Features, Not Bugs
The universe is full of fascinating physics that have been experimentally confirmed but are still far from fully explained.
In an unpublished paper, circa 2018, titled The P2P Simulation Hypothesis and Meta-Problem of Everything, University of Tampa philosopher Marcus Arvan argues that many of the most confounding aspects of physics could be reasonably explained by our universe being the result of a specific simulation structure.
Our world has a wide variety of deeply perplexing physical and philosophical features. Consider physics. At present, our two best theories of fundamental physics are the General Theory of Relativity, which explains gravitation, and Quantum Mechanics, which explains all other known forces. Both theories have been systematically confirmed by experiment—yet both theories tell us our world’s physics is incredibly strange.
General Relativity tells us that:
- Space and time are relative to observers: simultaneous events in one reference frame are non-simultaneous from another, time moves at different rates depending on the observer’s frame of reference, and the physical properties of objects in spacetime (e.g. their length) depends on the observer’s reference-frame.
- The physical world has a ‘speed-limit’: no information can travel faster than light.
Quantum mechanics, in turn, tells us that all of the following are true of our world:
- Quantum superposition: every particle simultaneously exists in many different eigenstates (i.e. a superposition of different space-time locations and properties).
- Quantum indeterminacy: the eigenvalue a particle will be observed to have upon measurement is indeterminate, in that the value can in principle only be predicted probabilistically.
- Wave-particle duality: every individual particle simultaneously has properties of particle (existing at a particular point) and a wave (spread out over space and time).
- Wave-function collapse: observation of a particle (or measurement of quantum system it is a part of) leads the wave-like features of a particle (viz. the particle’s superposition) to ‘collapse’ to a single observed value (i.e. the observed properties of the particle).
- Quantum entanglement: particles arbitrary distances apart can become entangled, such that changing the physical properties of one particle will instantaneously change the other particle’s properties without any observable exchange of information.
- Minimum space-time distance: there is a minimum space-time distance below which space and time themselves have no physical meaning (the Planck Length).
- Quantum retrocausality: measurements of a quantum system can have observable effects on the system earlier in time, causing wave-function collapse before the measurement is taken.
These features of our world are incredibly bizarre—yet they are implied by the equations of quantum mechanics, and quantum mechanics been systematically confirmed by experiment.
The simulation structure that Arvan advocates as an explanation for these phenomena is a peer-to-peer (P2P) arrangement.
[…] a particular kind of simulation—peer-to-peer networked (P2P) simulations—actually replicate our world’s relativistic and quantum-mechanical physical features due to the computational structure of peer-to-peer networking itself. For consider what a P2P simulation is. In contrast to dedicated server simulations—where there is a central computer representing the spatio-temporal locations of all objects in the simulation—a P2P simulation has no central computer at all: instead, a P2P simulation is simply a network of independent simulations interacting with each other. In a P2P simulation, each ‘user’ only ever experiences their simulation, and ‘the physical world’ that all users experience in common is just a superposition of all of the simulations interacting on the network.
Arvan ultimately uses the paper to argue that the P2P simulation hypothesis is the best explanation to holistically explain a wide variety of physics and metaphysics mysteries that otherwise don’t seem to have an obvious means of unificiation.
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While it may be possible to discover if we’re living in a simulated virtual world, it seems we’re still far from actually doing so. One thing seems certain, however: even though our understanding of virtual reality, quantum computing, and AI is rudimentary compared to what would likely be needed to simulate an entire universe, eventually doing so in the far future seems entirely likely based on what we currently understand about reality.
Leading us to have to seriously consider… will we be the first beings in the universe to reach the necessary technological capability to run countless numbers of such simulations? Or are we one of many simulations already ongoing by beings that got there first?
Finding out might not be a great idea, actually. Philosopher Preston Greene has argued that discovering that we’re in a simulated universe could lead to the end of the universe itself.
Think of it this way. If a researcher wants to test the efficacy of a new drug, it is vitally important that the patients not know whether they’re receiving the drug or a placebo. If the patients manage to learn who is receiving what, the trial is pointless and has to be canceled.
In much the same way, as I argue in a forthcoming paper in the journal Erkenntnis, if our universe has been created by an advanced civilization for research purposes, then it is reasonable to assume that it is crucial to the researchers that we don’t find out that we’re in a simulation. If we were to prove that we live inside a simulation, this could cause our creators to terminate the simulation—to destroy our world.
So, are you taking the blue pill, and continuing to believe that our world is the real world—or the red pill, and wondering how deep the rabbit hole goes?