The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything may be hidden away deep in a car park seven stories underground.
Questions like why our world exists and what nothing is have occupied minds great and ordinary since the dawn of humanity and they continue to do so. What most people tend to forget about religion is that without it we would not have science. The first printed literature were the Books of Gods.
To understand what science is, just look around you. What do you see? Perhaps, your hand on the mouse, a computer screen, papers, ballpoint pens, the family cat, the sun shining through the window …. Science is, in one sense, our knowledge of all that — all the stuff that is in the universe: from the tiniest subatomic particles in a single atom of the metal in your computer’s circuits, to the nuclear reactions that formed the immense ball of gas that is our sun, to the complex chemical interactions and electrical fluctuations within your own body that allow you to read and understand these words. And yet for all our scientific progress, we have still only yielded hypotheses rather than concrete answers.
Many works of science fiction as well as some forecasts by serious technologists and futurologists predict that enormous amounts of computing power will be available in the future. And of course in recent years science and technology have begun to catch up with science fiction. So many of the fantasies and illusions of the past are no longer a contradiction of reality, but instead an integral part of our everyday lives.
Let’s just say that reality ain’t what it used to be. Sub atomic particles may be pixels in a simulated reality. So images like the one above may only be a depiction of a numerical simulation rather than a real one. Image Earth (42) by Artist Tom Estes.
In his work EARTH (42), contemporary artist Tom Estes represents the entire world, everything we see around us, as a numerical simulation. Through his practice artist Tom Estes directly references the surreal wit of Sci-fi and horror and their related ideological fictions. Estes’ floor piece, EARTH (42), at an exhibition seven stories underground, displays The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything as a scrolling digital numerical text. The work was inspired by The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a comic science fiction series created by Douglas Adams that has become popular among fans of the genre(s) and members of the scientific community. Phrases from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are widely recognized and often used in reference to, but outside the context of, the source material.
Estes’ work Earth (42) follows a long tradition of sacred art produced in an attempt to illustrate, supplement or portray in tangible form the principles of a literary international best-seller, such as, for example, The Bible. In The Hitchhiker’s Guide a group of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings demand to learn the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything from the supercomputer, Deep Thought, specially built for this purpose. It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be “42”. Deep Thought points out that the answer seems meaningless because the beings who instructed it never actually knew what the Question was. When asked to produce The Ultimate Question, Deep Thought says that it cannot; however, it can help to design an even more powerful computer that can. This new computer is revealed as being the planet Earth- and that it will incorporate living beings into the “computational matrix” and will run for ten million years.
Dimension-hopping has never been so easy or so exhilarating.“The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” is an enjoyable sci-fi romp; a kind of Star Wars meets Monty Python. There is a strong twist of deadpan drollness that children of all ages get a charge from. It’s hard to dislike a book in which one of the heroes gets brain power from lemon juice. But here is the catch. As off-the-wall as all this sounds, a team of physicists at the University of Washington (UW) has since announced that there is a potential test to the Simulation Hypothesis. Ironically, it would be the first such observation for scientifically hypothesized evidence of intelligent design behind the cosmos. If we are living in such a computer program, there could be tell-tale evidence for the underlying lattice used in modeling the space-time continuum, say the researchers. This signature could show up as a limitation in the energy of cosmic rays. They would travel diagonally across the model universe and not interact equally in all directions, as they otherwise would be expected to do according to present cosmology.
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Albert Einstein
The extraordinary vision of the Simulation Hypothesis and it’s bizarre Twilight Zone twist, was first published by Hans Moravec in 1988, pushed the boundaries of imagination, science and digital-effects technology. In 2003, Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom published a paper that proposed the universe we live in might in fact really be a numerical computer simulation. The mind-twisting Simulated Reality hypothesis suggests that reality could be simulated—for example by computer simulation—to a degree indistinguishable from “true” reality, and may in fact be such a simulation. It could contain conscious minds which may or may not be fully aware that they are living inside a simulation. This is quite different from the current, technologically achievable concept of virtual reality. Virtual reality is easily distinguished from the experience of actuality; participants are never in doubt about the nature of what they experience. Simulated reality, by contrast, would be hard or impossible to separate from “true” reality. The paper exemplifies the idea that a sufficiently cool outcome justifies all of the tortured narrative it takes to get there.
For example when ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’ was released it was widely regarded as the worst film of all time, featuring a plot unrivalled in absurdity. The epitome of so-bad-it’s-good cinema, Plan 9 From Outer Space was an unintentionally hilarious sci-fi “thriller” from anti-genius Ed Wood that is justly celebrated for its staggering ineptitude. In the film residents of California’s San Fernando Valley are under attack by flying saucers from outer space. The aliens, led by Eros (Dudley Manlove) and his assistant, Tanna (Joanna Lee), intend to conquer the planet by resurrecting corpses in a Hollywood cemetery. What distinguishes Plan 9 from the other contenders for worst film of all time is the movie’s brazen sense of confidence. The idea was preposterous… but extremely entertaining. Likewise, other than some caveats, The Simulation Hypothesis lays the groundwork for some innovative and original science fiction. But let us suppose for a moment that these predictions are correct. An example of a popular application is found in telepresence videoconferencing.
The term telepresence was coined in a 1980 article by Minsky, who outlined his vision for an adapted version of the older concept of teleoperation that focused on giving a remote participant a feeling of actually being present at a different location. Telepresence refers to a set of technologies which allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance of being present, or to have an effect, via telerobotics, at a place other than their true location. Telepresence requires that the users’ senses be provided with such stimuli as to give the feeling of being in that other location. Additionally, users may be given the ability to affect the remote location. In this case, the user’s position, movements, actions, voice, etc. may be sensed, transmitted and duplicated in the remote location to bring about this effect. Therefore information may be traveling in both directions between the user and the remote location.
In a pioneering paper, the U.S. cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky attributed the development of the idea of telepresence to science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein: “My first vision of a remote-controlled economy came from Robert A. Heinlein’s prophetic 1948 [sic] novel, Waldo,” wrote Minsky. In his science fiction short story “Waldo” (1942), Heinlein first proposed a primitive telepresence master-slave manipulator system. The Brother Assassin, written by Fred Saberhagen in 1969, introduced the complete concept for a telepresence master-slave humanoid system. In the novel, the concept is described as follows: “And a moment later it seemed to all his senses that he had been transported from the master down into the body of the slave-unit standing beneath it on the floor. As the control of its movements passed over to him, the slave started gradually to lean to one side, and he moved its foot to maintain balance as naturally as he moved his own. Tilting back his head, he could look up through the slave’s eyes to see the master-unit, with himself inside, maintaining the same attitude on its complex suspension.”
The degree to which the virtual or artistic environment faithfully reproduces reality determines the degree of suspension of disbelief. The greater the suspension of disbelief, the greater the degree of presence achieved. One thing that later generations might do with their super-powerful computers is run detailed simulations of their forebears or of people like their forebears. Because their computers would be so powerful, they could run a great many such simulations. Suppose that these simulated people are conscious (as they would be if the simulations were sufficiently fine-grained and if a certain quite widely accepted position in the philosophy of mind is correct). Then it could be the case that the vast majority of minds like ours do not belong to the original race but rather to people simulated by the advanced descendants of an original race. It is then possible to argue that, if this were the case, we would be rational to think that we are likely among the simulated minds rather than among the original biological ones.
Earth (42) by contemporary artist Tom Estes. The work is thematically complex, preposterously absurd yet intelligently integrates popular culture with science, technology, religion, philosophy and ancient mysticism; the deadpan demeanor of Zen-like drollness plays well here.
Before you dismiss this idea as completely loony, the reality of such a Sim Universe might take a quantum leap at solving a lot of eerie mysteries about the cosmos. To the adherents of Islam, continuous patterns are symbolic of their united faith and the way in which traditional Islamic cultures view the world. The order and unity of the material world, they believed, was a mere ghostly approximation of the spiritual world, which for many Muslims is the place where the only true reality exists. Discovered geometric forms, therefore, exemplify this perfect reality because God’s creation had been obscured by the sins of man. So the arabesques and geometric patterns of Islamic art are said to arise from the Islamic view of the world. To Muslims, these forms, taken together, constitute an infinite pattern that extends beyond the visible material world. To many in the Islamic world, they concretely symbolize the infinite, and therefore uncentralized, nature of the creation of Allah and convey a spirituality without the figurative iconography of the art of other religions.
During the golden age of Islam, ancient texts on Greek and Hellenistic mathematics as well as Indian mathematics were translated into Arabic at the House of Wisdom. The works of ancient scholars such as Plato, Euclid, Aryabhata and Brahmagupta were widely read among the literate and further advanced in order to solve mathematical problems which arose due to the Islamic requirements of determining the Qibla and times of salat and Ramadan. Plato’s ideas about the existence of a separate reality that was perfect in form and function and crystalline in character, Euclidean geometry as expounded on by Al-Abbās ibn Said al-Jawharī (ca. 800-860) in his Commentary on Euclid’s Elements, the trigonometry of Aryabhata and Brahmagupta as elaborated on by the Persian mathematician Khwārizmī (ca. 780-850), and the development of spherical geometry by Abū al-Wafā’ al-Būzjānī (940–998) and spherical trigonometry by Al-Jayyani (989-1079) for determining the Qibla and times of salat and Ramadan, all served as an impetus for geometric patterns in Islamic art.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr says in his book, Islamic Science,
“Altogether, in the domain of geometry, both plane and solid, Muslims followed the path laid out by the Greek mathematicians, solving many of the problems that were posed but remained unsolved by their predecessors. They also related geometry to algebra and sought geometric solutions for algebraic problems. Finally, they devoted special attention to the symbolic aspects of geometry and its role in art and architecture, keeping always in view the qualitative geometry that reflects the wisdom of the ‘Grand Architect of the Universe.’”
The outstanding Persian mathematician Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi was an early Director of the House of Wisdom in the 9th Century, and one of the greatest of early Muslim mathematicians. Perhaps Al-Khwarizmi’s most important contribution to mathematics was his strong advocacy of the Hindu numerical system (1 – 9 and 0), which he recognized as having the power and efficiency needed to revolutionize Islamic (and, later, Western) mathematics, and which was soon adopted by the entire Islamic world, and later by Europe as well.
Gematria is an Assyro-Babylonian system of numerology later adopted by Jews that assigns numerical value to a word or phrase in the belief that words or phrases with identical numerical values bear some relation to each other or bear some relation to the number itself as it may apply to a person’s age, the calendar year, or the like. The best-known example of Gematria is the Hebrew word Chai (“alive”), which is composed of two letters that (using the assignments in the Mispar gadoltable shown below) add up to 18. Though gematria is most often used to calculate the values of individual words, psukim (Biblical verses), Talmudical aphorisms, sentences from the standard Jewish prayers, personal, angelic and Godly names, and other religiously significant material, Kabbalists use them often for arbitrary phrases and, occasionally, for various languages. Some identify two forms of gematria: the “revealed” form, which is prevalent in many hermeneutic methods found throughout Rabbinic literature, and the “mystical” form, a largely Kabbalistic practice.
With current advances in Science, observable consequences of the hypothesis that the observed universe as a numerical simulation performed on a cubic space-time lattice or grid can be explored, using the historical development of lattice gauge theory technology as a guide. The researchers assume that our universe is an early numerical simulation with unimproved Wilson fermion discretization and investigate potentially-observable consequences. The simulation scenario is first motivated by extrapolating current trends in computational resource requirements for lattice QCD into the future. With such results measured, physicists would have to rule out any and all other natural explanations for the anomaly before flirting with the idea of intelligent design. (To avoid confusion with the purely faith-based creationist ID, this would not prove the existence of a biblical God, because you’d have to ask the question “why does God need a lattice?”). If our universe is a simulation, then those entities controlling it could be running other simulations as well to create other universes parallel to our own. No doubt this would call for, ahem, massive parallel processing.
If all of this isn’t mind-blowing enough, Bostrom imagined “stacked” levels of reality, “we would have to suspect that the post-humans running our simulation are themselves simulated beings; and their creators, in turn, may also be simulated beings. Here may be room for a large number of levels of reality, and the number could be increasing over time.” If the parallel universes are all running on the same computer platform could we communicate with them? If so, let’s hope manic Agent Smith doesn’t materialize one day. The Matrix is tough to explain, but then how much explaining does an amusement park ride require? And as they say “never was a more true word spoken in jest”.
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