On the origin and nature of our universe

by barabeke

Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
Bertrand Russell

In the game of life and evolution there are three players at the table: human beings, nature, and machines. I am firmly on the side of nature. But nature, I suspect, is on the side of the machines.
George Dyson

So what will we do when our intelligence is in the range of a googol (10¹ºº) calculations per second? One thing we may do is to engineer new universes. Similarly, our universe may be the creation of some superintelligences in another universe. In this case, there was an intelligent designer of our universe—that designer would be the evolved intelligence of some other universe that created ours.
Ray Kurzweil

I believe our universe exists inside a machine, a supercomputer running a simulation that is so complex that it will take us several centuries before creating it ourselves.

As a consequence reality is a projection of our consciousness, as in Eastern philosophies or as in Berkeley. Nothing exists if not observed, or better it exists as potential until it is calculated into existence by interacting with us. Time travel is technically possible, and so instantly reaching every corner of the universe and beyond. Those who created us live in a dimension above us within a universe that is basically a Russian doll containing ours. I suspect they wonder, like we do, who created them…

While I cannot prove this idea to be true it’s interesting to notice how, differently from any other idea of “god” humanity ever developed, this one could potentially be investigated by science. I have no idea how we could do that, I am just an obscure Italian artist. The source of my belief is a satori experience I had back in 2005, so it was not the fruit of an intellectual process. Later, to my delight, I discovered that many minds brighter than mine came to the same conclusion.

The hypothesis of the universe being a digital computer is nothing new. It was pioneered in 1967 by Konrad Zuse, the man who built the world’s first programmable computer. By doing more research I became familiar with terms like digital physics, computational universe, pancomputationalism, simulation hypothesis. There is an ongoing debate, and there are already people looking for experimental confirmation. While I am not qualified to be part of this debate I hope I can contribute here with some inspiration.

I do not expect to be believed, but I hope that realizing that you cannot prove this idea to be false can open space for doubt.

One thing we may all agree on is that humans will try to build increasingly complex universe simulations. As a matter of fact, we are already working on them.

Let’s assume that in a not too distant future the idea that we all live inside a simulation becomes mainstream (as I believe it will) because some strong evidence is found. How would that change our culture? Not easy to predict, but its impact is likely not going to be inferior to Darwin’s.

The philosophical consequences are many. Some I have already mentioned, I’d like to suggest these additional four:

  1. There is an intelligent creator and it might be technically possible for us to get in touch with this fellow, who in a way we can consider our god even though he/she/it is likely to have a creator as well. The mystery of the ultimate source remains unsolved but we would finally have an answer to the existential question that has been with us since the dawn of ages: who are we and where do we come from.
  2. Humanity has a common purpose: to build that machine. As mentioned we are already building universe and life simulators but we must reach a level in which complex forms of life can arise from the system, including creatures made in our likeness who like us can develop self-awareness and the illusion to be separated from the rest.
  3. We are all in the same humble boat, all brothers and sisters united by the same destiny. Racism and all other isms and making war to each other are plain foolish (many people think this way also today, but such an eye-opener about our nature should reinforce the concept).
  4. We are pieces of code written in a language that is way beyond our words and dualistic thinking. As a consequence, the importance we give to words should decrease. Giving too much importance to words has caused so much death and suffering throughout history… Broadening our perspective should help us doing ourselves less harm. In the future people who give too much importance to words may appear as primitive as we would today consider primitive a peasant from the middle ages doing the craziest things out of foolish superstitions.

This machine in practice would be for us a huge scientific experiment. I like to imagine it, using some fantasy and irony, to be regulated by principles like the following:

  • Our primary purpose is to study how the universe, life, evolution, and civilizations work. We should operate as a silent god, avoiding to interfere as much as possible with the little creatures living inside the machine, observing how they behave, watching them as they commit our same stupid mistakes.
  • When needed, if a civilization is stagnant it’s ok (upon approval) to divinely intervene to give it a boost. Acts of compassion or other minor interventions like prank calls can be tolerated. We are god, after all, and being completely powerless would lower the morale of our team (we would tend to develop empathy for those little creatures and their stories). What is critical is to not let the little creatures discover that we exist. We want them to feel our presence but we must be careful not to leave too many traces of our work. We don’t want to take the risk that those simple minds start to kill each other in our name. Apart from slowing down their progress, it can even threaten their survival. Plus, to some of our researchers, witnessing all that suffering could cause depression and we like to take care of our employees.
  • Those little creatures need to figure it out by themselves that we exist. When they do it, they will be ripe to start building a universe inside a machine themselves which is crucial for our experiment. We must let them do it their way, without interfering as there is a lot we can learn from their work. The way they engineer the communication between the dimension above and the one below may enable us to find a way to establish a two-way communication, as to say to get in touch with our creators.
  • Once a civilization inside the machine reaches our level of intelligence we can finally come out of the closet, start to have relations, collaborate with the little creatures, maybe bring up from the dimension below to visit our world some remarkable specimen by installing their consciousness into one of our robots (yes, it should be technically possible). Civilizations inside the machine have more potential than ours as we can accelerate their time and make thousands of their years pass in one second. In a way, we are breeding geniuses and innovators from whom we can learn a lot.

Well, it may not happen exactly in these terms, plus creating complex and sentient life inside a computer will take many centuries (if not millennia). Imagining a very distant future is a slippery exercise that posterity tends to enjoy mostly for the amusement and laughter it provides…

I hope I managed anyway to give you a hint of how radical the impact of this new thought can be on our culture. If more people start to get intrigued by it and put their minds on it, some strong argument supporting the computational universe theory may arise during this century.

Part of my artistic mission is to accelerate the coming of this awareness, which I consider crucial for our species’ destiny. The 9th of my Ten Commandments for the Digital Millennium is about it.

My goal is not to convince people but to inspire people, especially the young, bright, and hopeful. I am an artist, I bring with me the wind of the changing times. For those who want to breathe it.

UPDATE: On June 2nd 2016 Elon Musk publicly declared that there is ‘one in billions’ chance we are NOT living in a computer simulation. I am very happy to see one of the most influential figures of our time sharing my belief, this should raise its awareness and induce fewer people to consider me crazy 🙂

(This post was first published in 2015. This is a minor update for my new portal).

Image: Barabeke, Il fischio del tempo/The whistle of time (detail), BBK08F001


Geko Arrogante October 4, 2015 - 15:07

Sono d’accordo con te e con il pensiero che hai espresso, anche io qualche anno fa ho iniziato a pensarla nello stesso modo e a comportarmi di conseguenza (con una relativa diminuizione di stress devo dire).
Più che dalla tecnologia sono comunque spaventato dalla razza umana, è capace di atrocità incredibili.

barabeke October 5, 2015 - 01:46

sono d’accordo con te, anch’io sono preoccupato e per questo ho fatto questo coming out non esattamente vantaggioso per me… faccio quello che posso! 🙂

Nicole Collet October 8, 2015 - 05:30

I unfortunately believe in the New World Order and the slavery of the majority to support a psychopathic elite. Because only psychopaths would destroy lives by plotting financial bubbles and an industry of war in order to accumulate even more riches than they already own and which they don’t need. Earning money (scientific study) triggers the same high as sniffing cocaine: it’s addictive. So you have psychopaths addicted to money, the worst possible association. Humankind is a cancer on this planet. Not everyone, of course. But enough people to corrode the whole planet. Sorry for my pessimism. This is the sort of thing you can’t tweet. On Twitter is the inspirational quotes–in which I believe, anyway 🙂

barabeke October 8, 2015 - 18:58

Thanks for your comment Nicole. Even though there are many reasons to be pessimist, don’t forget that these reasons mostly depend on a system which turned money and profit into our gods. In an age in which technology has the potential to create abundance for all there is no reason why our technology shouldn’t be used for that purpose. Capitalism will inevitably fall because it needs a prosper middle class to exist, and one thing technology is doing is making work less and less necessary (and it will get faster). We can just hope this fall of capitalism won’t happen in a violent way, or with a new global dictatorship replacing it. My artistic action is directed to prevent this to happen and contribute in building the ground for a more equal world where all humans can thrive and flourish and be freed from the slavery of work as necessary condition to survive. Today I saw this Zeitgeist video from Peter Joseph that perhaps will change your mind. Just the fact that other 23 million people viewed it is a sign that there is hope for humanity: https://youtu.be/4Z9WVZddH9w

Joanna October 12, 2015 - 21:18

If you really look at it, we already operate like super computers. Our bodies automatically make billions of decisions for us function (or not) every second. Our brains are intricate receivers and processors of information from the inside and out and our reality and experience is dependent on how we choose to interpret our world. We have reached a point in our shared reality that our planet is experiencing the reprocussions of the illusion of separation. It served us once as a way of survival, use natural resources since we can rule over nature, use indigenous people as slaves n cause genocide since we can be rulers of other people and now we’ve combined both to run a capitalist based world (mine resources for profit n enslave ppl to do the work, make them dependent on the resources n of course make them pay for them). This consciousness or rather unconsciousness was necessary to occur in order for those who are meant to awaken to do so and create a new consciousness based on avoiding all the mistakes of the old. This is what I believe it is to create another universe, be in touch with another dimension and with the creator, by creating a new consciousness that is all encompassing, all inclusiveness and it begins at the individual level. We are the infinite and the whole in one, all one and the same with unlimited potential. We in essence are the essence experiencing itself so it may know itself in all possible ways. The good, the bad, the ugly and everything and everyone in between.

barabeke October 13, 2015 - 00:20

Thanks for your reflection Joanna, I agree with what you say. The awakening of this consciousness though right now is possible only for few seekers, the main reason being in my opinion that most people just don’t have time to get introspective, they are too immersed in mundanity, in struggling to earn a living, in dealing with relationship issues. But we are now entering an age in which it’s possible and sustainable to free humanity from the necessity to work in order to survive. Technology enables abundance for everyone, we will get to the point in which everyone as birth right will have enough resources to lead a simple life. If people will be in the condition to dedicate their time to what they love without fear of starving as a consequence, more people will have the opportunity to get introspective and focus on their own evolution. If schools will be more focused in enhancing the knowledge of students and developing their critical thinking rather than preparing them for the job market, if we teach all children how to meditate, all this would greatly help. But as the world is now, it is impossible for this consciousness to arise in a significant way as humanity is currently enslaved to the god our history led us to choose: profit.

Vessy Mink November 27, 2015 - 20:44

You are awesome?

I Love Elon June 3, 2016 - 20:33

Elon’s just defined God friends.
It’s God’s video game.
We, humanity have gotten ourselves into our current mess.
We can co-create with God to get out. In the process of doing that, we will learn not to do it again. ?
Thanks for the forum barabeke : )

barabeke June 3, 2016 - 21:10

Thanks for sharing your love for Elon, I love him too he’s great and I am grateful that he popularized my belief, which I hold since January 2005. Back then I was afraid that everyone would have considered me as crazy, just a decade after I am much more comfortable in expressing it! 🙂

Juergen Schwarz October 7, 2016 - 17:38

I believe that out of several reasons, the Simulation theory is right. The statistical argument has been often discussed, but there are indications in physics (I am physicist by education, although not active in that area any more) that the theory might not only be right, but provable at some point. Some of those would be:

– Quantum entanglement between particles over large distances (dozens of kilometers), telling us that space and reality are not what they seem

– Non-infinite Universe, both in size and in time, created by the Big Bang, this would be a precondition for a “full detail” simulation simulating each and every particle in full details (this differs with your view of an on-demand reality, I understand)

– Loop Quantum Gravity, one of the current Unification theories competing with String theory, claims space is not existing a priori, but formed by quantum loops, which might be interpreted (in my view) as representations of simulation “bytes” or “cells”. The LQG theory allows to make predictions which might be testable.

– Fine-tuning of certain constants which is required e.g. for Carbon to exist, forming the basis of life. Either we got lucky with “our” universe, or somebody made sure the basis is there in their simulation for something interesting to happen…

The strange thing is that a belief in Simulation is not much different from a belief in God. Simulationists just do not put any labels on God (or the Gods) before having spoken with Her.

Which brings me to the point that I believe the quest to “break out” may be futile, but that it might be possible to “scientifically prove” this world is a simulation. I just do not have any idea what will happen when a significant part of the scientifically educated believes in this proof and in the Simulation.

[email protected] October 19, 2016 - 10:30

I think this is more likely If, however, we can’t create realistic simulations, it will be because we’ve suffered some calamitous event and, thus, humanity is doomed. “[Either] we create simulations indistinguishable from reality or civilization ceases to exist,” Musk said.

Read more: http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/elon-musk-simulation/#ixzz4NWeZMHL4

tunnelmental February 4, 2017 - 02:52

Everything is possible.


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