Whole Universe Emulation
The universe, like any other physical environment, can be simulated on a computer. In fact, it already has.
This is The Bolshoi Simulation – the world’s largest and most accurate computer model of the universe. It lacks complete detail, but according to Moore’s Law we will soon have computers capable of simulating the entire universe down to the subatomic level. I discuss Moore’s Law and the Law of Accelerating Returns in greater detail here. In short, computers will be capable of very detailed simulations much sooner than we think.
Life in a Digital Universe
Our own existence proves that the universe is conducive to life. If we were to simulate the early conditions of our universe within a highly realistic Bolshoi simulation, the same natural processes that led up to our own evolution would recur. If we accurately reproduced universal parameters such as the mass and charge of the electron, the strength of gravity, et cetera, it would only be a matter of time before the emergence of life within the simulation. We may not be able to replicate our universe verbatim, but we could replicate its origins.
We could also load our Bolshoi Simulation with randomly-generated parameters. Given enough spontaneous combinations, life would evolve, though it may bear no resemblance to anything we’re familiar with.
We can refer to this digital simulation as a virtual (or holographic) dimension, because in it, spacetime is nothing more than computer software – information.
The Property of Emergence
“But where does consciousness within the Simulation come from?” To answer one question with another: “Where did our consciousness come from?” (The stars.) To quote Carl Sagan, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.“
Consciousness is an emergent property. Having emerged from interstellar debris ourselves, we are living proof of this. Therefore, if we can simulate stars, we can also simulate consciousness. In order to emulate consciousness on a computer, we wouldn’t need to write it from scratch; we could simply introduce the building blocks of life in a simulated universe and let natural processes do the rest.
It’s difficult to avoid lame clichés and Matrix references while discussing Simulation Theory, but this clip from Through the Wormhole does a decent job at capturing the subject without unnecessary fluff (for the most part). In this clip, Professor Jürgen Schmidt discusses how all the complexity we observe in the nature can be reduced to a few basic laws.
A Simulation within a Simulation (Recursive Simulation)
Inhabitants of the Simulation will eventually invent computers of their own, which they could use to conduct additional Simulations. This chain could potentially go on ad infinitum, constructing a digital multiverse of sorts.
Running a simulation of the entire universe would require tremendous amounts of energy and a very fast computer. Computers as they exist today will not suffice. When the time comes, we will need to rely on quantum computers, which are better suited for simulating complex physical systems. These are currently under development.
Still, only so many simulations could be initiated before the uppermost (“parent”) simulation would deplete its hardware resources, thus bringing an abrupt halt to all child simulations.
This could be avoided if each Simulation consumed zero energy. If this were the case, then an infinite number of simulations could exist within one another. For this to work, Simulations would need to be designed such that overall entropy remains constant over time. Reversible computing, an isentropic process, may offer a solution.
Information cannot be added to, or removed from, any reversible system. The only permissible changes are those which occur within the system itself. This means that new information could never be introduced from the outside.
Surprisingly, reversible computing does not violate the laws of thermodynamics.
In short, you could run a complete simulation of the universe, but you wouldn’t be able to affect it from the outside. That said, perhaps it is possible for information to be introduced into (or removed from) a reversible quantum system if the opposite change also takes place. I will explore this idea.
Matter is only definite upon conscious observation
Though this may seem odd, consider it from a design perspective: If a piece of matter within the Simulation isn’t being observed, then does the computer really need to render it? Matter only assumes definite form upon observation in order to save computing power, just as video games only render content that is actually seen by the player.
Simulation Theory in Theology
Many religions claim that what we perceive is merely an illusion.
In Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, Maya describes the belief that we do not experience the environment directly, but rather some projection of it. According to Maya, there is no real distinction between physical phenomena and the realm of consciousness.
Virtual Dimension, Virtual Time
With a fast enough computer, time dilation would become a real factor – i.e., time within the Simulation would pass faster than time outside the simulation (despite feeling like “real time” to its inhabitants). So if you were to create a Simulation, you would also create time.
With a quantum computer, say, the size of a planet, an entire universe could be simulated in a matter of seconds. But for those living within the simulation, those seconds would be stretched into months, years, decades, lifetimes… and beyond? With extreme time dilation, there would be no limit; time would be a renewable resource.
Simulation Theory and the Holographic Principle describe a universe based on information, not matter; software, not hardware. If these theories are indeed valid, then we might have a scientific explanation for creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”).
Simulation Theory also opens the door to a new kind of artificial intelligence research.
Next entry: Artificial Intelligence
Table of Contents
- Six Blind Men and an Elephant – “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.”
- The Physics of Consciousness – Consciousness explained in terms of electromagnetism and information.
- The Holographic Universe – The behavior of photons may indicate that we live in a holographic universe.
- Simulation Theory – How to emulate consciousness on a computer by allowing it to evolve from scratch.
- Artificial Intelligence – How to create self-aware, free-willing artificial intelligence.
- Awareness and Free Will – How free will can arise from binary decision-making (i.e. pure logic).
- Universal Duality – The interaction between structure and randomness is fundamental to the universe.
- Main website: http://hipacc.ucsc.edu/Bolshoi/↵
- Also see the Exponential Growth of Computing and the Law of Accelerating Returns.↵
- This basic assumption is known as the anthropic principle. It seems pretty obvious, but people like arguing about it. Let’s avoid all of that and keep things simple, shall we?↵
- See Simulated Reality.↵
- Viewing our universe in terms of a gigantic reversible computer may explain supersymmetry in physics – i.e. universal duality.↵
- The fact that information can never be destroyed implies that creation is a one-way process – when information is created, it exists forever.↵
- See the double-slit experiment.↵
- This essentially restates my claim from Part 3 that information, not matter, is fundamental to the universe.↵
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