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Sunday, August 12, 2007

& Debates - Quantum Physics

So, I had a random thought that started a debate thread on Star Alliance (remember that from way, way back?). And boy is it a whopper. Registration on the forum is required to participate, so I'll copy some of the bigger posts in the debate here.

The opening post:
So, I had a random thought; that's, of course, rarely a good thing. Now, let's see if this can turn into a full debate. *ahem* Have you ever considered that some of the most puzzling aspects of quantum physics could be logically explained by the universe being a computer simulation? Let's go over a couple examples.

- As best we can tell, mass, distance, and time all appear to be quantized; that is, they're integer values. Any computer constructed by a physics system remotely like ours is only capable of representing quantized values.
- One of the hardest to grasp concepts in quantum physics is that variables associated with things, particularly subatomic particles, don't appear to have values assigned until that variable is actually used, and values can even be lost once they are assigned. When those variables do not have values assigned, they are represented simply by probability distributions, with the actual value chosen randomly when it is needed. There's a saying in computer science (one of those things that you should be careful not to take too absolutely) - never store anything you can recalculate later; quantum physics appears to take this one step further, not bothering to store anything that you don't need at the moment. The point, of course, to massively reduce the amount of memory required for the simulation by only storing essential values.

My most recent post:
I myself have considered that the Planck length and Planck time could be a limit to the universe's "resolution".
Of course. As far as we know at the moment, the Planck constants are the resolution of the universe.
If the universe was a huge simulation, would everyone else be part of the simulation, or separate entities within the simulation, or all we all part of the simulation without any free will.
Unknown. There does appear to be full simulation of individual units (unknown exactly what that is; protons/neutrons/electrons/photons, quarks, etc.) in some cases, but it's possible there are optimizations to process clusters of those as a group. Perhaps the fact that particles also behave like waves is a trick to allow the behavior of particles to be calculated in bulk at once, using simpler computations. There are other examples, as well. Like some things cells do seem odd, in that it doesn't entirely seem like all the atoms in a cell are working independently; that in some things the cell or part of a cell seems like it's acting as an single unit.

Of course there are counter-examples, as well. If the simulation was abstracting as much as possible, it's strange that Brownian motion would exist, as it indicates individual atoms are being processed in a case where it would be logical to abstract them into a group.
Are we all bots on a counterstrike server, is just one of us a bot, or are there no bots?
There would be at least three basic possibilities, which could be combined:
- We are being controlled by players, either directly (e.g. an FPS or RPG), or indirectly (the player is able to manipulate things like basic predispositions, though actual actions are a result of physical processes using those basic predispositions; think like Populus). Possible, but seems less likely to me than the other two.
- We are entirely naturalistic constructions. That is, there is nothing different about us than anything else in the simulated universe; we are nothing more than a result of the laws of physics being simulated. This is the atheist/naturalist world view.
- We are programmed constructs - AIs. We have programs which operate independently but within the constraints of the laws of physics.

But holy crap. Now THAT is an interesting idea. Obviously you could call the programmer(s) God (in the monotheistic, omnipotent sense). But it's also possible that different programmers and/or players (if such a thing exists) could form an entire pantheon. In that case, it's entirely possible that every god that has ever been worshiped throughout history actual does exist (or existed at one time; it's possible gods "die off" as players/programmers lose interest in playing them).

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