How To Tell If The Universe Is A Computer Simulation

It's a famous question among academic philosophers and drunken students alike: how can we be sure we're not living in a gigantic computer simulation? Fortunately, researchers from the University of Bonn in Germany think they've cracked it.

Their reasoning is pretty straightforward, according to Technology Review: if the cosmos is just a numerical simulation, calculated on some insanely powerful supercomputer tucked away in another world, there should be clues around us that can reveal the truth. Glitches in the system, if you like, that give the game away.

Moving from that reasoning to the science required to find those clues isn't quite so easy. To kick things off, the team of researchers from Bonn have speculated that the problem with all simulations is that they're discretised: to model a physical phenomenon, the real world has to be represented by separate points in time and 3D space. Sure you can make the distance between those points reeeeeeally small — but you still have to have this kind of grid.

So the researchers started looking at some physics they understood — in this instance high energy processes that become smaller as they get more energetic. Interestingly, they found that the idea of a world-as-copmputer-simulation would impose limits on the absolute amount of energy any particle can have, a result rooted in the fact that nothing could ever exist in a simulation which is smaller than the 3D grid it's represented on.

Weirdly enough, it turns out such a limit actually does exist here in our world and dictates the amount of energy cosmic ray particles can have. But the idea of the lattices add a further complication, because it would theoretically means that we wouldn't see cosmic rays travelling equally in all directions across the imposed 3D grid.

To finish off by blowing your mind: that's a measurement that current technology could be used to make. Of course, if the findings were negative it wouldn't rule out the fact that our world was a silicon simulation, because it might just be more complex than we could ever imagine — but if results came out positive it could mean we're all made of code. [arXiv via Technology Review]

Image: NASA

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    "Glitches in the system, if you like, that give the game away..." Didn't the Matrix explain this as de je vu?Damn those pesky cats.

      I was going to say "wasn't this a Keanu Reeves movie?" but you beat me to the joke :)

    Let me stay in the matrix.

    So how do they know that the world the super duper computer lives in is behaves the same as the world it created for us?

    They've already built simulations that evolve in a naturalistic fashion right here on earth. So I doubt a civilisation capable of doing this on a Universal scale would be getting "glitches", at least not ones we would notice. Personally, from a purely philosophical view point, I think the Universe is indeed a simulation that is built from pure "thought"! Not just ours but all intelligence, everywhere in the Multiverses. In fact, Douglas Adams is probably right about earth being a super computer, except the whole Universe could just be a super computer! Hey, you have to stretch your imagination sometimes. I love barnstorming about this stuff! :)

    Last edited 12/10/12 8:11 am

      "Personally, from a purely philosophical view point, I think the Universe is indeed a simulation that is built from pure "thought"! Not just ours but all intelligence, everywhere in the Multiverses" - Deep, deep, I like it! Lol :D

    Who's to say that illness and disease aren't these glitches, plaguing what would otherwise have been the perfect simulation by our alien creators? Maybe the field of health sciences are just inputs to encourage inhabitants of this simulation to practice healthcare by becoming doctors, effectively acting as an organic antivirus within the system itself!

    I think I just convinced myself to take the day off work. After all, what's the point?

    glitches could be placed on purpose by the simulation, in order for us to use that as reasoning that we are not in a simulation. Its fool-proof.

      Except it's the other way, a glitch would show that we ARE in a simulation.

    Agreed let me stay in the matrix.... but what if there's a system that we live in where cause effects each of our brains to create our own worlds in which we live in? Are we living inside our own imaginations, if we are living in a dream/force created memory there would be no need for a 3D grid. We are not essentially living, moving in a real world but we think we are.

    This universe is created by our collective consciousness, but as to why we put ourselves here, I do not know. When we die, we are still going to be reborn in this universe (yes heaven and hell is part of this universe but rest assured because of mistranslation it's not eternal, just a very very long time), until we get out. Maybe we were bored and wanted a challenge. All I know is that there is a way out and I'm training to get out (while the instructions are still available).

      Interesting opinion. I don't agree, but interesting all the same!

        Ah yes very good. As a great teacher once instructed thousands of years ago (translated and paraphased):

        "Do not believe in anything (simply) because you have heard it.
        Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
        Do not believe in anything because it is spoken and rumoured by many.
        Do not believe in anything (simply) because it is found written in your religious books.
        Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.

        But after observation and analysis when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conductive to the good and benefit of one and all then accept it and live up to it."

      how did we gain consciousness if the universe which we inhabit didnt exist?

    There is a limit to the division of space... the planck distance? The 'grid' (not to purposefully evoke Tron :P) can only be as finely divided as the planck length and the planck time allow.

    Well I detected the fault in the simulation a long time ago. Brussel sprouts; yep no way could these exist in a real universe. Only truly evil bastards would insert this into a simulation.

      I agree, how else do you explain broccoli & spinach??

        I love all of these things. What's glitching is your cooking.

    These types of thought experiments will fry your brain... The same as if I pose the question prove to me i'm not dreaming?

    Maybe this just Minecraft version 105670.1.2?

    I think we do live in a holographic universe. One example i came across is if i had a 1 light year long metal rod, and i pushed one end, it would take 1 light year before it reached the end. so what happens in-between during this year period of the metal rod? Does part of the rod disappear when I push? And where does it go? It’s like the behaviour of a light which can behave like a wave and a particle depending on its observation. Just shows that God does exist and one day this holographic simulation will end. Lucky for me i found a way out :)

    Where are all the:

    God made the universe people?

    do you reckon The Sims know they're just a computer program...?

    What if we are a simulation wtihin a simulation.

    Mind = blown

    If this brainstorm goes on, we gonna crash the simulation.

    don'tthinkaboutit don'tthinkaboutit don'tthinkaboutit ...

    If it is a simulation and the creators didn't want the participants to know it was a simulation I am pretty sure it would be quite simple to program the system to ignore any circumstance that would prove that the simulation was a simulation.

    Plus unless the simulation was designed to see how fast the participants could figure out it was a simulation I can't think of any worthwhile reason to allow the participants to ever discover the nature of their universe as it would probably effect the results of the simulation they were actually trying to run.

      Yes but with every new baby born new code is inserted for that person. If we are in a computer system eventually one will have a glitch in there program that will allow them to see the world for the computer program that it truly is.

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