QR5.7.1 The Simulation Hypothesis

A simulation represents something else, so a model of the Empire State building simulates it. An information simulation is a virtual reality that represents events in time, like a simulation of the weather. Such simulations can answer a question, like what will the weather be like tomorrow? They can also help to learn skills, as pilots use flight simulators to learn about a new plane before actually flying it. A third use is to give observer experiences, as computer games like SimCity let people experience the challenge of building a city. In every case, the benefit of the simulation lies not in itself but for its creator.

The simulation hypothesis is that our physical reality is a representation so realistic that its participants are unaware that they are living in a simulation. In the film The Matrix, Morpheus says:

What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”

In this film, machines in future earth simulate New York in 1999 to humans in vats, by feeding appropriate electrical impulses to their brains. They don’t know that the virtual world they live in is fake or that real-world machines are using them as batteries. The key assumption of this science fiction story is that computers in the real physical world can simulate a false virtual reality.

Since it might take a physical computer bigger than our universe to simulate even a part of it, the simulation hypothesis expects processing costs to be critical. It follows that there is no need to actually simulate the details of an uninhabited far-off galaxy if it is only ever seen as a dot of light. It takes less processing to fake it and this logic applies to everything we can’t directly verify, like the past and the quantum world. The simulation hypothesis implies a virtual world with a:

    • Fake history. Why simulate the 14 billion years before we arrived to see it?
    • Fake cosmos. Why simulate galaxies and stars that we can never travel to?
    • Fake quantum theory. Why simulate quantum events that we can’t observe?

The godlike designers of the simulation only have to make it appear real, as movies do, so there should be anomalies that prove it is just a simulation. Assuming the reality we see is a fake, simulation supporters base their case on finding flaws in the simulation.

For example, quantum theory uses physically impossible quantum events predict to physical effects so simulation theory expects to find flaws in its predictions (Campbell, Owhadi, Sauvageau, & Watkinson, 2017), but as critics have been trying to disprove quantum theory for over a hundred years, this is unlikely to succeed. Even if it did, finding a quantum theory fault would just result in it being revised, because theories don’t succeed in science by falsifying others. Simulation theory has to predict positive results that quantum theory doesn’t, which it doesn’t do.

The key simulation hypothesis premise is that what generates physical events is also physical but quantum Hall research shows that classical processing complexity increases exponentially with the number of particles. It turns out that to simulate just a few hundred electrons requires more physical atoms than the universe has, let alone simulating New York city. If a universe that behaves as quantum theory says can’t be physically computed, we aren’t living in a computer simulation.

If the simulation hypothesis that our reality is a computer-generated simulation is impossible, that machines, aliens, or our future-selves are simulating our reality from another physical world isn’t possible either. The “other” of virtualism can’t have a physical base, either as programs that need physical hardware, information that needs the same or dreams that need a physical brain, but it could be quantum based.

Quantum processing increases exponentially with the number of processors, so it can scale to handle a physical reality whose demands also scale with size. If the physical world is a simulation, it must simulate something but in quantum realism, there is no physical world and there never was. It is a virtual reality never seen before not a simulation of what already exists. What creates a virtual reality doesn’t need it to exist, so quantum reality doesn’t need a physical base to do what it does.

In quantum realism, processing cost isn’t an issue because quantum reality is always active, so the physical world isn’t fake as simulation theory says. The virtual reality generated by quantum reality has no holes, so every second of the past fourteen billion years happened, every far-away galaxy we see in our telescopes exists and everything quantum theory describes is literally true.

Our universe is a virtual reality on a scale we can barely imagine, for a reason we have almost no awareness of, any more than the billions of animals that lived and died in biological history had any idea that they were part of an evolution. If the universe was born to evolve, everything it has produced since its birth, from matter to life, has been by some form of evolution. Evolution is what our universe is all about, but what is it?