When the Matrix came out in 1999 it popularised the idea that our lives could be within one big computer simulation. Whilst many dismissed the movie, and indeed the notion as pure science fiction, it did attract the support of an Oxford University professor.
In 2003 Nick Bostrom published The Simulation Argument. His basic hypothesis was that we must be living in some sort of simulation, because it is unlikely that we will evolve into post-humans, who will then run our own ancestor-simulations.
Whilst a fascinating philosophical discussion, how do you prove such a thing? A team from Cornell University think they may have found a way. They join a growing cohort of academics that think the hypothesis can be tested. The University of Washington has agreed with the testing method used by the Cornell team, whilst some German scientists supported the idea last month as well.
The different approaches all share a similar method. Researchers are building their own simulated models using lattice quantum chomodynamics. Whilst this complex procedure is limited in scope at the moment, with progress it should be able to produce models similar to that of our own supposed simulation.
“This is the first testable signature of such an idea,” University of Washington’s Martin Savage said. “If you make the simulations big enough, something like our universe should emerge.”
Cornell go on.
“Using the historical development of lattice gauge theory technology as a guide, we assume that our universe is an early numerical simulation with unimproved Wilson fermion discretization and investigate potentially-observable consequences.”
So what does that mean?
Well basically, if the energy signatures in these simulations match those found in the universe at large, then it suggests there’s a good chance that we are in fact existing within a simulation.
Of course this creates certain philosophical dilemmas. As one of the Washington team suggests, if we do uncover that our existence is within a simulation, will we then attempt to make contact with the civilization that created us? Or alternatively if we do exist within a simulation, are there other similar universes out there in their own simulations, and can we communicate with them?
Pretty trippy stuff, but very exciting at the same time.