Monday, December 17, 2012

The Paradox of Computer Simulated Time Travel

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Earlier today I was reading a thoroughly fascinating article on The article (link below for the curious) posited that universe very well might be an artificially manufactured construct created by an Intelligent Design, although not in the sense that most people might think of. While not proposing that God in the biblical sense is responsible for the universe, there are some scientists and philosophers who are arguing that intelligent design might indeed be why we are here reading this blog right now.

The main part of this theory, in summary, is the fact that the universe, our solar system, even our planet all essentially won the intergalactic lottery and had conditions that were just right for life to develop. They argue that if the universe were designed this way, it would certainly explain why everything is just right. Also, even more mind-boggling; if the universe were custom designed for us it would explain the Formi Paradox and answer the question of why there are no other aliens. But, if God is not responsible for this, then who? According these scientists; we are.

Our current day technology allows us to use supercomputers to model, predict, and analyze minute parts of the universe and try to understand it. As our computer technology increases, then the amount of things that we would be able to model would increase also. Theoretically, with a large enough computer, we should be able to model the entire universe.

The researchers hypothesize that our far-distant future descendants might have hypothetically reached that point and are running a simulation right now; a simulation that we are all part of. The researchers even hypothesize that humans might have created artificial intelligence, which created artificial intelligence, and so on and it is this non-living descendant that is actually running the simulation out of curiosity about how their ancient biological ancestors might have lived. While that would conveniently answers questions like the Formi Paradox and the Big Bang, it still leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

For one thing, as with many poorly written time-travel examples from Hollywood, this hypothesis still doesn’t account for the standard temporal paradox that always associates time travel. If, hypothetically, this theory were true, then it would certainly mean our descendants had to have lived in the real universe long enough to make progeny that would have advanced to the point where they would be technologically capable of even running the experiment. But, if this carefully modeled, carefully constructed universe is indeed a simulation and was intended to make everything just right for us to exist and the odds of that happening are a billion to one, then how, pray tell, did our real descendants come to be in the real, uncontrolled universe in the first place? Surely some place that wasn’t carefully constructed would have had even more risk factors and less favorable conditions. So, the researchers would have us believe that we originally existed in an even more tumultuous reality and having somehow, miraculously survived that one, created this just right universe to model how ancient people lived?

Also, another blaring question that is raised by this; computer simulations, even mega simulations, are governed by a specific set of rules and laws. According to the scientists, there is a test that can be performed that would determine if our version of reality really is real. Suppose they find out that it really is just a simulation, then what? What would be the purpose of having a computer simulation be self-aware that it is living in a simulation? Surely, from a scientific process this would ruin their experiment. This type of experiment is known as naturalistic observation and conclusion about the behavior of the people or animals involved are entirely dependent on the fact that they are not aware that they are being watched. As soon as an organism becomes aware that it is being watched its behavior changes and then the results become biased. So why make this super-elaborate experiment only to have it ruined by self-awareness?

While this hypothesis is certainly interesting, it doesn’t seem all that logical to me. Either way it will be interesting to see what results the scientists turn up from their experiments to prove or disprove this theory.



  1. It's all very mind boggling and yet the only question that comes to mind is "Will we really get the answers we all seek?" Maybe when we are dead, we get to find out! Some think that. I will keep my mind open, but wont believe till I can see for my self.

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  3. A more salient scenario is that of an intelligence simulating all possible universes in order to discover one that was optimal in some sense understood by the intelligence. Complex universes that contained life would presumably be more "interesting" than simple ones where nothing happened, or chaotic ones where nothing continuously persisting happened. An arbitrary number of simulations could be run simultaneously; a universe that followed an unsatisfactory trajectory could be rewound, modified and re-started, a stratagem that would make the intelligence omnipotent and omniscient. Positivist arguments against supernatural intervention in such a universe would be inapplicable, because they would be undetectable, yet real–they would involve retroactively changing initial conditions or universal laws in order to bring about a desired supernatural intervention, rather than altering a running universe's trajectory by changing code or data.


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