Simulation theory or the simulation hypothesis as it is also known is the idea that the world and universe that we live in is nothing more than a computer generated program. Sounds like something straight out of a science fiction movie. But could it be true?
The truth is, we do not and may not ever know. Though there are some strong signs that the world is indeed simulated.
We have come a long way from 1947 when the first transistor was created. Imagine what we will be able to create in 100 or 1000 years time.
If we take Moore’s Law of computer power continuing to double every two years; looking at our current technology, it is not hard to envision a time close to now that we are able to recreate a VR program or game that we are unable to distinguish from actual reality.
When we look at massive online digital worlds like World of Warcraft or EVE Online, that given enough time and technological advancements, that we would be able to simulate the world itself? What if we have already reached this point and we are already in the simulation? What if we are in the simulation and we too are running other simulations, that are running simulations and so on. It is this logic that some of the world’s leading minds argue that it unlikely that we are not in a simulation. And it doesn’t stop there…
The Speed of light
If you have ever played a PC game with graphics set to ultra and have a lot of other CPU intensive programs running in the background, you may have noticed a lot of stutter or lag. This is your computer being limited to its bottleneck (limited to the power of its weakest component).
Now if this happens and you are playing a game, the game appears to ‘slow down’ as you are only receiving a fraction of the required frame rate for smooth gameplay (usually +30fps).
Keeping this effect in mind and looking at what we know about the speed of light we can see a similar effect. When we begin to approach the known limit of velocity, the speed of light, time itself begins to slow down (to an outside observer). It would take a lot of computing power to simulate an object moving at such speed and the system may be using a lot of resources and creating this ‘lag’ effect.
The observable world
Going back to the idea of playing a video game, when you are playing an open-world game, the program doesn’t instantly generate the whole map with all the scenery and objects waiting for you to stumble across them. This would be a massive waste of resources and severely limit the program.
Instead, the program simply generates whatever the user is observing. For example, in Grand Theft Auto the video game, if your character is walking in the in-game city, only the field of view you are able to see on your screen is produced, the rest of the map is simply not rendered.
So thinking about this if we are living in a simulation, the program would not have to render the entire universe, but only the observed portions that we are actively in our view or measuring at that time.
So does a tree make a sound in the woods if no one is there to hear it? If simulation theory is true, the tree doesn’t even exist.
The double slit experiment
When we think about light we usually think of small particles called photons zooming through space. This is only partially correct. Light and other small particles, such as electrons, actually have both wave and particle-like properties. This is called wave-particle duality.
When you have a wave in the ocean, a crest of water that interferes with an opposing wave (trough) cancels each other out and we see this same effect with light.
The double-slit experiment shows that when electrons are fired through two slits, we see a wave pattern form. We don’t know which slit the particles are passing through at this point.
Now the strange part…
Even when one electron is fired at a time we still see this wave pattern; albeit more slowly. But the electron should not be interfering with the other electrons? This happens even if you fire a single photon. So when we are not measuring which slit the particle passed through, the particle acts as a wave, passing through both slits. But when we make the measurement it behaves like a particle and passes through only one slit.
Now if we attempt to measure which slit the particle passes through the wave pattern disappears, and a single point is detected on the screen for each photon.
So it is the act of observing (measuring) the particle that forces it to change from a wave pattern of probability to picking which slit it passed through and measuring a single result.
But why does this happen?
We don’t know…
It could though be another sign that our world is simulated. The program may be trying to save computer resources and present the results on a macro level (wave pattern) when it knows we are not ‘looking’. And when we are looking (measuring which slit the particle passed through), it shows us another detailed version where the individual particle picks a slit.
There are more complicated versions of this experiment that I won’t go into detail in this article. You can find more information and links below. The delayed choice variation of the double-slit experiment even shows that the particles know what state to be in before they are sent to the slit as it knows whether we are going to be measuring or not. No tricking these particles!