by Sean Adl-Tabatabai
British philosopher Nick Bostrom says he believes that the reality we perceive around us may be the product of a highly-advanced computer program, much like the plot of the Matrix movies – and surprisingly NASA have said they agree with him.
Dr Bostrom proposed in a paper he wrote that an evolved race of aliens have imprisoned the human-race in what he refers to as a “digital imprisonment”.
These aliens, or super-humans, are using virtual reality to simulate space and time, according to Bostrom
NASA scientist Rich Terrile, director of the Centre for Evolutionary Computation and Automated Design at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, thinks Dr Bostrom may be onto something.
Speaking to Vice the NASA scientist said, “Right now the fastest NASA supercomputers are cranking away at about double the speed of the human brain …If you make a simple calculation using Moore’s Law [which roughly claims computers double in power every two years], you’ll find that these supercomputers, inside of a decade, will have the ability to compute an entire human lifetime of 80 years – including every thought ever conceived during that lifetime – in the span of a month.”
“In quantum mechanics, particles do not have a definite state unless they’re being observed.
“Many theorists have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how you explain this.
“One explanation is that we’re living within a simulation, seeing what we need to see when we need to see it.
“What I find inspiring is that, even if we are in a simulation or many orders of magnitude down in levels of simulation, somewhere along the line something escaped the primordial ooze to become us and to result in simulations that made us – and that’s cool.”
The idea that our Universe is a fiction generated by computer code solves a number of inconsistencies and mysteries about the cosmos.
The first is the Fermi Paradox – proposed by physicist Enrico Fermi during the 1960s – which highlights the contradiction between the apparent high probability of extraterrestrial civilisations within our ever-expanding universe and humanity’s lack of contact with, or lack of evidence for, these alien colonies.
“Where is everybody?” Mr Fermi asked.
It could simply be that Earth and mankind truly is the centre of the universe.
Another mystery explained by Dr Bostrom’s Matrix-like theory is the role of Dark Matter.
US theoretical cosmologist Michael Turner has called the hypothetical material “the most profound mystery in all of science”.
Dark Matter is one of many hypothetical materials used to explain a number of anomalies in the Standard Model – the all-encompassing theory science has used to explain the particles and forces of nature for the last 50 years.
The Standard Model of particle physics tells us that there are 17 fundamental particles which make up atomic matter.
The Higgs boson, which was first theorised by scientists during the 1960s, is amongst these 17 fundamental particles.
In summer 2012, scientists at CERN observed what is now believed to be the elusive “God particle”.
But the Standard Model is as-yet unable to explain a number of baffling properties of the universe – including the fact that the universe is expanding at an ever-increasing speed.
Dark Matter is believed to be a web-like matter that binds visible matter together.
If it exists, it would explain why galaxies spin at the speed they do – something which remains unexplained based only on what we can currently observe.
The Standard Model does not yet hold an explanation for the force of gravity.
The as-yet unproven existence of Dark Matter could be explained by a virtual universe.
But not everybody is convinced about The Matrix explanation.
Professor Peter Millican, who teaches philosophy and computer science at Oxford University, thinks the virtual reality explanation is flawed.
“The theory seems to be based on the assumption that ‘superminds’ would do things in much the same way as we would do them,” he said.
“If they think this world is a simulation, then why do they think the superminds – who are outside the simulation – would be constrained by the same sorts of thoughts and methods that we are?
“They assume that the ultimate structure of a real world can’t be grid like, and also that the superminds would have to implement a virtual world using grids.
“We can’t conclude that a grid structure is evidence of a pretend reality just because our ways of implementing a pretend reality involve a grid.”
“It is an interesting idea, and it’s healthy to have some crazy ideas,” he told The Telegraph.
“You don’t want to censor ideas according to whether they seem sensible or not because sometimes important new advances will seem crazy to start with.
“You never know when good ideas may come from thinking outside the box.
“This Matrix thought-experiment is actually a bit like some ideas of Descartes and Berkeley, hundreds of years ago.
“Even if there turns out to be nothing in it, the fact that you have got into the habit of thinking crazy things could mean that at some point you are going to think of something that initially may seem rather way out, but turns out not to be crazy at all.”