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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

18:12:2012 -- Is 'reality' unreal? Scientists work on a way to find out

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Is 'reality' unreal? Scientists work on a way to find out         

Image: "Final Flight of the Osiris"

Warner Bros.
A crew member of the Osiris hovercraft is surrounded by monitors in an animated film based on "The Matrix." The "Matrix" film series suggested that our everyday experience is basically a computer simulation. Researchers are now proposing a way to test that way-out hypothesis.

By Contributor
Inside Science News Service
updated 12/17/2012 10:34:49 PM ET

What if everything — all of us, the world, the universe — was not real? What if everything we are, know and do was really just someone's computer simulation?

The notion that our reality was some kid on a couch in the far future playing with a computer game like a gigantic Sim City, or Civilization, and we are the player's characters, isn't new. But some physicists now think they know of a way to test the concept. Three of them propose to test reality by simulating the simulators.

Martin Savage, professor of physics at the University of Washington, Zohreh Davoudi, one of his graduate students, and Silas Beane of the University of New Hampshire would like to see whether they can find traces of simulation in cosmic rays. The work was uploaded in arXiv, an online archive for drafts of academic research papers.

The notion that reality is something other than we think it is goes far back in philosophy, including Plato and his Parable of the Cave, which claimed reality was merely shadows of real objects on a cave wall. Sixteenth-century philosopher-mathematician René Descartes thought he proved reality with his famous "I think, therefore I am," which proposed that he was real and his thoughts had a reality.

Then, in 2003, a British philosopher, Nick Bostrom of the University of Oxford, published a paper that had the philosophy and computer science departments buzzing.

The Matrix hypothesis 

Bostrom suggested three possibilities: "The chances that a species at our current level of development can avoid going extinct before becoming technologically mature is negligibly small," "almost no technologically mature civilizations are interested in running computer simulations of minds like ours,” or we are "almost certainly" a simulation.

All three could be equally possible, he wrote, but if the first two are false, the third must be true. "There will be an astronomically huge number of simulated minds like ours," Bostrom wrote.

His suggestion was that our descendants, far in the future, would have the computer capacity to run simulations that complex, and that there might be millions of simulations, and millions of virtual universes with billions of simulated brains in them.

Bostrom's paper came out four years after the popular film, "The Matrix," in which humans discover they were simulations run by malevolent machines. The popularity of the film possibly contributed to the attention to Bostrom’s paper received at the time, but nothing came of it.

"He put it together in clear terms and came out with probabilities of what is likely and what is not," Savage said. "He crystallized it, at least in my mind."

Looking for anomalies 

In the movie and in Savage's proposal, the discovery that reality was virtual came when unexpected errors showed up in life, demonstrating imperfections in the simulation.

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Savage and his colleagues assume that any future simulators would use some of the same techniques current scientists use to run simulations, with the same constraints. The future simulators, Savage indicated, would map their universe on a mathematical lattice or grid, consisting of points and lines. This would not be an everyday grid but a "hypercube" consisting of four dimensions, three for space, and one to represent points in time.

A present-day example is lattice quantum chromodynamics, which explores the effects of the strong nuclear force, one of the four fundamental forces in the universe, on tiny elementary particles such as quarks and gluons. In this approach, the particles jump from point to point on a grid, without passing through the space between them. The simulations cause time to pass in a similar way, like the frames of film passing through a movie camera, so that the time that passed between frames is not part of the simulation. This style of simulation requires less computer power than treating space and time as a continuum.

Because Savage and his colleague assume that future simulators will use a similar approach, he suggests looking at the behavior of very high-energy cosmic ray particles to see whether there is a grid in the energy as a start.

"You look at the very highest-energy cosmic rays and look for distributions that have symmetry problems, which are not isotropic," or the same in every direction, he said.
"Everything looks like it is on a continuum,” Savage said. "There is no evidence to show that is not the case at the moment. We are looking for something to indicate you don't have a space-time continuum."

Disturbance in the force 

That disturbance in the force might be a hint that something in reality is amiss. If the cosmic ray energy levels travel along the grid, like following streets in Manhattan or Salt Lake City, it probably is unlikely to be a simulation; if they unexpectedly travel diagonally, reality may be a computer program.

Jim Kakalios, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota who was not involved in the paper, said a test such as the one Savage suggests may not prove anything. If they don't find the signatures, it doesn't mean we are not a simulation; our descendants could have used a different grid. If they do find something it also could mean “that's the way space-time is and we never noticed before,” he said.

Two other questions arise. One is whether it is conceivable that computers powerful enough to simulate our hugely complex universe ever will exist. If so, it likely will be very far in the future.

The second question is linked: Will it ever be possible to simulate human consciousness? After all, we run around thinking and feeling.

"Ultimately, the paper glides over the most interesting point: assume we have infinite computing power and we can create this hypercube," Kakalios said. "They assume [the simulators] would know how to simulate human consciousness."

We are aware of ourselves, he said, aware of our bodies, aware of what is outside of our bodies, he said. Human consciousness is almost indescribably complex.

For generations, science-fiction books — and some science books — have hypothesized inserting our consciousness into computers so that we essentially live forever. In "Caprica," a prequel to the television program "Battlestar Galactica," a girl's consciousness is preserved in a computer — and it becomes the basis for the evil cyborgs.

"We don't understand consciousness,” Kakalios said. "Neuroscience is where physics was before quantum mechanics. It's a more interesting problem than whether you can simulate protons and quarks."

Either way, however, Kakalios said the experiments on cosmic rays are the kinds of projects scientists should be doing, regardless of the simulation issue.

Joel Shurkin is a freelance writer based in Baltimore. He is the author of nine books on science and the history of science, and has taught science journalism at Stanford University, the University of California at Santa Cruz and the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

This report was originally published Dec. 14 by Inside Science News Service as "What If Reality Was Really Just Sim Universe?"

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How to Digitally Record/Video a UFO sighting:

Como registar digitalmente ou gravar um vídeo de um avistamento de um UFO:

Stabilize the camera on a tripod. If there is no tripod, then set it on top of a stable, flat surface. If that is not possible lean against a wall to stabilize your body and prevent the camera from filming in a shaky, unsteady manner.

Estabilize a camera com um tripé. Se não tiver um tripé, então coloque-a em cima de uma superfície estável. Se não for possível, então encoste-se a uma parede para estabilizar o corpo e evitar que a camera registe de maneira tremida e instável.

Provide visual reference points for comparison. This includes the horizon, treetops, lampposts, houses, and geographical landmarks (i.e., Horsetooth Reservoir, Mt. Adams, etc.) Provide this in the video whenever is appropriate and doesn’t detract from what your focus is, the UFO.

Forneça pontos visuais de referência para comparação. Isso inclui o horizonte, cimo das árvores, postes de iluminação, pontos de referência geográficos (como o Reservatório de Horsetooth, Mone Adams, etc) Forneça esses pontos no vídeo sempre que for apropriado e não se distraia do que é o seu foco, o UFO/a Nave.

Narrate your videotape. Provide details of the date, time, location, and direction (N,S,E,W) you are looking in. Provide your observations on the weather, including approximate temperature, windspeed, any visible cloud cover or noticeable weather anomalies or events. Narrate on the shape, size, color, movements, approximate altitude of the UFO, etc and what it appears to be doing. Also include any unusual physical, psychological or emotional sensations you might have. Narrate any visual reference points on camera so they correlate with what the viewer will see, and thereby will be better able to understand.

Faça a narração do vídeo. Forneça pormenores sobre a data, hora, local e direcção (Norte, Sul, Este, Oeste) que está a observar. Faça observações sobre as condições atmosféricas, incluindo a temperatura aproximada, velocidade do vento, quantidade de nuvens, anomalias ou acontecimentos meteorológicos evidentes. Descreva a forma, o tamanho, a cor, os movimentos, a altitude aproximada onde se encontra o UFO/nave, etc e o que aparenta estar a fazer. Inclua também quaisquer aspectos pouco habituais de sensações físicas, psicológicas ou emocionais que possa ter. Faça a narração de todos os pontos de referência visual que o espectador irá ver e que, deste modo, será capaz de compreender melhor.

Be persistent and consistent. Return to the scene to videotape and record at this same location. If you have been successful once, the UFO sightings may be occurring in this region regularly, perhaps for specific reasons unknown, and you may be successful again. You may also wish to return to the same location at a different time of day (daylight hours) for better orientation and reference. Film just a minute or two under “normal” circumstances for comparison. Write down what you remember immediately after. As soon as you are done recording the experience/event, immediately write down your impressions, memories, thoughts, emotions, etc. so it is on the record in writing. If there were other witnesses, have them independently record their own impressions, thoughts, etc. Include in this exercise any drawings, sketches, or diagrams. Make sure you date and sign your documentation.

Seja persistente e não contraditório. Volte ao local da cena e registe o mesmo local. Se foi bem sucedido uma vez, pode ser que nessa região ocorram avistamentos de UFOs/naves com regularidade, talvez por razões específicas desconhecidas, e talvez possa ser novamente bem sucedido. Pode também desejar voltar ao mesmo lugar a horas diferentes do dia (durante as horas de luz)para ter uma orientação e referência melhor. Filme apenas um ,inuto ou dois em circunstâncias “normais” para ter um termo de comparação. Escreva tudo o que viu imediatamente após o acontecimento. Logo após ter feito o registo da experiência/acontecimento, escreva imediatamente as impressões, memórias, pensamentos, emoções, etc para que fiquem registadas por escrito. Se houver outras testemunhas, peça-lhes para registar independentemente as suas próprias impressões, pensamentos, etc. Inclua quaisquer desenhos, esbolos, diagramas. Certifique-se que data e assina o seu documento/testemunho.

Always be prepared. Have a digital camera or better yet a video camera with you, charged and ready to go, at all times. Make sure you know how to use your camera (and your cell phone video/photo camera) quickly and properly. These events can occur suddenly, unexpectedly, and often quite randomly, so you will need to be prepared.

Esteja sempre preparado, Tenha sempre uma camera digital, melhor ainda, uma camera vídeo consigo, carregada e pronta a usar sempre que necessário. Certifique-se que sabe como lidar com a sua camera (ou com o seu celular/camera fotográfica) rápida e adequadamente. Esses acontecimentos podem acontecer súbita e inesperadamente e, por vezes, acidentalmente, por isso, necessita estar preparado.

Look up. Be prepared. Report. Share.

Olhe para cima, Esteja preparado, Relate, Partilhe.



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