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Is the universe a simulation?

Posted on 2014-01-14
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If the universe is indeed a simulation, how could we detect it?  Even if we can’t be certain, can we assign a probability, or at least list the points for and against?  For example:

The fact that the universe cleaves so tightly to a mathematical structure seems to point TOWARD simulation.
That the universe appears to be finite in age and size seems to point TOWARD simulation.
Quantization of energy seems to point TOWARDS simulation.
Speed limit of C seems to point TOWARDS simulation.
Consciousness, I guess, points AWAY from simulation. (Or does it arise from MORE math, as described by chaos theory)?

Do you disagree with/qualify any of those?

What other evidence do we have that points towards or away from the universe being a simulation?
Quantum randomness, and wave/particle duality?
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Question by:Korbus
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Surrano earned 400 total points
The existence of MATH points TOWARDS simulation.
The existence of GOD points AWAY from simulation but it cannot be proven nor negated.
Thinking about it GOD may actually be the maintainer of the simulation.

But how do the finiteness of some qualities (like c or age of *our* universe) point towards simulation? A simulation of such quality must use something equivalent to -- or better than -- Turing machines where infinity is by no means a limiting factor.

Anyway, how does it influence the your life or others' whether we are part of a simulation or not?

And last but not least, how do you define the term "simulation"?
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My personal non-scientific opinion is that the simulation hypothesis is ridiculous.

This a pretty nice article on the simulation hypothesis.
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ozo earned 25 total points
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@Surrano
Why do you feel the existence of MATH points towards simulation?   Hmmm, Since math exists outside the universe, as a truth/concept - it is the same in the simulator's universe.  So the fact that our universe appears to be mathematical in nature, is even stronger evidence Toawrds simulation.

The existence of God would imply the a larger existance than just the universe, and so would point TOWARD simulation, or at least the possibility of it.  As you pointed out astutely, He might just be the programmer.  Heck, what else would we call The Programmer?

The fact that things in the universe are finite means the simulation only requires a finite amount of memory. All simulations need memory.  I don't know if it's fair to assume infitite computers yet.

When I ask questions about the nature of the universe I rarely consider how it will influence my life, I just want to learn and think about interesting stuff.

I would define "the universe is a simulation" as implying that the matter and energy are not real, at least not in the configurations we percieve, but actually exist only in the configuration/state of a simulator.  Or possibly even Matrix Style; where just our perceptions are simulated,  (so the tree does NOT need to make a sound when nobody is there to hear it fall.)

Thanks for the article, Shadow.  Got any points to support your opinion?   I'd really love to have more points AGAINST simulation. (The article did not contain any, or did I miss it?)
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MacroShadow earned 25 total points
Well for starters, if we do live in a simulation, this whole discussion is a simulation, controlled by the God/Programmers, as is any logic you will try to use to analyze the hypothesis.

So if the universe is a simulation there is no possible way to find out the truth!
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Thibault St john Cholmondeley-ffeatherstonehaugh the 2nd earned 25 total points
Always believe that this is real and that you have free will, if that turns out to be wrong there is nothing you can do about it.
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Hmmm, Since math exists outside the universe, as a truth/concept - it is the same in the simulator's universe
Why do you think math exists outside the universe?

I don't know if it's fair to assume infitite computers yet
Have you realised that you make restrictions based on ad-hoc assumptions? Just as many (religious) people can hardly imagine that God is with the Palestinian mother who lost her child in a civil conflict and with Bruce Willis washing his teeth-- at the very same moment. God is omnipotent so it's just trivial (S)He can be present in as many places (incl. infinite) as (S)He wishes. Similarly, assumptions on any other kind of "higher" existence are futile as far as my understanding goes.

I would define "the universe is a simulation" as (...) not real (...) only in the configuration/state of a simulator.

Okay so how do you define "simulator"? or "real" for that matter?
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Universe is what It Is.

All questions about it arise from a part of "It" (the mind) to understand the "Whole".

Impossible.

A part cannot understand the whole and cannot make any statements about the whole, just as your 'pinky' cannot understand the entire body.

Therefore, the only thing the mind can know is that it does not know. :-)
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> there is nothing you can do about it.
That includes devising and carrying out any tests to check if it's a simulation.
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@aadih:  accepting this part vs whole hypothesis (I wouldn't call it an axiom) you probably meant it like this: Part cannot understand Whole without altering it (making the understanding void). But even then, such understandings of "past" Wholes may show some kind of convergence, and as such, Part may calculate the $lim_{t \to \inf} Whole(t)$.

plus, the original quesion leaves it open to have "probability" instead of "certainty"
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What I wrote is not a hypothesis, etc.; it's a factual observation.

Any more discussions is mind-going-in-circles-in-the-mind (dog chasing its tail).  Will lead one nowhere.

It does not mean the mind will give up such efforts, however. :-(
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> there is nothing you can do about it.
That includes devising and carrying out any tests to check if it's a simulation.

I can't follow this deduction. First of all, the original sentence starts with "if that turns out to be wrong", i.e. you must've already carried out some such tests. Second, I interpret "do something about it" as "changing this fact" and tests don't automatically qualify as changes. Some may, but some may not, i.e. those that don't change may be carried out.

Referring back to the Part vs Whole hypothesis, though, if a test (or a series of tests) is a kind of "understanding" then it won't work without altering the Whole, which actually qualifies as a change. This appears to be a paradox but it is based on a premise, i.e. "if that turns out to be wrong".
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it's a factual observation.

Can you please cite some literature on this fact?
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Do you need to cite some literature to see your mother and recognize her?

Or to see, observe, and think for yourself.  No scientific progress would have been made if scientists always insisted on citing literature for "observations".

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your [religious] books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason [and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all,] then accept it [and live up to it].” ~ Buddha quotes (563-483 B.C.)

[Can you fly in the air like birds by yourself? Can you soar in the sky like an eagle? Can you see your own face directly? Can your pinky know your brain? Get the idea (of a factual observation)?]
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You can carry out some tests(if they let you), but you cannot trust the results.
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@aadih: nice quote, but it's about observation and not about facts. You wrote "factual observation" and I'd like to know what "facts" you (or anyone) have observed that brought you to this conclusion.

@*>: true enough.
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Can you fly in the air like birds by yourself? Can you soar in the sky like an eagle? Can you see your own face directly? Can your pinky know your brain? Get the idea (of a factual observation)?

"what "facts" you have observed that brought you to this conclusion."

Cannot fly in the air.
Cannot soar in the sky like an eagle?
Cannot see your own face directly (from your own eyes)?
Cannot "pinky" control the brain?
...

That:

You are. :-)
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An inductive proof? You/your pinky cannot do  any of these things so you cannot understand the universe. Fine.

As for me, I'm not sure I can't fly. Never tried, and all I need is great speed and maybe dense air, both of them possible, right? Soaring is a similar issue.
I can imagine some bionic extension so that I can move my eye from its socket and see myself.
And frankly, I have no idea whether my pinky can control my brain or not. Maybe it does. Maybe my pinky is the avatar of the controller within the simulator.
So maybe I can understand the universe.
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You can carry out some tests(if they let you), but you cannot trust the results.
Couldn't agree more. As I wrote above:
Well for starters, if we do live in a simulation, this whole discussion is a simulation, controlled by the God/Programmers, as is any logic you will try to use to analyze the hypothesis.

So if the universe is a simulation there is no possible way to find out the truth!
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It's all in the mind.  The entire universe. Mind playing games with itself. ;-)

Why don't you feel the universe when asleep?  [Mind is absent.]

Why don't you feel your tooth ache when asleep? Where is it then?

As I said (not me really, other wise people have said since the beginning): The only fact mind can know (for sure) is that it does not know.  :-)
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Thanks for great the posts all!

While I agree that a part cannot COMPLETELY undestand the whole,  It can certainly understand some-things about the whole.   I'm not asking to predict the future here, nor am I asking to even PROVE or DISPROVE anything.  Rather lets try to determine the probabaility of simulation, based on what we know about the uiniverse and simulations.

"Math exists outside the universe"  I say this because a universe need not exists for the ratio between a circle's circumference and it's radius, in a flat euclidean plain, to be Pi.  Granted we needed a universe to exist in to DISCOVER this,  but this truth does not require the existsence of, nor is effected by the absence of, the universe.

>Have you realised that you make restrictions based on ad-hoc assumptions?
I kind of though I was saying lets NOT make asumptions.  Especially ones that assume infinite stuff.

>What I wrote is not a hypothesis, etc.; it's a factual observation.
If you mean "the part understanding the whole" thing, I dont think one can call that an obersvation,  seems more like a logical/mathematical ducution to me.

>So if the universe is a simulation there is no possible way to find out the truth!
True, but ONLY if they dont WANT us to find out.

I dont really want to get caught up in semantics, but:
>>How do I define real?
But basically,  something real is not artifical or illusionary.  So if the universe is NOT a simulation, then what we percieve is REAL.  If the universe IS a simulation, I would define what is REAL as the processing substrate (whatever that may be made of) on which the simulation runs (like say, World of Warcraft(not real) running on servers (real) ).
>>Define Simulator
That which runs a simulation.
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As I said, mind will keep going in circles.  :-)

The real, unreal, simulation, proof, not-proof, the universe, you me ... are all in the mind.

[A hint: Where are all these in deep sleep?  An experiment: ask the same question(s) in your sleep.]

All these return (after waking up) when the mind becomes active.

Enjoy [the ride]. :-)

[in jest: I can answer your question, "is the universe a simulation," if you give me a few details: who is doing the simulation? what platform is being used for the simulation? what previous simulations were conducted by this researcher?  what is the purpose of this simulation? is the result going to be published? if so, in what journal? Finally, is this simulation being done in the universe or outside of it? if outside, where?]
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I refuse to belive we must go in circles to discuss this.  For example, the points above on mathematics, are perfectly linear, logical arguments no circling back to the starting point needed (though possibly flawed, and please point out those flaws).

I'm not sure I understand your point about sleeping.  I seems like you are saying that the mind must exist in order for the universe to exist.  Granted, that for the universe to be PERCIEVED conciousness must exist, but I would argue the opposite;  that for a mind to exist, a universe is a pre-requisite (even if that universe is a simulation.)
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I am still taking about your (mine) direct knowledge and experience, i.e., observational facts.

[Certainly not about thinking piled upon thinking, arguments, presuppositions, hypothesis, conjectures, theories, beliefs, etc.]

Why don't you conduct this direct experiment?: Ask any question you like in your sleep.
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If you've ever had an abcessed tooth you will know that the pain doesn't go away when you sleep. Other people were aware of me complaining about it so unless you are suggesting that I am alone and everyone else is part of the simulation I don't think you will find a time when the universe is unobserved.
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Experiment has already been completed:  I rememeber many times in my sleep having asked, "Am I dreaming?", sometimes the answer is a certain "yes", sometimes "no" (though I awlays seem less certain about that) Then I somtimes, but not always, I wake up.

I'm not sure what point this makes though.  Please elaborate.
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In deep sleep[?].

More and more words piled up high will go nowhere, except to cause more and more confusion.

Rather than more thoughts, observe the things as they are, reflect, contemplate, and meditate. :-)
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"In deep sleep[?]."  Yeah, I think i was pretty deeply asleep during those dreams.  If you are talking about the parts of sleep we dont remember, or conciously control; well I still don't see what your point is.

"More and more words piled up high will go nowhere, except to cause more and more confusion."
100% disagree.  Unless those words actually fail to communicate understanding, like say, platitues and rhetoric.  In fact the only way we have achived our current level of understanding is DUE to words. ("the shoulders of giants", as they say)

"Rather than more thoughts, observe the things as they are, reflect, contemplate, and meditate. :-) "
This statement seems to contradict itself: conteplation, reflection and mediation are all forms of thought.
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Okay. :-)

[As I have said earlier, my mind accepts the fact that it does not know.]
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tliotta earned 25 total points
Everything we experience, everything we see, hear, feel, etc., is a known 'simulation'. That's been a known fact for quite a while. The question, though, is about whether or not the 'simulation' that we mentally experience is a second-order simulation of some objective, physical universe or if that universe is itself a first-order (or maybe higher order) simulation.

Almost all of the mental 'simulation' in our mind is due to emergent properties. Our vision, for example, works as it does only because of our relative size to other objects around us. Imagine shrinking down to a size where a hydrogen atom approximates the scale of the Earth orbiting the Sun. If you were to look around at that scale, what would you see? More specifically, because of your size compared to wavelengths of light, how could "vision" work? Similarly, what would the universe "sound" like at that scale?

It's only because we are the size that we are that we have a mental simulation as we have. At other scales, our perception of the universe would be much different.

At the hydrogen atom scale, what concept would we have of galaxies? What would "color" mean?

At the other end of the (known) scale, with the (known, currently observable) universe scaled to the orbit of the Earth around the Sun, what would we "see"? Let's imagine we're at the "edge" looking in at the filaments of galactic structures. We'd be looking through a volume of space maybe a couple dozen billion light-years across. That is, it'd take a couple dozen billion years to detect any "visible" change in the far "edge" of that spatial volume. How rapidly would any change seem to happen within that volume?

What would our understanding of something like "inhabited planet" be like at that scale? Could we even detect that such things as "planets" even existed?

Well, it's kind of meaningless to think about existing at either the smallest or largest scales. But it should help illuminate some of the problem. We just don't what it is that we're experiencing. We've relatively recently run into 'dark matter', and then 'dark energy'. Now, there's maybe 'dark flow' and who knows what else? We seem unable to "experience" the vast majority of "reality".

I don't see any reason to think that there is any evidence at all that points toward or away from simulation. There is no meaning at all in thinking that "cleaves so tightly to a mathematical structure" has anything to do with 'simulation'. The universe most definitely does not "cleave so tightly to a mathematical structure". Rather, we specifically and deliberately created our mathematical languages as ways to model the behavior of things we observed. That's essentially the whole point of mathematical symbology. To assign any meaning to how one parallels the other is simply to say we built the models fairly well (so far). Other indications can be thought of in similar ways.

We have a long way to go before we have a clue about what's really "out there" in reality. And if it's a 'simulation', what would it be 'simulating'?

Tom
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Hi Tom,

Thanks for the thoughtful post.  I think I see your point, regarding scale, which is, I think,  that, we cannot trust what we actually experience.  I dont know that I agree with this 100%, considering how much we know about those extreem scales you mentioned (our ability to mantipulate our environment, and use tools, help to mitigate our scale disadvantage).

>>The universe most definitely does not "cleave so tightly to a mathematical structure". Rather, we specifically and deliberately created our mathematical languages as ways to model the behavior of things we observed.
I dont understand.  Much of mathematics was discovered WAY before physics.  Physisist noticed that they could use this mathematical language to descibe the behavior of the universe.  So on one hand, we have this self-suffiecient, logical relationship structure called math, that does not even need a universe for it's truth to be true, and on the other a universe that follows very specific evolution, that can be descibed precicely by these maths.  (And thus programmed preciciely too)

>>Everything we experience, everything we see, hear, feel, etc., is a known 'simulation'. That's been a known fact for quite a while.
A known fact?  I see you put quotes around simulations, maybe thats what I'm missing.  Or are you suggestion that our own mental representation of the universe is a simulation?  If so, I would suggest "simulation" is the wrong word to use.  Simulacrum might be better.

>>I don't see any reason to think that there is any evidence at all that points toward or away from simulation.
Well, lets imagine you were going to simulate a (super-simplistic) universe on your computer,  how would you make that universe work/evolve, what optimizations would you use in your program?  What limits would your program have?  What features in our universe match this?  Granted, this is most certainly NOT evidence, but interesting to think about.

>>And if it's a 'simulation', what would it be 'simulating'?
Personally I would love to run a super complex simulation of the universe and see if life and then intelligence spontantiously grew into existence.  Alas I'll need a bigger computer for that one.  Much bigger.
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A relevant quote: "There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature." ~ Bohr.

[With respect]: So, your desired simulation will be nothing but simulating what you can say about universe. "The dog chasing its own tail." ;-)
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I think I see what your saying, aadih: any discussion we have about the universe being a simulation is just part of the simulation (if indeed the univese IS a simulation).  If thats what you mean, I agree 100%.  However you seem to be implying, that we cannot determine ANY abosulte truths if this is a simulation.  With respect to physics, this is may be true today, but not with repect to ALL our thoughts and concepts (like math).

While I thank you for you input, this does not actually address the original question on probabilities, rather, it just dismisses it.  (but so nicely no offence is taken  :)  )
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Please, a story to think about, with much respect and love (It helped me in my life.):

A Cup of Tea

"Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"

"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?""
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No right or wrong answer yet only one expert even tried to answer the question,  most simply dismissed it as irrelevant.  No real back and forth discussion.
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Yes. Simulated question. Simulated answers. Simulated comments. Simulated dismissals. Simulated 'feelings'. Simulated points. Simulated :-). Simulated :-(. Simulated ;-).
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Some  of the people in the fields of Quantum Gravity or of Quantum Computers work from the perspective that what the universe fundamentally does is computation.
Then Steven Wolfram has his own ideas regarding the universe as a computer.
Some of the people studying the Holographic Principle have suggested some potential empirical tests of the fundamental discreteness of the universe.
These may not quite be simulations in the "Matrix" sense, but that version may be impossible to test experimentally.  (even if you take the red pill, that could just be a hallucination)
The "Matrix" version of the simulation hypothesis also does not address the question of whether the outer machine world is also a simulation, and the hypothesis is that the entire universe is a simulation, rather than just some peoples perception of the universe, then that version could have a difficulty in that the computer running the simulation (and thus  the universe in which the computer exists) would have to be more complicated than the universe it is simulating.
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Excellent post Ozo, thank you!  I especially like your point that a computer simulting the universe would indeed to need be even MORE complex (or at least larger) than the universe.  Then again, as long as the universe is not infinite, this is not neccessarily a theoretical impediment, (though admittedly a hugh practical imprediment, lol).

So, would a system simulating the universe actually need to be more COMPLEX, or just LARGER, than the universe?  Consider the progam of LIFE (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway's_Game_of_Life).  It is an extreemly SIMPLE program, that can be run on a fairly simple computer.  However, give it TONS and TONS of memory, and the result will be a highly complex "simulation".  In this case, the simulation uses the nature of chaos theory to turn a simple set of rules, into something highly complex.  Fractals might be another exmple of complexity growing from simplicity.

Just wondering out loud now:  How does this premise hold up given quantum uncertainty?  Consider the fact that only obervation allows a particle wavefunction to collape into a specific place/momentum, etc...   Therfore the state of need not be SPECIFICLLY defined by the simulation program's state.  Can you think of anyway in which this would act like say.. compression, or some other programming concept that would allow our super-huge "universe-computer" to be smaller?
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