Physicists Develop Test to Determine if the World is a Computer Simulation

Saturday, December 22, 2012
(photo: Warner Brothers)

One of the more unusual topics in the academic blogosphere currently revolves around a physics professor’s contention that the world is not real, but merely the product of a computer simulation.


Martin Savage at the University of Washington says it is quite possible the universe was created by our descendants, or other beings, using sophisticated software.


And, Savage contends, he has devised a way to test if the theory is true.


Along with two other colleagues, Savage offered an explanation of his proposed test—involving the examination of cosmic rays and how they travel—in a new paper (“Constraints on the Universe as a Numerical Simulation”) to proof his theory.


Savage is not the first academic to propose that the universe is not real. Nick Bostrom, a philosophy professor at the University of Oxford, offered a computer simulation idea in 2003, which prompted Savage to take a crack at proving it.


Since a story on Savage’s paper was published by the university, the web page has received more than 100,000 views in just a week, setting off a lively discussion among students and professors about what is real and the state of consciousness.


Many find the theory intriguing and plausible, including physicists who are interested in testing it. Others are highly skeptical, including one respondent who wrote: "You folks take yourselves way too seriously. This is proof we never should have legalized marijuana."

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Living in a Simulated World: UW Scientists Explore the Theory (by Katherine Long, Seattle Times)

Constraints on the Universe as a Numerical Simulation – Abstract (by Silas R. Beane, Zohreh Davoudi, Martin J. Savage, Cornell University Library)

Are You Living In a Computer Simulation? (Nick Bostrom website)


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