Are we all just living in the Matrix?
I sure don't know, but a few creative researchers from the University of Washington believe they've developed a way to test the theory long before we have any hope of actually waking up in our simulation pods after we discover discrepancies. In short, they believe the simulated (us, in present time) can detect the simulators (perhaps our future selves, our descendants).
By studying the highest-energy cosmic rays known in the universe to see if they travel in straight lines along the edges of the space-time continuum (which would likely mean that we're not in a simulation), or if they cheat a bit and cut across it diagonally (a "signature" limitation in the energy of these cosmic rays that would tell us we're actually living in a highly complex, but still resource-constrained, simulation).
In a research paper recently posted at arXiv (an online archive for pre-prints of scientific papers), the Washington research team advanced a novel theory to test the "simulation argument" that was first offered up by a University of Oxford philosopher, Nick Bostrom, in a mind-bending paper a decade ago. The UW paper's abstract says there may, in fact, be observable consequences we can detect if our universe is "a numerical simulation performed on a cubic space-time lattice or grid."
Bostrom's "simulation argument" offers three possible scenarios, only one of which can be true. First, humans are likely to go extinct before advancing to the point where we create something like the Matrix. Two, such a "post-human" civilization isn't likely to run many simulations of its own evolutionary history. And, three, if the first two aren't true, then we are all currently living in a simulation.
In other words, if we do survive long enough to create the Matrix in a "post-human" world, and we are willing to run millions and millions of simulations of our evolutionary history, then we are, in fact, now living in just such an artificially created universe. That's his "simulation argument" in brief.
Now, I have no idea whether Bostrom even asked the right three questions. And the Washington researchers don't seem to care, either. Instead, they simply take what we currently know about how to simulate highly complex environments inside a supercomputer, and extrapolate from there to see how we might detect anomalies or "signatures" of simulation in much larger environments.
Current supercomputers use something called "lattice quantum chromodynamics" to study fundamental laws of physics throughout the universe. Computer scientists program and build a small part of the universe virtually and then test physics laws and theories against it. But, not surprisingly, these supercomputers can only simulate a tiny portion of the universe – something on the order of the size of a nucleus of an atom.
In our current, very small, simulations of the universe in supercomputers that are running these lattices, there are tell-tale resource constraints that can be detected if you know what you're looking for. These resource constraints keep us from building a large-scale, virtual supercomputer model of the universe, and those restraints can be detected.
So, the Washington researchers, theorized, if we can detect those resource constraints at a small scale, we ought to detect them at a large scale where there might be analogous resource constraints. And because Albert Einstein and others have shown us what a non-constrained universe should look like along the edges of such a real-time lattice in space-time, we can study it – and see if it is, in fact, constrained.
If it isn't constrained – if the highest-energy cosmic rays act and look the way Einstein and others said they should look – then we're probably not simulated. But if it is constrained and these cosmic rays aren't quite doing what physics laws tell us they're supposed to be doing along the edges of those lattices, well, then…
"If you make the simulations big enough, something like our universe should emerge," explained Martin Savage, a physics professor at the University of Washington. Then, he said, it's just a matter of looking for a "signature" in our universe that has an analog in the current small-scale simulations that our current supercomputers are capable of running with resource constraints.
And if the cosmic rays don't travel along the edges of the lattice the way they are supposed to, but instead travel diagonally and don't interact equally in all directions as they would be expected to, then we have some proof that we are living in a much larger simulated environment that is manifesting similar resource constraints.
"This is the first testable signature of such an idea," Savage said.
What's more, says UW physics graduate student Zohreh Davoudi, should such a "simulation argument" concept turn out to be a reality, then there could be many, many parallel universes running in simulation alongside the one we know.
"Then the question is…can you communicate with those other universes if they are running on the same platform?" Davoudi asked.
If such a platform exists, perhaps it's Windows 800,957,543?