New information physics theory is evidence 'we're living in a simulation,' says author
But why would a simulation create El Reg? Mmm... pizza
Going by the fact that Elon Musk said there was only one in a billion chance that the world was not simulated, we might save ourselves a lot of time and assume that on this occasion, as on so many others, the 52-year-old rocket bro has made a beeline for the wrong end of the stick.
Nonetheless, in the developing field of information physics, one researcher claims to have found evidence that we are all living in our own rendition of The Matrix, minus the latex, bad acting, and dated cyberpunk references.
Melvin Vopson, associate professor of physics at the UK's Portsmouth University, has developed theory in the field of information physics and applied it to predict genetic mutations in organisms, including viruses, and help judge their potential consequences.
The basis of the theory is analogous to the second law of thermodynamics, which includes the idea that the disorder within an isolated system will increase unless it is acted on by some external force or condition.
In information physics – the idea that studying the information inherent in physical systems produces fruitful results – the trend goes the other way.
Dr Vopson, who spent some of his career at disk drive giant Seagate, has developed the second law of infodynamics, which says that the entropy – or disorder – within information stays the same or decreases over time. The idea has implications across a number of fields, he claims in a paper published by the American Institute of Physics.
In biology, the theory suggests that genetic mutations follow a pattern governed by information entropy, with implications in genetic research, evolutionary biology, genetic therapies, pharmacology, virology, and more. In atomic physics, the paper claims, electrons arrange themselves in a way that minimizes their information entropy, helping science to understand the stability of chemicals. Lastly, in cosmology, the second law of infodynamics can be used to support the idea of an expanding universe.
"The paper also provides an explanation for the prevalence of symmetry in the universe," said Dr Vopson in a prepared statement.
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"Symmetry principles play an important role with respect to the laws of nature, but until now there has been little explanation as to why that could be. My findings demonstrate that high symmetry corresponds to the lowest information entropy state, potentially explaining nature's inclination towards it."
But Dr Vopson takes another step, which is where it gets interesting, or far-fetched, depending on your perspective.
He said the fact that physical systems show a tendency towards declining disorder showed "excess information is removed" and "resembles the process of a computer deleting or compressing waste code to save storage space and optimize power consumption. And as a result supports the idea that we're living in a simulation."
In 2003, Nick Bostrom, Oxford University professor and director of the Future of Humanity Institute, published an argument [PDF] suggesting that the future of humanity lies in one of three scenarios: one, that humans will become extinct; two, a post-human civilization is extremely unlikely to run simulations; three, we are already living in a simulation created by a post-human society.
"We can estimate the amount of computing power available to mature civilization and we can also estimate how much it would take to simulate the human brain or, for that matter, 7 billion human brains. There would be many, many more simulated civilizations like ours, living in these ancestor simulations, than there would be original versions of us," he told listeners of the BBC's Infinite Monkey Cage in 2017.
The counterargument is that computer scientists are still a long way off from being able to simulate a human brain, and even if they did, simulating thought is not the same as thinking. Equally, simulating consciousness is not the same as being conscious.
In 1999 – co-incidentally the year The Matrix was released – philosopher of mind John Searle used a biological analogy: a computer can simulate digestion, but that doesn't mean it can eat pizza.
Now, who's hungry? ®