Imag­ine the uni­verse is a sim­u­la­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - PAGE TWO - OP Rana

What if Neil deGrasse Tyson is right? It would be such a re­lief to know that one could just press the re­set but­ton, and a serendip­i­tous mar­riage of dream and wish­ful think­ing would give birth to a new past, at least a new 2016, which was marked by ter­ri­ble events and hu­man suf­fer­ings.

Imag­ine wak­ing up one morn­ing and re­al­iz­ing all the wars, deaths, fi­nan­cial and eco­nomic crises, epi­demics and en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tions were just bad dreams. Let your imag­i­na­tion run wild and just for a mo­ment think the hor­ri­fy­ing sto­ries we read in news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines, watched on TV chan­nels and dis­cussed on so­cial

This Day, That Year

me­dia were just sim­u­lated sce­nar­ios — the hand­i­work of help­less souls mort­gaged to Mephistophe­les.

We can also imag­ine there is no civil war in Syria and thou­sands of peo­ple have not lost their lives in that coun­try, and the Euro­pean Union does not face a refugee cri­sis.

Recog­ni­tion is a “change from ig­no­rance to knowl­edge”, as Aris­to­tle said, but in these times when the more in­for­ma­tion and knowl­edge we gather the greater pain we feel, ig­no­rance seems bliss and hence the ap­peal of a sim­u­la­tion the­ory.

And sim­u­la­tion was the theme of the 2016 Isaac Asi­mov Me­mo­rial De­bate at the Amer­i­can Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory in April. To be pre­cise, the theme was, what if “the uni­verse as we know it is ac­tu­ally a sim­u­la­tion”. The pan­elists com­prised the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cists, cos­mol­o­gists and a pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy from lead­ing uni­ver­si­ties in the United States, and the de­bate was hosted by Tyson, a lead­ing cos­mol­o­gist and as­tro­physi­cist.

With such pan­elists, one ex­pected the sim­u­la­tion the­ory to be trashed. Lisa Ran­dall, a the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist at Har­vard, did say that the odds of the uni­verse be­ing “real” are so low as to be “ef­fec­tively zero”, but how­ever sat­is­fy­ing that may sound, not all sci­en­tists seem to agree, with most physi­cists and philoso­phers say­ing it is not pos­si­ble to defini­tively prove that we don’t live in a sim­u­la­tion and that the uni­verse is not un­real.

Tyson, in fact, says the like­li­hood of the uni­verse be­ing a sim­u­la­tion “may be very high”.

And he wouldn’t be sur­prised, he says, if we were to find out one day that “some­one else” is re­spon­si­ble for our uni­verse.

By us­ing a thought ex­per­i­ment to imag­ine a life form that is as “smarter than us as we are than dogs … or other ter­res­trial mam­mals”, Tyson asks: “What would we look like to them? And then an­swers: “We would be drool­ing, blither­ing id­iots in their pres­ence.”

Look­ing at what we have done to our world to­day, Tyson seems right. That’s why his sim­u­la­tion hy­poth­e­sis ap­peals so much. And that’s why it is com­fort­ing to be­lieve the uni­verse is a sim­u­la­tion which can be re­set to al­low the world to for­get that the Brexit vote was real or that the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion did take place.

But since that is not the case, we can only hope that world lead­ers don’t turn our world into a more ter­ri­ble place at the end of 2017.

step of trans­fer­ring 22 ba­bies from in­ten­sive care to a new chil­dren’s wing to pro­vide them with bet­ter neona­tal care. The chil­dren were born with birth de­fects.

Con­tact the writer at oprana@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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