February 24, 2011

The Answer Science Can't Give

For the past 100 years, a crisis has been brewing in physics.   Whether we study the current universe or its origin, whether we look at the very small or the very big, we find glaring contradictions and impossible coincidences.  Let's examine a few:

Suspicious Constants:  A staggering number of universal constants appear fine-tuned for life: the mass of a proton, the sum of the masses of quarks, the strong nuclear force, the electromagnetic force, the weak force, the number of spatial dimensions, the distribution of matter in the universe.  For most of these values, even a 1% change in any direction and presto:  Stars wouldn't burn.  Planets couldn't form.  Life couldn't develop.

"I do not believe that any scientist who examined the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard for the consequences they produce inside stars."    Sir Fred Hoyle, physicist

Latest Theory: Strong Anthropic Principle states that every possible universe exists, with every set of constraint values. It's mind-bendingly unlikely that we're in this universe (...it's about as likely as winning the lottery every second for a million years straight), but nobody complains in those other universes because nobody's there to complain.

Jump-Started Universe: Soon after the Big Bang was theorized, a snag was discovered:  The universe certainly appeared to be expanding outwards, but it couldn't have started from a single point, or else matter and heat would be so evenly-distributed that galaxies could not form. 

Latest Theory: Inflation Theory says that the universe grew from the size of an atom to the size of a galaxy in the first trillionth of a second.  Purportedly, this is due to an as-yet-undiscovered Higgs Field, which physicists are presently searching for using the Large Hadron Collider. We just got lucky that, had this temporary speed limit hiatus not occurred, galaxies, stars and life could never have existed.

Particles Know When We're Watching Them:  No matter how I explain this, you'll think I'm either phrasing it incorrectly or that I'm outright lying.  But I'll try anyway:  Particles act a certain way normally, but if you observe them directly, they act differently and had always acted differently.   They retroactively behave differently if they know they're being observed.  Yes -- backwards in time.

“I think I can safely say that nobody understands Quantum Mechanics."   - Richard Feynman, physicist

Latest Theories:  The Copenhagen Interpretation avoids the issue altogether, saying that particles behave predictably, and it's immaterial that it's not possible.  The alternative theory, Schrödinger's Cat, claim that every possible universe exists, and we choose which one we're living in by making an observation.   

Then there are a bunch of other bizarre observations, that scientists just kind of roll with:
  • Nothing can go faster than the speed of light.
  • Matter is energy.  Energy is matter. 
  • "Virtual Particles" pop in and out of existence everywhere, at all times.
Don't Forget What Science Is ...And What It Is Willing Tell Us
Have you ever read about all of the various minerals and vitamins that the body needs?  And how our body needs each of these for, like, a dozen reasons?  Well, I once asked my doctor why the profession rarely focuses upon a person's nutrition.  I mean, doctors rarely ask how well you're eating, nor do they commonly take blood samples to test for your nutrient levels.  How come? 

He replied: "You're thinking of a nutritionist.  Doctors diagnose and treat illnesses.  The goal of a doctor is not to keep you healthy, but to heal you when you're sick."  I realized that I had never really appreciated the distinction between "keeping me healthy" and "healing me when I'm sick," but it really is a subtly different thing.

Now consider scientists.  I'm an ardent atheist, and have always grown up relying upon science to tell me about the universe around me.  But I've recently realized that that's not precisely what scientists do.   Scientists define testable phenomena.  If something is not testable, it's not science.  As a result, even if a particular answer seems likely, if it's not testable then science will never say it.

The Answer Science Can't Give
 All of the phenomena listed above are fully consistent with a simple interpretation:  Our universe is a construct.  It is a programmed environment: a simulation, of sorts.  

However, before I demonstrate how all of the above phenomena make total sense through the lens of this interpretation, let me address some key points:

Intelligence Begets Simulation
Consider the human race -- a single intelligent species.  How many simulations have we created?  And how much more realistic have they become over just the past forty years? 

Intelligence needs simulations.  It needs them to entertain, to explore, to learn, and to experience.  This might be one of the few truly universal constants of intelligence, no matter where it exists.

Nevertheless, our simulations are little better than marionettes in a puppet show, compared to the level of depth we'll be capable of in a hundred years.  What about in a thousand years?  A million years?

Simulation Begets Intelligence
Scientists speculate that by 2020, machines will pass the Turing Test -- an intellectual line-in-the-sand that says, "If a machine can act so convincingly human that a person cannot perceive the difference, then we can conclude it is intelligent."  At that point, we might quibble over whether a machine is "truly" intelligent, but the last major milestone will have been passed.

Will our simulations soon become so real, so self-aware, that they, too, will wonder about their place in the universe -- and will create their own simulations?  The question appears to be when, not if.

Intelligence to Simulations:  1 to n
So, consider that intelligence is prone to creating simulations (which, before long, exhibit their own intelligence).  If one assumes that a single intelligence creates multiple intelligent simulations (keep in mind that, already, humans generate hundreds of thousands of simulations each year, which are progressively more complex), then most intelligences are simulations.

How it All Makes Sense
Allow me to take the physics dilemmas described earlier, and demonstrate how each makes sense, if viewed through the lens of our universe being a simulation:

Constraints & Jump Started Universe:  All of those suspiciously-perfect constants were all pre-set.  The simulator intentionally expanded the universe prior to applying further rules.  Basically, the simulator set it up to work properly.

Particles Know When We're Watching Them: The reason that this problem causes so much trouble is that physicists insist that particles act autonomously, and that the past is unchangeable.   Hence, they either cop out in one direction (making no judgment at all), or in the other (saying every possible universe exists).

If we exist inside a simulation, then the answer is obvious:
  • Particles do not act completely autonomously.  Some part of the simulation (possibly forever obscured from us) impels them to act differently when we observe them than when we don't.
  • Our definition of time does not exist outside of this simulation (since things can retroactively change).
Virtual Particles:  Consider any simulation: a photograph, a video, an audio file, etc.  If you inspect it at progressively finer levels of detail, at some point it would deviate from the real thing.  This point might be far beyond what is perceivable by our natural senses, but it always exists.  This is because simulations aren't "infinitely" real: they behave a certain way with certain boundaries.

Even the "digital" nature of our computers is a simulation:  Computer hardware doesn't truly operate on ones and zeroes, but upon electric currents around a key threshold.  Above this threshold is considered "on", below is considered "off".  If one were to look at a so-called "empty" space of memory (one putatively full of zeroes),  you'd find that it wasn't empty at all -- it would be alive with low-level current fluctuations.

My point is:  Every simulation has this point at which its illusion breaks down.  The only way to avoid having this point is to not be a simulation.   Virtual particles might be nothing more than this: the point at which our mind-bogglingly-realistic simulation gives away its true nature.

Matter is Energy:  This rule applies to every simulation that humans have ever made.  Inside a computer, there is no "matter," only a representation of matter -- and this representation is made with the substrate of the simulation, which is energy (in the case of computer simulations: patterns of electrons).

Speed of Light:  One problem that simulations have is the collision/interaction issue:   If any particle can interact with any other particle, the complexity and processing requirements spiral out of control.  As a result, simulations must limit the scope of interaction in some way -- and the more high powered the hardware, the more relaxed this limit can be.   The speed limit of light behaves precisely like one of these interaction-limiters.

What This Means (And Doesn't Mean)
If this theory were true, would it mean the Intelligent Design folks were right?  Does it mean that we're in the Matrix?   No.  

Both of You: Be Quiet
Intelligent Designers were never right, because they were never honest.  Proponents of Intelligent Design have an agenda: to sell you on their religion.  Intelligent Design is just an intellectual foot in the door, a starting point for conversion.  It is fundamentally dishonest.

And no, we're not in the Matrix.  That would presume that we exist in that other universe already.  There is no evidence to suggest that.

If this theory is correct, we still know nothing about whatever it was that created us. 

So, I guess this theory doesn't mean much at all.  It's not testable in the foreseeable future, which is why science has no interest in it.  And it (hopefully) won't help anybody hawk their religion and/or sci-fi scripts.

It's nothing more than the best answer I presently have, that seems to explain a fairly extensive array of coincidences and otherwise odd behavior of the universe. I think it fits pretty well.

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