The Sideshow

Whoa: Physicists testing to see if universe is a computer simulation

Could this be a computer simulation? (Space.com)Will you take the red pill or the blue pill?

Some physicists and university researchers say it's possible to test the theory that our entire universe exists inside a computer simulation, like in the 1999 film "The Matrix."

In 2003, University of Oxford philosophy professor Nick Bostrom published a paper, "The Simulation Argument," which argued that, "we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation." Now, a team at Cornell University says it has come up with a viable method for testing whether we're all just a series of numbers in some ancient civilization's computer game.

Researchers at the University of Washington agree with the testing method, saying it can be done. A similar proposal was put forth by German physicists in November.

So how, precisely, can we test whether we exist? Put simply, researchers are building their own simulated models, using a technique called lattice quantum chromodynamics. And while those models are currently able to produce models only slightly larger than the nucleus of an atom, University of Washington physics professor Martin Savage says the same principles used in creating those simulations can be applied on a larger scale.

"This is the first testable signature of such an idea," Savage said. "If you make the simulations big enough, something like our universe should emerge."

The testing method is far more complex. Consider the Cornell University explanation: "Using the historical development of lattice gauge theory technology as a guide, we assume that our universe is an early numerical simulation with unimproved Wilson fermion discretization and investigate potentially-observable consequences."

To translate, if energy signatures in our simulations match those in the universe at large, there's a good chance we, too, exist within a simulation.

Interestingly, one of Savage's students takes the hypothesis further: If we stumble upon the nature of our existence, would we then look for ways to communicate with the civilization who created us?

University of Washington student Zohreh Davoudi says whoever made our simulated universe might have made others, and maybe we should "simply" attempt to communicate with those. "The question is, 'Can you communicate with those other universes if they are running on the same platform?'" she asked.