Friday, March 19, 2010

Is the Universe A Simulation? (III)

In the previous instalments we saw how the conjecture of a simulated universe arose (Part I) and also how quantum computing using nuclear spins might realize it. (Part II). In this segment I want to examine some of the problems - including the evidence (or tests for falsification) of such a simulated universe, as well as the moral problems associated with such a creation.

What about evidence? Is there any? If not, what would one at least look for?

In his article, The Simulated Universe, (Philosophy Now, Sept.-Oct., 2009, p. 28) author Brent Silby arrives at the possibility of such an entity along much the same lines as author Seth Lloyd in his book, Programming the Universe. As he notes(p. 28):

"For the inhabitants of the simulated universe, everything is as solid and tangible as it is in the real world, but it's all reducible to numbers and rules"

Which implies that if there is a breakdown in the numeric code, leading to a temporary glitch - then THAT might be one of the first pieces of evidence we'd look for: a violation of one of the numeric rules, most likely in the laws of physics. Indeed, Silby agrees this is one thing to look for, as he puts it(p. 29): "imperfections in the simulations....." and further (ibid.):

"Imperfections in a simulated universe would likely be subtle and almost undetectable. They would be found in the laws of physics"

Or more accurately, the violations of such. For example, violation of CPT-invariance. E.g.

Or, the law of conservation of energy-mass. Or the entropy law! But wait! Haven't we already seen claims of these? In MIRACLES?? For example, the claimed miracle of multiplying a few loaves and fishes - which violates conservation of mass-energy. Or, the claimed bringing a dead man (Lazarus) back to life from the grave, which violates the entropy law.

In each case, a physical law has been repealed haphazardly. It further implies that all scientific predictions rest on a wholly uncertain foundation, and that they cannot be trusted to yield reliable information from one era to the next, or one day to the next. If accepted, the premise of variable physical laws (which is to say - imperfections in the simulation code) introduces a horrendous set of consequences. For example, it allows for the possibility that all cars on the planet work on gasoline today, but may require water tomorrow. Or, one minute my word processor may be here on the table and the next it may rise up and dissipate into atoms. Or this year I may be able to predict lunar and solar eclipses - or asteroid close approaches - but not next year!

Physicist Paul Davies captures the innate aversion of all scientists to miracle claims, and indicates why thorough documentation is needed to overcome scientific skepticism[1]:

"The scientist, who prefers to think the world is operating according to natural laws, would regard a miracle as 'misbehavior' - a pathological event that mars the elegance of nature."

Take the alleged feeding of five thousand people with a few loaves and fish. If true, this is an astounding historical violation of the principle of mass/energy conservation. All the experience of physics, reflected in its experiments, discloses that mass/energy is conserved everywhere on Earth without exception. Hence, if excess mass comes into existence there must be a compensatory energy deficit somewhere.

We conclude here that IF TRUE (and I mean a mighty BIIIIG IF!) then miracles would point the way toward a simulated universe. However, I hasten to add that NO one has ever proven any of the biblical miracles as valid - they only assert they are because the bible says so. Which isn't good enough and doesn't pass for evidence.

Another possible clue for evidence is based on laws of probability. If one accepts the possibility that advanced beings can exist (and no one has ever shown they can't - since more than 200 quadrillion galaxies exist and we haven't even explored ONE) then it is highly probable we exist in one of their simulated universes. Further, this would be quantum computable as I showed in the previous instalment. Moreover, if WE humans could achieve a level of quantum computability, then any race of beings more advanced than us could achieve a much much higher level - simply because their grasp of mathematics and quantum principles would be expected to be much greater. So, if even ONE more race of being exists more advanced than we are, "there is a statistically higher chance that we exist in a simulated universe than in any "original" universe.

Another piece of evidence would arise form small, incremental changes in the physical constants. These would suggest small run time errors accumulating in some of the "quantum registers", e.g. instead of: 00> + 11> we get: 1> + 0> + 0> 1>, and they'd only be noticed by people looking for them. Such an incremental change was reported in 2001 by Paul Davies and John Webb, which they interpreted as a "change in the fine structure constant". (Silby, op. cit.). It's value is: alpha = 7.2973525376(50) x 10^-3. (The last two bracketed figures are uncertain). If such a change was observed, and is real, it could be serious because it would mean that the electric force is subject to change- as well as perhaps, Planck's constant of action.

What about other glitches or odd happenstances? Say UFOs? These might or might not fit into the matrix. Some have opined (e.g. Jacques Vallee) that UFOs are actually hyper-dimensional intrusions. But what does this mean in terms of a simulation? Well, let's use an example of a simulated software world I actually use sometimes, called "Virtual World". Virtual world is really a BASIC program which re-creates an entire tech community for about ten square miles. There are some twenty prefab buildings in which tech work is done, and one can manipulate a red auto to drive all around, as well as use the option of a helicopter.

Now, it has maybe 1800 lines of code. (In BASIC). Let's say I bring up the program, get all the code laid out in the DOS option field I have (still use it with my W-98 computer). At a junction between lines 1500 and 1650 I add 150 more lines which uses up (claims) some 400 pixels and makes them all bright orange in an oval shape. I then assign "motion" parameters including for altitude adjustment - and to avoid the helicopter - which itself flies at one set altitude. I then reboot, and Voila! I have implanted a "UFO" into the virtual world.

What I am saying is that whoever and whatever the management entities are (advanced aliens?) they'd be similarly able to alter the quantum bit code to integrate a random "UFO" into the simulation any time (or place) they wanted. Maybe just to play with the little bipedal 'bugs' on the third planet from the star sun Sol, who fancy themselves the apex of the conscious cosmos, and even pray to one or more gods.

Given the preceding, any evidence might or might not exist depending on what one is prepared to accept. If one accepts miracles are real, but the simulated universe isn't, he has to be prepared to do battle with one of the greatest extractors of rubbish ever put forward: David Hume's Miracle test. It reads like so:

"No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish."

In other words, which is the more likely: that a miracle really did occur - OR, that someone (even a zealous transcriptionist) just added a few words to change them and make the event a "miracle"? Fore example, Prof. Hugh Schonfeld (The Passover Plot) has a simple explanation for the claim of Jesus walking on water: a mistranslation of the Hebrew word “al” which can mean “byoron”. So, when a scribe really wrote “walking by the water” it was translated to “walking on the water”.

By the Hume test: Is the Schonfeld claim of mistranslation MORE or LESS miraculous than a man actually violating the law of gravity and walking on water? It doesn’t require a lot of thought or effort to see that the mistranslation of a passage of the New Testament is LESS miraculous (or if you prefer, less improbable) than that a man actually, literally walked on water.

One can also reframe the Hume test this way: Which is more miraculous- that miracles can occur in an actual, real cosmos strictly governed by physical laws, OR in a simulated universe in which the laws can be temporarily suspended if a glitch (e.g. run time error) occurs? The answer - which ought to be self-evident from what we've articulated, is that the miracles would more likely occur in a simulated cosmos. Thus, the person who accepts miracles but rejects a simulated universe is out on a limb...and no small one at that! He then has to explain or justify how clear physical laws - like entropy or conservation of mass-energy, can be willy nilly suspended at some times, but not others.

In terms of the moral question: Would we agree it moral for an advanced intellect to simulate the universe as we see it? Or, would it be the morally right thing to simulate the universe at all?

According to philospher Nick Bostrom (Philosophical Quarterly, No. 211), it would be ethical on both counts because self-awareness "is of high ethical value". (Self awareness, recall, emerges because certain quantum logic gates are employed that allow feedback loops and self-recursiveness. Such a gate (in classic form) is depicted in the diagram.

The key point is that each combined output, be it X1Y1 or X2Y2 is fed back as a novel input. (Note that Y2 is designated as the complementary value of whatever Y1 is). We assume here that one output, say X1, arises from internal data already stored while X2 arises from some mix of outside data and other internal data kept in hidden registers somewhere. (Which could be likened to a human’s ‘subconscious’). In each case, outputs are produced that are fed back into the system providing it with the capability of self-recursiveness and a degree of self-regulation.

Less commendable is that the putative advanced alien software master engineered a simulation in which each living thing (at least on this world) must destroy other living things to survive. It's kill or be killed, "survival of the fittest". Is this moral, or a moral environment? Maybe - maybe not. Or perhaps the programmer built in this scaffolding for this particular planet in the simulation. Perhaps at "death" - the elimination of the pixels associated with the particular creature - it moves on to a different world where the same survival laws don't apply. Perhaps, how beings - especially self-aware ones - function on this survival simulation world predicts where they will end up later. Maybe a "heaven" world (with everything provided free, and no limits on power, or pleasure) or a "Hell world" where even more ferocious survival imperatives inhere. (The last one for those who weren't too generous or lovable in this world)

Silby's final question is perhaps the most intriguing of all:

'Are we replacing God with a God-like species?'

Maybe. As Silby accurately observes (Silby, op. cit., p. 30) the proponents of the simulated universe (and by extension, software engineer behind it) run into the same buzz saw as those who propound the "csomological argument" for the classic God. In the last case, the argument goes like this (ibid.):

- Ecverything that exists has a cause

- The universe exists

- Therefore, the universe was caused.

- The name of the cause of the universe is "God"

- Therefore, God exists.

But as I noted in an earlier blog, the error made is creating or inventing an exception for an uncaused cause - a violation from the causal standard. Thus, if everything has a cause, then GOD also must have a cause. Further, the cause of God must be at least equally Godlike- therefore there is then more than one God: God plus his manifest cause!

Now - cosmological argument tenders will then argue 'NO - there can only be ONE God!' - so the God that created the universe must be either uncaused, self-caused or existing forever. Their problem again is the self-exception violation. As soon as they allow or admit one uncaused cause, or self-caused cause, they are blocked into a logistical corner and must concede that others exist- including that the universe itself can be uncaused, or self-caused. (Which as I have shown is at least backed up by solid quantum physics and mathematics, e.g. 'Universe Before Planck Time' by T. Padmanabhan. The religonists don't even have that. They just assert: God is uncaused. Full stop. And we're expected to take them seriously without bursting into hysterical laughter. By the Ockham's Razor law of parsimony, the addition of "God" as cause is a redundant complexity. Thus, if the universe has been shown at some level to be capable of creating itself (never mind the bible thumpers can't grasp it- since they can't do the math- or the quantum mechanics), then the simpler of the two competing hypotheses is just that. Leave God out. Keep causes to a minimum, and don't say one cause is "superior" because it's "conscious" and is God! NO! YOU haven't shown that! Only said it! (Makes me wonder if bible thimpers ever had to do 'show and tell' in kindergarten, as opposed to 'tell and tell')

Is the simulated universe in the same position as the "uncaused God" ? Silby argues that it is, and if one postulates it, then it's no different from the religionist postulating an uncaused deity. I beg to differ. If the universe and its simulation are indistinguishable - as Seth Lloyd shows, based on a full power quantum computer (using fluctuations, deocoherence and entanglement) then we'd have no way of knowing - but certainly - since quantum computing using nuclear spins is real, while no one has proven an "uncaused God" - then the simulated universe is on firmer footing ontologically.

Of course, if we must assert a cause for the simulated "God" of a simulated universe, we can always say that it was the supreme alien quantum computer specialist that devised the program!

[1] Davies, P.:(1983), God and the New Physics, Simon and Schuster, New York, p. 197.

Exactly so. And in each case,

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