Are we living in a simulation?
- A flurry of headlines says no
- we need no longer worry about our lives being mere software spawned by a highly advanced supercomputer.
- These stories stem from a recent Science Advances paper about simulating quantum physics.
- One science magazine extrapolated from this to suggest that
- storing information about just a few hundred electrons needs a computer memory made up of more atoms than exist in the universe
- thus, simulating the universe is impossible.
But the paper only claims that a specific, limited type of simulation won’t work
- due to technical and hardware issues.
- It says that, within our current understanding of physical reality,
- there are certain quantum problems that cannot be simulated on a classical computer
- using a specific quantum algorithm, because it would require too much memory.
- The paper doesn’t even mention electrons.
While pleased at the coverage of their work
- authors Zohar Ringel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, and
- Dmitry Kovrizhin at the University of Oxford
- told New Scientist they are a bit taken aback at the conclusions the media is drawing.
- Asking whether we live in a simulation is not even a scientific question, Ringel says.
The simulation hypothesis has been gaining prominence since 2002
- when Nick Bostrom, a philosopher also at the University of Oxford, claimed that
- a computer with the mass of a planet and capable of 1042 calculations per second
- could simulate the entire mental history of humankind
- by using less than one-millionth of its processing power for 1 second.
Bostrom’s ideas have prompted technology moguls like Elon Musk to believe that there is only a billion-to-one chance that we actually live in reality
- It is far more likely, they say, that we are merely data circling inside someone’s supercomputer.
- The idea of a simulated reality, of course, brings up questions of:
--- free will and
--- whether or not humanity controls its own destiny.
But should we even care about a question that we don’t have enough information to answer?
- “To me, both
--- the ‘are we living in a simulation’ question and
--- any response to it
--- based on current computer knowledge is silly”
- says Marcelo Gleiser at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.
- “Bostrom’s paper assumes that there is an interest from a hyper-advanced civilisation in simulating the past
- Usually it’s the other way around – we look forward with computers”
- In all likelihood, our post-human descendants wouldn’t care enough to simulate a reality for us anyway.
- Gleiser brings up a second, perhaps more salient point:
trying to answer these questions based on our current knowledge and machines is risky
- Quantum computers – if and when they become truly operational – may be much more versatile than we can imagine
- If we were in a simulation, humans would have little idea of
--- what the laws of physics in the outside “real world” were like,
--- whether quantum mechanics ruled, and
--- what kind of computation was possible outside the bounds of our simulation.
“In my opinion the question is much more fiction than science” Gleiser says.
- When operating on the fringes of science, Bostrom, Musk and the like
- can make any argument in support of their views
Metaphysics special: How do I know I exist? - https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23130890-200-metaphysics-special-philosophys-biggest-questions-unravelled