Just about every “student with a gravity bong and The Matrix on DVD” has pondered it before, but these days the idea that we are all living in part of some computer program is taken seriously by a number of esteemed scientists, writes Ben Makuch in the culture magazine Vice.
Rich Terrile from Nasa, for example, has theorised that “a ‘programmer’ from the future designed our reality to simulate the course of what the programmer considers to be ancient history – for whatever reason, maybe because he’s bored”.
This is all predicated on the assumption that computing power will continue to roughly double every two years, so that “sooner or later, we’ll get to a place where simulating a few billion people – and making them believe they are sentient beings with the ability to control their own destinies – will be as easy as sending a stranger a picture of your genitals”.
Even the New Scientist is thinking along these lines.
“What we call reality might actually be the output of a program running on a cosmos-sized quantum computer,” says Michael Brook, as part of a special issue on, you know, “reality”.
In a survey of such thinking among physicists, Brook casts back to the theory of Leonard Susskind and Gerard’t Hooft, developed a couple of decades back.
They proposed that the universe could “hold information at its boundary – with the consequence that our reality could be the projection of that information into the space within the boundary. If this conjecture is true, reality is like the image of Princess Leia projected by R2D2 in Star Wars: a hologram.”