In an objective reality, time passes inevitably as matter exists by itself alone. In a virtual reality, time passes as processing cycles generate pixels. In Conway’s Life simulation (Figure 2.10), pixel patterns are born, grow and die as if they were living entities. Their “lifetime” is measured in processing cycles just as atomic clocks measure our time by atomic cycles.
If a pattern that repeats for twenty minutes of our time is run on a faster computer, it might only repeat for a few seconds so does its lifetime alter if the processing runs faster? It might seem so but its virtual lifetime, as measured in cycles, is the same because exactly the same virtual events occurred. It follows that virtual time depends only on the number of processing cycles completed regardless of the processing rate. It also follows that if two patterns that lived for the same number of processing cycles were run by different computers, one fast and one slow, they would last for different times to us even though their virtual lifetimes were the same.
Now consider Einstein’s twin paradox, where one twin travels in space in a very fast rocket and returns a year later to find his brother is an old man of eighty. Neither twin was aware their time ran differently but one twin’s life is nearly over while the other’s is still beginning. Yet the eighty-year-old twin wasn’t cheated of time, as he still got eighty years of heart beats and grandchildren to boot. The rocket twin only became aware that his brother’s time had passed faster when he re-united with his twin to find that he was an old man. What relativity predicts in this case is exactly what we would expect if two patterns in Conway’s Life were run at different processing rates!
When people first hear that time dilates they suspect a trick, that only perceived time changes, but it is actual time as measured by instruments that changes, so it’s no trick. And it’s not just theory, as short-lived particles live many times longer than usual when they are accelerated. Physical realism can’t explain this, as an objective time shouldn’t vary according to how fast one goes.
Time dilation occurs in games as all gamers know that the screen frame-rate lags in a big battle as the increased processing load makes events take longer. Game events slow down if the computer has a lot to do but the avatar’s choices aren’t affected. In other words, game time isn’t affected by the screen slowdown. Likewise, for the rocket twins, it is as if the processing load that runs the life of one is greater so their time passes more slowly.
Relativity predicts that the faster one object moves relative to another, the more its time slows down. Quantum realism concludes that this is because increasing an object’s speed increases the quantum processing load so the quantum cycles that define our time slow down. In the twin paradox, the rocket twin’s speed increased the quantum workload leaving less processing available for his life, so he only aged a year. The twin on earth had no such load, so eighty years of his life cycled by in the usual way. Our virtual time “ticks” with each quantum cycle so what slows those cycles down also slows down our time. Time in our world behaves exactly like time in a virtual reality.