Neil deGrasse Tyson Says The Universe Is A Computer Simulation

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Celebrity astronomer and American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says that our universe is very likely a simulation within a simulation, making instantaneous time travel a possibility.

The director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City and a promoter of scientific ideas, Neil deGrasse Tyson, believes that the main laws of physics are yet to be discovered and gives his understanding on the physical universe and the role of thought, imagination and creation.

Scientists gathered at the most recent Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate held at the Hayden Planetarium asked one question: Is the universe a computer simulation?

Neil deGrasse Tyson has ways of finding out if we live in a generated simulation. One method is to look for anomalies that should not make scientific sense, and then try to make sense of them. Another is to imagine a scenario that should be unimaginable in the real world and then go and look for it in the real world.

Extreme Tech reports:

The other, more popular strategy is to reason your way out of the box — the Descartes approach. This involves coming up with logical statements that cannot be locked to any particular reality in which we exist; classically, Descartes claimed that he could definitively prove he existed, simply by thinking. “I think therefore I am” is not a reference to self-awareness, and certainly not artificial intelligence, but the simple fact of existence: I can’t be having the thought I’m having now if I don’t exist somewhere, in some form. Descartes had a pre-digital understanding of a simulation, arguing that he could well be a “brain in a vat” being fed false experiences. But the basic form of the problem is the same as our computer interpretation, though less specific and testable.

Now, Descartes had to eventually abandon basic thought proofs in favor of some questionable further assumptions designed to make his quest for a sensible universe remotely possible. In particular, he had to fall back on ideas about God, and His unwillingness to viciously trick mankind. In other words, if our senses tell us a thing, we can trust in God’s fairness to assure that that thing is, at least roughly, the way we observe it to be. If it isn’t, then God has given us senses designed to trick us, and God would never do such a thing!

For modern physicists, this approach obviously won’t cut the mustard. Even highly religious scientists know they can’t reference God in their theories. To move past the problem of mere existence and on to more relevant questions, they and their atheist colleagues alike must lean on an equally convenient, and equally useless, argumentative crutch: infinite-time thought experiments.

This is the crux of Tyson’s point: if we take it as read that it is, in principle, possible to simulate a universe in some way, at some point in the future, then we have to assume that on an infinite timeline some species, somewhere, will simulate the universe. And if the universe will be perfectly, or near-perfectly, simulated at some point, then we have to examine the possibility that we live inside such a universe. And, on a truly infinite timeline, we might expect an almost infinite number of simulations to arise from an almost infinite number or civilizations — and indeed, a sophisticated-enough simulation might be able to let its simulated denizens themselves run universal simulations, and at that point all bets are officially off.

In such a reality, simulated universes might outnumber real ones by an infinity to one, and so to assume we live in the one and only real universe would be the height of arrogance.

It’s not so much that this thinking is “flawed” as it is “so useless it invalidates all of human thought and achievement from pre-history to today.” Think about it: If we are to be convinced by this sort of non-argument, then why not assume that every person around you is a time traveler? After all, if we imagine that time travel will one-day exist on an infinite time-line, then we must also assume that time travel has been used to visit every single time and place in our planet’s history — including this one. People will, in principle, want to have fun vacations in the past, putting on period-appropriate clothing and walking around using slang wrong; how could we be so arrogant as to assume that the people we meet are part of the real, finite population of our time, and not from the far more numerous ranks of temporal travelers from any time?

Does this prove that Tyson and his colleagues are wrong? No. But it does prove that their thinking here is inherently useless — that is, that they could be right and until we can prove it with real evidence, their correct statements would still be useless. As the old saying goes, we should be open-minded — just not so open-minded our brains fall out.

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s ideas makes one think more about the universe and the role of science in its exploration. It also makes one question the whole experience of the universe, along with the experienced. His arguments raise scientific questions but they also raise the question of whether our understanding is within the realm of imagination or reality, and whether that reality is simulated or not? The universe is a catch-22, eating its own tail. It is only as real as you imagine it to be. Since people have huge imaginations, hence the universe is huge. By people, one means whatever life that came before. By life, one does not mean just life on earth. And by talking about life, that does not preclude what is considered non-life. And by universe, one does not mean something alien, but familiar.

1 Comment

  1. You attempt to invalidate Tyson’s theory with the analog of time travel. You’re off to a poor start. The reason the simulation argument has picked up such steam is that the creation of universes and simulations, BY US, has gone from unfathomable, to fathomable, to highly likely in a tiny 40 year span. Tell you what: when time travel goes from unfathomable to fathomable to highly likely BY US, bring back your argument. For now, it’s nonsense.

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