Brian Whitworth’s theory of the physical world as a virtual reality (Computerworld, January 21) is, as he acknowledges, not new.
Aspects of it go back at least to the Greek philosopher Plato with his metaphor of humanity in a cave with their backs to the real world contemplating shadows on the cave wall — which for them is, in the words of last week’s headline, “as real as it gets”.
It’s an appealing, if nihilistic idea, traversed in modern times by movies such as The Matrix. Whitworth says his suggested VR universe is not like The Matrix in that people cannot travel between real and simulated worlds.
He alludes briefly to the possibility of “other dimensions” in which the hardware and software creating the simulation in which we live may reside. But he shies away from confronting the question. His “is a theory about this world not some other unknowable world,” Whitworth says.
He shouldn’t escape that easily. I have my own theory of the VR universe in a notebook a year or so old (honestly). The digital version was lost in a hard-drive rebuild (honestly).
According to my theory, the “real” world within which our universe was created is not so much a question of other dimensions as other kinds of matter. We are just beginning to observe indirectly the presence of so-called “dark matter”. There may be even more obscure kinds of alternative matter of which we have not the slightest clue.
If such matter is real, why not life, intelligence and civilisations built of it — impossible for us to detect or communicate with?
Whatever kinds of computer hardware and brains such worlds have, we can be reasonably confident about one thing; that at bottom the computers will use binary digits. The binary code — on/off, yes/no — is a fundamental representation that has equal meaning in the other-matter and regular-matter universes. Binary code is, so to speak, the neck of an hour-glass with the creating reality as its upper bulb and our universe as its lower.
This leads to a logical consequence that Whitworth seems not to have explored. If there is one such simulation then there will in all probability be many of them.
So, if convincing VR simulation is possible at all, virtual universes will hugely outnumber real ones. Therefore we are almost certain to be living in a virtual universe. QED.
By now, given a few thousand years of development on some of these worlds, there will be off-the-shelf UniversBild packages, requiring only a few dozen parameters to be set to create new and different simulations. It could be done by any young student.
There’s a depressing thought. Our universe could have been created by some snotty-nosed other-matter schoolkid for a science fair — and it’s probably full of bugs. That would explain a few things.
On the other hand, a media release I just received seriously (and probably correctly) predicts big iPod sales around Valentine’s Day because the iPod nano is now available in pink. That’s evidence enough that a lot of us aren’t living in the real world.