Do We Live in the Matrix?

The.Matrix.glmatrix.2Zeeya Merali says that “tests could reveal whether we are part of a giant computer simulation — but the real question is if we want to know,” writing for Discover:

In the 1999 sci-fi film classic The Matrix, the protagonist, Neo, is stunned to see people defying the laws of physics, running up walls and vanishing suddenly. These superhuman violations of the rules of the universe are possible because, unbeknownst to him, Neo’s consciousness is embedded in the Matrix, a virtual-reality simulation created by sentient machines.

The action really begins when Neo is given a fateful choice: Take the blue pill and return to his oblivious, virtual existence, or take the red pill to learn the truth about the Matrix and find out “how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

Physicists can now offer us the same choice, the ability to test whether we live in our own virtual Matrix, by studying radiation from space. As fanciful as it sounds, some philosophers have long argued that we’re actually more likely to be artificial intelligences trapped in a fake universe than we are organic minds in the “real” one.

But if that were true, the very laws of physics that allow us to devise such reality-checking technology may have little to do with the fundamental rules that govern the meta-universe inhabited by our simulators. To us, these programmers would be gods, able to twist reality on a whim.

So should we say yes to the offer to take the red pill and learn the truth — or are the implications too disturbing?

Worlds in Our Grasp

The first serious attempt to find the truth about our universe came in 2001, when an effort to calculate the resources needed for a universe-size simulation made the prospect seem impossible.

Seth Lloyd, a quantum-mechanical engineer at MIT, estimated the number of “computer operations” our universe has performed since the Big Bang — basically, every event that has ever happened. To repeat them, and generate a perfect facsimile of reality down to the last atom, would take more energy than the universe has…

[continues at Discover]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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28 Comments on "Do We Live in the Matrix?"

  1. I only read up to “continues at Discover.” But, I have been quite interested in these ideas for a while. I’ve watched the series The Holographic Universe on YouTube a few times. Have also been reading a few things along the same lines.
    As a few people have suggested on this site, and as Futurama put it, “quantum physics means that anything can happen at any time for no reason at all.” This of course is suggesting that quantum theory has become just another marketing phrase for whatever any quack, crackpot want to say it is. I get that. But, from my very limited understanding, it does seem that there may be implications that you can derive from QT that suggest that things are not quite how we think they are. The observer effect, “spooky action at a distance,”the implication that “there is no ‘out there’ out there,” and the idea that what see and experience as “the physical universe” arises from a kind of field of information/potentiality that is dependent on human perception to “collapse the wave function” and thereby cause things to “go through the formality of actually occurring,” these things are enough to make me think that what we experience as solid material reality may indeed be, as Enstien put it “. . . a very persistent illusion.”
    Whether or not all that is an indication that we are living in a computer program remains to be seen. I half suspect that it could be that since the computer has become such a powerful symbol/metaphor, it is the lense or filter through which we experience reality so that even reality starts to look like a computer program. It may be a case of mistaking the map for the territory or not, I don’t know.

    • I think the amplituhedron is a better explanation than a computer program, but I do believe we are living in a Matrix. Instead of a program of the universe being run on a computer, the Matrix is a program of interpretation/perception being run on our brains.

      • I had to look up “amplitudehdreon.” Very simply, it has to do with the geometry underlying particle physics. Apparently, there is also the implication that space and time are functions of the human mind and do not actually exist “out there” as objective realities.
        It does make intuitive sense that what we experience as “reality” is a program run on our brains. I suspect there may be something to the idea that we are the computer the program is being run on.

    • Simon Valentine | Nov 15, 2013 at 5:26 pm |

      QT was dreamed up by the French during a seance concerning septic functions when someone suddenly explicated an epiphany: “Why don’t we teach the Americans how to seance so that the power comes back to us?” (traduction de merde colombophile)

      it later combined with the French brand of MK-Ultra when they decided to begin a phase of unproven theorem construction, which basically means they started growing new (mana) food for the next era.

      • Yes, exactly, that and fucking Derrida, whom the devil himself cannot even understand. Merde!

        • Calypso_1 | Nov 15, 2013 at 7:02 pm |

          exquis! vous deux

        • Simon Valentine | Nov 15, 2013 at 7:24 pm |

          oh, some Growth by Process of Elimination, and it’s not an American cheeseburger?!? Crustaceans’ Derisions’ derivatives be damned! i shall consume the material for breakfast!

  2. Simon Valentine | Nov 15, 2013 at 5:17 pm |

    title could stand to have a “Why ” tacked on the front of it
    in which case i say

    because we’re like Neo

  3. if you had a computer in this universe powerful enough to calculate the universe, then you would have a computer in this universe with so many calculations that it couldn’t calculate the universe.

  4. Read Thomas Campbell’s “My Big T.O.E.”.

  5. If we live in a matrix, what is the benefit/s of being aware of such?

    • Apparently, the sumbitch can be hacked.

      • Do natural laws apply (eg. Physics, gravity, etc), or are they a program dictated by the matrix? If so can those metaprograms be hacked?

        • Good question. I have no idea. My limited take on all of this suggests that causality can somehow be hacked. Whether or not that necessarily means that the laws physics are included as well, I’m not sure.
          So, say you do a “hack” that seeks to influence an outcome, like what number a roulette ball will fall on. If it works, does that mean you have somehow manipulated the laws of physics? Or is something else going on?

  6. Personally, I couldn’t care any less if I tried. Given that I don’t have the ability to hack the system and make any changes, knowing that everything I know is part of a computer simulation, or that I’m nothing more than a bit of mold in a huge garbage heap, or that all of our universe development has all actually taken place in a split second as one black hole collides with another does not change the fact that my bills need to be paid, groceries need to be bought, kids need dental care and the financial and political systems are in total chaos…

    In other words, knowing that reality is not real does not change change my reality.

    • There are those who suggest, that yes, the system can indeed be hacked.
      See: A. Crowley, Grant Morrison, Pope Bob, Alan Moore, Bill Burroughs et al.

      • Interesting names… I’m familiar with Burroughs, Moore and Morrison, but I’ll certainly look into the rest.

        I have no problem at all, believing that it *could* be hacked. But, if it can’t be hacked by me for my own benefit (as I have no right to make decisions for others, regardless of intent) then the only thing I could really do about it is keep doing what I’m doing and hope that certain others couldn’t figure it out, either.

  7. oneironauticus | Nov 17, 2013 at 2:32 am |

    we seem to have this problem (as humans) of convincing ourselves that our models are actually reality…

    • Calypso_1 | Nov 17, 2013 at 3:25 am |

      figurative intelligence has too oft and too long held sway over the operative.

  8. Leland Mellott | Nov 17, 2013 at 7:23 pm |

    By way of a powerful LIGHT in my mind during the month of October 1981, I know that we were never created, but always have been and always will be; we are immortal beings. I also know that when we leave this life we are going to be taken up the time/history of this universe all the way back to The Beginning. I saw this beginning, while awake. In such enormity, there is no enormity. In a dream, I am given to know that “we’ll see things we never knew existed.” We have entered the great in-breath of That Which Is Intelligence. Never before, ever after. See ya on t’Other Side!

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