Phil Parker (tigertoy) wrote,
Phil Parker

Some odd thoughts

I had some interesting thoughts as I got home from EFRC, and I'm going to see if I can write anything worthwhile about them here.

To The Best Of Our Knowledge had just started a program on modern physics when I got home, and I was interested enough that I actually sat in the garage listening to the radio for a while before I got out of the car.  They made one comment about quantum computing that started some interesting associations in my head as I took a walk to unkink my legs.  The initial comment was something to the effect that within 20 or 30 years, we should see a quantum computer that's able to do more simultaneous calculations than there are elementary particles in the universe.  Which led me to thinking of the idea that that might be leveraged into a quantum computer capable of simulating the universe at the level of elementary particles.  Of course, the notion that the universe we live in is just a computer simulation in some higher universe and that's why we have quantum limits on time and space (it's the scale of the simulation we're running) has come up before in SF, but my thinking went down the chain that if we could design a computer powerful enough to simulate the universe, we would of course use it to test through simulation the various competing Theories of Everything that were being discussed earlier in the TTBOOK show.  Which gave me this bizarre notion that when our quantum universe simulation computer verified the correct Theory of Everything, the simulation would be shut off, causing the end of the simulated universe.  Which makes the notion that we ourselves might be running in a simulation rather uncomfortable, because if we are, it's probably because the higher universe is trying to prove its Theory of Everything, and when it gets the answers they're looking for, our universe ceases to be.  Then I got into a weirder notion, of what if when our simulation gives us our Theory of Everything, that is itself the solution the higher universe is looking for from us.  The simulation answers the question by creating a simulation that answers the question.  Presumably it's turtles all the way down -- but what if in some bizarre fashion, we're simultaneously all of the levels at once?

Somehow, that idea slightly too large and weird for my head then morphed into another one.  What if our universe is a computer simulation in a higher universe, but rather than a high minded scientific experiment, it's a child's educational project.  The early development doesn't take long -- perhaps it's built in with just a few quick choices, but it starts to take a lot longer as our history unfolds, so that the kid has time to mature.  And what if the kid projects a little bit of his personality into the simulation.  Perhaps that could explain why the God of the Old Testament (and the gods of a lot of other older religions) seems like a petulant child, but today's religions seem to recognize a much more mature, sophisticated deity:  God really did grow up.  Sort of a throwaway idea, but there could be a story in it.

I had another ep (that's a little piece of an epiphany), in considering how complicated the math is for modern physics and how few people really seem to both understand the math and what it means.  I recognized a similarity to my own difficulty with the complex notation and mathematics of the chemistry models the software I work on at work is based on.  I realized that those models are complex enough that few people using the software are likely to really be able to follow what the model is really doing, at a level of understanding what each equation is supposed to mean chemically.  They can become familiar with the software, and get answers from the software that they don't really understand.  Or they can become familiar with the big, fancy matrix notation that lets a complex chemical system be written out in a small amount of mathematical notation, and learn to manipulate and optimize the notation without any guarantee that the notation still has any connection to actual experiments.  I think the same thing happens with physics; even among the relatively small number of people who can actually do the math, most of them are just concentrating on doing the math, rather than trying to tie it back to physical meaning.  In chemistry, it's relatively easy to check the results of the model against reality, one hopes often enough that people don't waste too much time on bridges of computer simulation scripts or mathematical notation to nowhere.  But at the frontiers of modern physics, it's not so easy to do experiments at all, and when they can be done, they are so complex that interpreting them at all goes through a lot of layers of modeling and mathematical notation.  It leaves me wondering how many of the people working on theoretical physics are grounded enough in reality that they're actually doing physics rather than just playing with weird symbols.  Which connects back to what the first interviewee on the TTBOOK show was saying about how there could be an infinite variety of variations of string theory, to the point where they obfuscate the possibility of ever testing any of them.  Somehow, what I was thinking on my walk seemed more coherent than what I just wrote.  Oh well.

But after having all of these thoughts, and a bunch of others, floating through my mind, I had a surprising flash of feeling how cool it was to be thinking about stuff like this.  A fleeting feeling of approaching the real point of existence.  I hope I can recapture that feeling!  If I'm really fortunate, I'll even be able to express some Deep Thoughts coherently enough that someone else will get something out of them.
Tags: philosophy, science
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