Reductio ad Absurdum (part 3)
Reality is an illusion.
Yea, this idea has been around for ages. Whether you are reading philosophy and find Plato’s allegory of the cave intriguing or you buy into the concept of Maya in various Indian religions, you can find this sort of thing alluded to here and there, time and again. The difference between armchair philosophy and modern scientific approaches however is that the ideas being speculated about should be able to be proven, mathematically, experimentally and make predictions that can be tested. This is not to say that philosophy isn’t worth discussing but rather, at some point the discussion has to break down with no where else to go unless it is further informed by science. What’s interesting to me is a discussion that is on going, with evidence on the horizon waiting to be discovered. That being said I’m going to touch on a couple subjects that seem to blur the lines between science and science-fiction. The difference being that in theory, with time, these ideas can be developed and proven or disregarded.
The Holographic principle of the Universe: I’ve talked about the granular vs. continuous nature of space/time in the previous posts and here once again this issue arises. In black hole physics when an object falls though the event horizon, the information/entropy of that object is lost. This fact on its own presents a problem for the second law of thermodynamics, but as information is added the surface area of the black hole’s event horizon grows. This means that the three dimensional information of the object in the black hole can be preserved on the two dimensional surface of the event horizon. This was the stepping stone used in 1993 to suggest that the whole universe might in fact act as a hologram. With the outer boundaries of the universe being a huge 2-d sphere made up of planck length sized bits of information which represent all of the information contained within the 3-d universe inside. This would make everything we experience one big illusion. Space and gravity as we perceive it would be nothing more than a side effect, a projection, of this physical structure. The three dimensions that we move in and everything you perceive to be real would in fact be wholly fake.
The idea of course seems counterintuitive because we know that the volume of the sphere would be able to contain more than the surface. This is why Craig Hogan of Fermilab predicted that our universe, at the fundamental scale would be larger than the planck scale making the ‘pixels’ of our universe much larger than the ‘actual’ pixels thereby being able to fill the void. This means that at the fundamental scale, our universe would be blurry, much like an overblown digital image. And this is the evidence they are searching for.
(The German gravity wave detector/experiment GEO600 has run into interference and noise that they had not expected but seems to agree with Craig Hogan’s predictions of space-time breaking down from a continuum into a grainy structure at these scales. This is not yet conclusive, but it is a very exciting clue. We might be in a cave reverse to Plato’s wherein we are the objects that are in reality mere shadows on a surface.)
Or (quickly) we could be the shadows themselves according to M-Theory, where our familiar 4 dimensional existence is actually the boundary of an even larger five dimensional holographic space.
The Simulation Argument: This is basically the Matrix (or less popularly but more accurately ‘The Thirteenth Floor’) with a serious probability argument as a backbone. This argument not only has the most profound implications but also the most entertaining and satisfying (to me).
Nick Bostrom of Oxford proposes this idea. He argues that at least one of the following propositions is true:
1) All civilizations at our level of development are very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” technologically mature stage
2) The fraction of technologically mature civilizations running ancestor simulations is almost zero.
3) You are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.
If we accept that an incredible amount of computing power will be available in the future, detailed simulations of the past would likely occur similar to current ‘unsophisticated’ simulation games. These simulations would be fine-grained enough for the simulants to be conscious. The simulated universes would vastly outnumber actual universes and therefore it would be irrational to assume that we were part of the original universe. If we do not believe that we are currently living in a simulation then it is also not rational to believe that our descendents will run ancestor simulations. Therefore if our civilization comes to a point where we do run detailed ancestor simulations we could strongly rule out proposition 1 and 2 and conclude that it is very likely indeed that we ourselves are in a simulation.
Simulations can be stacked within themselves and no one ‘reality’ could ever be sure that it is at the bottom. The simulation runners would be godlike to the simulants in that they would be omnipotent and omnipresent and this could have interesting consequences. An afterlife could be a real possibility as part of the simulation and could be run on any number of religious lines. If the simulation was designed to bear out any specific religion we could see the consequences and prophesies of these religions come true. We actually could have been switched on six thousand years ago with light from distant stars in travel and fossils in the ground designed to fool us. Or maybe we all departed from Zeus a bit early when we really should have held on. Valhalla, I am not coming!
Bringing my 3 part series full circle, the most interesting part of this argument is that it would answer my question of why an electron does not have a definite position but only exists in potential until observed. It would be explicable by comparing it to a less sophisticated video game where environments exist in potential but are only defined when needed/observed, just like the collapsing of a wave function!
Admittedly ‘out there’ it is still the best explanation I’ve had on this subject, and being a pattern and answer seeking animal I am happy to have this sort of an explanation to satisfy my search. I enjoy the mind bending implications of this idea, but remain a skeptic. Until further notice.
In conclusion, reality seems likely to be an illusion in every sense of the word. But don’t take my word for it, I might just be a zombie designed to fool you into thinking other minds exist.