Can The Matrix Be Tested?

3 12 2013

As surely most of my readers would know or realise, I only use the notion of the Matrix as a metaphor for the unsustainable world “out there”…….  but have you ever wondered whether there was some possibility that the vision laid out in the Matrix movies could be real?

Could we be actually living simply in a computer simulation? A research project at the University of Washington, Seattle, went a step beyond the Matrix and looked at the possibility that we are not only living in a sim world created around us here on Earth, but also a simulated universe run by our descendants…..  sounds crazy?  Read on….A team of physicists claims to have come up with a test to determine whether such an assumption could be true. They based their work on a claims published in 2003, which state that at least one of three possibilities would be true:

1) The human species is likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage.
2) Any posthuman civilization is very unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of its evolutionary history.
3) We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.

Nick Bostrom, who published those beliefs ten years ago, also argued that “there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation.”

The UW researchers said that we ultimately would have to be able to simulate the relationship between energy and momentum in special relativity at a scale of the universe to “understand the constraints on physical processes that would indicate we are living in a computer model.” The problem is that we are not even close to be able to simulate the universe. The largest supercomputers could only simulate nature “on the scale of one 100-trillionth of a meter, a little larger than the nucleus of an atom”, the researchers said. Eventually we would have to simulate a “large enough chunk” of the universe to figure out whether we live in a simulation or not.

In the movie, the action really begins when Neo is given a fateful choice: Take the blue pill and return to his oblivious, virtual existence, or take the red pill to learn the truth about the Matrix and find out “how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

Physicists can now offer us the same choice, the ability to test whether we live in our own virtual Matrix, by studying radiation from space.  Cosmic rays are the fastest particles that exist, and they originate in far-flung galaxies.  They always arrive at Earth with a specific maximum energy of 1020 electron volts.  If there is a specific maximum energy for particles, then this gives rise to the idea that energy levels are defined, specific, and constrained by an outside force…….   Therefore, according to this research, if the energy levels of particles could be simulated, so too could the rest of the universe.

Even operating with the world’s most powerful supercomputers, simulations can only be done on a vanishingly small scale, which makes the maths pretty difficult. So, physicists as yet have only managed to simulate regions of space on the femto-scale.

Never heard of the prefix femto?  Me neither….  To put it in context, a femtometre is 10-15 metres – that’s a quadrillionth of a metre or 0.000000000001mm.

However, the main problem with all such simulations is that the law of physics have to be superimposed onto a discrete three-dimensional lattice which advances in time.  And that’s where the real test comes in.

So if it were true that we lived in sim world, at Universe scale rather than femtometre scale, then the very laws of physics that allow us to devise such reality-checking technology may not have much in common (to say the least!) with the fundamental rules that govern the meta-universe inhabited by ‘our simulators’.  To us, these programmers would be gods, able to twist reality on a whim.

So should we say yes to the offer to take the red pill and learn the truth — or are the implications too disturbing……?  I wonder what the simulators have in store for us……