Cosmic-ray test sparks new interest in Matrix reality

A study proposing a test for the idea that we are all living in a computer simulation has sparked a fresh flurry of interest in this intriguing take on reality. But fans of The Matrix might have to wait a little longer before they can unleash their inner Neo.

The recent buzz was sparked by Silas Beane of the University of Bonn, Germany, and colleagues, who recently pointed out that even our unknown simulating overlords are still likely to have limited computing power, creating errors in the simulation that we might be able to spot – a glitch in the Matrix, if you will.

Physicists, including Beane, have already used powerful supercomputers to create simulations of patches of the universe. The simulations tend to be of a 3D grid made up of proton-size cells just femtometres – around 10-15 metres – across that roughly approximate the apparently continuous nature of the real universe.

As computing power is constantly increasing, this leads to the possibility that a large enough number cruncher might even be able to simulate the entire thing. That in turn has led many to ask the question: what if we are already living in such a simulation?

In their new study, Beane and colleagues suggest that if we do live in a computer-simulated grid, then cosmic rays – charged particles that whiz through space – are more likely to travel along the lines of the grid, rather than at all possible angles, a “flaw” in the simulation of the universe that we might be able to detect.

This might confirm that we do indeed live in a computer simulation – operated by “future string theorists”, the researchers explain.

Don’t hold your breath, though. The energy limits of observed cosmic rays in our universe mean the cells in the grid of the simulation must be no smaller than 10-12 femtometres for the flaw to show up in this way. But  there’s no reason to assume that significantly advanced overlords wouldn’t be capable of yet smaller cells, nor that they would stick to a cubic grid, leaving us back in the dark.

There are other ways that the simulators could gives clues to their presence. Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at the University of Oxford, has previously suggested that they might deliver a message alerting us to the fact, or just transport us to their reality.

But bear in mind that the more general question of whether or not there is another level to the reality we experience has plagued philosophers for millennia. We should not expect a definitive answer soon.

( via