Simulated life: A thought experiment

Are we inside a simulation? Maybe. Maybe not. We really don’t know and I don’t think there’s ever going to be a definitive answer to that question. Of course, it doesn’t actually matter if all our universe is being simulated by another one of higher complexity than ours, but it really is an interesting topic to think about.

I’ve been watching tons of physics videos on the tubes of you (more than a 100 actually … it’s become kind of a hobby) and an interesting concept settled in the back of my mind. You see, a computer simulation of a system can be a very complex thing, the more rules you input into the system the more behaviours you can get out of it*. The problem is, the way you specify and store things like position and point in time can’t be infinitely precise, the simulation can’t have an infinite amount of data for one point in space, so the simulation has to have a certain limited level of precision. The more precision there is, the more storage each value will take up and the more interesting the system can potentially be. Ideally you’d want the minimum distance possible to be a really tiny length.

So far so good, right? The thing is, we are almost positively sure that in our universe there’s a minimum length of distance that we call Planck length. It is also theorized that the time that light takes to travel a planck length is possibly the smallest time possible, so both time and space would have a definitive and limited precision. Granted, it’s a completely ridiculous precision but it still isn’t infinite.

As it turns out, everything in the universe could be finite: energy, mass, gravity, magnetic forces, etc. I don’t know enough on the subject to know if there’s a defined minimum unit for each of these things, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is.

As far as we know, there’s nothing that prevents our universe from being simulated completely on all levels. It opens the question that I’ve started this post with but it also opens the possibility that one day we’ll be able to simulate life. Digital life. Digital sentient life. Just the imagine how much computational power that would take, how much storage we would need and how complex the rules that govern such a system would be.

Now backtrack on that thought and keep in mind that more computational power than what we have now would certainly help, but that would only speed up the simulation; by itself it doesn’t validate or invalidate it. Also, storage is quite plentiful in our current level of technological advancement, but even if that’s not enough we could shrink the precision used for the values we would be storing. By doing that we would be shrinking the possibility space for the simulation but how much precision is needed for life to manifest? That’s probably impossible to know for sure, at least until we try. So, truly the only thing that prevents us from reaching the simulation of life is that we don’t yet comprehend how everything works inside our own universe, especially the physics at microscopic scales.

Think about that for a second: The day that we comprehend how the universe works is the day that we as a species will be able to create digital life.

I don’t know about you but I find this to be an interesting thought.


*Yes, you can input contradictory rules or things like that that could simplify things instead of the other way around, but that’s besides the point I’m trying to make.

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