You might think that the idea we are living in a computer simulation is either a joke or the incoherent ramblings of a drunken fool. Not so.
You just read what Neil DeGrasse Tyson thinks about it in the Foreword to this book, and he is one of the world's most respected, most well-known, and most decorated astrophysicists ever. Here's what Wikipedia says about Neil DeGrasse Tyson...
Tyson studied at Harvard University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Columbia University. From 1991 to 1994, he was a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University. In 1994, he joined the Hayden Planetarium as a staff scientist and the Princeton faculty as a visiting research scientist and lecturer. Since 1996, he has been the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City. The center is part of the American Museum of Natural History, where Tyson founded the Department of Astrophysics in 1997 and has been a research associate in the department since 2003.
Tyson served on a 2001 government commission on the future of the U.S. aerospace industry and on the 2004 Moon, Mars and Beyond commission. He was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal in the same year. From 2006 to 2011, he hosted the television show NOVA ScienceNow on PBS. Since 2009, Tyson has hosted the weekly podcast StarTalk. A spin-off, also called StarTalk, began airing on National Geographic in 2015. In 2014, he hosted the television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, a successor to Carl Sagan's 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences awarded Tyson the Public Welfare Medal in 2015 for his “extraordinary role in exciting the public about the wonders of science.”
No, Neil DeGrasse Tyson is no drunken fool, and neither is David Chalmers, professor of Philosophy at New York University. In 2007, Chalmers assigned a 20% chance that we're living in a simulation. Then in 2016, not ten years later, Chalmers said he thought there was now a 42% chance we're living in a simulation. I'm not sure why he changed his mind, but the bottom line is that the idea we live in a simulation is certainly not a joke, either.
Ron Garret, former software engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says “I personally find that I gravitate more towards the information theoretic point of view, and believing that the universe I exist in is a very good, high-quality simulation.”
And even analysts at Bank of America have reportedly suggested there is a 20 to 50 per cent chance our world is a Matrix-style virtual reality and everything we experience is just a simulation.
Probably the most famous celebrity (non-physicist) to voice his opinion is Elon Musk, an engineer and technology entrepreneur who is the founder, CEO, and chief engineer/designer of SpaceX; CEO and product architect of Tesla, Inc.; founder of The Boring Company; co-founder of Neuralink; and co-founder and initial co-chairman of OpenAI. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2018. In December 2016, he was ranked 21st on the Forbes list of The World's Most Powerful People and was ranked tied for first on the Forbes list of the Most Innovative Leaders of 2019. He has a net worth of $23.6 billion and is listed by Forbes as the 40th-richest person in the world.
Musk has said, “Forty years ago we had Pong – two rectangles and a dot. That’s where we were. Now 40 years later, we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it’s getting better every year. And soon we’ll have virtual reality, and we’ll have augmented reality,” said Musk. “And if you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality.”
But Musk's most famous quote on this topic, which he has repeated often, is, “There's a one in billions chance that this is base reality.” “Base reality” is not a simulation, but the home base where simulations are created, and is the only “real” world. Musk is essentially saying that there's a billions-to-one chance we are living in one of those simulations and not in the base reality.
Rich Terrile, a computer expert with NASA, agrees and thinks that within 10 years we will have computers that will be able to simulate a human lifetime that lasts about 80 years. It would include every thought that the simulated person ever had, and they wouldn’t know that they were in a simulation. Therefore, it might be possible that is what you’re experiencing right now: Your life is just a first-person simulation and everything in it is created by lines of code. So, if WE will have the capability in 10 years, how many other civilizations might have it NOW?
Of course, not all physicists agree....
“Is it logically possible that we are in a simulation? Yes. Are we probably in a simulation? I would say no,” said Max Tegmark, a professor of physics at MIT, who has put the chances at 17%. “In order to make the argument in the first place, we need to know what the fundamental laws of physics are where the simulations are being made. And if we are in a simulation then we have no clue what the laws of physics are. What I teach at MIT would be the simulated laws of physics,” he said.
Harvard theoretical physicist Lisa Randall is even more skeptical. “I don’t see that there’s really an argument for it,” she said. “There’s no real evidence. It’s also a lot of hubris to think we would be what ended up being simulated.”
James Sylvester Gates (John S. Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, now retired) has said he puts the chances that we're living in a simulated universe at 1%, which is somewhat strange because Dr. Gates is widely credited with having found the mathematical evidence for the Simulation Hypothesis with his discovery of doubly-even self-dual linear binary error-correcting block code found in String Theory equations, the math that we use to describe the universe.
Riccardo Manzotti, a professor of philosophy at IULM University in Milan (who also happens to hold a PhD in robotics), has a problem with it in that the hypothesis assumes it’s even possible to achieve a virtual reality indistinguishable from reality itself. “It’s really quite astonishing how many people are bamboozled by the notion of an immaterial simulated reality,” Manzotti told us. “It is impossible to live in a massive simulated reality, because there’s no such a thing as massive simulated reality. There is not even simulated reality as opposed to reality as such. All real cases of simulation are built using actual physical properties.”
“All real cases of simulation are built using actual physical properties.” THAT is quite possibly the underlying reason why so many other well-known and well-respected physicists have concluded that we are living in a hologram but will not take the next step and say we are living in a simulation.
What was that? Well-known and well-respected physicists have concluded that we are living in a hologram? Like who? And how did that happen?
Actually, the idea came from research being done on black holes. Think of a stack of documents that are fed through a shredder. Even though they're cut into tiny pieces, the information present on the pieces of paper still exists. It's been cut into tiny pieces, but it hasn't disappeared, and given enough time, the documents could be reassembled so that you'd know what was written on them originally. In essence, the same thing was thought to be true with particles.
But there was a problem: If a black hole eventually disappears – as Stephen Hawking famously discovered in 1974 – then the information present in any object that may have been sucked into it seemingly disappears, too. But in a quantum world, the law of conservation of quantum information means that information cannot be created nor destroyed.
One solution, proposed by Leonard Susskind (professor of theoretical physics at Stanford University) and Dutch physicist Gerard 't Hooft in the mid-'90s, was that when an object gets pulled into a black hole, it leaves behind some sort of 2D imprint encoded on the event horizon. Later, when radiation leaves the black hole (as Hawking said it would), it picks up the imprint of this data. In this way, the information isn't really destroyed.
And their calculations showed that on just the 2D surface of a black hole, you could store enough information to completely describe any seemingly 3D objects inside it.
“The analogy that both of us independently were thinking about was that of a hologram — a two-dimensional piece of film which can encode all the information in a three-dimensional region of space,” Susskind said.
However, none of this was definitive proof that black holes were holograms. But early on, Susskind said, physicists recognized that looking at the entire universe as a two-dimensional object that only appears three-dimensional might help solve some deeper problems in theoretical physics; and the math works just as well whether you're talking about a black hole, a planet, or an entire universe.
In 1998, Juan Martín Maldacena (theoretical physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey) demonstrated that a hypothetical universe could be a hologram. What's more, by viewing this universe in two dimensions, he found a way to make the increasingly popular idea of string theory – a broad framework in which the basic building blocks of the universe are one-dimensional strings, rather than particles – align neatly with the well-established laws of particle physics.
And even more importantly, by doing so, he united two hugely important, disparate concepts in physics under one theoretical framework. “The holographic principle connected the theory of gravity to theories of particle physics,” Maldacena said.
Since then, other top names in the physics field have come out in support of the holographic principle, saying they believe we are living in a hologram. For example...
University of London physicist David Bohm believes “that objective reality does not exist, that despite its apparent solidity, the universe is at heart a phantasm – a gigantic and splendidly detailed hologram.”
Dr. Jacob D. Bekenstein, Professor of Theoretical Physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said, “An astonishing theory called the holographic principle holds that the universe is like a hologram.... The physics of black holes – immensely dense concentrations of mass – provides a hint that the principle might be true.”
Craig Hogan (director of the Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics) has built a “holometer” to discover the special “noise” a holographic universe would make, saying “If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram.”
And Karl Pribram (professor at Georgetown University) has called our brains “a holographic storage network,” and says “our brains mathematically construct ‘hard’ reality by relying on input from a frequency domain.”
But while the best and the brightest are all concluding that we're living in a hologram, very few will admit to believing we are living in a simulation, even though a hologram IS a simulation. Why not? Easy.