Are we in a simulation? Could The Matrix be ‘based on a true story’?
The Wachowski siblings, responsible for the Matrix trilogy, took their inspiration from a 20th century science fiction author who can be credited with many of sci-fi’s most mind-bending blockbusters (Man in the High Castle, Blade Runner, and The Adjustment Bureau to name a few).
Philip K. Dick was his name, and he wrote these stories based on his own experience. In 1977 he said, “we are living in a computer generated reality and the only clue we have to it is when some variable is changed and some alteration in our reality occurs.”1
He claimed that he could remember an alternative reality before the ‘program’ was rewound and rerun with alterations.
He believed that this explained the feeling of Deja Vu. That strange sensation of feeling like you’ve lived a moment before, and then as it begins to unfold you somehow know what series of events are about to happen for a brief moment, such as what someone is about to say. He believed that you had experienced this moment before, and that the simulation had been rerun with some minor alteration.
How quantum physics might be proving a simulated reality
Eastern philosophy, Simulations and Quantum physics all agree on one thing. What you see is an illusion.
Eastern mystics are insistent that the only way to “wake up” is to recognize the true nature of reality and the illusory nature of the reality around us.
A simulation is the culmination of pixels (we’ll come back to this) creating some type of visual display. While the current VR standard is mostly audio/visual, pioneering companies are attempting to develop new technology to enhance the experience and create a more realistic simulation through things like haptic feedback.
Quantum physics is a running world proof that might help us to consider the possibility of a simulated reality. In it, we study particles at atomic and subatomic levels. When we look at our ‘reality’ on such microscopic scales, objects began to dissolve into vast amounts of space and information. Whatever object you’re looking at right now isn’t really very solid at all. In fact, it’s more space that particle, and the particles that are present are basically energy. The floor or chair beneath you is the same. The only reason you don’t fall through it is because your particles are vibrating at different rates.
Your senses are also somewhat of an illusion. Although it feels like you’re touching your phone or your laptop you’re reading this on, that feedback is actually happening in your brain. Seeing isn’t happening in your eyes; hearing isn’t taking place in your ears; smell isn’t happening in your nose. All of your sensory experiences are taking place through electrochemical signals being fed to your brain.
It begins to sound a lot like a complex virtual reality device, doesn’t it?
The Observer effect
One main and currently unsolved aspect of quantum physics is the influence of the observer.
A probability wave collapses to a specific reality only when there is an observer.
The most famous example is the example of Shrodinger’s cat. He uses the example of a cat in a box. When you open the box the cat can be either alive or dead. So, let’s say the probability is 50/50. Now, in the realm of quantum physics, that cat is both alive and dead at the same time, that is, until you open the box. Reality then settles on one state when you observe.
It is as if we need to have someone looking at the thing to determine what the thing is, otherwise the thing is really just a mass of floating probabilities.
“This means that the observer, who is a conscious entity, is participating in the outcome of the results of physical phenomena, at least at the subatomic level. This led to an uncomfortable idea for many scientists that consciousness was somehow involved in the physical universe,”.1
This idea is also referred to as Quantum Indeterminacy. Quantum Indeterminacy is the idea that the world may not be “rendered” if we aren’t looking at it. Video games use techniques to optimize processing, and only render that part of the world that can be viewed by the player at one time.
Is our reality made of pixels?
Max Planck, one of the founders of the study of quantum physics, found that there was potentially a minimum measurable distance in the universe, beyond which space is meaningless.
This corresponds to simulations and video games, in that they use a digital, or minimum measurement which renders the information. This is known as a pixel, meaning picture element. It is the smallest element in a displayed image.
The finding of this minimum length also meant that it was likely that there was a minimum length of time, The equation for which came to be known as the Planck Time Constant. Similarly, a video game, even though appearing to be running smoothly, is actually a series of rendered images based on input. For example, a video game usually runs at either 30fps or 60fps meaning frames per second. Television is also displayed in a similar way, running at either 24 or 25 frames per second.
Why is this important?
It puts forward the idea that we are experiencing a digital rather than an analogue reality. There may be minimum measurements of time and space.
So what’s running the simulation?
One of the biggest dilemmas of the simulation hypothesis is the computing power required to run a simulation as large as the universe. Current skeptics believe that the size of the computer needed to generate the universe would be as big as the universe itself. However, the future makes a habit of bringing technologies we could not have imagined; the video game No Man’s Sky uses algorithms and a 64 bit processing unit to procedurally generate 18 quintillion planets, which is the largest number that can be represented with exactly 64 bits.
“Quantum computing … shows us that what we think of as fundamental particles are actually information—and the physical universe is thus a quantum computer! Even if the simulation required exactly the same number of particles that are in the physical world, the fact that quantum computers now exist gives us a clue that the physical universe is most likely a super-sophisticated quantum computer.”1
So.. the computer could be the universe itself. Things keep getting weirder.
In support of this, physics states that energy is never lost, it simply changes forms. Equally, computing power is not lost, processing power is freed up to run new processes.
Cheat codes, Breaking the code, and UFOs
Another interesting connection is the constraint of the speed of light. In video games, there is a set of constraints placed on the game by its physics engine. These are usually designated by the programmer. In theory, it would be possible to override these constraints to do strange things like cheat codes, for example.
Methods of breaking or perhaps avoiding these constraints may currently exist.
A study of plants run by Cleve Backster showed that they could register signals from a human being and this signal when tested appeared to travel instantly and therefore beyond the speed of light, operating like instant messaging in a massively multiplayer game.
That could mean that there would need to be some system ‘outside’ of the universe through which it could travel. Using this concept we may also be able to explain often reported phenomena such as astral projection or remote viewing. The participant is somehow overriding or stepping outside of this ‘generated reality’. In this case, their consciousness through which they are experiencing these strange occurrences may itself exist outside the boundaries of the physics engine.
The Quantum connection
In Quantum physics, Quantum entanglement is the exchange of information between two particles beyond the speed of light. This has been evidenced through experimentation. Quantum entanglement, although unexplainable may show that something exists outside of space time for it to be possible for information to be transferred beyond it.
This place ‘outside’ the generated reality could have some relation to the ‘Akashic Realm’ of eastern studies; a place where all information of every moment of time is recorded. It sounds a lot like the code of a simulated game. Within the code is stored all possible outcomes and conditions of those outcomes. It includes the future and the past. Could it be from here that people claim to have received instant downloads of visions of the future or memories of the past? Could it be here that people sometimes visit in their sleep and come back with revolutionary ideas?
Rizwan Virk uses this as an explanation for the UFO phenomenon:
1. Maneuverability. UFOs show maneuverability that defies the laws of physics.
2. Materialization. UFOs sometimes materialize out of thin air or disappear.
3. Subjectively Visible. Sometimes one witnesses the UFO and others don’t, so there seem to be both objective and subjective aspects of the experience.
These three reported aspects of UFO sightings only make sense when we think of physical reality as a computer simulation or a video game rather than an “objective shared physical reality,” evidenced, namely:
1. Physics Engines. Video games have physics engines that can be flouted easily by the programmers.
2. Rendering. Objects can be rendered anywhere in the video game so it looks like they appeared out of nowhere.
3. Conditional rendering. Since all the rendering is done on individual computers, it’s possible for one player to see an object in a scene that is not visible to other players, a process we call narrowcasting.
Why would we run a simulation?
One theory is the idea of Ancestor simulation. This is not too dissimilar to The Matrix. The idea that we live in a time where some aspect of history has gone, perhaps we know longer exist in a physically stable realm and experience many possibilities at once, and wish to experience things in a linear way, or of a time past.
In the reverse, it could be one entity with the ability to run a simulation and experience many possibilities as once (in correlation with the idea of a supreme being). In this case each individual would actually be some element of the (single) Player. Something more akin to SimCity.
There could be any number of reasons, and it becomes even more baffling as we go on. Rizwan Virk explains, that if we can get to what is known as the simulation point i.e. we can create a simulation as real as our current ‘reality’ then the likelihood that we are already in a simulation is much more likely. And that extrapolated out is that the likelihood that simulation is in another simulation is also more likely.
As a famous patient of psychologist William James explained when she said that a turtle was holding up the Earth and he asked well, what what was holding up the turtle, she told James, obviously, it’s “turtles all the way down!”
1. Rizwan Virk, The Simulation Hypothesis, Bayview Books, ISBN: 0983056900
2. Peter Tompkins & Christopher Bird, The Secret Life of Plants, Harpercollins, ISBN: 9780062874429
3. David Eagleman, The Brain, Vintage Books, ISBN: 978-0-525-43344-6