Physical realism is the view that the physical world we see is real and exists by itself, alone. Most people think this is self-evident, but physical realism has been struggling with the facts of physics for some time now. The paradoxes that baffled physics last century still baffle it today, and its great hopes of string theory and supersymmetry aren't leading anywhere.
In contrast, quantum theory works, but quantum waves that entangle, superpose, then collapse to a point are physically impossible -- they must be "imaginary." So for the first time in history, a theory of what doesn't exist is successfully predicting what does -- but how can the unreal predict the real?
Quantum realism is the opposite view -- that the quantum world is real and is creating the physical world as a virtual reality. Quantum mechanics thus predicts physical mechanics because it causes them. Physics saying that quantum states don't exist is like the Wizard of Oz telling Dorothy, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."
Quantum realism isn't The Matrix, where the other world making ours was also physical. Nor is it a brain-in-a-vat idea, as this virtuality was in play long before humans came along. Nor is it that a phantom other world modifies ours -- our physical world is the phantom. In physical realism, the quantum world is impossible, but in quantum realism the physical world is impossible -- unless it is a virtual reality -- as these examples demonstrate.
5. Our Universe Has A Maximum Speed
Physical Realism: Einstein deduced that nothing goes faster than light in a vacuum from how our world behaves, and this has subsequently been considered a universal constant, but it isn't clear why this is the case. Currently: "the speed of light is a constant because it just is, and because light is not made of anything simpler."
To answer "Why can't things go faster and faster?" with "Because they can't" is hardly satisfactory. Light slows down in water or glass, and when it moves in water we say the medium is water, and when it moves in glass we say the medium is glass, but when it moves in empty space we fall silent. How can a wave vibrate nothing? There is no physical basis for light to move in empty space at all, let alone define the fastest speed possible.
Quantum Realism: If the physical world is a virtual reality, it is the product of information processing. Information is defined as a choice from a finite set, so the processing changing it must also be finite, and indeed our world does refresh at a finite rate. A supercomputer processor refreshes 10 quadrillion times a second, and our universe refreshes a trillion, trillion times faster than that, but the principle is the same. As a screen image has pixels and a refresh rate, so our world has Planck Length and Planck Time.
In this scenario, the speed of light is the fastest speed because the network can't transmit anything faster than one pixel per cycle -- i.e., Planck Length divided by Planck Time, or about 300,000 kilometers per second. The speed of light should really have been called the speed of space.
4. Our Time Is Malleable
Physical Realism: In Einstein's twin paradox, one twin travelling in a rocket at nearly the speed of light returns a year later to find his twin brother an old man of 80. Neither twin knew their time ran differently and neither lost a heartbeat, but one's life is nearly over and the other's is just starting. This seems impossible in an objective reality, but time really does slow down for particles in accelerators. In the 1970s, scientists flew atomic clocks on aircraft around the world to prove they ticked slower than synchronised ones on the ground. But how can time, the arbiter of all change, itself be subject to change?
Quantum Realism: A virtual reality would be subject to virtual time, where each processing cycle is one "tick." Every gamer knows that when the computer is busy the screen lags -- game time slows down under load. Likewise, time in our world slows down with speed or near massive bodies, suggesting that it is virtual. So the rocket twin only aged a year because that was all the processing cycles the system busy moving him could spare. What changed was his virtual time.
3. Our Space Curves
Physical Realism: According to Einstein's theory of relativity, the Sun keeps the Earth in orbit by curving space around it, but how can space itself curve? Space by definition is that in which movement occurs, so for space to curve it has to exist in another space, which is an infinite regression. If matter exists in a space of nothing, for that nothing to move (or curve) is impossible.
Quantum Realism: An "idle" computer isn't really idle but busy running a null program, and our space could be the same. In the Casimir effect, the vacuum of space exerts a pressure on two flat plates close together. Current physics says that virtual particles pop out of nowhere to cause this, but in quantum realism empty space is full of processing that would have the same effect. And space as a processing network can present a three-dimensional surface capable of curving.
2. Dark Energy And Dark Matter
Physical Realism: Current physics describes the matter we see, but the universe also has five times as much of something called dark matter. It can be detected as a halo around the black hole at the center of our galaxy that binds its stars together more tightly than their gravity allows. It isn't the matter we see as no light can detect it, it isn't anti-matter as it has no gamma ray signature, and it isn't a black hole as there is no gravitational lensing -- but without it, the stars of our galaxy would fly apart in chaos.
No known particles explain dark matter -- hypothetical particles known as Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs) have been proposed, but none have been found, despite talk of super-WIMPs. In addition, 70 per cent of the universe is dark energy, and physics can't explain that either. Dark energy is a sort of negative gravity, a weak effect spread through space that pushes things apart, thereby increasing the universe's expansion. It hasn't changed much over time, but something floating in an expanding space should gradually weaken. If it were a property of space then it should increase as space expands. Currently, no one has any idea what it is.
Quantum Realism: If empty space is null processing then it is not nothing, and if it is expanding then new space is being added all the time. New processing points, by definition, receive input but output nothing in their first cycle. So they absorb but don't emit, exactly like the negative effect we call dark energy. If new space adds at a steady rate, the effect won't change much over time, so dark energy is caused by the ongoing creation of space. The model also attributes dark matter to light in orbit around a black hole. It is a halo because light too close to the black hole is pulled into it and light too far away from it can escape the orbit. Quantum realism expects that no particles will ever be found to explain dark energy and dark matter.
1. Quantum Entanglement
Physical Realism: If a cesium atom releases two photons in opposite directions, quantum theory "entangles" them, so that if one is spinning upward, the other will spin downward. But if one is randomly spinning up, how does the other instantly know to spin down, at any distance? To Einstein, the discovery that measuring one photon's spin instantly defines the spin of another anywhere in the universe was "spooky action at a distance." The test of this was one of the most careful experiments ever done, as befits the ultimate test of our reality, and quantum theory was right yet again.
Observing one entangled photon caused the other to have the opposite spin -- even when it was too far away for a signal travelling at the speed of light to connect them. Nature could conserve spin by making one photon up and the other down from at the start, but that is apparently too much trouble. So it lets either spin either way, randomly, then when we measure one to be one way, it instantly makes the other the opposite, even though that is physically impossible.
Quantum Realism: In this view, two photons entangle when their programs merge to jointly run two points. If one program is spin-up and the other spin-down, their merger runs both pixels wherever they are. A physical event at either pixel restarts either program randomly, leaving the remaining opposite spin code to run the other pixel. This code re-allocation ignores distance, as a processor doesn't have to "go to" a pixel to change it, even for a screen as big as our universe.
The standard model of physics involves 61 fundamental particles with data-fitted mass and charge parameters. If it were a machine, one would have to hand-set two dozen knobs just right for it to light up. It also needs five invisible fields to spawn 14 virtual particles with 16 different "charges" to work. You might expect completeness from all this, but the standard model can't explain gravity, proton stability, anti-matter, quark charges, neutrino mass or spin, inflation, family generations, or quantum randomness -- all critical issues. No particles account for the dark energy and dark matter that comprises most of the universe -- and no particles ever will.
Quantum realism reinterprets the equations of quantum theory in terms of one network and one program. Its premise, that the physical world is a processing output, doesn't make it a fake, as there is still a real world out there -- it just isn't the one we see. Reverse engineering the physical world suggests that matter evolved from light, as a standing quantum wave, so quantum realism predicts that light alone in a vacuum can collide to create matter. In contrast, the standard model says that photons can't collide, so a definitive test of the virtual reality conjecture is possible. When light alone collides in a vacuum to create matter, the particle model will be replaced by one based on information processing. See this FAQ for common questions, go here for more details, or listen to this Chronicle of Higher Education podcast: Imagining Our World As A Virtual Reality.