New hypothesis argues the universe simulates itself into existence
A physics paper proposes that neither you nor the world around you are real.
How real are you? What if everything you are, everything you know, all the people in your life as well as all the events were not physically there but just a very elaborate simulation? Philosopher Nick Bostrom famously considered this in his seminal paper “Are you living in a computer simulation?,” in which he proposed that our entire existence could be the result of very sophisticated computer simulations run by advanced beings whose real nature we may never know. Now, a new theory has emerged that takes it a step further: what if there are no advanced beings at all, and everything in “reality” is a self-simulation generated by pure thought?
According to a new paper titled “The Self-Simulation Hypothesis Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics” by the team at Quantum Gravity Research, a Los Angeles-based theoretical physics institute founded by scientist and entrepreneur Klee Irwin, the physical cosmos is a “strange loop.” They take Bostrom’s simulation hypothesis, which holds that all of reality is an extremely detailed computer program, and ask whether it isn’t more efficient to propose that the universe itself is a “mental self-simulation” rather than relying on advanced lifeforms to create the amazing necessary technology to compose everything within our world. They connect this concept to quantum mechanics, viewing the cosmos as one of many quantum gravity models.
One important aspect that differentiates this view relates to the fact that Bostrom’s original hypothesis is materialistic, seeing the universe as inherently physical. According to Bostrom, we could be part of an ancestor simulation created by posthumans. Even evolution itself could be a mechanism by which future people test countless processes, purposefully moving humans through levels of biological and technological advancement. They also generate the purported information or history of our world in this way. Ultimately, we wouldn’t know the difference.
But where does the physical reality that would generate the simulations come from, wonder the researchers? Their hypothesis is non-materialistic, stating that everything is information expressed as thought. As a result, the universe “self-actualizes,” relying on underlying algorithms and a rule known as “the principle of efficient language.”
The entire simulation of everything in existence, according to this proposal, is just one “grand thought.” How would the simulation be generated? It was always there, say the researchers, explaining the concept of “timeless emergentism.” According to this viewpoint, time does not exist. Instead, our reality provides a nested semblance of a hierarchical order, full of “sub-thoughts” that reach all the way down the rabbit hole to the basic mathematics and fundamental particles. This is also where the rule of efficient language comes in, implying that people are such “emergent sub-thoughts” that experience and discover meaning in the environment through other sub-thoughts (called “code-steps or actions”) in the most economical way.
In correspondence with Big Think, physicist David Chester elaborated: “While many scientists presume materialism to be true, we believe that quantum mechanics may provide hints that our reality is a mental construct. Recent advances in quantum gravity, such as seeing spacetime emergent via a hologram, also is a hint that spacetime is not fundamental. This is also compatible with ancient Hermetic and Indian philosophy. In a sense, the mental construct of reality creates spacetime to efficiently understand itself by creating a network of subconscious entities that can interact and explore the totality of possibilities.”
The scientists connect their concept to panpsychism, which regards everything as a thought or consciousness. The authors believe their “panpsychic self-simulation model” can even explain the origin of an overarching panconsciousness at the simulation’s foundational level, which “self-actualizes itself in a strange loop via self-simulation.” This panconsciousness also has free will and its various nested levels essentially have the ability to select what code to actualize, while making syntax choices. What is the goal of this consciousness? to generate meaning or information
If all of this is hard to grasp, the authors offer another interesting idea that may link your everyday experience to these philosophical considerations. Consider your dreams to be your own particular self-simulation, suggests the team. While they are rather primitive (by future super-intelligent AI standards), dreams tend to provide better resolution than current computer modeling and are a great example of the evolution of the human mind. As the scientists write, “What is most remarkable is the ultra-high-fidelity resolution of these mind-based simulations and the accuracy of the physics therein.”
They emphasize lucid dreams, in which the dreamer is aware that he or she is dreaming, as examples of very accurate simulations made by your mind that may be impossible to distinguish from any other reality. To that end, how do you know you’re not dreaming now that you’re sitting here reading this article? The experience appears to have a high resolution, but so do other dreams. It’s not too much of a reach to imagine that an extremely powerful computer that we may be able to make in not-too-distant future could duplicate this level of detail.
The team also believes that advancements in gene editing will allow us to make our own mind-simulations much more powerful in the coming years, allowing us to create designer consciousnesses for ourselves. We may also see minds emerging that do not require matter at all.
While some of these ideas are undoubtedly controversial in mainstream science circles, Klee and his collaborators respond, “We must critically think about consciousness and certain aspects of philosophy that are uncomfortable subjects for certain scientists.”
Want to know more? You can read the full paper online in the journal Entropy.