Exploring the virtual reality conjecture
Introduction Computers today simulate entire worlds, with their own time, space and objects, but that our world could be so is normally a topic of science fiction, not physics. Yet that the world is illusory has a long history. In Buddhism, the world expresses the Universal Mind, in Hinduism it is Maya, the illusion of "God’s play”, and to Plato it was just shadows flickering on a wall1. That the world is digital is also not new, as to Pythagoras numbers were the non-material essence of the world, Plato felt that “God geometrizes” and Gauss that “God computes”, as in Blake's "Ancient of Days" (Figure 1). The tradition continues today, as Zuse argues that "space calculates"  and others ask if reality computes?2 This essay explores the virtual reality (VR) conjecture, that the physical world is the digital output of quantum processing. One can contrast Platonic idealism, that the seen world reflects a greater unseen one, with Aristotelian physicalism, that what we see is Figure 1. God computes? all there is. Logically, one of these world views must be wrong, but after centuries of dispute, science and religion formed the truce of dualism, that mind and body realms both exist, dividing scientists into atheists who saw only the physical world, theists who also believed in a non-physical reality and agnostics who didn't know. Today, dualism seems increasingly a union of opposites, a marriage of convenience not truth. If different mind and body realms exist but don't interact, what relevance are they to each other? Or if they do interact, which came first? If a conscious mind "emerges" from a physical brain, isn't it superfluous? Or if the mind creates the body as in a dream, why can't I dream the body I want? Dualism is currently in retreat before the simpler, non-dual view that there is only one real world. Scientists observing this ideological war generally feel that if there is only one world, let it be the one we study. If everything is physical and so is quantum computing,3 could a self-contained universe compute itself, i.e. entirely output itself? An objective physical universe can no more do this4 than a physical computer can print itself out5 [3 p6], but a virtual physical universe could arise from external processing. Yet then it is not complete in itself, i.e. the VR conjecture contradicts the "prime axiom" of physics, that: There is nothing outside the physical universe . Indeed, it implies its antithesis, that: There is nothing inside the physical universe that exists objectively, i.e. of or by itself. Given the options: a) Physicalism. Only the physical world exists. b) Solipsism6. It is all just a mind illusion. c) Dualism. Another reality exists beyond the physical. Logically, another non-dual option remains, namely virtualism , that only the "other" reality exists. In this admittedly radical view, the "ghostly" world of quantum theory is the real world and our physical world is just an image on a screen thrown up. This doesn't, as some naively think, imply "hardware" in a metaphysical realm. The quantum world is quite unlike the physical world we know: quantum states can disappear at any time so are not
permanent like matter. Entangled entities ignore speed of light limits on physical movement and superposed states exist simultaneously in physically contradictory ways. The quantum world is in every way physically impossible, so physicality cannot be the nature of its reality. That this world is an objective reality or a virtual reality are mutually exclusive hypotheses about it. If science finds that it cannot be objectively real, it must explore if it is virtual. The evidence We know how simulations operate, so how does our world measure up? Ten reasons to suspect that the physical world is a simulation 1. The big bang. That our universe arose from “nothing” in an initial time zero event makes no sense for an objective reality, but every...
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