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Quantum physicists conclude that existence cannot possibly be a computer simulation

By Cal Jeffrey ยท 52 replies
Oct 3, 2017
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  1. Are we real? It is a philosophical question dating back to ancient times that has been revisited in popular culture over and over. The movies Videodrome (1983) and Brazil (1985) both deal with the idea of being trapped in a universe within your mind. The Wachowski Brothers’ film The Matrix (1999) went one step further when it popularized the idea that maybe we all are living a computer simulation.

    The thought that our existence is nothing more than a higher entity’s computer simulation has become so popular that even figures like Elon Musk and machine-intelligence expert Ray Kurzweil have suggested the possibility is real.

    However, in a new paper published in Science Advances, Zohar Ringel form Hebrew University and Dmitry L. Kovrizhin from Oxford University conclude that it is physically impossible for the universe to be a computer simulation. According to their work, the amount of computing power needed to simulate our universe at the quantum level exceeds what is even theoretically possible.

    Ringel and Kovrizhin calculated that a simulation on the quantum level of just a few hundred particles would require a memory storage device built from more atoms than there are in the universe. This is because the rules of quantum physics are so complex and strange that for each simulated particle, the computer would have to double in processing power, memory capacity, and electricity consumption.

    The researchers came to this conclusion while working with the Monte Carlo simulation. This model has been used by physicists to help predict and make sense of quantum behavior and relationships. The team was using Monte Carlo to study thermal Hall conductance and gravitational anomalies, which have to do with a twist in space-time that is observed in metals held in a high magnetic field and at extremely low temperatures.

    When computing the problem they continually encountered what is known as “the sign problem.” The Monte Carlo simulation breaks down when trying to calculate large-scale quantum simulations. In other words, the numbers just become too big and complex to compute.

    “Our work provides an intriguing link between two seemingly unrelated topics: gravitational anomalies and computational complexity,” Ringel told Eureka Alert. “It also shows that the thermal Hall conductance is a genuine quantum effect: one for which no local classical analogue exists.”

    While the pair’s study may prove that simulating the universe is impossible on any type of computer as we realize them to be, couldn't the theoretical question still apply to a technology that is beyond our comprehension?

    Ringel and Kovrizhin’s conclusion by no means closes the book on the age-old question of "do we really exist," but it does at the very least show that with current technology, simulating existence is simply not possible.

    Permalink to story.

  2. Squid Surprise

    Squid Surprise TS Evangelist Posts: 2,534   +1,531

    So our proof that we aren't in a computer simulation is that there's no way we could build said computer?

    Anyone else see the inherent flaw in this logic?!?!?

    While I think the premise that we live in a computer simulation is ridiculous for other reasons (mostly on the, "I think therefore I am" principle), saying that because we can't figure out how a computer could be powerful enough to simulate our universe is just as ridiculous.

    Almost by definition, by being INSIDE the simulation, it would be impossible for us to comprehend anything "outside" it... We'd be "programmed" for this....
    Milest, DS2015, TempleOrion and 8 others like this.
  3. Kotters

    Kotters TS Maniac Posts: 330   +223

    What people should be pointing out is that this sounds more like "We cannot exist in a simulation maintained by a machine, where the machine is physically bound by the same rules as the simulation being run."

    Reality as a simplified simulation by a machine that exists in a more complicated reality seems to still be an option. We already simplify our own reality when we run simulations and models. I imagine that, if we were in a simulation, the same would hold true. Iirc, speculation as to "why" the universe exhibits quantum phenomena has included the idea that, if we are in a simulation, this is part of the boundaries of the simulation. The result of the simplification such a simulation would likely have.

    But I'm just a simple armchair nerd, prone to popsci interpretations of complex stuff.
  4. TomSEA

    TomSEA TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 3,123   +1,617

    "But what if that means our whole solar system could be, like one tiny atom in the fingernail of some giant being? That means one tiny atom in my fingernail could be.......could be one little tiny universe!"
  5. namesrejected

    namesrejected TS Guru Posts: 398   +302

    I just made a "crappy" universe, so I flushed it!
    Reehahs likes this.
  6. namesrejected

    namesrejected TS Guru Posts: 398   +302

    Yep, "circular reasoning" at its finest.
  7. J wunder

    J wunder TS Rookie

    We could still be living in a simulation. You don't need to simulate every low level event in the universe, just enough higher level events to to make it appear to your consciousness that the world adheres to some lower level model, like quantum mechanics. The universe would expand from the top down wherever you direct your attention, rather than emerge from the bottom up. It would be much more efficient too.
  8. Shear

    Shear TS Rookie

    I was about to write that.
  9. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 5,374   +3,770

    Oh .... sleeping tonight is certainly going to be a challenge .....
    Cal Jeffrey likes this.
  10. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 11,355   +4,985

    I do!
  11. Fluffybunny68

    Fluffybunny68 TS Member Posts: 16   +12

    We are living in a computational matrix designed to figure out the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.
    Cal Jeffrey likes this.
  12. Cal Jeffrey

    Cal Jeffrey TS Evangelist Topic Starter Posts: 1,752   +415

  13. LenovoX

    LenovoX TS Booster Posts: 73   +32

    First of all, this two could be agents of the Matrix, so we should expect those arguments from the Machine :D
    senketsu likes this.
  14. yRaz

    yRaz Nigerian Prince Posts: 2,882   +2,203

    Theoretically possible in OUR universe. For all we know the laws of physics outside our universe look nothing like ours and our universe is just a close approximation, such as that we see in games today.

    But above all else, in science, it is impossible to disprove something entirely. Objectively speaking, it is arrogant and unscientific so say that it's impossible for us to not be a simulation.
    Theinsanegamer and erickmendes like this.
  15. erickmendes

    erickmendes TS Evangelist Posts: 571   +247

    "According to their work, the amount of computing power needed to simulate our universe at the quantum level exceeds what is even theoretically possible."

    Yeah, right. As if we knew all that's possible inside/outside our universe.
    Still it's good to see a different opinion on this field.
  16. Matt Z

    Matt Z TS Rookie

    Thank you! I can't believe the lack of logical thinking involved in this. Using the term "impossible" is just daft. Ok, improbable, maybe. Unlikely, I'll buy that. But impossible? From what standard? Flight was humanly impossible for how long? Going to space was impossible for how long? Mapping the human genome was impossible at one point as well. We don't even have a proper grasp on quantum computing, but we are going to use that as an end all metric? Nothing is impossible, ever. The only limitation is our lack of properly advanced technology.
  17. andy06shake

    andy06shake TS Evangelist Posts: 491   +161

    "the amount of computing power needed to simulate our universe at the quantum level exceeds what is even theoretically possible."

    I imagine given the correct circumstance and resources anything is theoretically possible.
  18. Solar Flair

    Solar Flair TS Enthusiast Posts: 33   +24

    Tell u guys a joke:
    a character in Minecraft think their world is not possible to be simulated because the bits involved for such simulation required more blocks than their world contains...
    havok585, Per Hansson, sauri and 8 others like this.
  19. BarryBostwick

    BarryBostwick TS Rookie

    Pfffft. Tiniverse.
  20. Ean Mogg

    Ean Mogg TS Booster Posts: 116   +51

    What about a real universe with artificial connections ie: Souls , when connection is broken we die and we go to a place in another dimension where we either select reborn or stay and as time doesn't exist in this dimension we have the choice to be reborn in any time period and why we created this universe ...I'm going to have on my grave "Game over man Game over" lol
    TempleOrion likes this.
  21. Jeff Re

    Jeff Re TS Addict Posts: 150   +114

    People's egos continually amaze me.
  22. Stiqy

    Stiqy TS Enthusiast Posts: 51   +45

    Is "Science Advances" actually a credible journal if it allows such an obviously flawed premise for a paper? "The universe can't be a simulation held in a computer outside of this universe because it's impossible to do that in this universe." ..... uh, ya, but not implicitly impossible in the other universe outside this one... that's THE POINT. Whoosh.
  23. Nero7

    Nero7 TS Evangelist Posts: 375   +153

    Both Men in Black endings come to mind.
    MannerMauler and TempleOrion like this.
  24. SingularitE

    SingularitE TS Enthusiast Posts: 26   +12

    "Uh, that doesn't compute." said also a droid.
    Seriously, if you are inside the box you can't possibly find out what's outside of it. As many of you have pointed out this logical flaw, I agree with it.

    Also it looks like some context or reference is needed for the conclusion of the physicists, like this is based only on a single simulation model/theory. Because there's more mystery about quantum physics than any other field of science.
    I say it's possible that complexity of the quantum level is an illusion only because of our limited understanding, that certainly happened before many times in science. Last time I heard news about quantum physics was about particles behaving like ECC.

    Until we know the answer - uncertainty, entanglement, consciousness, duality, granularity, infinity - this is our existence, simulation or not.
  25. namesrejected

    namesrejected TS Guru Posts: 398   +302

    Actually, I think the answer is 69. 69 gives everyone meaning. 69 could bring world piece. The problem is that there are unbelievers, my wife hates 69 for example. There will always be questions about life until you accept 69 as the answer.
    senketsu and TempleOrion like this.

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