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We are not a Simulation; or Why Elon Musk is Wrong

written by Onne Gorter on 2016/08/14

It is a popular theory that maybe our universe is a computer simulation. Programmed like a game, just a much better simulation than current games and current computers can do.

But that never made too much sense to me, for two reasons.

Given current physics, we will never be able to escape our local group. So the best simulation we could ever muster, is to reset our local group back to some big bang state, e.g. densely packed plasma, and let it expand from there. This reset is only one trillionth the size of the original. And it is not even a simulation, it runs natively so to speak. That thought experiment shows a pretty reasonable upper limit to the computational power we can expect for a simulated universe.

The ability for a reality like ours to simulate a reality like ours is very limited. If compute power is the only thing that matters, than chances of living in simulated reality are minute.

The Local Group is a tiny part of the universe.

But even if we were to live inside such a simulated universe. It would not be like a game of The Sims. There would not be a programmers interface like milkyway.sun.earth.person(7474832).soul.save().

The universe is basically a quantum entanglement simulator with certain rules. From there emerges time and space and the laws of physics. Given good starting properties, and you get an expanding universe full of hot quark plasma, turning into hydrogen, turning into galaxies, stars, planets. (see entanglement, and big bang)

A water molecule would be a stable pattern of entanglements. But did somebody program how the ocean waves? Waves are a property that emerges from uncountable many water molecules and the laws of physics. To tune how a wave behaves, one would have to tune the quantum entanglement properties, influencing the laws of physics, influencing waves. Such tuning would have enormous repercussions to unrelated things.

Life is like water waves, it emerges when molecules form a self copying system. That would result in the fastest copier that experiments the fastest, until more stable self copying ecosystems emerge. Consciousness emerges from life, when sensors and some form of computation, starts making models of the world. Using those models to simulate the world and make plans, and reflecting upon such plans. (see my blog on emergence)

The point is, unlike the sims, where physics and intelligence were programmed directly. Here physics is an emergent property. And consciousness is a fifth level emergent property.

We are unlikely to be a simulation, and if we are, a computer game is not the right intuition. If the universe looked like anything to its programmer, it might look something like this:

Rule 110
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