Reality Might Be a Simulation, Scientists Think It’s Possible to Find out for Sure
AnonymousSeptember 2, 2021 at 4:21 AM
If you’re interested in VR, you’ve probably thought at least once or twice about the simulation hypothesis—the idea that we might actually already be living in a virtual reality world. Many people are passingly familiar with the idea, especially thanks to films like The Matrix, and it’s been a topic among philosophers—in some form or another—for perhaps more than a millenium. But did you know that scientists actually think it may be possible to experimentally verify if we’re living in a simulation?
The simulation hypothesis was boiled down into a useful thought experiment by University of Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom in a 2003 paper titled Are You Living in a Computer Simulation? which was published in the peer-reviewed Philosophical Quarterly journal.
In the paper, Bostrom explores the idea that—given existing trends in computing power—a far future “posthuman civilization” will likely wield immense computing power—enough to be easily capable of running simulations of billions of universes just like ours. He raises the question: if we think humanity will one day be capable of simulating billions of universes… isn’t it likely that we’re already living in one of those billions of simulations rather than being real ourselves?
It’s an intriguing formulation of the simulation hypothesis that’s frankly quite difficult to argue against. Bostrom’s paper has spurred serious discussion about the topic; it’s been cited by more than 1,000 other academic papers since its publication.
Beyond philosophers, scientists have taken the simulation hypothesis seriously too, especially in the mysterious realm of quantum physics. Several papers have hypothesized ways of actually testing if our reality is a simulation.
Pushing the Limit
In the 2012 paper Constraints on the Universe as a Numerical Simulation, published in the peer-reviewed European Physical Journal A, physicists Silas R. Beane, Zohreh Davoudi, and Martin J. Savage write that recent developments in simulating quantum interactions point toward a future where a full-fledged universe simulation is possible, which suggests that “experimental searches for evidence that our universe is, in fact, a simulation are both interesting and logical.”
According to the authors, quantum computing looks like a reasonable foundation for simulating an entire universe. But like any program, a simulated universe will have some fundamental limitations of precision. If our reality is based on a quantum computing simulation, the authors argue, we should be able to predict some of those fundamental limitations and then go searching for them in nature.
Specifically the authors say they’re looking at “the possibility that the simulations […] employ an underlying cubic lattice structure,” which is foundationally similar to small-scale quantum computing-based simulations that humanity is capable of running today. If we could observe limitations in our reality that are consistent with an underlying lattice structure for space-time, instead of a continuous space-time, the authors say it could be evidence that our universe is indeed a simulation.
The authors leave us with a tantalizing conclusion—that it may be impossible for a simulation to be fully hidden from its subjects.
“[…] assuming that the universe is finite and therefore the resources of potential