¿Do we live in a computer simulation? [1/2]
This is the first in a series of articles discussing about the fundamental question that we might live in some sort of high order simulation within a higher world. Some may like, some others not. Some will be bored. Such is the plight of life.
Do we live in a computer simulation?
1. You are here
The idea of our world and species originating from some deity, event, or principle above us is widely shared across religions and cultures worldwide. This belief is also imprinted in scientific theories such as the big bang (which turns out to be a bit too close to a religion).
People have this intuition they can't explain. Maybe it's because the human spirit can't represent something infinite both spatially and time wise, maybe it's real, or maybe it's to answer the fundamentally unanswered questions of our purpose as living beings, or beings thinking they may live (hence the dogmatic and religious nature of every attempt to answer them).
One notable public personality to talk about this in modern history was Philip K Dick in his famous 1977 press conference telling about glitches he experienced that convinced him he was right.
Then more recently the most famous car salesman in the world, Elon Musk, came forward. Regrettably his discussion only weighted in on technological capabilities, which is a very reductive argument, if convincing at all.
In one of his publications on the topic Scott Adams makes the following interesting points:
If we are simulations, we should expect to see two additional qualities in the universe as partial confirmation:
1. We should expect that we can’t travel past the boundaries of the simulation.
2. We wouldn’t be able to observe the basic building blocks of our reality.
Sure enough, we meet both criteria.
...without mentioning, or considering:
otherwise, there may be bugs in simulations, just like in video games where one could escape the local world physical constraints.
Another question that might be asked is whether physical conservation laws are made to avoid the number of objects run amok in the simulation (resource issue)? That may also go along well with Fermi's paradox.
That these boundaries be absolute or represent only a part of what our creator allows us to see is beyond our grasp, so let's assume they are absolute for the purpose of this discussion, where we will suppose that, if it is true we are living in a simulation, our creator modeled us and our world after his', because imagining anything else does not constitute a more functional alternative.
This will simplify our hypothesis, considering our worlds share the same physical laws, and that the main characteristics are identical, from celestial bodies down to the microscopic scale (to the extent to which we are allowed to explore thanks to our senses and technology). After all, aren't video games more enjoyable when they're about reality and implant lifelike memories? And aren't all creations resulting from some zeitgeist of sorts?
2. Material considerations
The first question we may ask then is what are the maximal energy as well as material costs of running a simulation for the whole known universe, at least as seen from our viewpoint?
We will suppose that the whole universe is simulated as a physical model.
How much energy does it cost to simulate elementary particles and from there nucleus and molecules etc. Up to life?
We have to take a rule of thumb based on the estimated quantity of matter and power output of the known universe (10^82 atoms and 2x10^49W nowadays).
If we take into account that one such simulation could take the energy of one Dyson sphere or one Matrioshka brain (~4x10^26W in our universe) at a given complexity level (realism) in the above universe, this will give us the size of one star there. Note that combining the power of 2 or more stars to run a simulation is theoretically feasible through the use of wormholes to allow for a timely information transmission (Valhalla cluster) so the above world would live in a level 2 or 3 Kardashev civilization. From there we could estimate some elementary physical constants of this above universe:
the order of magnitude of the lifetime of such a star (if we know what is the energy source of our simulation)
the likely order of magnitude of the lifetime of our universe (simulation) if we are simulated in real time. Otherwise divide this figure by the slowing factor of our simulation.
If the simulated physics of our universe is less complex than their reality then it complicates this investigative task. Never the less it gives us a minimum bar.
The idea is that it would conversely take at least the energy of a number of stars to simulate something way smaller in our universe if we wanted to do the same. Likewise, our current level of technology makes it impossible for us to simulate a simple atom with less than one atom, making the idea of simulating the whole universe with only a tiny fraction of its matter impossible to achieve for us. Given the physical barriers to store an atom's state in less than an atom, we can assume it could very well be the case in any potential above universe also, provided their physics is compatible with ours.
Coming back to the energy cost of such simulation, if we make a very conservative assumption that tracking the state of any of these atoms takes 10^-12eV per second (this is 10^6 lower than the hyperfine transition in the hydrogen atom which is ridiculously low if we intend to make real time simulation following a complete physical model with a storage of information equal to 1:1 atom that will have to reflect the exact quantum state of its image in real time with transitions that could amount to 100MeV for some nuclear state changes) then the cost of all of this will be equal to:
10^-12 × 10^82 x 1.602x10^-19 J/s = 1.602x10^51W
Which is in the ballpark of 100 times the current power output of the whole known universe.
If this represents the approximate power that could be extracted from one or more Dyson spheres in the above universe, then this leads to an order of magnitude of how big stars are above:
1.602x10^51 / 4x10^26 = 4x10^24
A Dyson sphere would deliver roughly 4x10^24 = 4'000'000'000'000'000'000'000'000 = 4 million billion billion times more power than in our universe, give or take a few orders of magnitude. Mind boggling.
And of course it would most likely totally overflow the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. This is totally impossible here and now, unless we have a Kardashev level 3 civilisation harnessing the equivalent power of 4x10^13 = 40'000'000'000'000 = 40 thousand billion galaxies in another universe. This makes a whole lot of wormholes. Mind boggling again.
And we haven't yet talked about where and how would they store the 10^82 atoms representing our simulation...
Note that it could always be that this only represents a cup of warm milk and a 9V battery above, reducing the Kardashev level to a lower figure, like 0.5 for instance (our civilization being rated 0.7). Therefore, there is a direct size relationship between God and his creations: the smaller they are compared to him, the higher his Kardashev level will be perceived by them, the more dominant he can be, and the more sophisticated he will be able to make them to prop himself even more. That's a win-win situation. Remember Gulliver?
It's totally absurd to see that an underestimated cost to run a perfect simulation is so much bigger than letting the real thing run by itself in the first place. At least this would give more credence to the dark matter religion and would explain this 100:1 differential in unobserved mass of the universe...
More seriously this is probably the best argument against people insisting we live a virtual life. However they may answer that maybe the rest of the universe could be approximated outside of our galaxy or local group, or that it would be absurd to simulate our own world from itself. Why not?
What would be easier for aliens, running a costly and cumbersome simulation that costs more than creating the real thing or let it stand on its feet? -Unless of course their physics would be radically more refined than ours, or their simulation would be less detailed, implying they would have better models and we wouldn't be made conform to their image.
Our universe is therefore most likely infinitesimal or has a lower number of dimensions than our potential creator's. Is this really a surprise when we so often joke about it being a marble in the above universe?