The Corner


‘Great’ Minds Think the Universe Is a Computer Program

The Matrix, the first episode, was a fun movie. But a description for reality? Please.

And yet, some of our most prominent scientific and tech thinkers seriously propose we are living in a computer program. From the BBC story:

The idea that we live in a simulation has some high-profile advocates.

In June 2016, technology entrepreneur Elon Musk assertedthat the odds are “a billion to one” against us living in “base reality”.

Similarly, Google’s machine-intelligence guru Ray Kurzweil has suggested that “maybe our whole universe is a science experiment of some junior high-school student in another universe”.

Far be it from me to question such rich and influential thinkers, but really? Where’s the evidence?

The idea isn’t just promoted by technologists:

Cosmologist Alan Guth of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US has suggested that our entire Universe might be real yet still a kind of lab experiment. The idea is that our Universe was created by some super-intelligence, much as biologists breed colonies of micro-organisms.

Why think such a thing, the article asks. Well, because…we create sophisticated computer programs, so why not believe we are merely part of one?

Who is to say that before long we will not be able to create computational agents – virtual beings – that show signs of consciousness? Advances in understanding and mapping the brain, as well as the vast computational resources promised by quantum computing, make this more likely by the day…

Is it not likely, then, that some other intelligence elsewhere in the Universe has already reached that point?

Such “virtual beings” would not actually be “beings.” Nor would they actually “think.” We are and do. Accepting this premise would force us to deny the flesh and blood reality of the actual world, to deny all evidence in pursuit of a futuristic fantasy.

But why embrace such a premise seriously? An interesting answer (my emphasis):

Some scientists argue that there are already good reasons to think we are inside a simulation. One is the fact that our Universe looks designed.

The constants of nature, such as the strengths of the fundamental forces, have values that look fine-tuned to make life possible. Even small alterations would mean that atoms were no longer stable, or that stars could not form. Why this is so is one of the deepest mysteries in cosmology.

Oh, oh. When my wonderful colleagues at the Discovery Institute explore the hypothesis that the universe and life are better explained by an intelligent cause than random, purposeless forces, they are screamed at, attacked, and derided ridiculously as somehow “anti-science.” 

For example, in his award-winning book Signature in the Cell, my DI pal Stephen C. Meyer suggests:

Unlike previous arguments for intelligent design, Signature in the Cell presents a radical and comprehensive new case, revealing the evidence not merely of individual features of biological complexity but rather of a fundamental constituent of the universe: information.

Ridiculous, right? Back to the BBC story (my emphasis):

“The Universe can be regarded as a giant quantum computer,” says Seth Lloyd of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “If one looks at the ‘guts’ of the Universe – the structure of matter at its smallest scale – then those guts consist of nothing more than [quantum] bits undergoing local, digital operations.”

This gets to the nub of the matter. If reality is just information, then we are no more or less “real” if we are in a simulation or not. In either case, information is all we can be.


So, why is the heterodox scientific hypothesis of ID scorned, but this untestable conjecture is treated with all due respect? 

I think it is because embracing the Matrix Scenario and the idea of infinite universes allows their propounders to remain materialists in good standing. It is fascinating how important that belief is in some circles.

In any event, what a hoot. But I do think my DI pals are owed a big, fat apology.

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