No Seriously, Are We Living In A Simulation?

(Originally posted on the Nerdic Vikings website on 22nd August 2017)

The Simulation Hypothesis is one of those things that sets up residence in your head, makes itself comfortable and demands to be fed, and while I’ve written about it here before, the more I think about it the more fascinating it becomes. So I thought I would share a couple more juicy morsels as food for thought for you lovely people.

This may get a bit science-y, but stick with me, okay? I’ve got your back…

Firstly, let’s have a look at open world games and the way they conserve processing speed and memory so that you can have those exciting battles with mythical beasts or thieving bandits without the game slowing down to a stuttering crawl.

Take Skyrim, for example. If you visit Markarth you’ll see people going about their day, drinking in the inns, perusing the market, worshipping at the Temple of Mara (yes, the one you trashed when you were drunk) and performing guard duties. There are animals wandering around too, in fact it’s just like being there.

Then you decide to visit Whiterun. Once again, there are people and animals knocking about as you would expect, but the very act of you leaving Markarth means that Markarth is now devoid of life, and in all likelihood, doesn’t even exist anymore.

This is how open world games work; they will only populate locations and render them to a high quality if the player-controlled character is looking at them, thus giving the processors and memory plenty of juice should you decide to trounce a pesky dragon or two.

So how does this relate to our world, and the hypothesis that we might be living in a simulation?

Well, there’s a rather famous experiment called the ‘Double Slit Experiment’ which is used to show the differing interference patterns created by particles and waves.

That sounds difficult, but imagine this; you have a wall with a screen behind it. There’s a vertical slit in the wall, and you chuck a baseball covered in paint through it. It would hit the screen directly behind the slit, leaving a splodge there. Now imagine that you’ve chucked a hundred of these balls through, and you would end up with a vertical line on your screen in roughly the same shape as the slit. If you then cut another slit next to the first and hurl balls through that, you would end up with two vertical lines on your screen. This is the way that particles behave in the Double Slit Experiment.

Still with me? Good!

Now imagine that you partly submerge your wall in water, and waft waves through the single slit. The waves would pass through it and again create a single vertical line where they hit the screen. But waft them through a double slit and the waves interfere with each other after passing through, creating an interference pattern on your screen of multiple vertical lines, not just two. Think of how raindrop ripples interfere with each other and you’ve got it.

And now comes the mysterious part, because you’re going to fire electrons through the slits.

Firing electrons at one slit creates the same pattern of one vertical line on the screen just as you’d expect from a particle. But firing them at two slits creates the interference pattern of a wave, with multiple vertical lines on your screen. Even if you fire the electrons one at a time you still get the wave pattern, which is mind-boggling because it implies that the electrons are in some way interfering with themselves.

Confused and bewildered by this, you decide to observe and measure the electrons to see which slits each is passing through and how they are interfering to generate the wave pattern. But when you set up your detector and have a look, the electrons instead create the particle pattern of just two vertical lines, and you then collapse in a blithering, brain-exploded heap.

This means that electrons behave like waves unless you are looking at them, when they resolve themselves into particles.

And that should sound familiar because, essentially, where the pixels of your Skyrim world only become defined when you look at them, so do the pixels of our real world.

If you’re not completely scienced-out after that, I could give you another brief example from the quantum physics realm?

Going back to Skyrim, imagine that you’ve just acquired a kick-ass piece of armour that you want to give to your companion because they’re a bit rubbish. When you hand it to them, it disappears from your inventory and appears in theirs, and is then followed by you struggling to get them to wear it by snatching all their other clothing items away from them until they relent and put the damned thing on. But I digress.

Think of it this way – the item turns off in your inventory, and instantaneously turns on in theirs.

Now, if we go back to the quantum realm we find a fascinating concept called Quantum Entanglement.

To explain, let’s go back to our electrons. If we generate two of them in a single quantum state they can be said to be entangled, and from this point anything we do to one electron will be automatically applied to the other.

Suppose our electrons haven’t yet decided which way they’re spinning because we’re currently having a sandwich and not looking at them. When we’ve finished stuffing our faces and decide we ought to do some work, we measure one of the electrons, whereby it makes up its mind and starts to spin to the left. At this point, it’s entangled partner electron will instantaneously begin to spin to the right.

This will happen regardless of the distance between our two electrons – they could be separated by only a few feet or by an entire universe. Einstein called this ‘Spooky Action at a Distance’, because Einstein was cool.

Does this mean that the electrons are somehow communicating with one another, and one is saying ‘Hey, I’m spinning left so you spin right, okay?’ Well, no, because for the second electron’s state to be instantaneously affected over huge distances by a signal from the first electron, we would have to ignore the constant, finite speed of light.

So what could instigate these instantaneous changes? A computer program, right! The distance would have no meaning to a program as it could change the state of both electrons at the same time, in exactly the same way that it removes your Skyrim inventory item and adds it to your companion’s. And on that note, I shall go and have a sandwich. That is, of course, if I actually exist…

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