Theoretical physicists at Oxford University and Hebrew University have found proof that we are not just a meticulously detailed game of The Sims.
Are we just dreaming up our universe?
Whether or not we're living in a computer simulation has been a question that anyone who has ever taken Intro to Philosophy, or has ever seen The Matrix trilogy, has encountered. Is everything we know—everyone around us, everything we've ever experienced, the entire universe—just a simulation? Would we even ever know if we were living in a simulation? Would we want to know?
Philosophers and scientists have considered both sides of the debate, but there is new conclusive proof that our reality is real, and not just made up of bits of code. According to a new study, a link between gravitational anomalies and computational complexity makes it impossible that we're living in a simulation. Apparently, it is entirely impossible to create a simulation of a quantum phenomenon that occurs in metals. Thus, it's also impossible to create a computer simulation of an entire universe.
What kind of computer would be able to simulate our entire reality?
Using a technique called quantum Monte Carlo, researchers were able to investigate gravitational anomalies. If you take the difference between gravity on a planet's surface and the predicted value from the planet's gravity field model, you get a gravitational anomaly. Quantum Monte Carlo enabled the researchers to study something called the quantum Hall effect, which refers to systems with gravitational anomalies.
“Our work provides an intriguing link between two seemingly unrelated topics: gravitational anomalies and computational complexity,” says co-author Zohar Ringel of Hebrew University, one of the researchers.
The quantum Hall effect describes physical systems with strong magnetic fields and very low temperatures. If the quantum Hall effect is present, it means that there is an anomaly in space-time.
According to the researchers, quantum Monte Carlo methods showed that as more and more particles get simulated, the simulation itself becomes more and more complex. However, if the complexity grows exponentially, and the necessary computing power doubles each time a particle is added to the simulation, creating the simulation becomes impossible. Calculations showed that storing information on just about 200 electrons would need computer memory made up of more atoms than the universe contains.
Maybe our universe really is, well, real.
If quantum Monte Carlo methods were able to solve systems with anomalies, then there's a possibility that a universe such as ours could be simulated. However, as the study concluded, systems with gravitational anomalies will always be unworkable.
It's likely that these findings won't really settle debates on whether or not we're lying unconscious in pods somewhere, hooked up to computers that feed us our realities. There will always be those, like Elon Musk, who would support the possibility that we're just dreaming all of this up. If that's so, then the computer feeding us our realities must be bigger than the universe.
As it stands, however, it's more likely that our universe, such as it is, is too rich and complex to be a computer simulation. If it is, then that computer may just be beyond our current understanding.
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