QR5.7.2 The Virtual Reality Hypothesis

Quantum realism hypothesizes that the physical world is a virtual reality generated by quantum reality. It differs from the commonly proposed simulation hypothesis but it has the same premise – that the physical world is not as it seems.

A simulation can be defined as a representation of something that is not actually that thing, e.g. a small-scale model of the Empire State building is a simulation of it. A physical model is static but information simulations let participants interact with dynamic virtual environments to learn skills useful elsewhere, e.g. flight simulators let pilots learn to avoid mistakes that might crash an actual plane. Simulations like SimCity let people experience the challenge of building a city and computer games offer many other simulated experiences.

The simulation hypothesis proposes that our physical reality is a representation so realistic that its participants are unaware that they are living in a simulation. The best-known example is the film The Matrix, where 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 the future simulate New York in 1999 to humans in vats by feeding the appropriate electrical impulses to their brains, so one physical world is in effect simulating another. Since physical processing requires effort, the assumed prime directive is to limit the processing cost, so the simulation hypothesis implies a virtual world with a:

a. Fake history. Why bother simulating the fourteen billion years before humans arrived?

b. Fake cosmos. Why bother simulating a vast universe of space, planets and stars?

c. Fake quantum theory. Why bother simulating a quantum world beyond any physical computing?

This view implies godlike designers who “fit” the simulation to match what our brains will accept as real, much as a movie director might. Since in this view the world we see is a trick, supporters of the simulation hypothesis rest their case on finding flaws in the simulation, including what quantum theory predicts (Campbell, Owhadi, Sauvageau, & Watkinson, 2017). Unfortunately finding a “flaw” in quantum theory wouldn’t in itself prove the simulation hypothesis. It would merely require a revision of quantum theory, and given the depth of previous research, this is unlikely.

A simulation of New York represents a city that physically exists elsewhere but the virtual reality proposed by quantum realism doesn’t reflect any substantive physical reality elsewhere. It generates observer experiences based solely on its own event history. Thus quantum realism proposes a virtual reality hypothesis not a simulation hypothesis.

Quantum realism implies that the “rabbit hole” of physical reality runs far deeper than the simulation hypothesis followers suppose. It sees a quantum world generating all physical events, even those we don’t see, so this virtual reality has no “holes”. In quantum realism, every second of the past fourteen billion years happened, every far-away galaxy seen in a telescope exists, and everything quantum theory describes is literally true. All this comes from a quantum reality that quantum theory assures us is not, and can never be, physical. If the universe is real not fake, and if what quantum theory describes can’t be physically computed, it follows that we aren’t living in The Matrix so attempts to show this are doomed to fail.   

Quantum realism concludes that whatever “other” is generating physical events, it can’t be physical. Hence theories of machines, aliens, super-beings or our future-selves programming our reality from another physical world aren’t possible. Nor can that “other” be anything that derives from physical reality, including programs derived from physical hardware, information derived from such programs, or dreams that derive from a brain. So the only way to prove the physical world is virtual is the scientific method, to reverse engineer physical reality to generate a testable prediction.

Quantum realism concludes that everything we know comes from a quantum reality that is unstoppable and unavoidable. The prime directive of this virtual reality isn’t efficiency, because quantum reality always “runs” anyway, but evolution. The evidence suggests that we live in an evolving virtual reality.