Universe a computer simulation

Times of India reports, "The experiments being conducted by University of Washington could prove that we are merely pawns in some kind of larger computer game. However, it is unclear who created these super computers that may hypothetically power our existence."


  1. A couple clarifications. The article says “string theory indicates there are 10,500 universes..”  It’s actual roughly 10^500 solutions to the equations that define string theory that would create universes roughly like ours. Which is a separate question from whether any of them (besides ours) exist.

    Also, the experiment wouldn’t prove we’re in a simulation at all. It’s looking for whether space and time are fundamentally quantized: Is space a continuous thing you can always subdivide, or are things ordered onto a grid? If it is ordered onto a grid, that’s sort of like how we use pixels as a fundamental unit displaying video games. But there’s no reason a quantized space-time would require that everything is a simulation, the universe could just fundamentally work that way.

    1. I am always fascinated by the metaphor “The Universe Is…” which, while not particularly informative from a scientific perspective, give scads of insight into the day-to-day world view of the statement’s author:

      The Universe Is Divine Will (theocratic word view)
      The Universe Is Clockwork (after Newton world view) 
      The Universe Is Energy (after Einstein world view)
      The Universe Is Information (after Shannon world view)
      The Universe Is A Computer Simulation (after ubiquitous computing world view)

  2. Nonono, that computer _is_ our universe :)

    Also, that guy should really learn the first thing about computer science, which is that you need a machine with at least as many degrees of freedom (or as many states) as the thing that you’re trying to simulate. That means: A computer contained in our universe can — unlike what they say in the article — only simulate a universe much smaller than itself, if the physics are supposed to be the same.

    1. That assumes that you model our entire universe with as much detail as possible. Distant stars and galaxies could be simulated with much simpler models that fit the resolution we can observe, there’s no point in simulating the sub-atomic world if we can’t directly verify it for a remote location. You’d get away with simulating the macroscopic aspects with just enough realism to match what we expect from more local observations.

      I’ve always liked to think that foggy days are when the simulation we live in needs to devote resources elsewhere and has to drop the draw distance.

      1. “I’ve always liked to think that foggy days are when the simulation we live in needs to devote resources elsewhere and has to drop the draw distance.”
        Yep, that’s what I always assume. I try to catch it in the middle of drawing stuff at the edge of the fog barrier. Oh, and have you noticed how sometimes the same thing starts to appear everywhere (say, you learn a new word, and suddenly you see & hear it everywhere)… cache! Everything cannot be loaded into the memory all the time, so it reuses stuff that is in the cache.

        Oh… and the graphics artists tend to occasionally get carried away a bit. For instance, the sun “god rays” tend to be waaaaaay overdone to look realistic. And just the other day when I looked out the window the snow was going all around like we were in a giant snow globe getting shaken around. Yeah, right… guys, it needs to be realistic!

      2. This perspective also makes sense of some quantum weirdness.  The universe only bothers to resolve normally irrelevant quantum phenomenon when there’s an observer.

  3. EXPERIMENTER’S NOTEBOOK, DAY 317: Another simulation terminated successfully, with the simulated life-forms once again showing that they could detect that they existed in a simulation. I’m starting to think that this may be a universal property of intelligence. I rebooted the sim with slightly different initial parameters, to see if varying the Q constant has any effect on emergent self-knowledge.

    I wonder if the simulated organisms feel anything as the sim reboots, or if it all happens too fast for them to detect it? Maybe I should program a flashy end-sequence, with meteors and earthquakes and tsunamis. I have to admit, I get kind of a kick out of watching them running and screaming. A whole planet-full doing it all at once would be awesome. Must find some time to work on that after I’ve written up the results of this run.

    1. Weird. The little people are building structures and congregating to form idiograms… .No scratch that. They’re spelling something.

      F. U. C…. Oh dear lord they DO understand what’s going to happen.

  4. Obviously, the simulators would cause our machines to record data consistent with not being in a simulation, right?

    1. But then who’s to say whether this particular simulation might or might not be purposely set up to observe the very process of simulation-realization.

  5. Okay, try this then… picture an atom. The atom has a nucleus and electrons circling it in an obit(s).  It is the smallest thing we can comprehend.. now think of our sun as the nucleus and the planets in our solar system as electrons of that nucleus.  We could actually be mere specs onan electron of an atom of something unimaginably large..

    1. That one’s fun, but it doesn’t get past kid’s cartoons, really.  We can see the large structure of our universe.

      1. Also, the electrons don’t exactly have elliptical orbits; their orbitals are more like probability densities with some fairly complex shapes…

        The electron circling a nucleus is the venerable Bohr model, not QM…

  6. A simulation of what?  Some other universe that ours is a model of?  If this here one is an exact simulation, but not the real one,  then what’s the fuss?  Unless it is an imperfect simulation.  That just means that the original one is somehow better than our pale simulation – maybe socks don’t go missing there. 

  7. So does that mean the Heisenberg uncertainty principle is just the result of low resolution? 

    1. Could be, but could you imagin the job it took programming in quantium mechanics as a patch to not have to deal with absolute tracking? Good god that’d probably be some of the ugliest code in existential.

  8. So there’s a chance I’m not living in a simulation? Well, crap. I was sort of counting on this being a simulation.

  9. A very obvious problem with this article:
    – the very first word indicates that the article was written in Melbourne (not India), but is talking about a study done in the US
    – no mention is given of the author’s name or where they actually work

  10. Beverly Crusher: Here’s a question you shouldn’t be able to answer: Computer, what is the nature of the universe?
    Computer: The universe is a spheroid region, 705 meters in diameter.

  11. I’m feeling better about that game of Civilization V I’m playing with my stepson, in which there’s never been armed conflict in the history of the world. I hope those sims appreciate it.

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