- Melvin M
Physicists have long tried to explain why the universe appeared with the right conditions for life to develop.
Why do the laws and constants of physics take on exactly the defining values that allow stars, planets, and ultimately life to evolve?
Dark energy, for example, which is the expanding force of the universe, is much weaker than theories suggest, allowing matter to clump together rather than fall apart.
The common answer to this question is that we live in an infinite multiverse made up of multiple universes. So it wouldn’t be surprising if it turns out that at least one of these universes is similar to ours.
But another answer is that our universe is a computer simulation, with someone (possibly an advanced alien species) adjusting the conditions.
This last requirement is supported by a branch of science called information physics. It suggests that space-time and matter are not fundamental phenomena. In fact, physical reality will consist mainly of bits of information, out of which our experience of space-time will “emerge”.
This leads us to the extraordinary possibility that our entire universe may, in fact, be a computer simulation.
The idea is not new. In 1989, the famous American physicist John Archibald Wheeler proposed that the universe is fundamentally mathematical and observable. Emerging information. He coined the adage “it from bit” (that is, every particle in the universe comes from a bit of information).
In 2003, philosopher Nick Bostrom, of Oxford University in the UK, formulated his simulation hypothesis. He argues that, in fact, it is very likely that our universe is a simulation.
This is because an advanced civilization must reach a point where its technology is so advanced that the simulation will be indistinguishable from reality, and the participants will not know they are in a simulation.
Physicist Seth Lloyd, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in the United States, has taken the simulation hypothesis to the next level, suggesting that the entire universe could be a giant quantum computer. And in 2016, entrepreneur Elon Musk said: “Most likely, we are in a simulation.”
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 will depend on information processing. This means that in the end, everything is digitized or broken down into pixels down to a minimum size that cannot be broken down into other parts: bits.
This seems to simulate our reality, according to the theory of quantum mechanics, which governs the world of atoms and particles. It asserts that there is a smaller, separate unit of energy, distance, and time. Likewise, elementary particles, which make up all visible matter in the universe, are the smallest units of matter.
In short, our world is made up of pixels.
The laws of physics that govern everything in the universe are also like the lines of computer code that the simulation will follow when executing the program. Also, mathematical equations, numbers and geometric patterns are everywhere – the world seems to be quite mathematical.
Another physics curiosity that supports the simulation hypothesis is the speed limit of the universe, which is the speed of light. In virtual reality, this limit corresponds to the processor speed limit or processing power limit.
We know that an overloaded processor slows down the computer’s processing speed in the simulation. Similarly, Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity explains that time slows down near a black hole.
But perhaps the strongest evidence for the simulation hypothesis comes from quantum mechanics. It suggests that nature isn’t “real”: particles in certain states, such as specific locations, don’t seem to exist unless you actually observe and measure them.
They are actually in a number of different states simultaneously. Likewise, VR needs an observer or programmer to make all of that happen.
Quantum ‘entanglement’ also allows two particles to connect in spooky ways. When you manipulate one, you also manipulate the other automatically and instantly. The distance between them does not matter. The effect appears to be faster than the speed of light, which is impossible.
But this can also be explained by the fact that, in VR code, all “locations” (points) must be approximately the same distance from the central processor.
So we might think that there are two particles millions of light-years apart, but they wouldn’t be so far apart if they were created in a simulation.
Given 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 the simulated universe will contain many bits of information all over the place. These pieces of information represent the programming code itself.
Discovering these bits of information will prove the simulation hypothesis. The newly proposed principle of mass-energy-information equivalence (M/E/I)—which indicates that mass can be expressed as energy or information, or vice versa—states that bits of information must contain tiny noodles. This principle gives us something to look for.
I have argued that information is actually the fifth form of matter in the universe. I even calculated the expected information content for each elementary particle. These studies led to the publication in 2022 of an experimental protocol to test these predictions.
The experiment involves erasing the information inside elementary particles, allowing them and their antiparticles (all particles have “anti” versions of themselves, which are identical but oppositely charged) to annihilate each other in a flash of energy – emitting “photons”, or particles of light.
It predicted the exact frequency range of the resulting photons based on information physics. The experiment can be done with existing tools and we have launched a crowdfunding site to make it happen.
There are also other ways. The late British physicist John Barrow argued that simulations would accumulate small arithmetic errors that the programmer would need to fix in order to continue.
He suggested that we might witness these reforms in the form of contradictory experimental results that 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 in existence. The more seriously we take the simulation hypothesis, the greater our chances of one day proving or disproving it.
* Melvin M. Fopson is Professor of Physics at the University of Portsmouth, UK.
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