematicians and others would say relational math exists, just another branch. I would counter – sure, mathematical _constructs_ of relational realities. No better, they ultimately are not going to work.

    This would tend to explain why we can’t perfect logic (our brains are real and therefore relational). In essence, logic is actually completely incompatible with reality, although it can model it. And vice versa.

    This would also tend to explain why some very logical people lack common sense.

  15. richard fredkin in the atlantic magazine some 25(?) years ago talked about the
    universe as a computer

  16. Saying the universe behaves like a computer – or *is* a computer or is composed of information is not all that controversial and is definitely not a new idea. BoingBoing contributor and science fiction writer, Rudy Rucker has been advocating this point for some time.

  17. If anyone’s looking for a wonderful introduction to the physics of information, I would definitely recommend “The Physics of Forgetting: Landauer’s erasure principle and information theory” by Plenio and Vitelli. It covers Shannon information, Maxwell’s Demon, Landauer’s principle, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, quantum information theory, and quantum entanglement. It’s only 36 pages long and you can find it in the arXiv.

  18. Professor Vedral credits this breakthrough largely to a Dr. Morpheus and his “Red Pill” study.

  19. Another way of looking at it is simple binary computers. With just the concept of 0 and 1, a like and unlike, we can create complex code that can then create worlds as seen in the motion picture Avatar. Anyone who has ever played video games knows that the binary computers can create complex physics, lighting etc all with JUST 0 and 1.

    Now imagine a quantum system, that can take 0 and 1 and also give us 0 and 1 at the same time etc. The building blocks of ALL numbers is prime numbers. All math can be said to be composed of JUST that5. Prime, and non-prime. Like and unlike. 0 and 1.

    And it turns out the energy levels in the nucleus of heavy atoms exactly maps to the Riemann hypothesis zeros. Math and the concepts within directly maps to reality. Math is information.

    Good article on this topic:

    Think about the fact of a prime number. How much does that fact weigh? Where is that fact? How fast is it moving? The concepts of space and geometry do not apply to information. It would help explain the paradox of exists within the solar system, which exists within the universe..which exists within..etc etc forever and ever. This problem can be resolved when you think of everything as information. Information has no boundaries, no weight, no limit.

    It makes perfect sense that everything is just information. You are all joking that Douglas Adams was right..but really..he certainly seems to be right.

    1. It’s been long known that the universe is described by mathematics. If that’s all it takes to say it’s made of information, what does it gain us to say so?

      1. “If that’s all it takes to say it’s made of information, what does it gain us to say so?”

        Nothing. the concept of ‘information’ is wrong. Reality is about probability. The macro universe is the utter most probable outcome from endless possibilities (=realities) on quantum scale. An average.

        Comparing the universe with a quantum computer is also wrong. A quantum computer can calculate a formula with a variable about instantly as long as the outcome is known. In the universe the outcome is not known c.q. determined. Its manifestation is a mix of probabilities at three levels (as stated in an earlier reply), not something static.

        One might say a computer or quantum computer works a bit like the universe. That is: computers obey mathematical laws. But everything is.

  20. Related, here’s a great Leonard Susskind talk on the holographic principle.

    Unrelated, Susskind looks so sturdy, he’s my mental picture of the patriarch in One Hundred Years of Solitude, who was such a force of nature that the family chained him to a tree for weather to erode him when he had become too maddened to handle. (apologies if my memory of the book is way off – I’m recalling it from reading it 20 years ago.)

  21. Stop! Somebody stop them! The Universe IS computer, and if we figure that out and really prove it, that’s the end!

    while (universe hasn’t been figured out yet) {
    keep doing universe-type stuff;
    exit “Sorry, that’s it!”

    1. It doesn’t end if we figure it out, it gets upgraded – see the Douglas Adams pseudocode below. ( Some people say that count already = 2 … )


      using namespace std;

      int main(int argc,char *argv[])
      int count = 1;
      Reality *universe = new ComprehensibleReality();

      universe -> big_bang();

      while (true)
      while (true) universe->attempt_comprehension();
      catch (UniverseComprehensionException *e)
      universe = new BizarreAndIncomprehensibleReality(universe);

  22. Oh Aleks, how far you’ve come since you used to do candy coloured gleeful nonsense about computer games.

  23. Put what 14 said together with what 18 said, and you get the following:

    – The Multiverse is one big block of infinite possibilities in a state of quantum flux.

    – Observers are devices that can collapse the infinite possibilities to discrete observed events as.

    Which implies:

    – A cause and effect chain of events is a “path” through the multiverse, or in other words, an experiential “life”.

    Add this:

    – Each path is the combination of collapses outside of the observer’s influence (determinism), collapses directly influenced by the observer (free will)…

    …and you’ve explained not only how the deterministic universe works, but the free will of conscious beings to boot. Hoorah! Job done ;-)

    Now we’ve just gotta think up some tests :-)

  24. reality is a quantum computer, as long as… a quantum computer describes reality

    reality behaves according to information theory, as long as… information theory describes reality

    reality behaves according to reality, as long as… the universe has not imploded

    I’m happy with that, anyone else?

  25. Thanks for this. “Programming the Universe” is also a great read, by Seth Lloyd(professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

  26. people use to think the world was FLAT ,thats spooky action at a distance, just like the quantum computer,and like all new devices, you have many new combinations of applications like mechanical enginers,car combustion engine ,jet,rocket,and others, now finding the application for the different new engineering designs will have different uses.

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