Massey University scientist Brian Whitworth has attracted international attention with a paper he wrote suggesting physicists should explore the idea our universe is a giant virtual reality simulation.
Whitworth says the idea, that "the world is an information simulation running on a three-dimensional space-time screen", is no more weird than many in physics and could lead to interesting new paths for research and could offer explanations to complex problems.
Whitworth introduces his paper saying it "explores the idea that the universe is a virtual reality created by information processing, and relates this strange idea to the findings of modern physics about the physical world".
Among other things, Whitworth equates the big bang, or the birth of our universe, with the booting up of a computer.
"The virtual reality concept is familiar to us from online worlds, but our world as a virtual reality is usually a subject for science fiction rather than science," he writes.
"Yet logically the world could be an information simulation running on a multi-dimensional space-time screen. Indeed, if the essence of the universe is information, matter, charge, energy and movement could be aspects of information, and the many conservation laws could be a single law of information conservation.
"If the universe were a virtual reality, its creation at the big bang would no longer be paradoxical, as every virtual system must be booted up. It is suggested that whether the world is an objective reality or a virtual reality is a matter for science to resolve.
"Modern information science can suggest how core physical properties like space, time, light, matter and movement could derive from information processing. Such an approach could reconcile relativity and quantum theories, with the former being how information processing creates space-time, and the latter how it creates energy and matter."
Justin Mullins, writing on the New Scientist's technology blog says Whitworth avoids the question of whether his hypothesis is testable.
"But without testable predictions about the universe that would distinguish this idea from other theories, the VR hypothesis is pure philosophy," he writes.
"That's why it is almost certain to be ignored by mainstream physicists. It's not the first idea to suffer this fate — the physicist David Bohm proposed a small modification to quantum mechanics that made no difference to its predictions but ensured that the theory was deterministic.
"Most physicists rejected it on the basis of Occam's Razor: that science should strive for the simplest theory that fits all the facts.
"My guess is that Whitworth's work will go the same way."