…here’s Tom with the Weather.
That right there is comedian/philosopher Bill Hicks, sadly no longer with us. One imagines he would be pleased and completely unsurprised to learn that serious scientific minds are considering and actually finding support for the theory that our reality could be a kind of simulation. That means, for example, a string of daisy-chained IBM Super-Deep-Blue Gene Quantum Watson computers from 2042 could be running a History of the Universe program, and depending on your solipsistic preferences, either you are or we are the character(s).
It’s been in the news a lot of late, but — no way, right?
Because dude, I’m totally real
Despite being utterly unable to even begin thinking about how to consider what real even means, the everyday average rational person would probably assign this to the sovereign realm of unemployable philosophy majors or under the Whatever, Who Cares? or Oh, That’s Interesting I Gotta Go Now! categories. Okay fine, but on the other side of the intellectual coin, vis-à-vis recent technological advancement, of late it’s actually being seriously considered by serious people using big words they’ve learned at endless college whilst collecting letters after their names and doin’ research and writin’ and gettin’ association memberships and such.
So… why now?
Well, basically, it’s getting hard to ignore.
It’s not a new topic, it’s been hammered by philosophy and religion since like, thought happened. But now it’s getting some actual real science to stir things up. And it’s complicated, occasionally obtuse stuff — theories are spread out across various disciplines, and no one’s really keeping a decent flowchart.
So, what follows is an effort to encapsulate these ideas, and that’s daunting — it’s incredibly difficult to focus on writing when you’re wondering if you really have fingers or eyes. Along with links to some articles with links to some papers, what follows is Anthrobotic’s CliffsNotes on the intersection of physics, computer science, probability, and evidence for/against reality being real (and how that all brings us back to well, God).
You know, light fare.
First — Maybe we know how the universe works: Fantastically simplified, as our understanding deepens, it appears more and more the case that, in a manner of speaking, the universe sort of “computes” itself based on the principles of quantum mechanics. Right now, humanity’s fastest and sexiest supercomputers can simulate only extremely tiny fractions of the natural universe as we understand it (contrasted to the macro-scale inferential Bolshoi Simulation). But of course we all know the brute power of our computational technology is increasing dramatically like every few seconds, and even awesomer, we are learning how to build quantum computers, machines that calculate based on the underlying principles of existence in our universe — this could thrust the game into superdrive. So, given ever-accelerating computing power, and given than we can already simulate tiny fractions of the universe, you logically have to consider the possibility: If the universe works in a way we can exactly simulate, and we give it a shot, then relatively speaking what we make ceases to be a simulation, i.e., we’ve effectively created a new reality, a new universe (ummm… God?). So, the question is how do we know that we haven’t already done that? Or, otherwise stated: what if our eventual ability to create perfect reality simulations with computers is itself a simulation being created by a computer? Well, we can’t answer this — we can’t know. Unless…
[New Scientist’s Special Reality Issue]
[D-Wave’s Quantum Computer]
[Possible Large-scale Quantum Computing]
Second — Maybe we see it working: The universe seems to be metaphorically “pixelated.” This means that even though it’s a 50 billion trillion gajillion megapixel JPEG, if we juice the zooming-in and drill down farther and farther and farther, we’ll eventually see a bunch of discreet chunks of matter, or quantums, as the kids call them — these are the so-called pixels of the universe. Additionally, a team of lab coats at the University of Bonn think they might have a workable theory describing the underlying lattice, or existential re-bar in the foundation of observable reality (upon which the “pixels” would be arranged). All this implies, in a way, that the universe is both designed and finite (uh-oh, getting closer to the God issue). Even at ferociously complex levels, something finite can be measured and calculated and can, with sufficiently hardcore computers, be simulated very, very well. This guy Rich Terrile, a pretty serious NASA scientist, sites the pixelation thingy and poses a video game analogy: think of any first-person shooter — you cannot immerse your perspective into the entirety of the game, you can only interact with what is in your bubble of perception, and everywhere you go there is an underlying structure to the environment. Kinda sounds like, you know, life — right? So, what if the human brain is really just the greatest virtual reality engine ever conceived, and your character, your life, is merely a program wandering around a massively open game map, playing… well, you?
[Lattice Theory from the U of Bonn]
[NASA guy Rich Terrile at Vice]
[Kurzweil AI’s Technical Take on Terrile]
Thirdly — Turns out there’s a reasonable likelihood: While the above discussions on the physical properties of matter and our ability to one day copy & paste the universe are intriguing, it also turns out there’s a much simpler and straightforward issue to consider: there’s this annoyingly simplistic yet valid thought exercise posited by Swedish philosopher/economist/futurist Nick Bostrum, a dude way smarter that most humans. Basically he says we’ve got three options: 1. Civilizations destroy themselves before reaching a level of technological prowess necessary to simulate the universe; 2. Advanced civilizations couldn’t give two shits about simulating our primitive minds; or 3. Reality is a simulation. Sure, a decent probability, but sounds way oversimplified, right?
Well go read it. Doing so might ruin your day, JSYK.
[Summary of Bostrum’s Simulation Hypothesis]
Lastly — Data against is lacking: Any idea how much evidence or objective justification we have for the standard, accepted-without-question notion that reality is like, you know… real, or whatever? None. Zero. Of course the absence of evidence proves nothing, but given that we do have decent theories on how/why simulation theory is feasible, it follows that blithely accepting that reality is not a simulation is an intrinsically more radical position. Why would a thinking being think that? Just because they know it’s true? Believing 100% without question that you are a verifiably physical, corporeal, technology-wielding carbon-based organic primate is a massive leap of completely unjustified faith.
Oh, Jesus. So to speak.
If we really consider simulation theory, we must of course ask: who built the first one? And was it even an original? Is it really just turtles all the way down, Professor Hawking?
Okay, okay — that means it’s God time now
Now let’s see, what’s that other thing in human life that, based on a wild leap of faith, gets an equally monumental evidentiary pass? Well, proving or disproving the existence of god is effectively the same quandary posed by simulation theory, but with one caveat: we actually do have some decent scientific observations and theories and probabilities supporting simulation theory. That whole God phenomenon is pretty much hearsay, anecdotal at best. However, very interestingly, rather than negating it, simulation theory actually represents a kind of back-door validation of creationism. Here’s the simple logic:
If humans can simulate a universe, humans are it’s creator.
Accept the fact that linear time is a construct.
The process repeats infinitely.
We’ll build the next one.
The loop is closed.
God is us.
Heretical speculation on iteration
Even wonder why older polytheistic religions involved the gods just kinda setting guidelines for behavior, and they didn’t necessarily demand the love and complete & total devotion of humans? Maybe those universes were 1st-gen or beta products. You know, like it used to take a team of geeks to run the building-sized ENIAC, the first universe simulations required a whole host of creators who could make some general rules but just couldn’t manage every single little detail.
Now, the newer religions tend to be monotheistic, and god wants you to love him and only him and no one else and dedicate your life to him. But just make sure to follow his rules, and take comfort that your’re right and everyone else is completely hosed and going to hell. The modern versions of god, both omnipotent and omniscient, seem more like super-lonely cosmically powerful cat ladies who will delete your ass if you don’t behave yourself and love them in just the right way. So, the newer universes are probably run as a background app on the iPhone 26, and managed by… individuals. Perhaps individuals of questionable character.
The home game:
Latest title for the 2042 XBOX-Watson³ Quantum PlayStation Cube:*
Crappy 1993 graphic design simulation: 100% Effective!
- *Manufacturer assumes no responsibility for inherently emergent anomalies, useless
inventions by game characters, or evolutionary cul de sacs including but not limited to:
The duck-billed platypus, hippies, meat in a can, reality TV, the TSA,
mayonaise, Sony VAIO products, natto, fundamentalist religious idiots,
people who don’t like homos, singers under 21, hangovers, coffee made
from cat shit, passionfruit iced tea, and the pacific garbage patch.
And hey, if true, it’s not exactly bad news
All these ideas are merely hypotheses, and for most humans the practical or theoretical proof or disproof would probably result in the same indifferent shrug. For those of us who like to rub a few brain cells together from time to time, attempting to both to understand the fundamental nature of our reality/simulation, and guess at whether or not we too might someday be capable of simulating ourselves, well — these are some goddamn profound ideas.
So, no need for hand wringing — let’s get on with our character arc and/or real lives. While simulation theory definitely causes reflexive revulsion, “just a simulation” isn’t necessarily pejorative. Sure, if we take a look at the current state of our own computer simulations and A.I. constructs, it is rather insulting. So if we truly are living in a simulation, you gotta give it up to the creator(s), because it’s a goddamn amazing piece of technological achievement.
(This post originally published I think like two days
ago at technosnark hub www.anthrobotic.com.)
High energy experiments like the LHC at the nuclear research centre CERN are extreme energy consumers (needing the power of a nuclear plant). Their construction is extremely costly (presently 7 Billion Euros) and practical benefits are not in sight. The experiments eventually pose existential risks and these risks have not been properly investigated.
It is not the first time that CERN announces record energies and news around April 1 – apparently hoping that some critique and concerns about the risks could be misinterpreted as an April joke. Additionally CERN regularly starts up the LHC at Easter celebrations and just before week ends, when news offices are empty and people prefer to have peaceful days with their friends and families.
CERN has just announced new records in collision energies at the LHC. And instead of conducting a neutral risk assessment, the nuclear research centre plans costly upgrades of its Big Bang machine. Facing an LHC upgrade in 2013 for up to CHF 1 Billion and the perspective of a Mega-LHC in 2022: How long will it take until risk researchers are finally integrated in a neutral safety assessment?
There are countless evidences for the necessity of an external and multidisciplinary safety assessment of the LHC. According to a pre-study in risk research, CERN fits less than a fifth of the criteria for a modern risk assessment (see the press release below). It is not acceptable that the clueless member states point at the operator CERN itself, while this regards its self-set security measures as sufficient, in spite of critique from risk researchers, continuous debates and the publication of further papers pointing at concrete dangers and even existential risks (black holes, strangelets) eventually arising from the experiments sooner or later. Presently science has to admit that the risk is disputed and basically unknown.
It will not be possible to keep up this ostrich policy much longer. Especially facing the planned upgrades of the LHC, CERN will be confronted with increasing critique from scientific and civil side that the most powerful particle collider has yet not been challenged in a neutral and multidisciplinary safety assessment. CERN has yet not answered to pragmatic proposals for such a process that also should constructively involve critics and CERN. Also further legal steps from different sides are possible.
The member states that are financing the CERN budget, the UN or private funds are addressed to provide resources to finally initiate a neutral and multidisciplinary risk assessment.
German version of this article published in Oekonews: http://www.oekonews.at/index.php?mdoc_id=1069458
Related LHC-Critique press release and open letter to CERN:
Typical physicist’s April joke on stable black holes at the LHC (April 1 2012, German): http://www.scienceblogs.de/hier-wohnen-drachen/2012/04/stabiles-minischwarzes-loch-aus-higgsteilchen-erzeugt.php
Latest publications of studies demonstrating risks arising from the LHC experiment:
Prof Otto E. Rössler: http://www.academicjournals.org/AJMCSR/PDF/pdf2012/Feb/9%20Feb/Rossler.pdf
Thomas Kerwick B.Tech. M.Eng. Ph.D.: http://www.vixra.org/abs/1203.0055
Brief summary of the basic problem by LHC-Kritik (still valid since Sep. 2008): http://lhc-concern.info/wp-content/uploads/2008/12/lhc-kritik-cern-1st-statement-summary-908.pdf
Detailed summary of the scientific LHC risk discussion by LHC-Kritik and ConCERNed International: http://lhc-concern.info/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/critical-revision-of-lhc-risks_concerned-int.pdf
We wish you happy Easter and hope for your support of our pragmatic proposals to urgently increase safety in these new fields of nuclear physics.
LHC Critique / LHC Kritik — Network for Safety at nuclear and sub-nuclear high energy Experiments.
Tel.: +43 650 629 627 5
New Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/groups/LHC.Critique/
Famous Chilean philosopher Humberto Maturana describes “certainty” in science as subjective emotional opinion and astonishes the physicists’ prominence. French astronomer and “Leonardo” publisher Roger Malina hopes that the LHC safety issue would be discussed in a broader social context and not only in the closer scientific framework of CERN.
(Article published in “oekonews”: http://oekonews.at/index.php?mdoc_id=1067777 )
The latest renowned “Ars Electronica Festival” in Linz (Austria) was dedicated in part to an uncritical worship of the gigantic particle accelerator LHC (Large Hadron Collider) at the European Nuclear Research Center CERN located at the Franco-Swiss border. CERN in turn promoted an art prize with the idea to “cooperate closely” with the arts. This time the objections were of a philosophical nature – and they had what it takes.
In a thought provoking presentation Maturana addressed the limits of our knowledge and the intersubjective foundations of what we call “objective” and “reality.” His talk was spiked with excellent remarks and witty asides that contributed much to the accessibility of these fundamental philosophical problems: “Be realistic, be objective!” Maturana pointed out, simply means that we want others to adopt our point of view. The great constructivist and founder of the concept of autopoiesis clearly distinguished his approach from a solipsistic position.
Given Ars Electronica’s spotlight on CERN and its experimental sub-nuclear research reactor, Maturana’s explanations were especially important, which to the assembled CERN celebrities may have come in a mixture of an unpleasant surprise and a lack of relation to them.
During the question-and-answer period, Markus Goritschnig asked Maturana whether it wasn’t problematic that CERN is basically controlling itself and discarding a number of existential risks discussed related to the LHC — including hypothetical but mathematically demonstrable risks also raised — and later downplayed — by physicists like Nobel Prize winner Frank Wilczek, and whether he thought it necessary to integrate in the LHC safety assessment process other sciences aside from physics such as risk search. In response Maturana replied (in the video from about 1:17): “We human beings can always reflect on what we are doing and choose. And choose to do it or not to do it. And so the question is, how are we scientists reflecting upon what we do? Are we taking seriously our responsibility of what we do? […] We are always in the danger of thinking that, ‘Oh, I have the truth’, I mean — in a culture of truth, in a culture of certainty — because truth and certainty are not as we think — I mean certainty is an emotion. ‘I am certain that something is the case’ means: ‘I do not know’. […] We cannot pretend to impose anything on others; we have to create domains of interrogativity.”
Disregarding these reflections, Sergio Bertolucci (CERN) found the peer review system among the physicists’ community a sufficient scholarly control. He refuted all the disputed risks with the “cosmic ray argument,” arguing that much more energetic collisions are naturally taking place in the atmosphere without any adverse effect. This safety argument by CERN on the LHC, however, can also be criticized under different perspectives, for example: Very high energetic collisions could be measured only indirectly — and the collision frequency under the unprecedented artificial and extreme conditions at the LHC is of astronomical magnitudes higher than in the Earth’s atmosphere and anywhere else in the nearer cosmos.
The second presentation of the “Origin” Symposium III was held by Roger Malina, an astrophysicist and the editor of “Leonardo” (MIT Press), a leading academic journal for the arts, sciences and technology.
Malina opened with a disturbing fact: “95% of the universe is of an unknown nature, dark matter and dark energy. We sort of know how it behaves. But we don’t have a clue of what it is. It does not emit light, it does not reflect light. As an astronomer this is a little bit humbling. We have been looking at the sky for millions of years trying to explain what is going on. And after all of that and all those instruments, we understand only 3% of it. A really humbling thought. […] We are the decoration in the universe. […] And so the conclusion that I’d like to draw is that: We are really badly designed to understand the universe.”
The main problem in research is: “curiosity is not neutral.” When astrophysics reaches its limits, cooperation between arts and science may indeed be fruitful for various reasons and could perhaps lead to better science in the end. In a later communication Roger Malina confirmed that the same can be demonstrated for the relation between natural sciences and humanities or social sciences.
However, the astronomer emphasized that an “art-science collaboration can lead to better science in some cases. It also leads to different science, because by embedding science in the larger society, I think the answer was wrong this morning about scientists peer-reviewing themselves. I think society needs to peer-review itself and to do that you need to embed science differently in society at large, and that means cultural embedding and appropriation. Helga Nowotny at the European Research Council calls this ‘socially robust science’. The fact that CERN did not lead to a black hole that ended the world was not due to peer-review by scientists. It was not due to that process.”
One of Malina’s main arguments focused on differences in “the ethics of curiosity”. The best ethics in (natural) science include notions like: intellectual honesty, integrity, organized scepticism, dis-interestedness, impersonality, universality. “Those are the believe systems of most scientists. And there is a fundamental flaw to that. And Humberto this morning really expanded on some of that. The problem is: Curiosity is embodied. You cannot make it into a neutral ideal of scientific curiosity. And here I got a quote of Humberto’s colleague Varela: “All knowledge is conditioned by the structure of the knower.”
In conclusion, a better co-operation of various sciences and skills is urgently necessary, because: “Artists asks questions that scientists would not normally ask. Finally, why we want more art-science interaction is because we don’t have a choice. There are certain problems in our society today that are so tough we need to change our culture to resolve them. Climate change: we’ve got to couple the science and technology to the way we live. That’s a cultural problem, and we need artists working on that with the scientists every day of the next decade, the next century, if we survive it.
Then Roger Malina directly turned to the LHC safety discussion and articulated an open contradiction to the safety assurance pointed out before: He would generally hope for a much more open process concerning the LHC safety debate, rather than discussing this only in a narrow field of particle physics, concrete: “There are certain problems where we cannot cloister the scientific activity in the scientific world, and I think we really need to break the model. I wish CERN, when they had been discussing the risks, had done that in an open societal context, and not just within the CERN context.”
Presently CERN is holding its annual meeting in Chamonix to fix LHC’s 2012 schedules in order to increase luminosity by a factor of four for maybe finally finding the Higgs Boson – against a 100-Dollar bet of Stephen Hawking who is convinced of Micro Black Holes being observed instead, immediately decaying by hypothetical “Hawking Radiation” — with God Particle’s blessing. Then it would be himself gaining the Nobel Prize Hawking pointed out. Quite ironically, at Ars Electronica official T-Shirts were sold with the “typical signature” of a micro black hole decaying at the LHC – by a totally hypothetical process involving a bunch of unproven assumptions.
In 2013 CERN plans to adapt the LHC due to construction failures for up to CHF 1 Billion to run the “Big Bang Machine” at double the present energies. A neutral and multi-disciplinary risk assessment is still lacking, while a couple of scientists insist that their theories pointing at even global risks have not been invalidated. CERN’s last safety assurance comparing natural cosmic rays hitting the Earth with the LHC experiment is only valid under rather narrow viewpoints. The relatively young analyses of high energetic cosmic rays are based on indirect measurements and calculations. Sort, velocity, mass and origin of these particles are unknown. But, taking the relations for granted and calculating with the “assuring” figures given by CERN PR, within ten years of operation, the LHC under extreme and unprecedented artificial circumstances would produce as many high energetic particle collisions as occur in about 100.000 years in the entire atmosphere of the Earth. Just to illustrate the energetic potential of the gigantic facility: One LHC-beam, thinner than a hair, consisting of billions of protons, has got the power of an aircraft carrier moving at 12 knots.
This article in the Physics arXiv Blog (MIT’s Technology Review) reads: “Black Holes, Safety, and the LHC Upgrade — If the LHC is to be upgraded, safety should be a central part of the plans.”, closing with the claim: “What’s needed, of course, is for the safety of the LHC to be investigated by an independent team of scientists with a strong background in risk analysis but with no professional or financial links to CERN.”
Australian ethicist and risk researcher Mark Leggett concluded in a paper that CERN’s LSAG safety report on the LHC meets less than a fifth of the criteria of a modern risk assessment. There but for the grace of a goddamn particle? Probably not. Before pushing the LHC to its limits, CERN must be challenged by a really neutral, external and multi-disciplinary risk assessment.
Video recordings of the “Origin III” symposium at Ars Electronica:
Presentation Humberto Maturana:
Presentation Roger Malina:
“Origin” Symposia at Ars Electronica:
Communication on LHC Safety directed to CERN
Feb 10 2012
For a neutral and multidisciplinary risk assessment to be done before any LHC upgrade
More info, links and transcripts of lectures at “LHC-Critique — Network for Safety at experimental sub-nuclear Reactors”:
Experts regard safety report on Big Bang Machine as insufficient and one-dimensional
International critics of the high energy experiments planned to start soon at the particle accelerator LHC at CERN in Geneva have submitted a request to the Ministers of Science of the CERN member states and to the delegates to the CERN Council, the supreme controlling body of CERN.
The paper states that several risk scenarios (that have to be described as global or existential risks) cannot currently be excluded. Under present conditions, the critics have to speak out against an operation of the LHC.
The submission includes assessments from expertises in the fields markedly missing from the physicist-only LSAG safety report — those of risk assessment, law, ethics and statistics. Further weight is added because these experts are all university-level experts – from Griffith University, the University of North Dakota and Oxford University respectively. In particular, it is criticised that CERN’s official safety report lacks independence – all its authors have a prior interest in the LHC running and that the report uses physicist-only authors, when modern risk-assessment guidelines recommend risk experts and ethicists as well.
As a precondition of safety, the request calls for a neutral and multi-disciplinary risk assessment and additional astrophysical experiments – Earth based and in the atmosphere – for a better empirical verification of the alleged comparability of particle collisions under the extreme artificial conditions of the LHC experiment and relatively rare natural high energy particle collisions: “Far from copying nature, the LHC focuses on rare and extreme events in a physical set up which has never occurred before in the history of the planet. Nature does not set up LHC experiments.”
Even under greatly improved circumstances concerning safety as proposed above, big jumps in energy increase, as presently planned by a factor of three compared to present records, without carefully analyzing previous results before each increase of energy, should principally be avoided.
The concise “Request to CERN Council and Member States on LHC Risks” (Pdf with hyperlinks to the described studies) by several critical groups, supported by well known critics of the planned experiments:
The answer received by now does not consider these arguments and studies but only repeats again that from the side of the operators everything appears sufficient, agreed by a Nobel Price winner in physics. LHC restart and record collisions by factor 3 are presently scheduled for March 30, 2010.
Official detailed and well understandable paper and communication with many scientific sources by ‘ConCERNed International’ and ‘LHC Kritik’: