A Capuchin monkey teaches a visitor how to crush leaves.
Stephen Fry, on language pedants.
— Kurt Vonnegut
— Harvey Milk
50 Google Now commands. Simple. Magical.
The Elephant’s Garden, a surreal animation by Felix Colgrave.
Seth Lloyd, a quantum-mechanical engineer at MIT, estimated the number of “computer operations” our universe has performed since the Big Bang — basically, every event that has ever happened. To repeat them, and generate a perfect facsimile of reality down to the last atom, would take more energy than the universe has.
“The computer would have to be bigger than the universe, and time would tick more slowly in the program than in reality,” says Lloyd. “So why even bother building it?”
But others soon realized that making an imperfect copy of the universe that’s just good enough to fool its inhabitants would take far less computational power. In such a makeshift cosmos, the fine details of the microscopic world and the farthest stars might only be filled in by the programmers on the rare occasions that people study them with scientific equipment. As soon as no one was looking, they’d simply vanish.
In theory, we’d never detect these disappearing features, however, because each time the simulators noticed we were observing them again, they’d sketch them back in.
That realization makes creating virtual universes eerily possible, even for us. Today’s supercomputers already crudely model the early universe, simulating how infant galaxies grew and changed. Given the rapid technological advances we’ve witnessed over past decades — your cell phone has more processing power than NASA’s computers had during the moon landings — it’s not a huge leap to imagine that such simulations will eventually encompass intelligent life.
My favorite “crazy” theory for explaining reality.
There’s a surprising amount of mathematical proof behind this. And even better is the thought experiment: if computers can build simulations so detailed that their denizens think they are real, then what’s more likely: that we are living in the original universe, or that we are living one of the billions of simulations created by the original universe.
See for example the scholarship of Brian Whitworth at the U of Massey in New Zealand and Nick Bostrom at Oxford.